We don’t need the Olympics of pain

On May 15th I stood in front of a bunch of people and gave a speech, voluntarily. The purpose of this entire post might just be to tell you all simply that because I am so proud of it! 🙂 Okay, it was a very messed up speech and I got way too emotional but nevertheless unlike my master thesis defense I didn’t faint at any point, so good job me! As May is mental health awareness month, our support group was chosen to be part of the global Ally program of a mental health NGO based in Chicago (details after June 5th when we become officially a part of them). We are the first group based out of the US to be chosen so me and Livia were pretty stoked. We hosted an Art for mental health event and talked Art, suicide and self awareness, there might have been beers involved, but come on, its Germany!

All of this talk about suicide has become so routine that sometimes it bothers me how much it doesn’t bother me to talk about it now. But in all of those talks there are some details that I always conveniently side step, for instance the why of it, not because it emotionally draining to talk about but I am embarrassed by it, so terribly embarrassed. There wasn’t any point getting up there and talking if I couldn’t be honest to myself and others. So here is what I did, I told them a story first, the story of a space shuttle flight. It goes like this,

In 2003, mission STS-107 space shuttle Columbia took off for a fifteen day orbital mission around the earth. This was the 115th flight of the space shuttle program and a pretty routine one at that, but for the whole of India it was a pretty special mission since Indian born astronaut, Kalpana Chawla was on board as one of the mission specialists. As we all now know Columbia didn’t make it back to earth, it disintegrated on reentry, killing all seven astronauts on board. Until that day there hadn’t been a loss of crew for NASA on reentry so this was a complete shock to the entire space community. All the subsequent space shuttle missions were shelved and the investigations went on for two years, what the committee found out at the end of the investigation was pretty heartbreaking.

When Columbia took off fifteen days before the fatal accident, a piece of the foam insulation from the external fuel tank hit the right wing of the shuttle. Now, this was obvious from the launch footage. Nobody thought it could have done any serious damage  for two things, one- this has happened in a number of previous space shuttle launches and two-because it was a piece of thermocol (which is lighter than air) hitting a structure made of carbon reinforced carbon ( which is, well as strong as it sounds ). But, it did do damage to the heat shield and the shuttle didn’t survive the heat of the reentry.

Here is the deal, Columbia accident could have been easily prevented but no-one absolutely no-one saw it coming.

The point of me bringing up this whole story was just to say that sometimes we realize the breaking points only when we get there. For Columbia it was a piece of foam and for me it was a handsome Mexican boy.

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Credits: wuukasch

I know that I am stretching the story to the limits here, but my fuck-patriarchy-feminist-self needed something to lean on when telling a bunch of people (friends and strangers) that I tried taking my life for a boy. There might have been a whole bunch of repressed childhood trauma that might have made that depression as bad as it was but I cannot kid myself out of the truth. I am ashamed of it, but that is may be exactly why I had to say that. Because we are not running an Olympics of pain here my dears.

It may be high time we stop trying to one up our trauma stories and stop romanticizing heartbreak (of any kind) so much. Because there was absolutely nothing romantic about wanting to die day in day out. Out of all the heartbreaking suicide survival stories that people have told me over the past two years my reason is the silliest but that isn’t going to stop me from telling this openly again, because for all of you out there who are feeling shitty about feeling all the things that you are feeling and not finding a good enough excuse for it, here, you have a person who messed up big time for something very very silly.

As you can see I am very good at making circumlocutory stories 😀 in the next post I would write about the art and mental health part of the speech and put up the video if I feel adventurous or may be not! Let’s see.

Its been long again. How have you all been?

Love and hugs

Jo

 

 

The ways art can help

Kandinsky heard brassy trumpet tones when he painted the color yellow. He theorized that by mixing colors you can produce vibrational frequencies like the chords on a piano. That was his motivation when he painted a series of ten Compositions, each of which supposedly could evoke a spiritual resonance with the viewer. In other words each of these paintings can make us feel like we are listening to musical piece. I knew none of this when I first saw the following painting.

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Composition vii (1913): Wassily Kandinsky

This painting was on the walls of the clinic corridor the first time I was here. Kandinsky’s name sounded vaguely familiar. Back then modern art made me feel really insecure.Every modern abstract art piece made me feel two things, the first thought is kind of universal, 1. My cat can do this and then 2.I don’t understand this but I am going to pretend like I do because everyone else thinks this is cool. My feelings for composition vii were no different at first. But every time I walked past it I was stopping for a couple of seconds to catch a glimpse. Then one day one of the night nurses had to bring me a chair because I was apparently standing and staring at this painting for according to her Eine ewigkeit. Also, it would be nice to point out that it was a time when I had given up on getting better. So why was I looking at this my-cat-can-do painting at 3 am in the morning? The simplest answer would be that it made me feel something. And that something came after several long days of nothingness. And that meant a whole lot.

That was two years ago, over this time I have learned that Kandinsky had lived, learned and painted in Munich. Now I hold a yearly pass to the Lenbachhaus which holds many of his works. One of the interesting things I saw there is the preparatory works  Kandinsky made for this particular Composition, Composition vii. More than 30 paintings in watercolors and oil precede the final piece. So every brush stroke, every color in this painting is deliberately planned. Okay, my cat won’t be able to do that.

The good thing about an inpatient psychiatric clinic (a good one) is that it introduces you to a lot of things, medication, mindfulness, sports, arts, psychotherapy, cooking, gardening and the list goes on. This is saying something very important about mental health care in general. There is no one-cure-for-all when it comes to mental health. It might one of these things that helps you or it might be all of these things. For me it apparently is art.

I have come a long long way since the night I felt an emotional resonance with a painting that was made 104 years before I was born.

Now when I think back to that day I think I realize why it was so powerful. Back then people were telling me about how if I took up jogging or meditation or prayer, things might get better, but that painting showed me a glimpse of that ‘better’.

I cannot possibly end this without telling you about my favorite painting.

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Nighthawks (1942) : Edward Hopper

 

I have written here before about how I want to build a used bookstore+art salon that is open at 3am. This painting for me captures a lot of intangible complexities of that time. More on that later.

Thanks for all the emails and messages after reading my last post. It really meant a lot <3.

Love

Jo

A letter from the rehab

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I ended up at the rehab again. This is the third time in the past three years. Things have gotten a lot better during this time. My doctor told to think of this as a pause and not a step back. So that is what I am doing.

I wanted writing to be my thing. The thing that would help me through the blues but apparently it isn’t. Finishing that short paragraph took a lot of mental gymnastics.

There is a lady here who is perpetually talking, she just told me to ‘fuck off’ in German. It’s nothing personal, she says that to everyone.

I have been taking six showers a day because it helps, I know it is bad for the environment but I am not eating meat for now, so hope that evens it out?

We wake up at 6.45 everyday.

Someone plays the piano everyday.

There is a new print of the Nighthawks on the wall, it wasn’t here last year. I can look at all day.

I take therapy in German which is also different from the last two times.

They still call me by my last name which I hate.

Why do hospital food always suck?

We eat breakfast in silence, we talk a lot during lunch and eat dinner again in silence. I wonder why that is.

Sometimes we play board games.

My roommate has to pack her entire suitcase every time she leaves the room. She is scared I am going to steal her things. But she is nice to me otherwise.

She snores but I don’t mind.

It has been raining a lot.

I am rereading the harry potter series.

Is it different to be depressed when you have money? Yes, it is a lot better when you can buy books and art supplies (also, when you are not worried about how to make rent) So now I buy my share of happiness with money. That helps.

I don’t know what to tell my friends, they think I am on holidays.

My boss knows, he said to take my time. How do I always end up with kind people?

It would have been nice to have someone to hug.

I have been painting a lot, sometimes that is all I do. Is any of you on Instagram? you can find me as @galaxiesinamasonjar. I pretend to be funny there, that helps too

Love,

Jo

 

Would you read our book?

Some of you might already know Juni Desiree through her blog(s), she is a writer, artist, and an awesomely creative person in general. A few months ago she blogged about a book she and her mom was working on. It was titled Please Tell (now Please tell someone), personal accounts of sexual and indecent assault. Juni invited writers of the blogosphere to contribute personal stories or a message to survivors, and she was kind enough to accept a very short piece I wrote. The accounts are kept anonymous so I don’t find it appropriate sharing here.

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Please Tell Someone

Stories like this are not easy to share nor are they easy to read but keeping our eyes closed to such issues or bottling up our emotions rarely help. That is why this book and every such book recounting personal narratives are important. If this book helps at least one person, somewhere on the globe not to feel alone in their recovery journey or if it gives someone the courage to stand up against such atrocities then I would say it has done its job. We would be ever so grateful if you would consider giving it a chance.

The book is available in a Kindle Edition and you can buy it here [amazon] and it is priced at 5 euros.

I would like to thank Juni and her mom for all the efforts they have put into this work. Bringing together voices spread across the globe in such a short span of time is not an easy task. Thank you for seeing it through all the challenges you had to tackle on the way and thank you for making me a part of this.

I am attaching an excerpt from the book in Juni’s words. I would also like to giveaway a copy to one of you readers. Just tell me in the comments if you would like to be considered for it.

Love,

Jo

Here is what Juni has to say about this book,

 In this book you will find courageous people sharing their accounts of sexual and indecent assault, encouraging messages for survivors, and some information about what options survivors have. These come in the form of stories, interviews, poems, blog posts, letters, and artwork. 

After almost 5 months of seeking contributors, there are 39 people from 14 countries, ranging in age from 18 to 62, included in this book. 

What I’ve learnt from collecting stories of sexual and indecent assault is this: 

  • Everyone’s story is different. Some stories involved strangers, some involved family members. Some were one-off occasions, some went on for years. Some were subtle, some were violent. I was surprised by the range of stories and it showed me that sexual and indecent assault can’t be put in a box. People might hear someone’s story and think, ‘oh, that doesn’t count,’ or, ‘that’s not as bad as…’ But I’ve learnt not to dismiss any person’s story. No matter what the circumstances, sexual and indecent assault is real, confusing, frightening, and a big deal.
  • Everyone’s journey is different. Some people have healed from their experience and moved on with their lives. Some are taking steps to walk forward and are on the road to recovery. Some are struggling daily and don’t feel they can ever recover or move on. It can be easy from the outside to think people should just ‘get over it,’ to wonder ‘why can’t they just know their worth,’ and to judge them, thinking ‘they’re not even making an effort to move on.’ But I’ve learnt not to judge any person’s journey. Every survivor is doing the best they can and they could do with support, not criticism. 
  • Though everyone’s story and journey is different, each person shared their voice because they have a heart to help survivors. They know the importance of survivors telling their stories and they have found the courage to share theirs. I admire their hearts and their courage, and I’m thankful for the insights they have given into what it is like for them to be a survivor of sexual and indecent assault. They have given me greater understanding and empathy for survivors. 

I hope their voices encourage many people.

 

“There are no heroes, only heroic acts”

There is an opaque sticker on top of my webcam at all times, I don’t exactly remember which year I started doing it, but what prompted me was this, one day while lazily clicking away on the internet I came across a website that promised an authentic monsoon viewing experience from Kerala if I managed to find a pair of working headphones. Since life is too short for reading the “If you agree to all these conditions you just read click yes” button, I clicked yes without a blink. With my blessing, the program turned the webcam ON, My 3am brain was too tired to notice that, and I waited through about 15 minutes for the said monsoon experience while only wearing my bra (because it was summer and because I live alone) it was scary realizing the cam was ON the entire time. It was like realizing that somebody was watching you through a peephole while you were taking a shower.

I studied electrical engineering for four years, so it is not anywhere near logical for me to assume that somebody can watch through my camera without my permission. But the footprints we leave on the internet can be traced back to us whether we like it or not, that is a fact. It is kind of scary that not always will we have a say in this. Yesterday evening I had the privilege to listen to a series of talks given by Jürgen Todenhöfer, Jeremy Scahill, Richard Wolff, Paul Jay, Srecko Horvat, and Edward Snowden (Snowden joined through video conference of course).

It left me feeling discontented and hopeful.

I have learned make-believe as a way of keeping it together. I make up utopian worlds in my imagination and try to be content with it. When you see things like, people denying climate change on a daily basis, you need something to keep your hope alive. But then I am only a lazy idealist who is in perpetual denial, what difference do I have from the person denying climate change?  I don’t want to be that person anymore.

dumbledore

I have written here before about the skewed ideas we have about activists, the girl in a kurti with a messy bun and round glasses. Yesterday, Snowden said something that is extremely relevant in this respect. I would paraphrase it here, We should all stop putting faith in one elected person to bring on change.  There are no heroes, only heroic acts. Being a hero sounds too daunting but doing one heroic act, still daunting but more doable, isn’t it?

I strongly believe social media can make a lot of changes in our society, it is the closest thing to a democratic mouthpiece humanity have today. The place where it fails miserably is when our activism begins and end there. Changing our profile pictures in solidarity for a cause is great. If it helps someone else to pause and reflect on it for a second we have already contributed to the cause, but when our activism ends there, the difference we make would also unfortunately, have a short life.

As an idealist, I am learning that idealism is nothing without hard work. The bigger picture of  ‘your side of the revolution winning eventually’ is a powerful image to hold on to but sometimes each day of that revolution looks insignificant and boring and banal. It is a lot of showing up when no one else does. It is being the person who stays back to clean up the mess after the party. It’s only been about six months of me trying to get a mental health NGO started and my hope is already dwindling. See, told you, lazy idealist!

But if a person forced to live in exile for the past three years can still show up for a cause, the least I could do is try.

I learned from a wise old man with a white beard that things I imagine can be real and for good or bad, things you learn as a child stay with you forever. I want to keep that child alive while teaching the adult in me to stay back for the afterparty.

To small heroic acts.

Hugs,

Jo

Maybe it is okay not to be grateful all the time.

It could be worse.

There are people who go to bed hungry every night.

You are lucky, look at all the things you have.

All of the above statements are so very true. Almost all the problems pale in comparison to someone having to live day-in-day-out in hunger. Perhaps, if we were to make a priority list of all the problems humanity has to solve, eradicating hunger should be on the top of the list. Let us say we manage to provide a person living in perpetual hunger with a life where they will never have to be poor or hungry again, would gratefulness be the only thing they then feel their whole life?  Would they be able to get through all the heartbreaking instances of life with that one thought of at least I am not poor anymore? I am grateful that I never had to experience poverty, more grateful than I could ever express through writing. But am I then allowed to be discontented about certain other things?  Racism? Homophobia? Rampant mental health stigma? Sexism?

For me, when I am one hundred percent grateful about something it’s because I like the way the thing or situation is, in other words, I would not want it to change. But there are many things about me that I would like to change and it usually makes me very guilty that I am not always grateful about life.

I got an opportunity to live and study abroad about four years ago, all of my friends and family were very happy for me. A lot of people sent me messages saying they were proud of my achievements. After I finished the master’s program I was offered a PhD position in a national space agency, but then nobody was happy nor proud of me. Because I was 27 years old and marriage should have been the next logical step in my life. The messages I received told me something along the lines of, think of all the girls who did not get an opportunity to go to school at all, here you got the opportunity to study in a foreign country, now that is enough, get married. Yes, I was thankful to have had an amazing opportunity to study at one of the world’s best engineering institutions but was I then wrong to have been discontented about being forced to make a decision I did not want to?

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Found here

You know what, I was not.

This argument of always be grateful is usually made in mental health related discussions quite a lot, wherein depression is said as a lack of gratitude. Most of the times it comes from a well-meaning place. The intention might be to make someone aware that everything isn’t as bad as they think it is and there is still hope. But that one phrase dismisses a person’s right to feel bad, and nobody should have to earn their right to feel bad. Now I know how privileged I was to have had an insurance that paid my stay at a psychiatric ward and to have a group of friends who took care of me like family in a foreign country- my mental health is stable enough to appreciate those facts now but it didn’t help to hear it back then.

When someone is going through pain might not be the best time to remind them to be grateful. There is a time to do it when they are better able to appreciate the whole picture, when they have gotten some space from their pain, when they are able to be rational and logical about it, when they can grab a yellow legal pad and make a pro and con list.

Gratitude and discontent can exist hand in hand. We can be thankful about something and discontented about something else. Maybe the magic is finding that balance and it is something we can learn and practice. It always helps to appreciate the big picture and sometimes even to write down all the things that are good in our lives so that we don’t forget them but it is okay not to be like that all the time. Last time I checked we haven’t yet turned to robots, and as long as we have a beating heart we are going to be not grateful from time to time and that is OKAY!

I will leave you with a quote that I absolutely love

gaiman-discontent

Hugs

Jo

Footnote: Madelyn left a comment and I thought it is important to share it here.

YES! “Gratitude and discontent can exist hand in hand.” Important point and great post.

Those “positivity purveyors” have missed the point of gratitude entirely, IMHO. It’s not designed to be denial’s handmaiden. It’s a technique for helping us weather our storms by encouraging us to focus on what we *can* be grateful for – *after* we’ve acknowledged the fact that sometimes things just suck (without measuring it by degrees in comparison to anyone else challenges and sorrows).

AND, it is not kind in the slightest to attempt to drag somebody over the positivity line when what s/he needs is a loving ear to listen while she pours her heart out. It’s not THEIR job to remind you to be grateful – you’ll get to that all by yourself when the time is right – if they’d only commiserate or be silent.

Would they overstep a mother’s grief after the death of a child, encouraging her to be grateful for the ones she has left because some people aren’t even able to conceive? SAME THING.
xx,
mgh
(Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
– ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
“It takes a village to educate a world!”

Thoughts I have after hitting the publish button

One sec before posting

It feels nice to finish writing another post. I kicked writer’s block in the butt. Good job

Hit publish

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That dreaded internet black silence

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Why is nobody reading it?

Maybe everyone is sleeping

Maybe it wasn’t the right time to post

What was the name of that app that gives you the best time to publish articles?

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Let me read the post again

Oh my god! This is shit! Why did I ever think this was a good idea?

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Which is right, everyone ‘has’ or everyone ‘have’? I don’t even know English, what am I doing  on wordpress?

I think the app was timepress or blogpress or postpress?

Maybe I should delete the post?

Or not

stay strong

Don’t be afraid to show even the ugly parts of you

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Maybe I can change the title?

Did I share too much?

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No, I don’t care what the world think

Number of likes do not define me

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Who am I kidding? I want some likes

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I am not going to check the notifications for some time

0.99 milliseconds secs later

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still nobody

I hate the internet

I am never going to post ever again

1st like

You random person who just liked my post, I love you, I want to find you and hug you, you are the best

………

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