Category Archives: mental health

I Did Not Consent To This (did I?)

Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent”.

But what do we consent to? And how?

Recent interactions with a family member have me ruminating on this tonight. I feel continually triggered (not a term I would usually ever use, but the only apt one in this circumstance), angry, sad, and shamed by interactions with this person. My response for the last 2 decades or so has been avoidance. Their response has been pursuit. I have asked for a change in the pattern, they think that there is nothing wrong. I attempted to cut ties, they refused.

So, I’m asking myself, what am I actually communicating about my feelings in this situation? Am I sending mixed signals? Is my desire to keep the peace masking my distress? Am I consenting to my own unhappiness?

Because, let’s face it, I just don’t want to cause a scene; either literally or metaphorically. I will endure a lot to avoid a fight. What feels to me like a clear No probably looks to others like tacit acceptance. I seem to have a convoluted understanding of what it means to consent.

Sexual consent seems so clear to me. No means No. Cut and dry. But clearly consent must be far more reaching than just sexual relationships.

Imagine, for instance, that your teenager has clearly had a bad day. They say they don’t want to talk about it; but you, concerned, badger them into a conversation. Have you violated their consent?

Or, your partner asks if you mind staying at the party for 5 more minutes, even though you’re having a crap time. He asks to stay for 5 more minutes 8 times. Is he pushing the bounds of consent?

When your friends just put your name in the karaoke queue without telling you, because they know you’ll go up there rather than cause a scene. Violation of consent?

I would say “Yes” to all three. Anytime we coerce, manipulate, or cajole someone into doing something that they feel uncomfortable or unhappy with we have violated consent.

And largely, most of us consent to the violation. It’s part of the social contract, isn’t it? I will do things that make me mildly uneasy in order to keep the peace and so will you; and gradually we will build our tolerance up so that the things we do begin to make us feel less uneasy, and then we ask even more of each other.

I question when we, as a culture, lost the ability to say “I don’t want to do that” and mean it. When did our own safety and well-being become less important than preserving the status quo? Why are we afraid to rock the boat?

Enough is enough, really. We, as autonomous human beings, have to right to our preferences, our fears, our triggers. We have the right to say yes, no, or maybe to any situation without shame. We owe it to ourselves and each other to stand up and rock the boat more often.

Think of the possibilities. What would an honest “no” mean for our relationships? Better communication perhaps? A reduction in anger at others for the things you didn’t tell them hurt you. More authenticity. More intimacy. Less toxicity. Less tolerance for people who refuse to respect boundaries. Picture a world in which you had no fear about how you would be received because you knew your audience would tell you the truth, and you could honor that. A world in which no social contract required that you treat your violators with any kind of civility.

Think of the children. We could raise them in an environment where their choices about their bodies and minds are respected without question. And where they would never question each other after that initial “No”.

Understanding that consent pervades every part of our lives will revolutionize our relationships. We can divorce ourselves from painful interactions without guilt. We can love honestly and with conviction.

Say yes?





How To Not Be An Asshole About Suicide (a response)

Today I read this really great essay on The Dinner Party ( )

Like a lot of other really great thoughts on suicide, it comes from the perspective of those left behind. This is good, and important, but I’d like to discuss something else. How can you not be an asshole to someone who has attempted suicide, but is still here?

1. It’s NOT about you. No one attempts to end their life to get a reaction out of you. No one does it because you didn’t do enough for them. It in no way reflects upon your parenting, marriage, friendship, ect. There is more going on here.

2. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. I have spent 28 years not discussing my suicidal ideations because of how deeply uncomfortable it makes other people. This helps no one. If we refuse to talk about these things it only serves to make those of us who experience them feel more alone. If you love someone who is suicidal you are cheapening your relationship by refusing to acknowledge this part of them. HOWEVER, these conversations have to be on their terms not yours. Just be open and available.

3. Don’t be judgmental. If you have never contemplated taking your own life you are very lucky, you also have no basis on which to understand how it feels. It is so very damaging to you loved one when they are told how selfish, stupid, sinful, wasteful, or wrong their feelings are.

4. Don’t allow your continued relationship to revolve around the attempt. The person you love is still the person you love; being suicidal is a part of them not all of them.

5. Avoid using the word survivor only to talk about the people left behind by successful suicide attempts. Those of us who tried and were saved are just as much survivors.

6. Get educated. There are so many resources available for you learn more about suicide prevention.

There you are, 6 easy suggestions. Because hard things become less hard when we can have honest conversations about them more often.

But You Don’t Look Sad

I’ve just been informed that it’s Depression Awareness Week, and I feel as though it’s time for me to have a frank discussion about what my depression/anxiety looks like.

It concerns me deeply that we have such a restricted view of what depression “looks” like, what mental illness “looks” like, what anxiety “looks” like, even what happiness “looks” like. Here’s the raw truth; for many depressives what looks to you like happiness to you is really our disease at its worst.

Have I spent the day smiling and laughing?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Did I tell some great stories, spend all night at that party, buy everyone a drink, make plans for tomorrow night and the night after?                                                                                                                                                   Was I super fun to be around?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 I am probably drowning.

Because, you see, the problem with the societal stigma of mental illness is that we try so valiantly to hide it.                                                                                                                                                                                                     If my joy seems unrestrained; I’m faking it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Because I feel like I have to.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Because I feel guilty for my lack of happiness, my ingratitude.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Because I am sure that you would not love me depressed.

Depression is insidious, it’s sneaky, it’s a chameleon. I can not tell you how often I don’t even recognize it in myself.                                                                                                                                                                                       For me so many of my “positive” qualities are the children of my depression.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I am organized because chaos terrifies me (literally terrifies me).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Neat because disorder in my surroundings is actually physically painful.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Clean because it makes me feel as though I have control.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 I do activism because the thing that best distracts me from my own darkness is dealing with someone else’s real, concrete problems.                                                                                                                                                        I smile because you can’t know I’m sad.

So, in the interest of awareness, I offer you this: you may never be able to tell the difference between my real smile and a faked one, and I believe this to be true of most people living with depression, but you can make it less important for me to pretend. When we ask someone how they are we should encourage a true answer. We should be welcoming of the hard to hear response. We should take encouragement in each others’ honest challenges and offer solace in the form of solidarity. If we can hear each other, we are far less likely to lose each other. Don’t ever take for granted that a smile equals happiness.