So, a couple of things made me happy yesterday and I couldn’t wait to talk about them with you. Here goes.
First, I attended a virtual workshop on how to ‘Humanize the Online Experience’ in your college classes. The speaker was wonderful and talked about how students need connection, rapport, feelings that the instructor is genuine and real, etc. I totally agreed with this but after a while, I realized that the necessity for this workshop made me sad. You see, this to me is a no-brainer. Really.
I guess I was a ‘humanized’ professor before the ‘humanization of professors’ was ‘cool’…suddenly, what set me apart is now ‘vogue’ in academia. I have always believed that unless you see your prof as someone you can connect with, you won’t learn a freaking thing from them. I’ve had bosses who I had no connection for…no respect for…no investment in because they stifled any hope of that happening. “We must remain objective and somewhat cold in order to maintain order” seems to be a common mantra amongst some college personnel. But why?
I’ve been hugging students longer than most of you have been alive (shutty the mouthy, please 🙄) and I’ve gotten looks from it over the years. I also share with my students. I share my experience of being sexually abused. My experiences regarding my divorces (another shutty, peeps🤨 ). What it’s like to have a mental illness. What it’s like to self-harm and attempt suicide. What it was like having a batterer married to ma for so many years. And what it’s like to get yourself out of a very very dark place in order to see the light again. I answer any questions honestly, and there are times when I cry with my students. When we’re tackling the hard stuff in my psychology and sociology classes, I might stop the lecture, walk over to someone who is tearing up, hug them around the shoulders (I ask…I don’t want to invade space), and tell them we are all supporting them. I had a dean once tell me I was ‘being too nice’ to my students and my job wasn’t ‘comforting them or being their friend.’ Well, my retired dean, it was. And still is.
When you take a gander at the definition of ‘teacher’ you get this (courtesy of Merriam-Webster): ‘to impart knowledge’ and ‘to instruct by precept, example, or experience.’ How in the world are you going to be an effective professor if you show nothing of yourself? Don’t help students learn from your own experiences? Don’t show students how their own bad experiences don’t have to shape them forever? How do you expect students to learn when they are needing ‘more’ from you? A smile. A hug. An empathic ear that listens and validates and doesn’t just spout platitudes. Why in the hell would a student want to open themselves up in anything less than this type of environment?
You see, something I was reminded of yesterday was how thinking and emotion go hand in hand. They both originate from the mind and both need each other to survive. If a students feels lonely or like an outcast…has depression or is anxious…is fighting a battle that’s not readily apparent, how can they learn? Seriously. How effective are YOU when you are emotional? How well do you do your job? Remember what you read? Retain what you heard? I don’t know about you, but when I’m in an ’emotional state’ it pretty much supersedes anything else. Period. And, if you don’t address these issues by not inquiring how students are doing or noticing a student who is suddenly quiet and down without asking if they’d like to talk…they aren’t going to learn from you. And, if they see that you can’t be real in the class…how the hell do you expect them too?
I think teaching is more than imparting knowledge. I think it’s building connections with people where they learn the academics but also more about themselves. Where they come out of a class feelings stronger. Better. More supported and supporting. More understood and understanding. And this is a NEW concept? Well spank me hard. I was ahead of my freaking time.
Then yesterday, a student shared a video with me of a woman doing a talk about how a professor helped her deal with her rape by speaking up about her own sexual assault. My student wrote “You are this professor to me”.
I’ve had students say a lot of things to me over the years (some not so hot 😐) but these words hit me the hardest. It showed me that opening myself up…providing students with the atmosphere to do the same…means something. Can do something. Something more than memorizing who the Father of Sociology is (Auguste Comte…my sweetie students better have known this 😉).
Look, I’m going to let you in on a secret. Teaching isn’t fucking Rocket Science (sorry, ma 🙄) . And for those who think it is, you’re doing it wrong. Just like when Michael Keaton is “Mr. Mom” and he’s dropping off his kid incorrectly at their school and a room mom tells him: “You’re doing it wrong.” It should never be ‘hard’ for a prof to connect. Build. Encourage. Motivate. Validate. And if it is…you just might want to go into something else.
Professoring is a people ‘job’. It’s bringing a room full of strangers together for 16 weeks and creating a bit of a family out of them. A family where they feel comfortable sharing and voicing opinions and asking questions and opening themselves up to what you say. It’s creating a place where students can be expressive…vulnerable…willing to learn from everyone around them. It’s not the brain that’s hard to use when professoring…it’s the heart.
But, I’m here to tell you this: when you can use the heart as much as the head in a classroom then you have come to the point when real learning takes place.
So, an article came up in a newsfeed the other day and I can honestly say I was more gobsmacked than I’ve ever been in my entire life on this earth (around 40 years or so… 🙄).
First of all, I want to assure you I have not, and will not, ever ever ever be a part of TikTok. I don’t really get the premise outside of people dancing and singing and making videos to share, and the only person I know who actually uses it watches young girls shake their boobs and behiners (he’s my age). I’m sorry…call me crazy (many have 🙄), but I think this is a bit creepy…to say the least.
Anyhoot, there’s something called ‘trauma porn’ and it’s where people either ‘pretend’ to be victims of something or they use their own story in a sensationalized way for attention.
I knew this existed (because I’m just so gosh darn smart) but when I saw this picture, I was speechless.
So in this case, we have these young women pretending to be holocaust victims. Peeps…please read that sentence again. These women are pretending to be concentration camp victims and my question is who, in the name of all that is holy, would ever…in a million years…think it’s OK to appropriate this tragedy and use it as a way to get viewers on fucking TikTok? Seriously? I’m speechless (which is quite unnatural for me to be 😳.
As I often do, I’m typing this outside on my laptop (while Eddie and Dottie frolic around…eating poop…and yapping at absolutely nothing) and my beautiful neighbor came out with her dog. She asked what I was doing and when I told her about this trend and that I was trying to write about it, here’s what she said: “You know, people my generation have never really faced trauma or tragedy anywhere close to the holocaust and how can they even imagine what it would have been like? How could they ever presume to know that pain? They’ve been shielded from so much anyway.”
So, I was chatting with someone the other day and they said this: “Those who can’t do, teach.” OK. I’m going to wait until you educators pull your jaws up off the floor and are able to blink again. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Ready? I’m going to sum up what my first reaction was to this: What the fuck (sorry, ma…but you helped put me through college…aren’t you a bit pissed too?)?! Are you kidding me? Really?
First of all, how totally ridiculous is that phrase? I can’t even. I’m mean seriously…I refuse to type it again since it pisses me off so much. Let me get this straight: if I CAN’T do something, I CAN teach it. Hmmmmm…so…if I CAN’T speak German (which I’d like to be able to since it was the native language of my great-grandparents 😳), I CAN still jolly well teach it? Okey dokey! Well…let’s see…I can’t look at the periodic table and not think it should be re-arranged differently because it’s just not aesthetically pleasing, understand an electrical circuit (just ask my brother in law 😵), comprehend anything at all about astronomy, see algebraic equations and not want to poke myself in the eye with a hot stick since they simply look like gobbedly-gook to me and it stresses me out even more than I ususally am just peering at them, peruse biological concepts and wonder how I have kept myself alive this long since I understand nothing about bodily functions, read about a physics law and marvel at the fact I can ride a freaking bike when I have absolutely no clue in God’s world how I’m doing it, and the list goes on. BUT, I can certainly TEACH about biology and electricity and algebra. Right? Good to know. Blech.
OK. Maybe you’re rolling your eyes (don’t do that, grasshoppers…according to ma they’ll stick that way and you’ll be looking at ceilings for the rest of your lives 🙄) and saying to yourself: “The quote doesn’t mean that! It means that if you CAN’T be successful in the field, THEN you teach.”
OH! Much better! 🙄 Heh?? Why can’t people understand that the great majority of educators WANTED to teach? That it was our primary objective? That teaching is a discipline? That we studied the particular field we teach AND learned how to teach it?
Actually, this begs even more questions: When did people lose so much respect for educators (I mean, hello?!! Who the hell taught them how to read?)? When did we start to demand so much more from teachers while losing appreciation for them at the same time? When did teachers become the scapegoats for so many of society’s ills? And, when we talk about educational issues in general, why is it that faculty are judged first, when in fact they are following the dictates of an administration who may never have taught themselves? Does that really make sense, peeps? Me don’t think so. 🤨
Anyhoot, besides providing fodder for a rambling intro, when that quote was said to me, it started me thinking of other ‘myths’ regarding teachers. And believe you me, there’s a lot of ’em. (Side note: I’ve never really gotten the phrase ‘believe you me’. It doesn’t make sense but I like using it anyway…it just sounds catchy to me).
So y’all know that us educators have it made; I mean look…we get our summers off! Right? If you believe that, I have some great ocean side property in Iowa to sell you for a buck an acre (put your checkbook away ma…I was just making a point 🙄). Unlike for all the other people in the world that actually ‘work’ and not teach, this has been a very relaxing summer for me. I taught 3 summer classes because I need the income and because I want students to have every opportunity possible to get their needed credit hours. I shoved 16 weeks of work into 8 for each class and that made for hours and hours of grading every week; and since I taught them online (which is not my first choice but necessary this summer and also because summer students traditionally like online 😎), I was making tons of videos and helping students with not only their academic work but with some technology issues as well.
Then, I always use the summer to get ready for fall (us educators never live in the ‘semester’ we’re teaching…instead, we are always teaching one semester while preparing for the next). That means I’m prepping 8 classes (so many because we have an open faculty position we can’t fill because of Covid and interviewing issues, etc.) to be online and for every single one of these develop 16 weeks of fresh, engaging, interactive material. That’s 128 weeks of work to get ready with me researching every topic/issue/concept I teach in 2 different disciplines and then going through loads and loads of info so my students learn as much as they possibly can. Being in front of the computer with scads of books, articles, sites, videos, etc. to wade through for 6-7 hours a day made for a relaxing summer ‘off’. Huh?
“But Kristi, you get paid the big bucks as a professor!” No, my sweetie peeps, I don’t. Yes, I make good money and am truly blessed by what I do. And I mean that…I get paid for doing what I love and for being with my sweetie students who I absolutely adore. But, I’m not going to get ‘rich’ (which doesn’t matter to me one iota since so many wealthy men are lining up to marry me anyway 🤓 ) and struggle with money at times. I know so so so many people live paycheck to paycheck and that I’m very lucky I always have enough to pay what I need too with some left over. However, I think people hear the word professor (or even teacher) and think RICH. Nuh uh. (So, if you’re a nice rich, single guy and you like teachers…just sayin’). 🤨 In fact, according to Visual Capitalist, out of 50 college degrees, education is ranked #49 in terms of salary. 49!
Another gem? A good teacher can teach anyone. Bullshit. Any questions?
C’mon now. Students have to want to learn…be motivated to learn…put their own work into the process…and the list goes on. Teachers aren’t the only part of the equation in the educational process. Trust me. And it’s getting harder. Students have a repository of knowledge in the palm of their hand. They don’t need to know how to look through indexes, read dozens of articles and books, take notes, type out papers multiple times on a typewriter until it’s just right, etc. Now, they can just say: “Hey Google…what are the 3 theoretical perspectives of Sociology?” (VERY important to know, peeps…you might be on Jeopardy someday 🙄). So, we are now trying to teach students how to learn…how to think for themselves outside of what ‘wikipedia’ says…how to analyze information…how to be media literate…how to show that the info we present is applicable in real life…and how to find a love of reading and learning simply for the sake of it. That’s tough to do. Trust me.
“Well, you might say…at least teaching is ‘easy’. I mean, you’re pretty much just talking to students and all.” Hubby 3 (sigh…shutty the mouthy…), a maintenance technician, thought this for a time…bless his motorcycle lovin’ heart. But then he was asked to teach a 6 hour class about crane inspection (I can’t think of anything I’d least like to sit through…except maybe ma telling one more story about a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend who might have something but doesn’t know for sure 🙄). I tried to give him some teaching tips (of course, what did I know…I’d only been doing it for a couple of decades 😳), but he said it would be a cinch…he knew his stuff. Oooookkkkkaaaaayyyyy!
After his class, he plodded up the driveway and looked exhausted. The first thing he did upon walking in the door was to grab me, hug me, and say “How the hell do you do this everyday? It was a nightmare!” (Actually his language was much more graphic then this…but it might shock the knickers off of ma). I asked what happened and he said: “People weren’t listening and were talking and were asking stupid questions I had already answered and whining for a break and mumbling about why was I the one teaching this crap and I’d say something 3 times and they still wouldn’t get it and my PowerPoints were illegible because I made them too wordy and then they’d want a bathroom break and then their phone would go off and I’d have to start my sentence over and then one fell asleep and started snoring and then a couple of the guys started laughing while a couple others were arguing about unions and I just wanted to get in a factory and be out of that God forsaken room.” I didn’t use punctuation in that sentence because Hubby didn’t when he said it. It was just one long complaint. And after this little adventure in academia? He never ever ever said I didn’t work hard. Ever.
Out of all of these gems, this is my favorite quote about teachers: “Most damaging to student achievement: teachers are interchangeable widgets.” ~ Joni Johnson
OK. I don’t know who the hell this person is, and to be honest, I don’t want to know. But to make a blanket statement about a group of people that you apply to every individual means you weren’t listening in sociology class when stereotyping and prejudice were being discussed. Just sayin’.
Yes. There are good professors and bad professors. Good teachers and bad teachers. But by the same token, there are good chefs and bad chefs…good docs and bad docs…good accountants and bad accountants…and the list goes on. Why is it that educators are singled out as a group and if one is bad, the whole lot of them are? I don’t get that at all.
Finally, us educators are told that we need to be flexible, accommodating, understanding, work to develop a one on one relationship with each student, not provide so much homework, lessen demands and expectations, challenge our students, apply every concept to real life, know everything there is to know about our subject matter, allow for more individuation in learning, have passion, be inspirational, keep things lighthearted so learning is fun, bring our own personal stories into the class, etc. Whew.
Now, take a look-see at those expectations again. And then tell me…honestly…how many people in ANY profession can do any of those things every single day? Not only is it impossible, but so many are counter to one another! It’s sorta tricky to challenge our students while lessening our demands on them. In other words, profs…all educators…are held to a higher standard in terms of their ‘job’ and everything is supposed to be ‘wonderful’ in the classroom regardless of day, topic, etc. I’m here to tell you, peeps…lecturing about domestic violence does not make for a lighthearted class. Trust me.
When O was a medium sized guy, I was asked to be a guest speaker at the schools career day, and the PTA President (cough cough…shrew…cough cough) said I would only get a few minutes since kids know what teachers do anyway. So…I made the following list to talk about that I called: “What Does Professor K do all Day?” (I love rhymes…):
Prepare lectures, PowerPoints/videos/handouts
Prepare both master and working syllabi each semester
Prepare records/data for program reviews and course reviews
Develop online classes
Grade Grade Grade
Prepare exams ensuring they are reliable and valid
Calculate midterm and final semester grades
Meet with students often for extra help and guidance
Grade Grade Grade
Integrate new learning and technology into classes every semester
Be evaluated by dean and then prepare a self-evaluation every year
Advise students on majors and courses
Counsel students on careers and job opportunities in the field
Grade Grade Grade
Write letters of recommendation for students seeking jobs
Write letters of recommendation for students seeking scholarships
Write letters of recommendation for students seeking entrance into a university
Present community workshops as part of the colleges Speaker’s Bureau
Participate in college and departmental meetings
Grade Grade Grade
Serve on college committees
Serve on search committees for new faculty members
Serve on tenure committees
Earn continuing education hours to maintain my professional designation
Grade Grade Grade
I think that pretty much covers it. And, since my time on campus is spent being with my sweetiepie students, I spend hours and hours working at home as well.
Look, I’m not saying that teaching is the hardest job in the world. It’s not. Really. However, teaching is a field that is losing respect and teachers are being scrutinized more and more as students’ work and test scores decline. Educators have ‘bosses’ too and there is only so much ‘freedom’ we have to do what we think is right. Professors have to do what our admin tells us to do. Elementary – High School teachers have to follow the dictates of the district…teach so kids can pass the standardized tests…operate under whatever funding is available. And we all have to keep our mouths shutty when we, as EDUCATORS, realize that what NON-EDUCATORS (who are often on school boards, etc.) direct is often wrong. How frustrating that is.
Anyhoot, I love what I do. And I’m good at what I do. As are millions of educators out there. Give us a break, guys. Cut us some slack. We are not at fault for the world’s ills and the ‘buck’ does not stop at the teacher in terms of education. Parents, communities, and the students themselves have to be added to the equation (which is hard for me to do…remember, I suck balls at math 😳) for what makes successful education in any society. And, if you see one of your old teachers out and about, say ‘howdy’ and give them a little hug (masked, of course 😷) and tell them how much you learned from them. It will make their day. Truly.
So, I saw that Little House on the Prairie was on Amazon Prime and I decided to binge watch the entire series (yes, 9 seasons, 20+ episodes each season, and me bored as hell sitting at home). I grew up with the show and like to think of myself as a ‘reincarnated’ Laura if you will, particularly since my family knows how great I am in the wilderness with no modern comforts 🙄). Anyhoot, as I was bawling along with ‘pa’ who cries every episode (and takes off his shirt regardless of season, storyline, etc.) I realized just how many things I’ve learned from it through the years. Let’s take a look-see:
Marriage is forever. Well, hells bells, that’s pretty straight forward. And it’s really that easy with them. The marriages on this show experience fires, bankruptcy, diptheria, strokes, crop failures, the loss of babies, kids going blind (Lord, how much I wanted Mary’s blue eyes instead of my own, as well as her long blonde hair…ma had me and sissie’s mousy brown cut into ‘shags’ with crooked bangs. No wonder we were so popular 😐), trips of hundreds of miles over rough terrain in a prairie wagon that looked as sturdy as my 20 year old lawn chair, and the list goes on. And guess what? These people stayed married. Maybe it was as easy as this: they married who they loved, they worked to make it the best they could, and they took their vow – ‘Til Death do us Part’ – seriously. Hmmmmm.
Kids are disciplined. OMG! What the fuck?!!! Kids are held accountable for their actions? Disciplined? Punished? Taught right from wrong? How can that be?? Our society thinks kids should be coddled and their behavior excused, and if we do try to teach them a lesson? Their self-esteem will plummet and by golly, we’ll be vilified. Okey dokey. Tell me how that’s working out. I’m not advocating using a ‘strap’ for piss sakes, but believe you me, kids can be corrected quite nicely without physical punishment. And trust me on this too: kids need correction and want to know the rules and boundaries they live in. Without them, they’re lost.
Here’s another shocker: kids are taught manners! Well, who woulda thunk this was good?! Kids say ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘no, sir’. They shake hands when meeting someone. Look adults in the eye, speak politely to them, and don’t use first names (which is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. If you’re 5, I’m not Kristi, I’m Ms. Palmer). Don’t interrupt. Do their chores when asked (another lesson, if you will…kids actually help out the family and take care of their home 😲). My goodness, it sure is marvelous we stopped teaching these things. I just love walking through Wal-Mart and hearing a 9 year old call his mom a bitch. Much better.
Family comes first. Let me repeat that because I know it’s a hard concept in our society today. FAMILY comes first. Not being on our phones while posting to social media showing everyone how amazingly awesome our lives are (instead of just living them). Not spending more and more time at work to earn for that new car the family just has to have so they can spend a week together on a vacation which won’t be that great anyway since ma and pa are yelling at the kids to not mess up the brand new car. Not sitting in front of the boob tube, drool dripping from the chin, and the only interaction among the family is the fight the kids are having over what to watch among the 1000’s of choices that are available. Instead, family helps each other daily, works together for the good of the family, comes even closer together in crisis, eats dinner together (only about 30% of families eat their evening meal together consistently throughout the entire week), and makes their own fun including camping trips, listening to pa play the fiddle, and listening to ma read a book aloud. (The lesson of this? Pop…you need to learn to play the fiddle).
Education is important. Heh?? This is another ‘old fashioned idea’ where kids spend 8 hours in school, are quiet and respectful in class, do their work to their best ability, turn it in on time, and are excited when learning something new. There are no screens…no software…no ‘gadgets’ to help. Only slates, books, maps and a chalkboard. Yet, when you look at past tests kids were expected to conquer before graduating, they are a hell lot more demanding than what I’ve seen: high school graduates with screens and software and gadgets who cannot write a complete sentence. Seriously. Take a look-see at this test and see if you can pass it; bear in mind it’s for 8th grade graduation (kids often didn’t go on to high school…mostly because the majority of them didn’t need too after learning all of this!). And no, do NOT use google. (Ma…this is one time you’re really going to shine since the test is from 1895 when you were in 4th grade. I posted a daguerreotype to show my sweet peeps just how hard you worked for Miss Beadle).
Neighbors help neighbors. Really? You mean, even though the families often lived hundreds of acres or a handful of miles apart, there was still a camaraderie, concern, and assistance to one another. Need help harvesting? Your cow is delivering? Your barn burned and you need a new one by winter? Don’t fret…your neighbors will help. Now, I actually had a neighbor years and years ago…in the ‘nice, good address, more ritzy’ neighborhood Hubby 2 and I lived in (as compared to my little granny house now)…and my next door grouch would come out when I mowed to make sure I didn’t step on his grass when I turned at the end of a mown row. Not kidding. Once, when I did step on his property (by about 4″), the cops were called. It was a freaking nightmare, but the cops looked at him as if he were senile (which he wasn’t, just nasty) and told him to never call again about me. He did. Often. 😠
Trouble intensifies faith. No matter what the crisis or loss was, God was looked to for strength and hope. He wasn’t blamed or denounced, and the people didn’t question what was happening. They leaned on him, prayed to him, and understood that although they might not understand the ‘why’ behind what was going on, they trusted it was going to be OK. Peeps, that’s faith.
Dying isn’t to be feared. Instead, it’s a part of life and because there was so much faith, the people knew the place they were going was going to be a perfect eternity where they would be reunited with their loved ones someday. It was simply another phase of life and memories would sustain those on earth until it was their turn to go.
Ok…before you fill up my inbox, I know things weren’t perfect then! Duh. I can’t imagine living with such primitive medical care (Mary gets an operation and the doctor has his hands in his pockets before grabbing the scalpel without any gloves or washing, and begins the cut, not knowing if Mary is really under yet 😳), no air-conditioning (while wearing petticoats: note to ma, can I borrow some of yours to see what it was like?), the physical punishment that was often meted out, the living from hand to mouth, and the societal issues of the day: lack of rights for blacks and women, so much prejudice and discrimination, so much alienation from the rest of the world, and so much ignorance of mental illness. It wasn’t nirvana, but I will say this: the medicine was often alcohol (something that cures a lot of my ails today) heroin, cocaine, and morphine, (so wonder they were so happy). 😜
Regardless, a big part of me wishes we could go back to some of these values. To me, progress isn’t always ‘progress.’ Look at the divorce rates…the kids growing up without dads or never knowing what it’s like to have an intact family…the children who are denied attention and discipline and act out accordingly…the families that don’t push education and take an interest in schoolwork…the parents that put work and technology over time with the family…the parents that work for things not needed but wanted for status. Why is it we can’t learn from our past, and embrace the principles that are so important while still moving forward in technology that brings us all closer together as opposed to splitting us apart? Why can’t the old and the new be combined into a ‘normal’?
And, most importantly (at least to me 😳)? Why thy hell can’t I find a man like Pa who looks damn yummy half naked, works his ass off, knows how to show emotion, will actually converse and listen (gasp), and has a sense of humor that’s just as adorable as his smile and wavy hair? It just ain’t right that guy hasn’t plopped in my lap. 😏 Maybe I should road-trip to Walnut Grove and see who’s out there.
P.S. Hey Peeps…show me some love and click on the “Follow” button? Much thanks, sweeties! ❤
So, I’ve been teaching since I was 24 years old: 2 years olds (who scared the crap out of me), 5th and 6th graders, high schoolers, and of course, college, and through these experiences, I’ve learned there are 2 types of students – those who memorize and learn what they need to know for the subject, and those who take what they are learning and apply it to their lives in ways that allow for change and more insight to come about. I think a lot of us are actually both. There were classes I took where my main objective was to do all I could to get my grade and then scoot the hell on. Ask me what I ‘learned’ in College Trigonometry. The answer? Not much. I got my A and was very proud of that, but I never applied the info after my final exam; it wasn’t ‘important’ enough to my life and what I wanted to do, so the info has fallen by the wayside (Note to Dr. S: you were an AWESOME professor to teach me something that was so hard for me to pick up…bless your heart in heaven!).
I guess I’m feeling this way about what I’m trying to do with blogging: to educate others and help people see the inside perspective and challenges of mental illness, and then to take that info and run with it. But I also understand this is very hard to do, particularly for those who have no experience with these issues themselves.
Besides my brain (🙄), I’m really quite healthy, and so it’s difficult for me to understand what it’s like to have diseases and physical illnesses. For example, diabetes. I have a friend with this, and he is struggling with a bit of a weight problem . At times, I nag (yes, I said nag…I’m quite good at it actually) him to walk more, ride his indoor bike more, and eat better because I’ve read that losing weight and exercise is a great help for a diabetic. And for me, this would be easy. But I’m me…not him. I don’t have any idea what it is to struggle with low blood sugar, to have to wear a monitor that’s showing insulin levels which must be checked dozens of times a day, to have diabetic neuropathy which makes balance and walking difficult. I simply haven’t had this so I have no clue what it’s like to walk in his shoes, and the ‘advice’ I give to him is much more demanding to do than I can ever imagine.
But by the same token, it’s the same with mental illness. You can read all you want on it…show greater acceptance of people who suffer from it…vow to be kinder to those who have it, but actually doing these things is tough if there’s no personal experience to draw from.
I’ve written a lot about how bipolars have heightened sensitivity and stronger emotional reactions, and research shows that even during our ‘middle’ states (called euthymia – where we aren’t too high or too low but experiencing more stable moods), we are still ‘hypersensitive to emotional stimuli and higher arousability.’ In other words, I’m a potentially hot emotional mess, regardless of my cycle (that word always makes me think of my old menstrual cycles which I’m happy to say menopause has taken care of, thank the Lord). I’ve also written about Rejection Syndrome which once again (if one has this particular symptom which I’m lucky to be blessed with myself 🙄) is always a part of a bipolars life regardless of cycle (but more pronounced when depressed ).
So, people have learned this from me and understand I have a brain disease that doesn’t affect my liver or my heart or my bones. But, how can someone understand what it’s like to have a brain that is so ‘much’ unless they’ve experienced it themselves?
Instead, those of us with bipolar might hear: “OMG, don’t be so sensitive.” OK…”OMG, don’t be so diabetic.” Or, “OMG…you are so emotional and moody…you need to have better control of these things.” OK…”OMG…you are so low on insulin and have nerve pain in your legs and feet that you need to have better control over those sugar levels.” When it’s put this way, how silly and indifferent it sounds. But to us with mental illness, the comparison is real. (P.S. If you grew up in the 80’s, feel free to say OMG like a Valley Girl).
Look, I can’t control my moods…my emotions…my sensitivity anymore than someone can control what their pancreas is doing right now. And yelling at us, or accusing us of using our disorder (yes, it’s very fucking fun to be on an emotional roller coaster all of the time) or ridiculing us for having ‘something in our heads’ compounds our symptoms even more. The above is hard enough: add guilt and shame to the mix and it can be deadly. Literally.
No one asks for a mental illness (and if they do…well…they’re nuts). Whether it’s major depression, generalized anxiety, a personality disorder, ADHD, schizophrenia, etc., we were just lucky enough to have been dealt that card (or often times, cards). So, why are we blamed even though we’re the victim of the disorder?
I had a really sweet person talk to me on Facebook not long ago and they said this (with truly the best intentions): “But you seem so normal. I thought bipolars were like, more crazy, than you are.” Hmmmmm. Do you know what ‘crazy’ actually means? Deranged. Insane. Mad. Unless we’re channeling Ted Bundy, that’s not what mental illness is. We are ‘normal’ people in that we love, work, read, garden, run, raise kids, clean our houses, mow our yards, ride our bikes. Bipolar and all mental illnesses/disorders are always with us and these things can be a huge struggle at times; but we’re not ‘always’ the disease. Major depression is always with my sissy, but she’s not always at the mercy of it. Schizophrenia is always with my nephew, but he has stable times when you wouldn’t ever suspect he could be psychotic.
Look, I love love love that y’all who don’t have a mental illness are reading this blog. It shows you have a desire to learn more about these issues, as well as enjoying my incredible wit 🙄. But may I ask you a huge favor? Will you please do more for me? For all of us who have these illnesses and disorders? Try to use the info for more understanding. More compassion. More accurate perceptions that being mentally ill doesn’t mean being crazy. Help others understand that too by correcting them when you hear stereotypes or misinformation.
My goal here is to stop the stigma of mental illness. I guess it started with me on these pages…but it ends with all of us.