Reflections of an Almost 30 Year Old

My birthday is in two days. On August 23, 2015 I will be 27 years old. I don’t know how I feel about that. I never thought I’d get here to be honest. Only nine years ago, making it to my high school graduation and an 18th birthday felt like a pipe dream. It wasn’t because I was failing classes or dodging bullets, I was mostly scared of myself. In order for this to make even a little bit of sense, I need to tell a story. It’s one I’ve told in bits and pieces before, but I guess it’s time to put the whole story together now. I will be discussing suicide and depression so keep that in mind before reading on.

I was 17 years old when I started my senior year of high school. I was an above average student, passing all of my classes, and even taking a few advanced courses. I was also the very last girl left in the engineering program at my school and extremely proud of that fact. My teachers, my family, and friends saw a lot of potential in me and pressured me to be the absolute best I could be. I know they all had the best of intentions, but that pressure had a terrible effect on me. I never felt that I was good enough, I always wanted to be better. If I got a B on a test, I wanted an A. If I got an A, it should have been a higher A. If I scored perfectly, I was angry at myself for missing the extra credit question. I wanted pure perfection. If I didn’t get perfection I would spend weeks agonizing over how I was the worst, the stupidest person to walk the earth and I would never make it into any college.

Eventually, the college crunch hits and it’s time for SATs, ACTs, scholarship deadlines, FAFSAs, and college applications. In addition to this, I have the regular senior stuff (homecoming, yearbooks, prom, and graduation) to worry about. I come from a poor family and every last one of those things costs money. A significant amount of money. It was just me and my mother and she had bills to pay so everything else came out of my pocket. I worked as many hours as I could at the shoe store I was employed at and tried my hardest to make sure my grades didn’t drop. When I wasn’t working on homework or at work, I was at college recruitment events or looking everywhere for scholarships. Every waking moment of my life revolved around getting into the best college. My mother and brother were sure to remind me whenever they could that I would be the first in the family to go to college and to not let them down. Once again, I was sure they had the best of intentions, but the added pressure just weighed me down even more.

The second half of my senior year is when everything becomes a blur. That was when I snapped. I remember being in my living room, but I don’t remember why I was there. I was crying uncontrollably and I couldn’t breathe properly. My mother was there trying to calm me down, but nothing she said could penetrate the massive cloud of terror that enveloped me. That’s one thing I remember to this day, absolute terror. It felt like I was at the bottom of a deep, dark pit that was slowly closing in on me and I couldn’t escape. My mother didn’t understand what was happening and I couldn’t articulate what I was going through at the time. Somehow I calmed down and I was left alone. From that point on, it was like watching a movie. I felt myself get up and move away from the couch. I found a bottle of pain pills, emptied it, and lined them all up. I began to take the pills, one by one. The next thing I remember is waking up in my bed and continuing as normal.

While I didn’t succeed in killing myself, I did succeed in scaring myself. I knew if I did it once, I could do it again and when I did it would be much easier. I stopped making long term plans because I no longer knew if I’d be alive. My milestones became daily, weekly at the most. I took my SAT, I got some scholarships, I applied to college, and I graduated high school. Once I found myself in college, I had no idea what to do. College is all about setting yourself up for a career, but I had no idea what I wanted to do because I couldn’t bring myself to think that far ahead.

For the next few years I found myself just doing enough to get by. I left school after two years for a plethora of reasons and moved back home and started working a shitty retail job. After that I got married, moved across the country, got pregnant, and dealt with deployments and more moving. Here I am, almost 10 years after that first (and only) suicide attempt still struggling to think long term.

I’ve seen and done so much in my life, but I’ve held back from even more because of my own insecurities, doubts, and fears. I’ve been so scared of falling back into that pit I was in ten years ago that I’ve tried to maintain a nice, safe middle ground. I’ve thought for so long that if I just got by, I could make it to that next day and stick around a bit longer. That’s just not enough anymore. It’s not enough. I know that if I want to live, truly live, I need to put myself out there and do some scary things. Most importantly though, I have got to stop holding myself back. I can be my own worst enemy and that has got to stop. All of this is so much easier said than done though. Let’s see if 27 is the year when I finally let go.

The Myth of Neutrality

I woke up this morning with a headache and a thought. While I waited for the aspirin to kick in, I decided to share that thought with the world.

Yes, there are technically “two sides to every story”. That doesn’t mean that both sides are equally important. This faux-neutrality, “let’s listen to both sides and weigh them against each other” mess has got to go.

You aren’t better than someone else if you’re willing to sit down and listen to a rapist defend himself. You aren’t smarter than someone else because you let a racist explain why they did a racist thing and tell you why it wasn’t racist. You aren’t more intelligent than anyone else because you let a misogynist explain why their misogyny is ok and “part of nature”. You aren’t neutral if you let a transmisogynist explain why their transmisogyny is totally ok. What you are is an asshole. Not only an asshole, but an oppressive asshole. An oppressive asshole that’s trying so hard to look good. You’ve swallowed the lie that in order to draw “proper” conclusions you have to listen to and give equal weight to “both sides”.

Here’s the thing, you can never give both of those sides “equal” weight or value. It’s just not possible. Our society is set up to give the “benefit of the doubt”. People are automatically gonna place more weight on the abuser/oppressor’s side. People are trained to believe that maybe the rapist didn’t do it. People are trained to believe that maybe he didn’t “mean it”. People are trained to believe that maybe PoC are “overreacting” and maybe she did deserve it. If you give oppressors/abusers a platform to “explain themselves”, you’re saying you don’t believe the victim & no one else should either.

No, that may not be your “intent” but that’s exactly what you’re doing. Intent is not magical. Intent does not wash away hurt, pain, inequality, and oppression. This is a lesson that every individual needs to learn and it’s a lesson that (most importantly) journalists and writers need to learn.

This whole “both sides”, faux-neutrality bullshit is deeply ingrained in our media. We think it’s a good thing when in reality it’s not. At least with Fox News, they loudly pick a side. You know where they stand on any given issue. Most other news media has gotten damn good at giving oppressors/abusers a platform through the mask of “neutrality”. The sad part is, most people eat that bullshit up because the network itself claims to be “progressive” or “liberal”.

The same goes for most of your liberal/progressive faves on twitter/tumblr/any other blog or website. These folks aren’t good people just because they claim to be liberal. Some of these so called “liberals” on twitter are some of the worst damn people to walk the Earth. LOOK at their tweets. Actually sit down and examine the the things they say. These people are telling you who they are, they’re telling you what side they’re on. You just have to listen.

A lot of y’all so-called faves are defending people like Woody Allen by talking about we need “both sides”. NO! There is no “neutrality” in a situation like that. Fuck what you heard and what you think, there is no “neutrality”. You’re either with the victim or the abuser. If you’re claiming to be “neutral”, that’s just a “nice” way to say you’re with the abuser. Like I said before, society is set up to automatically believe an abuser. We’ll give an abuser the “benefit of the doubt” before we even listen to a victim. That is an issue and until that shit right there is solved, there is no such thing as “neutrality”. There is only the victim’s side, the oppressor’s side, and the people too damn scared to openly say they’re with the oppressor.

You don’t like what I’ve just said? Sit down and examine why. Really look at your reasons for why you don’t like what I’ve said. Examine why you automatically jump to “neutrality” in cases of racism, sexism, ableism, or transphobia. Really look at why you want to be “neutral” when stories of rape and abuse come to light. You shouldn’t like the answers you come up with. If you do, that’s a problem.

“Comparison leads to violence.”

I was listening to the last hour of the last Hip Hop is for Lovers podcast of the year when one of the hosts (@Beautybyuche on twitter) said that phrase. She talked about how much it touched her when she first heard it and I couldn’t help but have the same reaction. It touched a part of me that I honestly thought I had dealt with and put behind me long ago. Turns out, I was very wrong.

I have spent my whole life comparing myself to other people. My brother, my classmates, my friends, the people on television, everyone. If I wasn’t the “best” it wasn’t good enough. If I’m being completely honest, it’s something that I find myself still doing. Here I am, married, financially stable(ish), and mom to a beautiful 3yr old but it’s still not “good enough”. I compare myself to other people my age and I view myself as a failure. Since I’m not in school, I don’t have a degree, and I’m definitely not going for a Ph.D., I think my life is a failure.

Comparing myself to others is drastically unhealthy and I know I shouldn’t do it but I do it anyway. That constant comparison has brought me nothing but depression, mental anguish, and more fear than one person should deal with on a daily basis. There are things that I want to do, that I love to do, but I’m too scared to do them because I’m afraid I won’t be the “best” at it.

The one question I’m currently asking myself is “why”. Why do I think I need that degree to be successful? Why do I think I have to be the “best” in order to do something? Why can’t I just be myself and be ok with that? Why do I feel the need to emulate the lives of others?

I don’t have a degree and I’ll probably never get one and that’s ok. I’m not the best writer in the world and that’s just fine. I didn’t have the best or easiest life, but you know what? That life lead me to where I am now. That life gave me one hell of a unique perspective on life in general. I shouldn’t take that for granted. So you know what? I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m going to stop the violence against myself and refrain from comparing myself to others. It won’t be easy and I may slip up from time to time, but I will stop. I want  2014 to be a fresh start for me. Hopefully this small step can help me do just that.

Twitter Rant of the Day: Unpaid Internships and Underpaying Jobs

Unpaid internships (and any type of unpaid work) really do need to be destroyed. You expect people to work for you, do the things you don’t want to do, spend their energy and time, completely for free?

You tell these people it’s for “exposure,” “experience,” or “for a good cause” like that’s gonna pay their rent. Y’all do realize folks have bills to pay, right? You do realize folks have to eat, right? It’s not like the ppl you want to take these unpaid internships can just get a second paying job. Not with the hours you want them to put in. You expect someone to work for you from dawn to dusk, and sometimes later, but you don’t want to pay them. How is that fair? And the people/companies asking for unpaid interns know good and fucking well they have enough money to pay them! You up here making hundreds of millions of dollars a year but don’t want to pay your interns? That’s bullshit!

If you want people to work for you, to spend their time and energy, compensate them appropriately! The apartment complex won’t take “experience” as a rent payment. The government won’t take “exposure” as student loan payment.

This goes for more than just unpaid internships too. This goes for folks who run websites  and blogs looking for writers too. You expect people to write about the most painful and personal things and do it for free. Then, when they (rightly) turn you down, you simply troll their tumblr, twitter, and wordpress accounts for what you want and use it without their consent. Or you ask for interviews saying their words will be used one way and then do something completely different, betraying their trust. Or, if you just don’t feel like asking at all, you steal their words and try to pass it off as your own on your blog/website. Then, after you’ve been called out for doing the fucked up shit you did, you try (and sometimes succeed) to paint yourself as the victim. That shit is not right and we definitely see you.

Hell, even the jobs tha do “pay” don’t nearly pay enough. The last job I had payed $7.55/hr. I easily should have been making at least $10-12/hr (if not more) for the type of work they had me doing though. I was only a sales associate but they had me setting prices, doing inventory, resetting parts of the store, training new hires, setting up displays, unloading & setting out new merchandise, working the cash register, doing returns and layaways, and so much more. When the people from the corporate headquarters in Chicago came to visit, they made sure to schedule me in because I was one of the only people who knew what the fuck they were doing.

I had my hands on damn near everything in that store. There were times where I quite literally did my manager’s job. I did all that work but was only getting $7.55/hr and they made sure my Black ass did not get full time hours, let alone overtime. There were times I looked at my schedule and I’d have 38.9 or 39 hours. If it looked like I might go over, they made me go home.

Before this argument comes up, there’s no way in hell I could’ve gotten another job. They way they scheduled me made that impossible. Add to that, I didn’t have a car so I’d have to rely on a city bus to get me from one job to another & back home. That was just not feasible.

So I was stuck at a job, making $7.55/hr, part time (which meant during the holidays I’d get around 35hrs/week but any other time of the year I’d only get 15-20hrs/week), with little to no chance to advance and after a year there I was looking at a 5 cent raise. No, you did not read that wrong, the oh-so-generous yearly raise was FIVE CENTS. One whole nickel. Oh, and those times I only got 15-20hrs, they’d routinely call on my days off to have me come in. If you said no, you’d basically be telling them to fire you. To put the cherry on the cake, I was actually doing better than a lot of the people I knew. Minimum wage at that time was $6.50/hr. I was making $1.05 more than most folks. Let that sink in for a minute.

So tell me, how the fuck is anyone supposed to live like that??? How? I’m just really fucking fed up with the state of affairs in the US work environment right now. People expect folks to work their asses off FOR FREE in unpaid internships that may or may not get them a job in the field they spent tens of thousands of dollars they didn’t have to get a degree in, or they expect you to work your ass off for a few dollars and change per hour, while getting shit on constantly by customers and other folks who simultaneously think they own you and their better than you because they have the office job or they’re in school, while you take it with a smile. If you don’t you’ll lose this shit ass job that barely fucking covers your bills and leaves you enough for food.

How is that living? That’s not even surviving. It’s just existing and I’ve been there for years and I don’t want to fucking go back there but I have to because once again I’m left with no fucking choice. And please, do not get me started on the jobs/people who don’t take you seriously if you don’t have a very expensive piece of paper from the “right” college or university. I’d be here all night and my blood pressure would be through the roof.

Twitter Rant of the Day: On Miley Cyrus and Activism

So this is a thing. I really fucking hate people.

Why are people so fucking convinced that you can’t talk about or care about more than one thing at once? It’s entirely possible for someone to speak about the Miley Cyrus mess and Syria and Egypt at the same fucking time! SHOCKING I KNOW! Pulling that “holier than thou” bullshit & saying “STOP TALKING ABOUT MILEY & START TALKING ABOUT SYRIA” shows me that you don’t give a damn about either topic. You’re only interested in making yourself look good.

Let’s be completely real with each other for a moment. Let’s sit down and have a real conversation for a second. You don’t give a fuck about Miley. You don’t give a fuck about the massive amount of cultural appropriation that happened on the VMA stage.

What’s also true is that you don’t give a single fuck about what’s happening in Syria. You don’t give a damn about people dying in Egypt. Hell, if I showed you a damn map you probably couldn’t point to the general area that Syria is in. Be real with yourself for a second.

What you do care about is making yourself look like the ultimate activist and liberal. You do care about people listening to you and not me. You not mad cuz attention is being pulled away from Syria, Egypt, and the like. You’re mad cuz attention is being pulled away from you.

Here’s the thing, if you took the time to look at the news websites and news channels, you’d see that they’re still covering Syria & Egypt. They’re doing stories about Syria right along with Miley Cyrus and her arrhythmic twitching. They haven’t forgotten. Discussing they type of coverage they’re giving to Syria and Egypt is an important and valid conversation to have, but you don’t want that.

No, what you want is for folks to shut up and pay attention to you and only you in all of your activist/liberal glory. So you pull out the “OMG STOP TALKING ABOUT MILEY AND START TALKING ABOUT [insert tragedy here]” argument to silence people. As a matter of fact, I bet you pull out that argument the most when attempting to silence the people who call your ass out for being the fake ass activist that you are.

But no, that’s too much truth for you to handle in one sitting. So you’re just gonna put your fingers in your ears and go back to screaming about how no one should pay attention to *this* and should instead talk only about *that*.

So when I see blogs like MileyCyrusTwerkingOnReality, I know that person isn’t doing that shit to “raise awareness.” They’re not doing it because they’re really outraged or because they think Syria, Egypt, or any other place/tragedy deserves more attention. They’re doing it because they want attention. They want you to stfu so they can have the stage and be lauded as a hero.

I’ve Had it with Hipsters!

This article pisses me off so bad it’s not even funny. Here’s a little backstory on what happened. A couple of artists got together and decided to start Signs For The Homeless. Basically, what they do is find a homeless person, listen to a story, and then (instead of doing something substantive like give clothing, money, food, or shelter) they make a brand new fancy sign for them.

Yes. You read that correctly. They make them a sign.

I’m just so pissed right now. Really? This is what you choose to do? Make a sign and then post it on tumblr? I feel almost personally insulted by this. I’ve been homeless before. I’ve lived in a homeless shelter. I know what it’s like to wonder where your next meal is coming from. I know what it’s like to cycle through the same two shirts, two pants, and three pairs of underwear. I cannot begin to tell you how insulted I would feel if someone had walked up to me, listened to my story, and then did nothing but make a sign like that was the real problem.

One of the recipients of a sign, Bobbi, says in the article that she chooses to sleep outside because “the shelters are nothing but stomping grounds for predators and thieves.” You know what? She’s right. I can’t tell you how many times me and my mom’s stuff was stolen and our mail was opened when we lived there. I can’t tell you how many time I saw people attacked both verbally and physically in the shelter. Luckily, we were able to get out and get into public housing relatively fast.

But hey! Everything’s peachy keen, right? I mean, at least Bobbi got a pretty new sign out of the deal! [insert eye-rolling .gif here]

Out of all the positive and actually helpful things these people could have done, they decided to make overly designed, super colorful, and really flipping big signs. Looking at the pictures, they pretty much made the person invisible. All you see now is that clean, colorful, professionally designed sign. You don’t see the person in need assistance. These two “artists” just found another way to make the homeless invisible. How much time before this tactic spreads to other cities?