Tag Archives: frustration

Three-dollar bill, y’all

This article by Australian QUILTBAG activist Rodney Croome bears reading and taking to heart by everyone – by both cis and trans, by hetero and homo and bi and pan and ace alike. It brought me an intense sense of comfort in this time of complicated politics among queer people. I haven’t been out of the queer closet long, and indeed, I came out publicly into the middle of a minefield of sorts in the form of the Australian marriage equality debate. But what I’ve been so incredibly heartened by is the way in which a highly diverse and sometimes even quite internally-divided QUILTBAG community has largely come together on this issue, uniting in our stand on not only our rights under the law, but the manner in which those rights are given. So often the middle-ground fallacy has been invoked by opponents of civil rights, and the weakened and incomplete provisions put forward have been accepted by the oppressed because they’re perceived as being, in whatever manner, better than the alternative. Of course, I’m not seeking to in any way blame those queer people who would be happy with any small victory, those who would approach the struggle for rights from the perspective that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I just think that this Daoist approach is better rendered by other translations from the Chinese, and should be taken more literally, as my friend Agnieszka does in her translation.

千里之行,始於足下。
“A journey of a thousand miles begins right under your feet.”
– Agnieszka Solska (transl.), Daodejing 64.11-12

For my part I’m not as big a fan of the single-step approach, disturbingly close as the analogy seems to another ancient Chinese cultural preserve: 凌遲 língchí, the death by a thousand cuts, and particularly in this instance, where every step promises more pain to the community: the preliminary societal argument; the funded campaign; the plebiscite itself; the introduction (which may not happen depending on far-right voices within the Coalition) of the legislation (which may itself codify into law the right to homophobia and transphobia, and this is indeed what’s imminent if this lawyer’s interpretation of the proposed bill is right) to amend the Marriage Act (which was modified in the first place with neither plebiscite nor queer consultation). And it’s enraging, painful, and humiliating in roughly equal parts to be lectured, primarily by non-queer people – and especially by the likes of that vile purulent bigot Miranda Devine, whose recent vitriolic bile I won’t give the benefit of webhits – about why we should take the bone when we’re thrown it. How we should take the bone even if it’s thrown only with the deepest of grudging, only with effort directed towards keeping conservative fuckwits happy, and only with more strings attached to it than to the cast of Thunderbirds. We’re being given a bone alright – or to phrase it more appropriately, we’re being boned. The plebiscite, which I’ve obviously discussed more than once both here and elsewhere, seeks to allow the populace to take an unprecedented vote on whether their fellow citizens deserve equal rights, accompanied by a political-style campaign in which falsehood will be neither prohibited nor punished. But what’s more than that, the legislative bill that’s been put forward by the Federal Government takes the implicit homophobia and transphobia of the plebiscite one step further and makes it explicit, fossilising into clear, unambiguous law the Brandisian right to anti-queer bigotry in a way that’s as unprecedented in Australia as the plebiscite itself. And yet amongst all this, the queer community’s reached the sweeping realisation that our journey of a thousand miles also begins right underfoot: that we’re already on the path and need only continue moving forward, albeit with fighting against the Government and its power structures all the way. We’ve noticed that we’re in a position to make our voices heard, loudly and effectively, and that we actually have a surprisingly and gratifyingly large number of allies in doing so. As Croome says in his article:

LGBTI Australians are overwhelmingly against a plebiscite, and they are making their voices heard in record numbers through letters to politicians, in letters to newspapers or simply around the workplace water cooler. I can’t emphasise enough what a profound shift this has caused in Australian politics and culture. There have always been straight Australians, including politicians of all stripes, who cared about the trials and tribulations of their LGBTI friends, family members and fellow citizens. But never has this consideration been so widespread it has changed the course of national political debate.

Challenging though it is, this is a time in which I truly am fiercely proud to be queer. I’ve been lucky (so far, at least) to have avoided the kinds of oppression levelled at many in this community. My life as a trans lesbian woman holds promise (particularly after something wonderful that occurred today… but that’s a digression for another time, kids). And in advocating for myself, for the queer people I know and love, and the entire queer community, I’ve recently been feeling a strength of will coursing through me as well, even while I’m sensing in myself very few other strengths at the moment. And I’m enjoying that. I’m enjoying it.

22 Days of Musing: 14

14. Zero drive.

Tonight I’m not feeling any particular drive to write a reflection. I suppose that, in itself, bears talking about. Much as the antidepressants do help me avoid the deep troughs of psychological anguish that used to haunt me, they’re not a panacea by any stretch of the imagination; their function seems to be more to stabilise my mood at a tolerable level, rather than to restore a “normal” pattern of mood – whatever the fuck that might be, as every person has their own unique patterns of mood and all are stimulated by a unique set of experiences – and although the stabilisation certainly does ferry me across the rough seas when they occur, it’s difficult still to find ways in which to bring myself genuinely positive states of mind. To an extent, the recognition during my bleak fortnight in 2011 that the things I used to do when I had the blues no longer worked was one of the factors that pushed me to seek help in the first place – the realisation that my spells of coming forth into daylight had lost their power, and that I needed to find new and more powerful ones. Music was for many years a means through which I could express my emotions in a raw, untrammelled manner; I played saxophone, guitar, clarinet, and harmonica at various stages in my childhood through to early adulthood, and even when I wasn’t actively playing music, I might’ve been singing along to a richly emotional ballad, or even just losing myself in the depths of a song whose harmonic lines seemed sometimes to bypass my ears completely and speak straight to my soul.

Regrets collect like old friends
Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play
And every demon wants his pound of flesh
But I like to keep some things to myself
– Florence + The Machine, Shake It Out

Reading was long a means of escape I cherished, too. My tastes have always run in the direction of fantasy and science fiction themes – both the kind of pulpy smeg that, as fantasy author Jessica Amanda Salmonson puts it, is to literature as potato chips are to gourmet cooking (she herself offers the unarguable caveat that “potato chips are spiffy too”), as well as more grandiose or peculiar explorations of the human condition – but sometimes I fell for much different fare, as with Tim Willocks’s grimmer modern-day fiction, simultaneously more philosophical and yet more violent than much of what I read out of the SFF realm. But depression has largely robbed me of this as well, although there are exceptions: when I first read George R. R. Martin, I hadn’t read a new fiction book in over two years. I own over two thousand books, you see, and there was a time when I would visit the university market day and buy two or three second-hand books every week, read them, and then come back for more the next week. So to go for so long without feeling any interest in fiction (and I did try, numerous times) was itself a dark sign. Reading A Game of Thrones was a kind of revelation to me for that reason; I bought the first book new (normally an unthinkable luxury on my paltry student’s wage at the time), and I was so enthralled by his writing style, as well as by the fact that I had all of a sudden discovered fiction that moved me again, that I went out thereafter and purchased – also new – every single one of the subsequent books in the series. It was as though I’d learned to read all over again, and although it wasn’t able to bring me back to the reading obsession I used to foster, it did offer me back a little of the pure joy that I had long forgotten I could obtain from a book. Depression still largely keeps me from feeling excitement about doing things, and even when I do feel a thrill of excitement, a frisson of actually feeling something (a good example would be last week, a week during which I got notifications that one of my academic articles had been published and another two had been accepted for publication), it tends not to last; in the days where I’m not as positive as others – for even on the antidepressant medication, the stability of my mood is not complete – I tend to fall into a torpor of sorts, an inertia from which it becomes difficult to extract myself. The things that can draw me out of this inertia are rather less predictable now than they used to be, but they do still occur, every once in a while.

22 Days of Musing: 13

13. “He’s just another number, right?”

I’d like to start tonight’s reflection with some cold, hard, and objective data about mental illness in the military. They make for pretty harrowing figures. In any given year, around 5.9% of Australians suffer from depression. For serving members of the Australian Defence Force, this increases to 9.5%, an increase in prevalence of 61%. Similarly, the risk factor for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) rises by 60%, from a base rate of 5.2% in the broader community to 8.3% among serving ADF personnel. For veterans the figures are less clear, but among Australian Vietnam veterans the rates of unspecified depression and PTSD are 9.5% and 17.1%, respectively, comprising a 61% and a whopping 228% increase over the background level. We live, sadly, in a world where stimuli for psychological injury are all around us. In the military in particular, people are put into situations they never should be forced to confront, ordered to do things they should never have to do, and potentially take the life of fellow human beings. Of course that’s going to fuck you up. Human minds come in all kinds – one of the great beauties of human diversity, one I’d have no other way – and the truth is that not all of those minds have the capability to witness genuinely traumatic events and just allow them to pass on by, as urged by the character Earl Coley in another of Tim Willocks’s novels, Green River Rising:

Walk on by, brother, ’cause there always a reason for it you don’ know about. An’ even if they ain’t no reason at all, it’s not your fucken bidness.
– Tim Willocks, Green River Rising

I’ve been immensely fortunate, in my third of a century up until now, to never really have witnessed a situation where I had to convince myself that it wasn’t my fucken bidness. And even so, my psyche is still one of those that doesn’t deal well even with minor confrontational scenes either. Watching two of my family members argue is about an even-money chance to make me shut all my emotions down and head into a depressive phase. But even in such circumstances I know it’s not the minor confrontation that’s really the problem, so much as it is that the minor is the last straw, the one feather-light weight that, along with the rest of the emotional load that my mind can’t stop carrying, serves to finally break the camel’s back. Learning how to put down the burden of accumulated experience and pain so that you’re no longer being squashed into the ground under its weight can be one of the great challenges of coming to deal with a mental illness. For me, I’m (slowly) starting to learn how to allow the little straws to bounce off my back, instead of continuing to accumulate in and around the crevices of the load I’m already carrying and weighing me down ever further, but even so I still feel much of the time as though I haven’t yet learned how to put down the bulk of the load. And with PTSD, the load is often unimaginably greater. Have you ever watched M*A*S*H? This is perhaps my favourite TV show of all time – not least because its mix of comedy and high drama helped to get me through the utter blackness of my own worst phase, but also because of its unflinching approach to the depiction of mental illnesses like depression, dissociative identity disorder, and indeed PTSD, illnesses often triggered by the atrocities of war at greatly increased rates I started this reflection by discussing. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to put down a psychological burden like the kinds shown in that series. As Hawkeye himself says: “Nobody forgets what happens here. The secret is learning to live with it. For all of us.” For all of us indeed.

22 Days of Musing: 7

Day 7. Depression’s evolutionary self-interest.

I’d like to continue on a little from my mention yesterday of the listlessness and lethargy that depression brings, and draw an analogy: one that I think helps to explain why depression can be so intractable, and why it’s so difficult to just “snap out of it” or “get on with things” or “keep a stiff upper lip” or any of a thousand other pseudomotivational bullshit speechlets that one gets from well-meaning but largely deluded people who have never experienced or understood the havoc that depression truly wreaks on the psyche. I’ve said to a few friends that I’ve often thought of depression in some ways as the psychological equivalent of the human immunodeficiency virus. The analogy with HIV isn’t a complete one, mind; it’s largely predicated on one unusual property that both diseases share. Let me explain this thought a little further. Many viruses cause horrific illnesses that kill painfully and rapidly. Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever often causes death in less than two weeks after the initial infection, Ebola in as little as eight days. But from an evolutionary perspective, such viruses in humans are actually rather inefficient, because the disease progresses so rapidly and causes such substantial damage that the victim dies before they can effectively pass the virus on to others. (And despite how devastating the Ebola virus disease is in humans – the Zaïre outbreak in 1976 had an 88.1% fatality rate, higher than untreated typhoid, tuberculosis, and bubonic plague combined – it’s actually incredibly hard to catch, requiring direct contact with blood, faeces, or urine from an infected person.) HIV, on the other hand, is evolutionarily a close to perfect virus: though it also spreads via relatively narrow means, upon entering the body it wreaks its broad devastation by integrating itself directly into the host’s genome, such that it can become recognised as belonging to the body. Thenceforth, it begins to attack the immune system, that very system of the body that might otherwise be able to engage with and destroy the infection. As a consequence, HIV may persist and continue to reproduce for several years even without treatment (and in fact rarely even kills directly; death usually arises from other opportunistic infections or cancers that the ravaged immune system can no longer fight off). Again, I want to emphasise that there’s much that I don’t intend this analogy to include. But I think this targeting of the immune system in HIV is a good analogy for why depression, once it sets in in earnest, is a hard mental illness to treat effectively. Because of the way depression so effectively saps your motivation, your will, your drive to seek out things that bring you pleasure, and your ability to even feel that pleasure even when you do those things (a psychological state the professionals call anhedonia, from the same Greek root as the word hedonism, the devotion to the pursuit of pleasure), depression – like HIV attacking the immune system that would otherwise allow the body to successfully fight it off – affects and disables exactly that part of your mind that would allow you to go forth to seek help. It can just seem too problematic, or too daunting, or too much effort to seek assistance from those who specialise in mental health issues. Making appointments, meeting new doctors, visiting Medicare offices, negotiating the complexities of the healthcare system, all serve as hurdles to the one whose fundamental medical problem is a loss of drive to act in the first place. And as one with just that problem, that’s more than a little frustrating.