Thursday, August 14, 2014

 On the death of Robin Williams and Suicide Stigma: Hey Responsible Media: A Life Disabled is A Life Worth Living!

There has been a lot of talk about responsible media. Dare I suggest that the media be responsible to not assume that Williams killed himself due to his disability? As a person that lives with both a disability and reoccurring depression I can tell you that living with depression is more difficult. I can also tell you people with disabilities have great lives worth living especially with empowering resources.
         I can also tell you that I, and every other person with a disability, is going to encounter people making comments like:
         “Oh, well, he had Parkinson’s. Now I understand. He didn’t want to burden people. He didn’t want his family to suffer. He didn’t want to suffer.”
         This is a great shift from the slew of insensitive comments people have made about Williams’s suicide. They say that he was “weak” or “selfish” or “ungrateful” because he lived the charmed life of celebrity and yet seemed to not value what gifts he had been given. Society hates when someone has something that they want (money, power, fame) and this person didn’t seem to value it the way it should have been valued. The idea seems to be “I should have had that instead. I wouldn’t have wasted it.” When the truth is probably that they worked for all the things they had and suffered with different struggles that we can never know.
         But in the case of Williams it now seems that we know his struggle. He was sick/disabled and he was going to become more sick and disabled. Immediately society’s attitude will shift. People will think: “Well, the guy really did have problems. I wouldn’t want that. Hell, if I had that maybe I wouldn’t want to live either.” Now I, and everyone else with a disability and illness will have to tolerate this shift as society will now think that ending his life was much more understandable. We, of course, don't know this, but want to use his physical illness to make sense of his suicide because somehow a mental illness isn't understandable or justified. I imagine his wife may have even disclosed his illness to take some of the criticism off. Something that his daughter Zelda has suffered with the most publicly. I don't know this, but I wouldn't blame his wife for doing this.  

        The problem is the horrible mircro-aggression that suicide is better for him and his family than a life with illness. I am not going to go on a rant saying that this attitude is unacceptable. I have long accepted that society is going to think/say what it wants. I just want to try to show that this is indeed what will be thought and said, and maybe reaching a few people and educating them about this attitude with disability and suicide is something new to think about. Maybe the media can educate and be responsible around suicide and depression and the idea of the value of a life disabled.
         A large obstacle to a valued disabled life is the hidden attitude that a disabled life is not worth living. As a person with a disability I am struck with how many media images/stories of disabled people killing themselves or sacrificing themselves are prevalent and seen as an accepted choice.

I was never so "heroic"

The latest I personally encountered was Joe Hill’s novel Horns. I loved the book and still love it. Can’t wait for the movie. (Minor Horns spoilers here:) But, it is revealed that the character’s girlfriend decided to break-up with him because she had a deadly form of breast cancer. This normally plucky and independent woman also decided to hide the fact that she had cancer from and just tell him she wanted to end the relationship to see other men. 
She knew if she told him the truth that he would insist on staying with her, and she didn’t want him to suffer.  This part is the real rub and something Joe Hill's dad has also used as a plot device: She also knew she would become a “monster” and say hurtful, bitter, things to him. You see her sister died of the same form of cancer and became a toxic beast in every figurative way at the end of her life. In Horns the real monster was the girlfriend's illness. It sent off a chain of events that caused him to turn into a monster, literally. (But, he was a cool monster.) I would say it was his girlfriend's  decisions around her false beliefs about illness that was the real monster. The book, and Hill, don't seem to see it that way.

          I am happy that Horns was written. I am a huge horror fan. I understand nothing is more horrifying to most able-bodied people than death and disability, and why wouldn’t that be so?  Having control of your mind and body is what people believe makes them who they are. However, I am someone who doesn’t have control of their body ever, and someone who can lose control of their mind. What is most scary to me is living in a world where I am not valued and other people like me aren’t valued, and that if I chose to end my life it would be understandable.
The scariest idea to me is that if a person with a disability commits suicide, or isolates themselves from others that they are somehow being heroic to their loved ones. The only time someone is heroic for ending their life is if they chose to do so in order for others to live. (I am lucky that in my life this mostly just happens in movies.) I would be super happy if that was what the media presented as heroic and understandable, not the suicide of disabled people. It may make me do a happy dance with limited mobility.

         I'll be honest, a disabled life is no life for the thin-skinned. Maybe it is not a life that everyone would choose to live, but as with anyone who choses to end their life it is the depression and feeling of isolation that causes the person to make that choice, not the disability or illness.  Even if Williams ended his life partially due to the stress of his Parkinson’s diagnosis he did it because he couldn’t see a way out of his isolation and sadness with the diagnosis. I think he could have. I wish he had. I just think of all the awesome disability jokes with missed out on! I ask you to think, educate, and share.

(This is me on a day I was having "bad" disability day, but we saw an elephant! Totally worth it!)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Paradox of giving advice on Motherhood as a writer Or Disabled Mom Writer Admits was right about everything (??)  

I wrote this in response to fellow woman writer who is single and thinking of being a mom. Of course, I emailed her an awful ADD version filled with typos and this one is better. Without her I wouldn’t be posting or writing. Women can keep each other alive as artists! Even though she blogged about it publically I am keeping her identity out of this.

Hi 37-year-old fellow Writer in my group,

I was struck by your post about whether or not to have a baby as a single woman while struggling with your independence and art. I feel like I might be able to offer some insight as a mom of a three-year-old and writer.  

With the pressures I currently have as a mom I probably have about a 50% chance of finishing the book I set out to write in class. The percentage that anyone will ever read the book besides my friends is probably lower, but regardless of the end result, having people pulling for me is a great gift. Being “selfish,” and making the book a priority until December was something I couldn’t have done without writing class.  

I have one of those typical stories of women writers where I in no way had my shit together enough to write when I was young. I had the added challenge of having a physical disability. There was no waitressing-while-writing-option for me. But, honestly it probably wouldn’t have happened anyway because I put too much into my relationships like a lot of women. No, that sounds blaming…

I just had to take that time in my 20s (and some 30s) to figure out who I was. I wrote my first published short story when my daughter was a year old. There were times I was writing it and she, and my partner, begged me to quit writing it and I almost did. (Her as a one year-old crying at a closed door and my partner saying I was becoming too obsessive.) I have become firmer with both of them about writing. I know that you are in a better situation. You are more developed as writer/artist, but I wanted to give you my perspective.

If you take away only a few things that I say from this let it be these next few paragraphs:

You do have some time to make this decision! Don’t let people pressure you too much or make you think you don’t have time. Even well-meaning parents can do this as you pass the age they were when they had you. I don’t know if this is your situation, but sometimes even the most loving families can push you to have a baby or make you feel like your eggs are “rotting away” when this is not the case.  Often it is their own anxieties about babies and/or just their own mortality in general. (My sister-in-law actually said my eggs were “rotting away.” Consequently, she had a baby when she was a year younger than me.)

 You have about five years, maybe more. Risks and difficulty increase gradually but seem to get really hard at 45 for most. Don’t let the looming big 4-0 push you. Doctors freak out when women have a baby after 40, but that is their own biases a lot of the time. A lot can happen in 3 years or 5 years. So, do consider that.

As a woman with a disability I was told by one doctor to not have a baby even though there was no medical evidence that said it would be harmful. When it comes to babies and parenting it seems no one can keep their personal shit to themselves. If/when you become a parent this continues. It totally worth it, and survivable, but you will be judged in a way you haven’t been judged before.

The truth: It’s going to be harder to be a writer and, director, or artist. You aren’t going to be able to accomplish as much as you did if you didn’t have the baby.

 One hard fact is: you are never truly alone again.

Even when you spend time without your child they will still be pulling on you. 

You will have times when you have to sit there with your (awake at 11PM) child and think: “If I wasn’t sitting here I could be writing brilliant things right now.”

You will feel the guilt.  You will go through the guilt, and learn to drop the guilt. You will learn that it isn’t selfish to nourish yourself as an artist.  You are going to be a better mom for it. People may judge and you’ll  get defensive. You’ll become tempted to become one of the moms I'm going to mention blow and say you never felt guilt and NOTHING has changed for you as an artist.

You will learn to put time aside for yourself as a writer/artist by hook or crook. The more money you can have or make the easier this is.

There are going to be some women writers/artists out there that tell you being a mom didn’t change their art because somehow they are stronger/better/faster/read The Secret that other moms did not.  They are usually the same moms that tell you that they are somehow a perfect mom.  

There are also their counterparts: women that will go on about how they didn’t have a child. They will tell you that this is the best thing they ever did. It would be fine if it stopped there but they usually follow this up with stories about women they know (or do not know) who are either:

A) horrible parents


B) ruined by becoming a parent

This will be all under the guise of feminism. (I’m looking at you Shame on you!)

Both sides are bullshit. This makes parenting (and childless by choice) a competitive sport.  Everyone wants to think they are winning. Yay them.  Again this is more projection of their insecurities. Women end up judging each other due to the amazing strain we are under. We are turning on each other because we are either being judged as parents or women who chose to not have a child.  These are also the people that see everything in black and white. These people would take anything I say out of context such as:

“Writer Mom Admits Defeat” or “Writer Mom is Bitter Towards Child” or “So-Called-Feminist Therapist Mom Advises Against Single Parenting,”

Not that I am any kind of important for people to care, but if I was that is what would be happening.  So…“Disabled Under-Employed Mom Thinks She’s Hot Shit.”

The next this here may be a little controversial: having a baby is so much easier when you have a partner.

 Of course you also need a community.  You can pay to have that community around you as well your family, but they can’t ever fully compensate for a partner that also is a co-parent to the baby and also sees said baby as their full responsibility too.

 I’m not saying you can’t do it or shouldn’t do it being the only parent, but it is just harder regardless of whatever system you have in place.  Your best friends and your best-paid help aren’t going to have the same commitment as you.

I am not telling you to go out and find a man. (But, I don’t want to live in a world or even a Hollywood where YOU can’t find a good one.) I am just saying it would be much easier if you had someone who shared your parenting with this child. 

 If you did want to go the romantic route you have time to find someone that has the same goals. (You can even find them after.) I also think society shits on women this way by telling us it is wrong or desperate to try to find someone who wants children and commitment.

   There is nothing wrong with knowing what you want and how you want it and finding someone who wants the same thing. Even if you break up you will always have a mostly likely devoted person to that child. Even if he goes the midlife crisis route of the 25 year-old wife, he will still be a good dad.

You may have totally rejected this romantic route. But the other controversial thing I want to say is this:

Us women artist/writers/romantics/tortured souls can be THE WORST at picking guys. This may or may not apply to you. If it doesn’t just have fun reading ahead for entertainment:

 I was THE WORST with this.

(I dated a lot of artist and writers who talked up feminism but couldn’t drive or know how to pay a bill and thought I could do it- HA! Subsequently, these are the guys that help me a lot with my writing career now. Some were able to develop their careers in their 20s better probably because they weren’t so hung-up on their relationship with me and weren’t lost driving around. They also didn’t have my disabled white woman problems. Or maybe they were just better than me. Hi guys!  They have wives now who aren’t writers who drive them places and pay bills. Maybe these wives ARE great artists too and are just better at multitasking than me. Hi wives!)

I am not one of these women that says: settle down with an investment banker that is totally boring. Politics, world-view and common interests are so important. I’m just saying being a devoted parent and being able to make sacrifices to do so can be the most important common interest.  This may be someone who isn’t a writer/artist but is a fan of it.  This may be someone who has a more stable job so you can you what you do. They may not be a fan of your work personally, but as long as they support you doing it- aces! (Not that I’m speaking from my personal life. Hi partner who probably won’t read this, but allowed me to write it by taking care of house stuff today)

So, my writing workshop woman, I leave you now with a bunch of wonderful paradoxes. The worst/best one being ignore people’s advice and projections while I gave you a bunch of advice and projections. Maybe this is the best way women, particularly moms, can support each other, by being honest, including being honest about our own personal feelings on these subjects.

Good luck! Keep writing. I believe greatly in Virginia Woolf’s advice for women about having a room of your own. Virginia Wolfe never got to be a mother, a doctor told her not to because of her “emotional problems”, and she listened. I wonder what she would have written if she had been a mother. There would most likely be less volume to her work. However, maybe we would have better insight on motherhood and writing.