Wednesday, April 30, 2014

1:34am Wednesday

I need to work on my sense of leadership. You see, when you've been in a psychiatric ward for a while your self-confidence is torn down. People habitually doubt your authority. They find you unreliable, your grasp on reality untrustworthy. I wish I could say that I've overcome the harm this attitude has caused, but I'm still very much there. I doubt myself as someone who initiates. I aspire to follow with ingenuity, not be the first to raise a notion. I aim to be in some sort of accord with those around me, with leadership being the option I am reluctant to pursue, even though I could do it, and sometimes find it necessary to bring out. I avoid being the one to dramatically change the direction of something, because I fear ridicule or rejection. I take a dismissal of my opinion really personally.

As such, I typically find it hard to express myself when I badly want to introduce a new notion, but am too guarded to come out with it. It's painful, and with each swallowed initiative I feel like less of the person I once was.

The mental health system is very negative towards its consumers. It tells them that they will have to take drugs their entire lives, might find it difficult to hold down jobs or have healthy and meaningful relationships. I recently read in a 'model of recovery' that it was encouraged that consumers create 'meaningful' lives for themselves. What does this mean? Is it because psychiatrists see consumers as divorced from meaning that they are dehumanised in such ways? It is because the meaning of my life was invariably negative that I was admitted to hospital in the first place. I was always leading a meaningful life. I find this configuration extremely puzzling. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Qiao ke li (That's Chinese for chocolate)

I started learning Mandarin by accident: I was updating my italki.com profile so that any interested users would see my interest in exchanging English for (primarily) French, when a user named Jessica approached me with an offer to study Chinese. "Why not?" I asked myself. It was a great opportunity to confront some of my fears and prejudices against a language I had tried studying several times, unsuccessfully. And so it began...

I stopped learning French so I could focus on Mandarin, and one night I had an idea which excited me so much that I couldn't sleep: I should combine my next vacation with a study period, so that I could get the most out of my time abroad. I asked my Taiwanese friend if I could stay with her for a month, and she agreed. Starting this May, I will be back in rural Tainan province, doing my best to speak the language. I expect it will be quite a challenge, but I'm determined to make it as fun as possible.

To be fair, I'm still getting the hang of the tones. It's easier to learn to distinguish between them when they're clustered in groups rather than hanging about by themselves (and if you have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sorry). It stuck in my mind that qiao3 ke4 li4 (the falling then rising tone, followed by two falling tones) is the transliteration of chocolate, which is why it's the title of this post. My dad later informed me that chocolate has only been available in China for the last 30 years and remains unpopular due to the locals' preference for salty and savoury foods.

I'll be bringing my Android tablet with me, so I look forward to blogging from Taiwan. My adventure begins on May 13 - I can't wait!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

As it happens...

... Paris Lees summed up nicely the attitudes that most people have towards women who don't wear makeup in her recent Guardian article on Veet's advertising campaign:

To be a woman is frequently to hate oneself. Absolutely nothing about your body – you are told and, indeed, tell yourself – is good enough in its natural state. Your eyelashes are not thick and dark enough on their own so you buy mascara; your skin isn't the right colour so you tan it or bleach it or cover it in paint; your lips are not plump enough so you coat them in gloss or inject them with fillers; your hair is not good enough so you colour it and style it and add bits to it. You will pay a lot of money for these things and you will do them again and again. It may start to feel like your second job.

Unless you have opted out of this dance completely – and if you have you will almost certainly be known for it, for to be a woman who doesn't join in the beauty culture is to be an outsider, a freak, someone to be pitied or ignored – then you will pay with time, money, pain and effort to fight a never-ending battle not to look like what you naturally look like, until age comes along and you eventually lose.

In the latter half of last year, Willa invited me to a beauty and health event sponsored by a luxury cosmetics company. There was a section of the event reserved especially for the giving of makeovers. I ran out of things to do early on, and eventually decided to let the lady put some makeup on my face out of sheer boredom. She put some heavy eyeshadow and mascara on me, and on the way back home I noticed that a young man was looking at my face and finding it rather attractive in a way I'm not accustomed to on the bus. Initially attracted, I quickly averted eye contact - this stranger would probably pay no attention to me if I went au naturel as usual. I was receiving attention because I was conforming to the beauty culture, and I knew it, even though I wasn't thinking of the phrase 'beauty culture' back then. I did not want this kind of approval.

I guess this could be one of the reasons why my psychic energy gets worn out quickly if I spend a lot of time alone in public, with only people-watching to amuse myself with. I feel like I should be able to be stronger, but it's not an option - weathering the storm that is a random cross-section of society takes a lot out of me, probably because I sink in people's emotions (and thoughts! Those that say they can't read other people's minds just don't have the psychological tools to do so - I'm not saying I can pick up on everything a person is thinking at any given time, but I can usually register the general gist of it.).

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A different story (Mini-post)

It's not that I've got rid of my insecurities. It's that they're not powerful enough to get me to shut up anymore. I'm becoming more vocal, more spirited. I am paving my own path in a world which doesn't welcome my voice. Making them listen to me when I want to be heard. Choosing my battles, and often stepping away from conflict altogether - learning happens at its most intensive when both parties are relaxed.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why I stopped taking anti-depressants

My psychiatrist ignored my refusal to go on anti-depressants in hospital and re-represented it as a strongly recommended choice. Eager to stay in his good books, and get out of there as soon as possible, I finally assented. They introduced Sertraline into my system. Over time I noticed I was feeling... well, good. Much better, in fact. So good that, once I was out, I sustained a feel-good, happy state most of the time, without much in the way of stimulation. I would zone out on the couch, basking in my new-found buzz.

Then Tony Abbott got elected. And I knew my emotional compass wasn't where it should be. I was just fine with this mega-homophobe who almost became a priest being chosen to run the country. And since I couldn't deal with that kind of reaction, I stopped taking the SSRI. A certain amount of dissatisfaction is necessary for political life. If you cannot feel the lows, the highs also become written out of the equation. Everything is 'just fine' - a drab kind of sickly sweet. Never again. Solian is bad enough. (Hopefully I'll get off that too, eventually.)


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Make-up free

Says my friend Willa, "It's a sad state of affairs when it's considered brave for women to show their naked face in public." I believe she's referring to how celebrities posed for the #nomakeupselfie campaign. As a woman who doesn't wear makeup, I can attest to the pressure I am under to abandon my 'less is more' ethos and hop back on the self-loathing bandwagon. It's not easy to determine where the pressure is coming from - every day that goes by, I'm soaking in pro-makeup messages. No one ever tells me "Wear make-up!" or is going to hold me at gunpoint until I blink into a mascara, but it's pretty much expected that women will do their best to alter their appearance for the consumption of the outside world. My resistance is met with disapproval by many.

Of course, I'm not here for anyone's approval. I have ditched make-up upon reading Naomi Wolf's wise words on it in The Beauty Myth. I am happy not taking makeup into consideration, for my own face, as I go about my day. I cannot say the same for most other women's faces. Sometimes, to my horror, I find that I've plugged into the matrix and gaze mildly accusingly at other women without makeup, as if they think they're good enough without it (which is exactly the point I am supposed to be trying to make). It's the same look that others turn on me because I dare to show my face as it is.

In one of my weakest moments last year (when I suffered extremely high stress levels), I couldn't shake off the imperative to own a lipstick anymore. I deliberately botched any functional benefits the purchase would have brought me by selecting a shade which both clashed with my skin tone and I personally disliked, however I still made it. Somehow, somewhere, I was looking for relief from the negative vibes. I don't know where the product is these days (my family moved house and I didn't care enough about it to track its movements), and I don't want to know. If I ever find it I might donate it to someone else. Make-up... a voluntary prison. Fortunate enough as I am, I keep escaping.

But back to Willa's quote, I had read an article on the Guardian about the #nomakeupselfie phenomenon, and attached was a picture of women in the public eye who had suddenly gone without (much in the way of) make-up and looked completely different. Never underestimate how drastically cosmetic products can change the look of someone's face - eyebrows develop curves or angles previously unimaginable, lips and eyes gain volume and gain new shapes, skin texture looks completely different. No wonder that women who wear a lot of make-up, or wear it in such a way that it alters their appearance significantly find themselves addicted to the stuff. In order to keep up their socially sanctioned, supposedly attractive visage, they need to be made up whenever there is the possibility of public scrutiny. How exhausting to care so deeply about what the patriarchy thinks!

I'm lucky in that I associate beauty with intelligence, humour, perceptiveness and other inner qualities. And that brings me more rewards than any amount of masking my face ever will.