Trigger Warning: This post contains discussion of suicidal ideation, major depression, and self-harm. I appreciate the vulnerability of our readership; and encourage you to practice self care when reading this type of post. Continue reading “The Leftovers”
It’s noon on a Monday. I’m in my quiet Paris apartment, sprawled out on my belly in the first queen bed I’ve ever called my own. It’s cloudy again, like it has been almost every day since I arrived. I slept in until 11 this morning, because there was really no good reason not to. I made the poor decision of flipping onto my belly around 10, which always gives me confusing dreams about people I would rather not dream about. But when I awoke, there was hot coffee, and the breeze coming in through my window, and a stack of good books to get me through the morning.
So, life is pretty damn good. Like, maybe the best. For the first time in a long time, I have been able to do all the things I love most—writing, cooking, walking, spending quality time with friends—without feeling like I have to sacrifice any one of those things for another. For the first time since I got my heart broken one year ago, I feel like I can actually be happy—simple, carefree happiness, the kind where you sit around for hours laughing and dancing and you never have to leave the room to cry because you’re so painfully aware of how fleeting it all is. Today, it doesn’t feel fleeting, though of course it is. Today happiness is forgetting. Forgetting that happiness could ever end in pain. Forgetting that people leave you, and that you leave people, and that we all leave each other in the end. Forgetting the space between numbers on the clock and the way it goes on ticking. Forgetting that it ticks at all.
Friends, I am telling you all of this because one year ago today was the worst night of my life. It’s a night I have never really told anyone about, a night that only one person in the whole world is able to testify to, someone I no longer talk to and who I still miss like hell. It’s a night I can’t even talk to myself about most days, or my therapist, or my best friend. It was the night when something very deep and essential broke in me, and I saw the thin veil spread over everything I loved, and how quickly it could be pulled away to reveal darkness, nothingness, disappearance. An endless and dizzying abyss.
One year ago today, I literally did not know how I could go on living. Today, I am alive.
To anyone who has ever seen the darkness you think no one else can see, I am with you. I want you to know that you can never unsee what you have seen. But I also want you to know that with time, you can learn, you can choose to forget. Not forever, and not completely, but enough to go on living, and find your way to happiness again.
Today I am proud of the work I have done to take care of myself in the wake of that worst night. Today I am profoundly grateful to the people who hugged me, and cried with me, and made me laugh, and made me coffee. Today I am grateful for my family, those who raised me and those who chose me. Today I am grateful for a room to call my own, and a fridge full of food, and the knowledge that none of this will disappear by sundown.
Today, I am happy.
The summer before my senior year of college I decided to live in a dorm at my school, and do a little bit of project work for my boss. It had been a rough year for me, but tempered with a lot of therapy and self-discovery. Therapy is great for self-discovery, but only if you don’t mind feeling like you’ve been ripped open at least once a week. It’s like losing the top layer of your skin; everything feels red and raw and it hurts if anything touches it, but it heals pretty cleanly.
One day I was working with my boss, when I made a joke to the effect of “lol I’m the worst.” You know, the kind of casual, self-deprecating humor that people use a thousand times a day. But my boss stopped me, and looked me in the eye and said “now say something nice about yourself.”
I was taken aback. Didn’t she know it was a joke? I didn’t actually think I was the worst. But I still couldn’t come up with one good thing to respond with.
I had never realized how those jokes could add up, until they became the lens in which I viewed myself. Someone who was annoying or loud, or generally the worst. The things I said in public became the thoughts that circled my mind, like vultures zeroing in on a kill. I’mtheworstI’mtheworstI’mtheworst.
I’m sure you’ve heard the idiom “no one can love you until you love yourself.” It’s been pointed out many times how harmful that line of thinking can be to someone with a mental health issues who doesn’t love themselves, to believe that then nobody can love them. But I think there is still some wisdom there. Until you learn how to appreciate the fact that you are worthy of love, it is hard to believe that anybody would truly love you.
I decided I would stop saying negative things about myself, or at the very least, I would counter it always with one good thing. I needed to break up the pattern of self-abuse, and start believing that I could be good enough.
A few months ago I was out with some of my old friends, when one of them started apologizing for being indecisive. I told her it was fine, we are all just people, and we have quirks that make us who we are. I suggested we all list one thing that we think of as a flaw about ourselves. Everyone could think of one easily. Then I said “now let’s do an exercise where we all say one nice thing about ourselves.”
Everyone got immediately uncomfortable. They fidgeted and made fun of me for being corny. Answers were tempered with “I guess I’m not that bad at….” and “maybe I’m okay at this.” Some refused to answer at first. One friend said in jest “I’m really good at tricking people into being friends with me.” This dragged out over many uncomfortable minutes because I didn’t want to let it go. I wanted everyone to find the thing in themselves that they were proud of.
These were smart, accomplished, funny, hard-working, beautiful women, some of whom I’d known and admired for most of my life. If they couldn’t think of one thing that they felt proud of, who could?
Their experiences and mine don’t exist in a void. When you spend your whole life hearing you’re not skinny enough, not pretty enough, not smart or straight or white enough, not gender conforming enough or able-bodied enough, it becomes entrenched deep within your mind, until it feels impossible to untangle. Some days it always lurks at the top of your mind, and all you can think is “I suck I suck I suck.” Other days it comes as a surprise. “I thought I was past that, I thought that was healed.”
I don’t know if it ever quite heals. But as an exercise, I try to be actively being kind to myself. I try to not compare my accomplishments to others, because there was a time when my depression was so debilitating that I couldn’t focus on much beyond “get out of bed” and “ask for help.” I do my best to feel proud of how far I have come and what I have accomplished. I try to reach out to friends who get it, so we can mutually complain or laugh or just feel understood. Community, I am learning, is an essential part of healing, and of living.
What if instead of downplaying our accomplishments, we let ourselves be proud of them? What if when we felt good about ourselves, we said it out loud? What if we told others that we are proud of them, or that they are brilliant, interesting, and beautiful?
I think love is an exercise. It’s something we have to practice, until we get it right. It’s something that takes energy and time. And it’s something we have to do for ourselves, in addition to doing it for others.
Last week I put on my favorite blue dress and went for a walk with my wonderful girlfriend. I told her “I feel so pretty today.” She said “it’s nice that you like yourself so much.” It made me smile. Maybe it’s unusual to hear people compliment themselves, but I think it’s an exercise we should do more often.
I think every person at some point in their life will be depressed.
You go through a hard break up, lose your job, experience the death of a loved one, or just go through a challenging transitional period that makes you feel scared and listless. Regardless of the reason, I don’t think having a depressed period of your life is that unusual. Life is scary and sad and then wonderful and brilliant by turns, and sometimes all that contradiction is hard to process, and I think a lot of people can relate when they read an article or watch a movie about depression, because everyone has felt a little hopeless and unhappy at one point or another.
Feeling depressed, however, is different than having depression.
When someone asks me when is the first time I felt depressed, I tend to think of the 7th grade. I had always been a good student, but for no reason I could understand, I just couldn’t find the energy to do my homework for my Social Studies class anymore. It wasn’t as if I didn’t have the time. I would just not do it, or forget. My teacher brought it up to my parents, but it wasn’t like I was trying to be a rebel or I didn’t understand it. I was a bright kid who just didn’t or couldn’t do her assignments. That pattern continued, and for just about every year after that there would always be one class I would drop the ball on. I always managed to not fail, and the rest of my grades were good, so it wasn’t something that could really be explained to other people by anything other than laziness. But I wasn’t purposefully being lazy. My senior year of high school I would stay up until 2 am with my textbook in my lap, not letting myself sleep unless I did something, but inevitably I would end up going to bed with nothing to turn in the next day. After graduating with the first failing grade of my life, I had to write a letter to my dream college explaining why I had received an “F” in the math class I had taken online (so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone). I was lucky, and Mount Holyoke decided to take me on anyway.
Sometimes I still wake up from nightmares where I am about to graduate high school when I realize there is a class I somehow forgot to go to all year. The scariest thing is, it’s not that hard to believe.
I’ve spent most of my life with depression, sometimes so minor it was hard to notice, and sometimes so major that I would wish I could stop existing, without all the drama of dying. I would lie in the grass and wish I could just sink into the earth and become part of something else, so I wouldn’t have to be myself anymore. It never worked out though, and eventually I had to stand up.
And what better metaphor for recovery is there? Just the anti-climactic moment of getting up. Sometimes you feel a little wobbly and sit back down. Or flop back down and try again later. It feels like it should be the easiest thing in the world but actually it took all the strength you had, and you can only hope that someone will meet you where you are, and help you go the rest of the way.
At some point in college I got up. I went to my school counselor who recommended me to a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist. After a few months I ditched the psychiatrist but stuck with the psychotherapist, and she helped me do the work that would allow me to get to a place of recovery. Thanks to my school’s no copay health insurance, I went to her twice a week. Sometimes I would drag myself to her office after two days, worn out and broken down, and try to use that hour to become buoyant again. Some days I would go in thinking I had nothing to say, and I would end up sobbing on the couch. My therapist would refer to that time as my “fifth class” and to be honest, it was a lot more work than any other course I took at Mount Holyoke.
Depression took up so much of my time and energy, that I feel like I am still trying to figure out what vital information I missed while I was under it’s spell. I’ve had to be taught how to clean effectively, as opposed to letting my clothes build piles on the floor, and allowing dust to cover my nightstand and the corners of my room. It took months to be able to promptly reply to emails, because they made me feel anxious and exposed. Even though I’ve been able to cook for myself since I was 9 or 10, it’s just last week that I learned to make pasta, because I’ve always relied on a couple of comfort foods. Sometimes I wish more than anything that I could do college while in recovery, so I could have gotten better grades and gotten more out of my education, but I also know it wouldn’t have been possible before. I doubt I could have done all that work anywhere other than Mount Holyoke.
I’ve had depression for so long, and unfortunately I can’t say I’m rid of it. In the dark months of January (even a mild one like this), I find myself falling back into old habits: lying in bed for hours willing myself to get up, eating even when I’m not hungry, feeling relieved when plans fall through so I can go back to bed. I sleep more and get annoyed easily. It’s terrifying to feel like I am falling back down that hole of despair. However, because of the work I did in therapy, I find it easier to reach out, and sometimes I am lucky, and people talk me through where I am.
Other times, however, what I hear are the platitudes we’ve learned to associate with mental health. “Self care!” “Take a shower!” “Write in a journal!”
Self care is a great thing, and I’ve done a lot to make sure my lifestyle is more conducive to positive mental health than it used to be. I do my best to walk outside, take vitamins, and eat a little bit healthier. I write more and don’t let anxiety stop me from pursuing things I enjoy. I make plans with my friends and do my best to follow through on them. I have a wonderful partner who reminds me to follow through on these steps, and who supports me when I make choices that I believe will make me happier.
But while things like taking a shower can be enough to get you out of bed and improve your day, in my experience, they don’t keep depression at bay for very long. Without talking about what it feels like, and where it’s coming from, depression can’t be worked through. It makes me uncomfortable when I go to someone else to talk about my feelings and instead I am brushed off with advice. It makes me feel like someone who has been depressed is trying to condescend to me about how to treat my long history of depression.
Self care is more than a mug of tea and a night of netflix. It’s challenging yourself to face your anxieties, and having someone to hold your hand when the fear makes it feel impossible. It’s working every day to combat your self destructive behaviors, like insisting on getting out of bed when you’re sick, or constant negative self-talk. It’s forgiving yourself for the things you had to do to survive, and not blaming yourself for not being as successful as your friend with the great job because you had depression and you couldn’t work towards your aspirations. It’s allowing yourself to reach out to your friends when you need someone to listen.
It’s allowing yourself to be angry when you’ve been hurt, instead of turning all that anger inwards at yourself.
Those who are depressed can benefit from a lot of the same treatments as those who have depression. Many of the feelings are similar. Both are hard to admit to and scary to talk about. Counselling is beneficial to pretty much everyone, in my biased opinion. The difference for me is that feeling depressed is a short term condition, and having depression isn’t. Maybe journaling and moisturizing is more effective if your depression is short term. I wouldn’t know. In my experience, however, most people benefit more if someone who is authentically listening to them, rather than repeating some memorized advice.
I’m grateful to my friends with depression, for their ability to say “that sucks,” “I understand,” and reminding me that there are things that I can’t heal with the power of positive thinking. It is incredibly validating, and keeps me in a place where I can do the good work towards taking care of my mental health. I am a better person because of it.
If you’re struggling with depression and reading this, I want you to know that it is hard, but you are a valuable person, and your depression does not have to control your life. I am not a mental health expert, so if you have questions or are looking for resources, check out the links below.
This article contains some spoilers for Mockingjay Part 2.
Since the beginning of The Hunger Games Trilogy Katniss has been the kind of heroine that I had been waiting to see grace the big screen. Not just a Strong Female Character™, Katniss’s strength came from her natural empathy and fierce protectiveness of those she loved. In a world based around performance, her authenticity is what presented a threat to the Capitol, and her inability to hide what she was feeling is what rallied people to her. In what other blockbuster film do we see a young woman whose bravery and love is used to start a revolution?
Katniss manages to be both feminine and strong without falling into the common film tropes of the overly sexualized female character (see Black Widow in Iron Man) or the Strong Woman who only portrays masculine ideals of strength (again, see Black Widow). Katniss squeals when her stylist Cinna designs her a beautiful dress, and also enjoys the practical clothes he had designed for her when she joins the resistance. She hunts and fights, but also has an innate sense of humanity that makes her resistant to taking a life unless it is absolutely necessary. She feels guilty for the lives she takes, and is enraged when she sees others killing indiscriminately. She fights with Gale, her best friend and love interest, when he discusses war tactics that unnecessarily kill civilians. She also cuts ties with the resistance when she believes they killed children (including her sister, Prim) for their own gain.
Watching the films we lose some of Katniss’s internal monologue from the books, but the other choices made by the filmmakers, as well as Jennifer Lawrence’s compelling performance allow us to follow Katniss’s internal struggle as she copes with her trauma from her two rounds in the Hunger Games, as well as the loss of her district, her sister, and temporarily Peeta. By the end of both the books and the movies, Katniss is grieving. She has nightmares and symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Her relationship with Peeta is built around the idea of healing. The scene where he plants primroses for her is a perfect example of encouraging Katniss to move forward without having to forget what happened to her. Very rarely do we see such a dynamic portrayal of grief and mental illness in a blockbuster like The Hunger Games.
Maybe that’s why the scene where Katniss appears as a mother feels like such a let down.
The Katniss that we see, in her floral dress smiling down at her baby didn’t feel like the same woman I had been following for 3 books and 4 movies. She felt purposely softened, as if her radical femininity and her trauma had been erased by motherhood.
As S.E. Smith of Bitch Media put it “As a revolutionary, Katniss is a brave and impressive figure. As a mother, she’s just as strong—mothering itself is revolutionary—but the scene has a sense of literally and figuratively putting her out to pasture. Your work here is done, the scene implies, and so too is your value and interest as a human being.”
One of the tropes of the Strong Female Character is that their strength is defined by masculine stereotypes of strength, such as stoicism and violence. Katniss is forced to embody these traits for most of the series, but what makes The Hunger Games unique is that is always shows how doing these things affects Katniss emotionally. She has nightmares. When she finds out she has to return to the games in Catching Fire she blacks out and breaks into a strange house. Throughout the books she asserts frequently that she never wants to have children and subject them to the trauma she went through. Katniss’s grief is always palpable and serves as a commentary on how war and violence can affect people. In Mockingjay it is made clear that she isn’t the only victor of the Hunger Games to experience trauma, long after the games have finished. Her mentor Haymitch turns to alcohol, several of the other victors are heavy drug users. In the epilogue of the book Mockingjay, Katniss says it took her 15 years to agree to have children with Peeta, and that she still uses coping mechanisms to get through the trauma of what she has experienced.
The final scene of the Mockingjay Part II film fell flat for me because it attempted to gloss over an interesting and honest portrayal of trauma. Instead it chose a shot of a young Katniss smiling while telling her infant child about the nightmares she has, nightmares that epitomize her worst fears for her children. It was a scene that emphasized the softest parts of Katniss’s femininity, instead of giving us the opportunity to see the strength it took for her to decide to have a family, and the fierce protectiveness she would undoubtedly embody as a mother.
From a film series that showed us unexpected empathy in a violent time, I was hoping to see an equally revolutionary understanding of recovery, femininity, and motherhood in a time of peace. On that front Mockingjay Part II did not deliver.
Tonight, sifting through my old belongings in my childhood home I came across an old teddy bear that I used to carry with me everywhere I went. A tiny, barely stuffed scrap of fabric with a rattle in her belly, I remember I use to squeeze her into my barbie’s bathing suit and take her swimming with me in my neighbor’s pool. Holding her again, I was transported back to the feeling of being a little girl, needing the companionship of something constant, and always loving.
For me and so many others, being home for the holidays is bittersweet. My hometown is the most beautiful place on earth and when I am away I constantly long for the local restaurants, my little dog, and more than anything the proximity to the sea. I feel the absence of it acutely, like a dull pain in my chest, an irresistible pull to the place that was my home for so long.
Traveling home for the holidays can be very emotionally charged for us queer folk. Although I am grateful to be able to return to my family and my home, when I am here I feel I can only be part of myself. I have to reign myself in to keep conversations civil and for my life to be comprehensible to some of the important people in my life. I also have to do it to protect myself from the experience of having the life I have built with intention be rejected by those I love.
When I first started therapy I told my therapist that I had a charmed childhood. She was very skeptical of that, and she was right to be. I hadn’t been able to understand or accept the many ways my emotions and my body were being put down for being “too much.” I didn’t understand how harmful it was as a young girl to be told that my body was too large, that the food I ate was unacceptable, that the feelings I had were overreactions. I thought my depression didn’t have a root, and rather struck indiscriminately. I didn’t realize my thought patterns went so far back that I couldn’t tell you when they began. I blamed myself for so much and I held a lot of shame. It has been my first instinct for so long, and it has taken a lot of time and hard work with a therapist to figure out where those patterns came from and how I can change them. It takes so much energy to be able to look at the dynamics in my home and believe that they are not my fault.
If you are reading this and you are a child of a tumultuous home, I want you to know that it is not your fault. You don’t have to apologize for the ways you have chosen to survive. You can love your family and also know that you have been hurt by them in ways that will take a long time to heal. Your healing can mean that you choose when and how you interact with them.
Many of us queer folk know what it means to build a chosen family out of necessity. These are the people who see and love us fully. They have no obligation to be a part of our lives, but they choose to because they value who we are, and because we have done the work to cultivate those relationships. They can help us unlearn all the lies we believe about ourselves and our lovability. They actively help us disrupt our old patterns, and create new, more honest and compassionate ones. When we feel alone they remind us, maybe with texts or letters or long walks, that we have valuable and long-lasting connections, that will always carry us through our grief. It’s important to take a moment to realize that we made these connections happen.
My family began with this tiny bear many years ago, an ally through everything, a witness to my anger and my sadness and my joy. It has since grown into many beautiful, loving relationships, that buoy me daily, and remind me that I am loved, and more importantly: that I deserve to be loved. I am forever grateful for it.
Happy Holidays, and I wish you so much love in 2016.
No Shame November started for me a few years ago as a joke.
You’ve probably heard about No Shave November, which encourages men not to shave for the month of November and donate the money they usually spend on razors to charities that support cancer research. (I say men because while women do participate there is usually some pushback from people who think women with body hair are icky. Personally I think as long as you are actually donating to the American Cancer Society, do what you want with your body hair all year long, amirite?).
I think as a woman, as a queer person, and as a femme we are surrounded by seemingly endless shaming for our bodies, our sexual orientation, our style, our emotions, how we speak, if and how we choose to have sex, and much more. Honestly it can be exhausting, and so hard not to internalize.
Before I had found treatment for my anxiety I would regularly be stopped in my tracks on the way to work, remembering something silly I had said, or an awkward interaction I had months previously. I would stay in bed instead of going to classes because I couldn’t stand the idea of being looked at or spoken to. I was haunted by my shame.
I’m very fortunate that I had access to a kind and brilliant therapist, and it took years of hard work to get to a place where I can say I am proud of myself and my accomplishments. But still. November creeps around and with it daylight savings and family obligations, and I can feel the pull of seasonal depression, making me vulnerable to guilt and shame.
No Shame November is my little reminder to love myself. That I deserve to be treated with kindness and understanding. That I can choose to grow instead of hide. That I am allowed to feel deeply and I shouldn’t be shamed for my joy or my grief.
It’s also a reminder to not shame others, and instead choose compassion and generosity. It’s easy to be apathetic, judgmental or cruel when we fall into the trap of believing that we are the protagonist in the movie of our lives, and everyone else is an extra. It’s much harder when you believe in the humanity of every person you meet.
This November I want to embrace my humanity and the humanity of others. I want to dress boldly and speak honestly and love myself radically. I want to forgive myself and others for our past mistakes and go forward feeling absolved of our shame. These are optimistic goals, and I know they will not be achieved all at once, or even in my lifetime. But I also know it is worthwhile to try. I’m going to start with November, and use it as a reminder of how I want to be all year long.
Happy No Shame November y’all! Try not to eat any glowsticks. That shit is toxic.
“My experience… is that almost everyone I’ve met who has turned to the Buddha did so because they have suffered the end of a love affair. They have lost someone they loved. Perhaps they have lost a country, as well, or parents or siblings or some function of their bodies. But very often, people turn to the Buddha because they have been carried so deeply into their suffering by the loss of a loved one that without major help they fear they will never recover. (I actually love this about Buddhists: that though their reputation is all about suffering and meditating and being a bit low-key sexually and spiritually languid, they are in fact a band of hopeful lovers who risk their hearts in places a Methodist would rarely dare to tread.) This is what happened to me… This involved, during meditation, learning to breathe in the pain I was feeling, not to attempt to avoid or flee it. It involved making my heart bigger and bigger just to be able to hold it all.”
– Alice Walker
As a queer woman, I am used to talking about things that aren’t fit for the dinner table. I’m the girl who, while eating lunch, makes jokes with my (very straight) grad school colleagues about how there are only a few things I would rather put in my mouth than an avocado. We all know which things I mean.
Don’t get me wrong, I can be tactful when duty calls. I’m a Pisces after all, a social chameleon who can change my colors to fit (almost) any situation. I like to think I have a knack for judging the temperature of the room — getting a gauge on how many Adrienne Rich references is too many, if you know what I mean.
But the most surprising thing for me about the past two months living in New York City is that talking about my queer identity, my radical feminist convictions, or my heavy periods has been the least of my concerns. The most uncomfortable conversations I have had so far have also happened to be the “cleanest.” Namely, the ones where I have opened up about my spirituality.
Like Alice Walker, I came to the teachings of Buddhism with a broken heart. After losing love, I had no idea how to rebuild myself.
I had listened to Landslide about a thousand times…
I had cried to Adele…
I had played L Word drinking games… alone… in the afternoon…
I had started “losing sleep and gaining weight“…
I had cried for hours on the phone will all my best femme friends, asking why why why why why did she leave me…
But I was still at the bottom of the well.
People like to talk about self-care. In the rocky months after coming out, I had a lot of people tell me to “practice self-care.” Over a year later, in the wake of the break-up, these voices became even louder.
But the truth is that I didn’t have the first idea of what this so-called “self-care” actually looked like, besides a vague notion that it probably included bubble baths and nail polish.
I remember, at one particularly low point during my summer of tears (we can all thank Marnie for that phrase), I ended up on the floor in my living room at home, watching The L Word, painting my toe nails and eating ice cream. I thought this was what I was supposed to do to “take care” of myself.
In reality, it just made me feel like shit. I got purple nail polish all over the carpet, sat through a triggering episode about Alice and Dana’s break-up, and groaned as I felt a solid brick of processed heavy cream settle in my stomach.
Almost four months later, after an equally triggering episode of Master of None, I found myself, once again, on the floor. Except this time there was no TV, no nail polish, no ice cream. Just me, cross-legged on a cushion, eyes closed — meditating.
So what changed?
This is where the conversations usually become uncomfortable.
Because here’s the thing: spirituality is just not something you bring up at the dinner table. Not unless you’re about to rail against right-wing conservative Evangelical homophobes, in which case pass the bread.
Alice Walker offers us one possible reason why the spiritual (but not, might I add, the religious) is so often relegated to the private sphere:
“The male effort to separate Wisdom from the realm of the Feminine is not only brutal and unattractive but it will always fail, though this may take, as with Buddhism, thousands of years. This is simply because the Feminine is Wisdom; it is also the Soul. Since each and every person is born with an eternal Masculine, this is not a problem except for those who insist on forcing humans into gender roles, which makes it easier for them to be controlled.”
I couldn’t have asked for a better starting point for understanding what it means to embrace the search for spiritual Wisdom as a woman, as a lesbian, and as a femme.
For me, self-care wasn’t a reality until I had a spiritual framework in which to understand it. When I say “spiritual framework,” I mean that in the broadest sense of the word: not a religion, or a set of dogmas, or an institution, but a deeper connection with the spirit. With my spirit. With myself.
For me, this path began with the practice of meditation. I was lucky enough to begin this practice with the guidance and support of my aunt, who has been a meditation teacher and yoga instructor for over thirty years.
When I began this practice, I did so with one goal in mind: to focus on the breath. In the practice of meditation, this is what we are asked to return to each and every time we sit. As my practice has deepened, and I have spoken with various teachers, it has become clear to me that this is not merely an elementary step in learning how to meditate: it is a foundation that even experienced practitioners return to again and again.
A few months after I began meditating, I was lucky enough to take part in a three-day silent retreat. It was during this retreat that I began to learn the fundamental tenets of Buddhist philosophy that underly and support the practice of meditation. It was by learning about this philosophy that I began to understand how I could use my practice not merely as a means of healing my broken heart, but also as a means of building empathy, compassion and loving-kindness for others.
In other words, I began learning how to use my meditation practice to deepen my engagement with social justice.
This is a topic that Alice Walker explores in her talk “Suffering Too Insignificant for the Majority to See,” from which the above quotations are taken. She says it better than I could ever say it myself, and with many more years of experience behind her.
This is a topic I can’t possibly cover in one blog post. It is a topic I hope to revisit again and again, because I find that intersections of spiritual and queer identities are too often hushed in both communities.
I also understand that this topic is difficult to discuss for more reasons that just dinner-table politeness. Buddhism is an ancient religion, with a diverse and complicated history. To say that I am a “Buddhist” at this stage in my practice feels disingenuous. I hope that I can continue to write about my encounters with Buddhism while remaining respectful of the diversity of beliefs within this faith tradition, and of the people around the world who practice it.