Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Unintentionally and Maddeningly Sexist

Last Sunday, we, like many couples, spent the day watching football. Notice I wrote couples. We still tend to think of sports as something a man watches alone, just him, his pork rinds, his beer, and his favourite recliner, or else with a bunch of buddies and half a dozen pepperoni pizzas. But those days are evaporating. Families do things together now, including watch football, and the NFL is the first to take note. They are actively courting female viewers and female fans because - shock! - that's a huge demographic, isn't it? If you want to keep expanding, you'd better not ignore the woman holding the remote. So they're making jerseys in smaller sizes, and making the players wear pink during breast cancer awareness month, and pretending to be mad when players hit their wives.

Football was never my thing, but it's one of Sean's favourite sports, and Sean is a sport junkie. He has no idea what's going on in the world unless I tell him, but he scours the internet for every written word about games played competitively. We don't watch a lot of TV, but he uses every spare moment to watch highlights on his phone or on his tablet. So I make an effort to watch the big games with him, and to bring him to see some of these games in person, a splurge he never considered before we met. And this year, to further bridge the gap, I joined a football pool.

Which means that last weekend, the conference championships, was a really big weekend for us. If you watched that first nail-biter of a game, Seattle vs Green Bay, well, I don't have to tell you how awful it was to watch. Sean and I both had our money on the Seahawks so of course they were down 16-zip at the half and didn't start playing football until the last 5 minutes of the game when they somehow came back but left too much time on the clock, allowing the Packers to tie it up and force it into overtime. Seattle rallied with a touch down to win the game, but not before wringing out just gallons of sweat from all the viewers at home.

Later that night, after the Patriots had deftly defeated the Colts, we got into bed to check out our standings in the the pool. Since I'd put my bets on all the right horses, I'd had an excellent week, topping off a pretty excellent season. Out of 186,077 players in our league, I somehow have managed to come out in the 99th percentile. 99th percentile, bitches! And I owe it all to Sean, who taught me everything I know about football, and who has struggled to remain somewhere between the 25th and 35th percentile throughout the season himself. Ouch. Why am I so goddamned good at this? I have no idea. I read what I can and I have no allegiance to players or teams. In fact, I drive Sean bonkers with my player assessments. He knows how good a guy is, what his stats are, how he played last year, and the year before that. I know if he's done a spread for GQ or dated Jessica Simpson. And I'm the one in the 99th percentile.

So the next day, Sean goes to work and inevitably ends up discussing the games with a male coworker who also was watching them enthusiastically. Sean was able to regurgitate to him some stats he'd read about the game - that the Packers had had a 96.1% chance of winning with 5:04 left in the fourth quarter (leading 19-7). They discussed the historic, unprecedented game in minute detail, and the season more generally, and the upcoming SuperBowl with glee. In fact, over the course of the conversation, the only thing that curiously did not get a mention was that Sean's very own wife had a super-stellar football pool record.

I've worked hard at that stupid pool, making picks every single week, and I'm proud of my record, which is way too good to be due to just chance, or beginner's luck, so when Sean failed to give me my props, I called him on it. He insisted that he'd just "forgotten" but I know damn well that if it was Sean's brother who had that kind of record, or his father, or his friend, or best of all, himself, he'd be boasting to everyone and might even consider reprinting his business cards. But his wife? She didn't get a mention. In fact, his wife doesn't come up when he discusses football with any other men, period. But forget about me? Forget about that 99th percentile? The guy who remembered that the Seahawks had just a 3.9% chance of winning that game? I don't think so.

But he assured me he didn't forget about me completely. In fact, during that same day of work, while heating up his lunch of leftovers, a female coworker commented on how good it smelled and he proudly told her that I'd made him a very nice meal the night before (during the first half of the Patriots game in fact) and that he was glad to have the remnants for lunch. So he remembers to tell people (or female subordinates, at least) I'm good in the kitchen, just not that I'm also really good at picking winners.

I told him that was a pretty sexist thing to do, and of course he balked. I will be the first tell you that Sean doesn't hate women, or want to keep them down. He's actually a pretty forward-thinking guy and doesn't mind when I out-earn him or out-run him or out-think him. But apparently there's a limit.

He thinks it's not sexist unless it's overt, but that's the worst kind of thinking there is. In fact, the worst kind of sexism is the kind you can't quite put your finger on, but happens all the time, to good people unintentionally keeping women "in their place", and that includes complimenting them on gender-stereotyped things, like cooking, and not on unstereotypical things, like football pools. This is called "benevolent sexism" and is a pretty dangerous thing considering people don't even realize when they're guilty of it.

So I'm calling out my sweet, sensitive, equality-for-all husband. It's not harmless just because it isn't intentional. And maybe individually these things don't mean much, but all of these slights add up culturally to a huge discrepancy that still exists today, in 2015. It's way too easy to reinforce a stereotype, and if Sean is any kind of barometer, it's hard to get someone from the dominant group to confront his own biases. We're all defensive about these things, but as citizens of this time period, and this shrinking earth, I think it's our job to be vigilant and aware.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Does anyone else feel as guilty as I do that our dogs have better lives than 80% of children? That's a pretty shitty thing when you think about it. My dogs are loved and well-fed. They sleep in warm, cozy beds, and have great medical care. They benefit from air conditioning and puffy vests and parks built just for them. We hire people to care for them when we're away, walk them when we're busy, groom them when they're gross. And I wouldn't even say my pets are spoiled! They just live in a North American home with a fenced yard and a mountain of squeaky toys. They're lucky, and so am I because they bring a lot of happiness to my life. But when I think that there are probably millions of children going to bed tonight not only without the luxuries, but without the basic standard of care that we deem necessary for our pets - because in Canada, we have laws not just against cruelty, but against neglect - that kills me.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

How to Talk to Your Loved Ones About Your Upcoming Suicide

I am in the business of preventing suicide. I'm a special kind of therapist who intervenes in a "crisis" which is a nice way of saying I talk people out of jumping off a bridge. Ideally. So the fact that I'm also secretly a suicide advocate I keep firmly on lock down.

You've no doubt heard the maxim "suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem" - it's true in a lot of cases. Lots of people who commit or attempt suicide are also depressed, which is a nasty disease that colours our perception of things and distorts our thinking. Still, lots of people struggle with the decision to live or die for weeks, months, and years, because most don't really want to die, they simply want to escape - from an untenable situation, or from recurring thoughts, or both - and can't think of another way out.

I believe in the right to die. I'm not depressed but I do have a chronic condition that makes me not want to live. It's called pain.

If the pain in my body suddenly transferred to yours, you would probably die of the shock. But if you have suffered from chronic pain for years and years, you've built up a tolerance, which doesn't mean you don't feel it, it only means you don't die from it. Your body can keep going but your mind may not want to. There are days when mine does not.

Pain is the first thing I experience when I wake up, the last thing I feel before I fall asleep, if I can fall asleep, and the thing that prevents me from achieving real rest when I am asleep, and real joy when I'm awake. The pain is always first.

I'm in pain first, and at work second. I'm in pain first, and in love second. I'm in pain first, and sometimes I'm in pain second and third too. If I was being chased by a bear, I'd be in pain first, and terrified second. I haven't experienced a moment of pure anything in years. Not pure joy, not pure sorrow. I was in pain on my wedding day. I was in pain at my best friend's funeral. I was in pain the day my nephew was born. I can recall random days by describing the geography of my pain, the quality of my pain, the severity of my pain.

I've just survived the holidays, and holidays are hard. I dread them. There's too much travelling, which exacerbates pain, too little sleep, which exacerbates pain, too much company, which means that I have to cover up my pain and do a lot more pretending, which is draining and yes, painful. There's so much pain around the holidays that I can't even manage to place friends or family or food or fun in second or third or fourth. Pain starts to take over my experiences completely. Holidays are misery.

There is wonderful medication available that eradicates pain, and if you've just been injured or had surgery, this option is a blessing. It allows you to get your body through a difficult time without feeling the true consequences. For me, however, it's not a realistic option. I am not having a difficult time, I am having a difficult life. I have a chronic, incurable disease, which means I will never get better. It also means that if I were to take enough medication to blunt my pain every day, I would never get out of bed. I wouldn't legally be allowed to drive, I couldn't work. I'd be too stoned to really enjoy life, and eventually I'd develop impossible to control tolerance levels, and an addiction, and years of drugs would lead to organ failure and probably new pain. I stay away from medication as much as possible because I'd rather feel pain than stop living my life, which,  believe me, is a daily testament to how much I love life. Every day I choose agony just in case there might also be a little ecstasy. I still believe. But to get me through, I also need to know that when I'm done, when I can't take anymore, I can let go.

I don't know exactly when that will be. How much pain can my body really take, and more importantly, how much can my mind withstand? I already have days when I'd rather have not woken up. I think it about how sweet it would be to just keep sleeping, to not wake up to The Pain. I try to analyze my days: was today 40% pain 60% life? Or 60-40 the other way? I need to know that when the scales tip in a way that I find insupportable, that I can choose to end it. Because otherwise, the 80% days start to feel like 100%. Heck, the 40% days do, because I feel trapped and ignored. I need to know there's a way out.

But discussing this with  my husband Sean has not been easy. It's never been easy for him to live with someone in constant pain. He is not in constant pain, and he can never really understand what it's like. I'm constantly forcing myself to higher and higher levels of pain just so that I don't slow him down too much, and he's constantly slowing himself down so that I don't burn out. So we're both making compromises and we're both getting burned. But he likes me a lot and he doesn't want to lose me, can't really think about me leaving him on purpose. And I get how he'd see that as a betrayal. When we first started talking about my suicide, he felt it as a reproach and thought he wasn't making my life "good" enough. That simply wasn't true. He's made my life so much better than I ever would have thought. He's the reason I still get out of bed in the morning. It's just that, no matter what great thing is in front of me, I can't appreciate it the way he can. I'm always babysitting the pain. Sean knows my life better than anyone. He sees my dark days, he sees the tears, the many doctors, the many surgeries, the many scars. He sees how hard I work just to be a normal person, and he knows that while I'm doing my best to look like a normal person, I'm screaming with pain inside. Every single moment of every single day. He knows my smile is never really genuine. It's 10% fake and masking pain or it's 90% fake and masking pain. He knows. Lots of people in my life know but forget. I do too good a job at pretending and they don't realize how hard I'm working just to stand upright, just to keep my breaths even, just to not pass out. I'm good at hiding, I've been pretending for a decade, but Sean knows. And he's told me lately that he has been lucky to spend any time with me at all, that he'll be grateful for whatever I can give him, and that he'll understand when I cannot. I can only hope that stays true the closer we get to the end.

Meanwhile, we soldier on with our suffering. The end is not today, and I hope not tomorrow. I'm still making short-term plans and still believe that I will be able to honour the commitments I make. I'm still trying. I'm still living.




Tuesday, December 09, 2014

As a child packing for our horrid family camping trips, my mother would always tell us to "pack more underwear than you'll need."
This seemed like reasonable advice and so I've always heeded it.
Packing for an upcoming trip to Texas, I realized that in fact, I've never once needed an emergency pair of underwear whilst on vacation, and good lord, I hope it stays that way.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Confessions of a Shoe Pervert

I sort of hate the whole "women love shoes" trend that's been foisted upon us. I'm going to blame Sex and the City. It made women feel like they should love shoes, and it made men think that any woman who owned more than 3 pairs was a Carrie.

And the thing is, I have heard many a woman declare "I love shoes" while wearing evidence to the contrary on her feet. In fact, the shoes she was wearing might be evidence of having given up, or of something she found on sale at Giant Tiger after Octo-Mom picked through the bin, of something worn for comfort and bunion-support rather than fashion. But of "love of shoes"? No.

So I kind of hate that I myself feel a definite pull toward shoes. I really wish I didn't, but I always have. Even as a little girl, I'd refuse to play Barbies with my sisters unless my Barbie had shoes. Now, only someone who was once herself a little girl would understand this: every Barbie comes with shoes. Pretty high-heeled shoes, necessarily, because her feet are molded in an upward arch that will only accomodate very high heels. But those shoes are teeny tiny and they get lost about ten seconds after you open the box. So even in our house of 4 girls and probably 200 Barbies (no joke), you'd have to search forever and be lucky to come up with a single pair. So before any Barbie playing could commence, my sisters would oblige my demand and spend probably 30 minutes to find me one pair. One stinkin pair. And every other Barbie went through life barefoot.

Fast forward to high school, which for me, was in the 90s. Ugh. So many regrets. Platform Candies. Cowhide. Those stupid shoes that were like cowboy boots but without the leg. Patent leather MC Hammer shoes. 90210 hightops. Oh yeah. And, embarrassingly, shoes that my friend Kelly once declared were "so ugly they're kinda cool" as if that was the point, although up to that moment I'd seen only the cool and none of the ugly. But with that one comment I could suddenly see them for their brown orthopedic gender-neutral ugliness.

Now I have money and taste (I think. I hope.). And closets full of shoes. Three closets, and still my shoes bleed all over my house. Both my car and Sean's have pairs of my shoes in the trunk, and in the backseat (it's hard to drive in heels!). I have shoes in the garage. Shoes in my gym bag. Shoes at work. I have shoes in various animal prints. Shoes that have equal parts neon and bad-assness. Shoes that are glitter AND gold. Shoes so high that my nose bleeds. Okay, no it doesn't. But I do have tonnes of very tall shoes. I have a very tall husband, and still he has to stoop to kiss me. And I hate myself for the excess, even as I get a little thrill in my down-south parts just to try on a new pair.

And my poor feet. I've been very hard on my feet, which were shoe-resistant from the start. I have horrendously flat feet. I'll never have to go to war, but I also can't do anything without having extreme pain in my poor little tootsies. Like, crazy pain. It's absurd even to me that a lack of arches could cause such profound pain, but it's true. Add to that a terrible fall down a flight of stairs wherein I managed to sprain my foot in 3 different place, and then take off for Vegas just a few days later, leaving my crutches behind at the Bellagio because the casino floors just don't have a lot of room for disabilities (although they got me through airports like nobody's business). So needless to say the foot didn't heal. In fact, after a night of quite literally dragging it behind me as we made our frenzied way up and down the strip, I had to buy a pair of soft near-slippers, because my foot had swollen so much that my ballet flats had cut a ring all the way around my foot, I had this perfect bloody halo that was starting to look infected, and the congealed blood was starting to stick in the wrong places, and give me blisters. But I went back to the hotel that night to ice my foot in order to cram it into sky-high sparkly shoes because we renewed our vows at the Graceland Chapel and a girl cannot get married in flats. It's a sin. So that foot is now misshapen. Small price to pay, right?

And then I had a bike accident that resprained that foot and the truth is, it's now more of a club than a foot. It gets me around, but barely. My foot is somehow hump-backed. So most of the shoes in my closet, all those purchased pre-foot-deformity, don't really fit. So I have to force the bones of my foot to reconfigure in order to jam the shoes on. And then I sweat and swear and send up mental SOS flares all night long, deeply regretting my choices, but never ever making the right one because the outfit looks so much better, not to mention my legs, when I wear the crazy heels.

Yup. I really, really hate this about myself.