Napping

Before I write this I am going to take a nap.

Ok, I’m up.

I love napping and do it whenever I have time. Admittedly, part of it is due to depression. Part of it is due to exhaustion. Part of my exhaustion comes from depression. Part of my depression come from exhaustion. The two go hand in hand. Naps are usually during days off from work. There is simply no time when I am working. Naps make me feel more calm, tranquil and less anxious.

I think we are made to feel shame about napping. In this capitalist society, so we are supposed to be working every moment. We get to sleep at night, often for less than 8 hours, but napping during the middle day is often characterized as laziness.

Now, to be sure, some of my naps are likely too long. I wish they were 1-2 hours but they often go for 3-4 hours. But who gets to decide what is or is not too long? Napping can feel like an escape. But sometimes that is exactly what I need. My depression can often feel unbearable. Sleeping is a way to escape this pain for a few hours.

Napping is luxurious. It is like eating when you want and what you want. Napping is giving into your body. If your body is saying I am tired, it is time to give in and let it sleep. But this is not how the capitalist framework works. The capitalist framework is all about work, work, work. In this way, napping might be seen as a form of resistance to this framework.

I have a very specific framework when it comes to napping. I create a cocoon like environment to help me relax and to sleep. I close the drapes to make it darker. I light a stick of incense, usually Nag Champa. I light a candle, often to a Saint. Lately I have been lighting a candle to Saint Dymphna who is a Saint of mental disorders like depression. I turn on my little wave machine to listen to soft waves and I also turn on my little boom box to play New Age music. Then I rearrange the pillows and blankets so that they are comfortable. My dog Jamaica sleeps with me so she has to scratch around the blankets to make a comfortable little nest for herself. Then I put on my CPAP mask. Then it is time to sleep. Sometimes I’m able to fall asleep more easily than others. A lot of it depends on my frame of mind and how much anxiety I am feeling. If I can’t get to sleep I just breathe in the incense and listen to the waves and the music or gaze at the candle that burns. I rest, which is the next best thing to napping. Nothing feels better than when I go to sleep quickly and have a sound and nightmare-free slumber.

Napping is wonderful and I can’t say enough good about it. I think it keeps me more sane and I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a way to feel more rested or as one method to combat depression or anxiety. I find afternoon and early evening naps work best, like between the hours of 3-7 pm, but other people will find other times that work for them. Naps are a great form of self-care and one that all people should consider if they are looking for some relief from tiredness or strong emotional feelings.

 

Holidays/Holidaze

Being in late January, the holiday season is behind us. Like a lot of people, I have mixed feelings about the holidays. As a Person of Faith, Christmas obviously means a lot to me. The religious significance places it right up there with Easter as one of the two most holy days of the year. Christmas time is sacred, and it brings into many of our lives peacefulness and harmony with other people and the world.

“Holidaze” is for the negative aspects of the holidays, and unfortunately there are many. I like to joke with people that January 2 is my favorite holiday because the cultural “craze” is finally over. Obviously, the holiday season is completely commercialized, commodified and monetized. The religious meaning or even cultural meaning is replaced by the drive to shop till you drop. It places stress upon people who are concerned with buying the best possible gifts for their loved ones. The will to not disappoint is very strong. It is also places a financial burden on many people and thus they must rely on the plastic, putting them into significant credit card debt. The true meaning of the season is lost in a whirr of consumerism and capitalism, and this is a truly a shame.

But in addition to the commercialism of the season, there is the imperative that people be happy, joyous and merry. What does this mean for those of us who battle chronic depression? In 2017, my family and I celebrated Christmas on December 24th because Christmas day was very snowy. I sat home alone on Christmas day and it was really hard for me. On the one hand I felt disappointed for buying into hegemonic cultural imperatives. On the other, I felt compassionate for myself because like it or not these cultural directives are overwhelming. If you are not out and about with people and eating fancy food and opening expensive presents you are seen as some kind of loser or failure or may feel as such.

Many people, depressed or not, feel overwhelmed by the holidays/holidaze and feel like they are not living up to the threshold of joy and happiness required of this time period. Religious and cultural significance aside, it is ultimately another day or series of days on the calendar. We should not feel disappointed in ourselves or others for failing to evince the requisite merriment.

In a more general sense, I have to say that I am not a huge fan of tradition, and holidays are so entangled with tradition. Tradition is based in repetition, and I always prefer the fresh and the unestablished. It is no wonder people get bored with the holidays because they are the same year after year after year. I think we need to create new holidays and subvert the existing ones. The newness keeps us young and refreshed, rather than dreading another round of stress and requirements. I like the idea of new traditions or traditions that morph and transform over time. Traditions are, after all, meant to be broken, meant to be violated. One of the things I am trying to do each year is make the feast day of Joan of Arc into my own personal holiday since she is my Patron Saint. There is no infrastructure for these personal holidays, which makes them more challenging. But even if it is just me and a strong intention, I can consider it a holiday that has worth and meaning. We also need more queer holidays beyond pride parades. One that I celebrated in November was the birthday of Black Lesbian writer and activist Audre Lorde. It was really meaningful to me and we had a nice group and discussion.

What I would say to people is to celebrate or not celebrate holidays however you want. Don’t feel stressed out by them or bound by tradition or expectations. Holidays are meant to be fun, so how did it happen that they have become a drag for so many? Also, practice good self-care during the holidays and reach out if you are struggling. Your well-being is infinitely more important than any holiday. And finally, consider establishing new holidays or traditions for yourself, your family and your community. You will find others also appreciate new ceremonies and rituals and that these help to keep life fresh. Whether you opt in or opt out, you are in the driver’s seat and get to decide your own relationship to holidays and traditions.

 

Depression [Part II]

Good things about depression? The mere concept seems absurd. But the answer for me lies with the motif of this blog: queerness. In this entry, I want to talk about the “good” or “positive” facets of depression by talking about it through a queer lens.

For me, being queer means being an outsider and taking pride in being an outsider. It is being a pariah. It is being and living at the margins and making a home there. Being queer is different from being gay and different from being transgender. Those could well be part of it, but they do not define it. Queerness is more expansive and distinctly more political. In my view queer is radical and it is revolutionary. It takes pride in being different. Which is why all of the emphasis on normativity and status quo establishmentarianism is so annoying [military service, marriage, adopting children, etc.] and so thoroughly anti-queer.

If I revel in my queerness there is a way I can revel in my depression in that both confer outsider status. It is very important to state: being gay or trans does not cause one to be depressed. Being gay or trans in the context of a virulently homophobic and transphobic society may cause one to be depressed. Making society less homophobic and transphobic may make LGBT people less depressed. But in the interim, many queer folks deal with depression and search for ways to survive with it or even find “positive” aspects of it to make sense of their suffering. What are some possible “positive” things about depression for me [these may not resonate with other depressed folk]:

1. Having depression makes me more sensitive. I have to be. It makes me more sensitive to other people’s illnesses, disabilities and life adversity. Suffering can cause great compassion to develop. It can help manifest empathy in the depressed person’s life. Sensitivity is a good thing. There is far too much harshness in our society. Depression has caused me to develop greater empathy, compassion and sensitivity and that is indeed a gift.

2. We have to think about our health: mind, body and spirit. Depression means thinking about where you are in terms of your mind, body and spirit. It means taking action to work on mending yourself. We cannot ignore our depression. If we do so, we do it at our own peril.

3. Depression can be life-threatening, so it makes you reflect more carefully on the value of life. Life is so precarious. It can be gone in the blink of an eye. When you make it through the dark tunnel to the other side, you can have a new appreciation for the value of life. We have good coping skills. However hard it is, I now often think, very simply: I am alive. And what a miracle it is that I have had the ability to live my life for 44 years. I am thankful for life, even though it has been full of suffering.

4. We get stronger. One of the most obvious positive parts of depression is our strength, determination and resiliency. Many of us go through hell and back. But we make it, and we get stronger and we get smarter. I would not be who I am if I had not had depression. It has certainly made me more determined to fight and to take pride in my queerness, my fatness and my crip-ness. Depressed people are often cast as weak, as tragic and as victims. An opposite way to view it is: We are strong, we are epic and we are survivors. Meeting other depressed people is always a joy because I see the strength within them and the desire to persevere.

5. We experiment with self-care in ways that are innovative. Writing this blog is a form of self-care for me. So is coloring, playing my keyboard and drinking tea. Sometimes I bring a small stuffed animal with me for comfort when I am anxious or feel social anxiety. Often we may get in touch with our “inner child” and do child-like or playful things as a form of self-care. When you’re depressed, you have to get creative and improvise. We often don’t care about others viewing our actions as strange because we are willing to do whatever it takes to feel better and be more functional. This will enable others to be brave and unswerving in their commitment to unique/queer self-care.

There are surely more but this gives you a sense of my thinking of subverting depression away from hegemonic meanings and queering depression to see its potentiality. If I had the choice of having or not having depression, I would choose to not have it. But since that is not an option, there are ways to re-think and re-conceptualize life that are comforting and innovative. Step by step, I choose to live with depression by using my agency to fight for my own life and everyday mental wellness.

 

 

Activism

Too often, the definition of activism is far too narrow. This is because people have certain ideas about activism lodged in their head. They think activism means a certain thing, when in fact it can and does mean many different things. Part of what I do as an educator is to help my students see that activism has a plurality of meanings. I also try to help them see that what they are doing is activism. They may not think it is activism because they are not giving themselves credit for the justice work that they are already doing.

What comes to mind when people hear the term “activism”? Oftentimes people think of demonstrations, rallies, vigils, street marches, sit-ins and hunger strikes.. They think of lobbying their state or federal senators and representatives. They think of testifying before legislative bodies and calling or writing their elected officials. And if they are not doing these particular things, it means they are not an activist. Now, I have done all of these things and they are in fact important parts of activism. But they are far from the only part. I think we need to cast a wide umbrella and see the work that people are already doing as activism. When they receive credit for this labor, they will begin to take part in other activisms and stretch themselves to further social, economic and environmental justice.

Some of the less traditional activism could include many things, such as: interrupting bigoted “jokes” and comments; writing a blog; wearing a pin, patch or t-shirt that supports a particular cause; working with ones family to educate them; calling attention to privilege and oppression within one’s sphere of influence; working to make an event or a space more inclusive or accessible; making political statuses on Facebook, Twitter and other social media; making activist art; taking part in craftivism; boycotting or supporting certain businesses; culture jamming; hacktivism and many more.

I am not a fan of terms like “slacktivism” or “keyboard warrior” that make light of the activism that people are engaging in. For some, the only activism they can engage in is online due to disability or economic status. It can be ableist and classist to cast aspersions on people’s activism. I prefer a big-tent approach and an approach of encouragement and cheer-leading. There is so much endless criticism about what we do or don’t do. It is easy to interrogate and finger point. But what we really need is an atmosphere that challenges people but also rewards them and encourages them to continue to do the work.

People need encouragement because activism is very, very, very hard work. If it was easy, we would have solved the problems a long time ago. The problems are enormous and well-entrenched. Going against the status-quo requires courage and determination. Because of these realities, self-care is of the utmost importance. I am glad in recent years there has been more discussion of self-care, because it is simply not optional. Activism can literally send people to an early grave. As activists we need to practice self-care, we need to pace ourselves and we need to know that it is okay to walk away. We need to give ourselves credit for the work that we ARE doing and stop beating ourselves up because we believe we can or should be doing more.

Activism has a steep learning curve. We must be gentle with ourselves while also challenging ourselves to climb higher and fight harder. The causes we fight for are way too important to abandon and thus the struggle continues!