June 29, 2007

Money, money, where for art thou money

Posted in animal advocacy, money, taste better, veganism, wildlife at 12:36 pm by nevavegan

Vegan Porn (never had anything to do with porn, just a silly name) has now become “Taste Better” and they have asked us to do some kind of blog roundabout where we’re supposed to give our take on certain topics. One of the topics raised was veganism and money.

Funny thing. That’s been on my mind quite a bit lately. Many vegans really do seem to have a strange, unbalanced view of money. The only comfort is, it’s not just vegans, so many human beings seem to be primarily avoidant when it comes to the topic of money.

Recently our only local wildlife rehab organization Second Chance announced that they were overwhelmed and under funded and therefore would not be accepting any new wildlife for a while. This was devastating news. There are so many wild animals in our area that need help, and now there are really no resources to help them.

I thought of taking out my checkbook, but the small amount I’d be able to scrape together seemed so inconsequential in light of the huge need. I wanted to find a way to turn my tiny seed of ready cash into a bigger donation. My next thought was auctioning my art to try to raise money, but I was struck with this vision of myself selling off all my art (and I love every single piece, not because they’re perfect but because they are like broken off bits of my soul, I put so much love and emotion into them that it’s hard to part with them) and then getting all of $50 to donate to Second Chance, and that didn’t seem ideal either. I thought about asking some local restaurant to hold a fundraiser for Second Chance, but I’m not sure I have those connections, and most local eateries seem to be pretty solidly booked, now and forever, in raising money for COK.

So, in short, my dysfunctional, denial-filled relationship with money has led me to a place where I don’t feel as able to help as I should be.

The stupid part is that I know what I love and what I value, but I have no idea how to turn those things to an actual profit. I always felt like some kind of reverse magnet that just drives money away from myself. I used to try to go around to shows and fairs to sell my art, and people would oooh and aaaah over everything, touch everything, and then just not plunk down the ridiculously low prices I was asking in hopes of just recouping my booth fee. I know what I do is good, even if not everyone gets it. I know people like it, but they don’t seem to like it enough to pay for it.

I was raised to believe it’s wrong to ask for money. Every single year my school/schools would hold fundraisers of some kind or another. We were supposed to sell things or ask friends and family to donate. And every single year my mother would march down to the school and get my brother and I exempted from participation on the grounds that fundraising was against our religion. Sure, that was embarrassing, but less embarrassing than when I was not allowed to participate in the “Fun Fair” because my class was doing a fake doctor’s office (candy as pills and fancy band aids handed out) because going to the doctor was against our religion, or when I was exempted from required reading because certain books were against our religion. Sigh. Anyway, that was a side track. I was raised to not ask for money. To show a desire for money was greed and was deeply wrong. To even speak of money was deeply wrong.

To cope with my various ambiguous feelings about money I used to give until it hurt any time a group asked me for money, while I slept on a piece of foam rubber on the floor of a broken down group house in a bad neighborhood. I had a minor crisis over this though when I began to feel I was doing serious damage to myself giving so much, and at the same time saw the groups I gave to using money in ways that didn’t seem very worthwhile, at least from my point of view. I resolved that I still wanted to give, but I wanted to give smarter. I wasn’t doing penance through my donations, after all, I was investing in the world I wanted to see. And everyone knows that to be a good investor we need to be smart, we need to be knowledgeable, and we need to have an understanding of what money can and can’t do.

But it took a close call with winding up homeless, it took months of not knowing if I could buy food, it took a huge financial crisis to bring me to that wake up call that I needed to start understanding money.

It’s still hard. The course my life has taken and all the other baggage I’ve been carrying didn’t bring me to a spot where I make a ton of money or have the qualifications to make “the big bucks.” At the same time, I look at what other people make, some of them with fewer qualifications, and I’m starting to realize that these deep feelings I have of being fundamentally undeserving are a bunch of (bad word deleted). I underestimate my worth and I underestimate the good I might do if I were able to realize that worth.

Which brings me back to my desire to help Second Chance. Can you, oh wise reader, give me suggestions? How can I face the monster of money and wrestle it down so I can do something worthwhile that desperately needs to be done?

June 27, 2007

Sorry I’ve been MIA

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:16 pm by nevavegan

I have had to travel for my work lately and it’s been a little hectic. I promise to update soon.
Right now I just want to go home and crash.

June 22, 2007

Then there was hope

Posted in bunnies, real life, turtle, Willow at 11:43 pm by nevavegan

I’ve been sort of at the end of my rope lately. Some of it I’ve posted here, some is just internal stuff stirring up on me, some is other areas of stress in my life, and it’s all been coming together in this perfect storm. It makes me want to hide from the world.

Then this afternoon I walked my dogs, through our neighborhood, past the litter, past the dumped carpets and abandoned shopping carts, toward the park. And right before we got to the park the dogs started sniffing furiously, and there maybe 20 feet from the creek, a yellow slider turtle was digging a hole to lay her eggs.

I was not expecting to encounter any turtles. I had to yank the dogs back kind of quickly. The turtle looked at us defiantly as if to say “It took me a long time to dig this hole, and I’m not giving it up.” I took the dogs away a distance so we could watch, but Nikita kept whining, so I took them further away and all we could see was the turtle’s shiny shell, like a tiny glint in the distance. When we saw the turtle moving away we came back and watched her slow progress back to the creek where she vanished into the murky water.

She had covered her nest over so perfectly, even kicked some torn grass blades over it to disguise it. It was just such a beautiful thing.

Then we walked home, dripping sweat, only to get ambushed by small children wanting to pet the rabbits. This is usually ok, because it’s usually just the three little girls from next door. Somehow word spread this time and there were more knocks at the door and before I knew it I had eight children varying from tiny to tall all petting the rabbits. The rabbits eventually had enough and hid, so the kids switched to doting on Willow, the only cat brave enough to show her face. Willow ate it up.

The littlest girl was so funny though. At one point an older girl picked up a pack of gum Sean had left that only had one piece left and asked “What’s this?” I think she knew, but anyway I said it was gum, but there wasn’t enough for everyone. The tiniest little girl heard and said “I like gum.” Then everyone shifted around again, running up and down the stairs to offer the bunnies various veggies. The littlest girl came up to me again and said “Did you know that I like gum?” I told her again there just wasn’t enough to go around. A little while later the pack was empty on the floor and she was chewing furiously. I hope it was ok for her to have it. But anyway, it gets funnier.

Ever since we rescued Willow and saved her from her near starvation she has been the neediest cat in the world. She loves to be loved. However, when people pet her she drools, and not just a little. People come over and we warn them about the drool and they say “oh, my cat drools too.” We say “No, your cat does not drool like this, here use this towel.” They don’t believe us, but then five minutes later they’re asking for the towel.

Anyway this very small little girl squeezed onto the chair next to Willow and was hugging and kissing her and Willow was loving it. Then as all the kids were leaving, the little girl said to me “Your cat is very sweaty” as she wiped her arms and hands. I didn’t tell her it was drool because I was cracking up. I hope she cleaned up when she got home though. I actually didn’t think Willow would drool on the children because I didn’t think she’d relax enough with so much squealing and laughing going on.

Anyway, it’s a good thing because the kids will ask “did you buy your rabbits?” and I tell them no, we rescued them. And they said Willow was a nice cat and I told that she’d been abandoned and nearly starved but we saved her. They asked where you can go to get pets and I told them about the shelter. Small stuff, but planting seeds of compassion.

June 21, 2007

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Revisited

Posted in post traumatic stress disorder, recovery, violence at 1:32 pm by nevavegan

We rented and watched Munich a little while ago. It was a well-made movie and really did convey the twisted ways war, politics, and vengeance can overcome intrinsic good and compassion. The overwhelming paranoia that grew throughout the movie was palpable, becoming almost its own character, growing, changing, suffocating.

That feeling, not feeling safe wherever you happen to be, is such a real thing to me, and sadly it’s familiar to many people all around the world.

When we first learned about post traumatic stress disorder it was in relation to war veterans. These were men, many of them practically children, who were sent abroad to witness atrocities, kill fellow human beings, and watch their friends die.

My grandfather fought two official wars, World War II, Korea, and one undeclared war, the Cold War. When I say he fought the Cold War I really mean that in every sense of the word. He is very tight-lipped about most of his experiences, giving only small anecdotes here and there. For example, he never really spoke about his experiences as a pilot in WWII, but at one of his birthday parties a friend of his made some joke about the time my grandfather’s plane was shot down. I wanted to know more, but he just turned away and said it really wasn’t a very interesting story.

So after all of this, after he left the military, my grandfather was plagued with nightmares for years. According to my grandmother he insisted on continuing to sleep with his hand gun under his pillow, until they were finally able to break him of that habit. My grandmother described being terrified that my grandfather would awake from a violent nightmare and start shooting before he realized he was at home and safe. My grandfather in his waking life was a gentle person. He wasn’t prone to rage, he didn’t drive aggressively, if someone tried to provoke him he walked away rather than fighting. But in his sleep he yelled and flailed and apparently even punched and kicked at the air. The after effects of trauma following him, however deep he tried to bury them in his mind.

My father too is a veteran and bears the scars of seeing things nobody should ever see.

This topic is timely right now as well, when we wonder how to reintegrate soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan into civil society. At times it seems almost hopeless to think that we train people to turn off their compassion and to kill other people, and then we expect them to return home seamlessly, get jobs in construction, solve problems with words not violence… Of course for many veterans this might not be so hard, but for others it’s nearly impossible. My father described the court marshal proceedings against a fellow soldier that he observed. This man told my father that he simply couldn’t be kicked out of the military, in fact he felt he needed to remain in Vietnam. His chilling words were that he had found he enjoyed killing people and while this was acceptable “in country” he just couldn’t go back to the states and live among normal people.

Once we flip a certain switch, how can we unflip it?

Of course Post Traumatic Stress Disorder isn’t just about war, it can affect anyone who has witnessed extreme violence, has survived a brutal attack, has been abused, or maybe even people who have been bullied over long periods of time.

Maybe it’s the time of the year. I, myself, have been having a lot of nightmares lately and waking up exhausted.

I wonder what happens to children growing up in violence plagued neighborhoods. What about those growing up in countries where genocide is allowed to continue unchecked for years. My area has a high murder rate. The local ice-cream man was shot for a few dollars as he tried to sell popsicles (luckily he was rushed to the hospital and survived). How can a young mind grow and bloom when their friends are gunned down senselessly, when they never feel safe?

What kind of world are we building here? Do cultures themselves acquire post traumatic stress disorder?

June 19, 2007

Updates and a brief break from real blogging

Posted in feral cats, real life, update at 2:17 pm by nevavegan

I find myself struggling to finish essays on many topics, so I have nothing in finished form to post today. Some will be pretty heavy topics though, so maybe it’s best to get my thoughts completely together. I do however have some loose ends to tie up.

We finally got in touch with animal control regarding the cat poisonings, though we don’t know what they’ll be able to do. It turns out that Sean had been put through to the voicemail of an animal control officer who was on vacation and that’s why nobody had investigated or called back.

Knock on wood, there have been no further poisonings since Sean spoke to our main suspect and also knocked on many other doors, spreading the word that the poison is cruel and illegal, in fact a felony. When Sean spoke to the main suspect he denied even owning any poison, but dumped out a tray of liquid he had on his porch. Hmmm. We hope that we’ve seen the last of it. I spoke to some neighbors too. It seems few people here have much faith in animal control or in the police. One neighbor told me “Animal Control, like the cops, is just a cushy position people give to their friends, so they can collect a salary. They won’t do anything, but if I find out who is putting out poison, I’ll do something about it.”

The cat situation still feels overwhelming. Sean in speaking with animal control noted that we are about a block and a half from the cats. He said that people get irritated because the cats tear apart their garbage, but we don’t have that problem since we do something strange and unheard of: we put our garbage in a container. Sigh.

There are so many kittens right now, and so many different feeding stations tucked in back yards, behind shed, or even just out in the open on porches and in driveways.

One of the strangest observations we’ve made is the differences from our prior neighborhood to this neighborhood. The last neighborhood was even less affluent, but there were no feral cats really at all. There was a tame stray or two, one of whom now lives with us permanently. But there were no feeders in that neighborhood, and with tiny lawns, close together houses, and no park nearby, I guess a large population of feral cats just never got established.

Also it seems there was just more cooperation and communication among neighbors in the old neighborhood. I remember when there was a break-in, one of our neighbors went up and down the street to warn everyone. There was a similar distrust of the police there, so when there was rash of car windows broken, it was strange to see armed neighbors sitting out in front of their houses all night, but it did seem to put an end to the problem. I guess with the high crime rates there we had this feeling that we were all in this together.

In the new neighborhood we feel a sense of community with our immediate neighbors. The kids next door come over to pet the rabbits, and the people across the street have been very welcoming and helpful. But other than that we don’t know many neighbors and attempts to get to know them have been rebuffed at times.

Funny though that last year we had some people over for dinner and someone opened the back door and left it open and Liam (cat) got out. I was sick with worry and out all night looking for him. During that I met some neighbors coming home very late and they turned out to be great people, but I didn’t know that until I walked up to them at 2:00 AM as they got out of their car to ask if I could search their back yard for my missing cat. We did eventually find Liam (at 6:00 AM) so that story has a happy ending.

But aside from these few examples, our neighborhood has almost no communication and no real sense of community. That makes it harder to address the issue of all these feral cats.

June 18, 2007

The V-Word and Money

Posted in animal advocacy, vegan, veganism at 12:35 pm by nevavegan

I sign on-line petitions. Not the silly ones circulated through email that ask you to tack your name onto the list, but the supposedly well organized ones on the websites of large national organizations. To sign I have to give them my email address so I give them the old address I don’t really use anymore.

Every now and then I log into my old email to check and see if anyone is trying to contact me there, and along with everything else I find lots and lots of emails from large national organizations.

Great. You’d think somewhere in there would be some kind of information of value to me.

But all these emails seem to do is ask me for money. “Hey Neva,” they scream, “help to save polar bears by sending us your tax deductible donation today.”

It isn’t the fundraising I mind, because I know groups need to stay in business, just like everyone else. It’s that all these notices do at all is fundraise.

I never get an email that says “Hey Neva, the best way to save polar bears is to go vegan because animal agriculture is the number one producer of greenhouse gasses. And please send us money so we can keep spreading the word.” I never get one that says “Dear Neva, Are you concerned about whaling? Why not stop eating all sea animals because our oceans are being over-fished and by-catch and pollution are killing whales, dolphins, and every other unique and beautiful species in the ocean.”

Nope. Uh-uh. I get an email saying “Dear Neva, please send us a donation today so we can fight Japanese whaling.”

I just got one that exclaimed “Neva are you worried about cruelty on factory farms?” Finally, I thought. This one will surely tell me, and the thousands of other people on the email list that we should go vegan. No. It told me to send a donation so the group can achieve more victories like getting Burger King to buy meat from more humane sources.

Hello? Anyone out there? When did the word vegan become such a dirty, nasty word that we can’t even say it out loud, we can’t write it, and we can’t promote it at all? Which does more to help the animals: if I send in $25 today, or if I go vegan for the rest of my life?

We aren’t talking about groups that seem that worried in most cases about offending the public. They feel free to exclude other activists from their conferences or they promote their causes with naked people. So it seems that this isn’t a case of trying to get along with everyone. Yet the v-word is somehow more offensive than anything else. More offensive than women in lettuce leaf bikinis. More offensive than displays featuring pictures of the human slave trade next to pictures of animals in factory farms. More offensive than ads mocking a public figure’s cancer. More offensive than capitalizing on sensational crime stories.

I’m offended. I’m vegan. I’m proud that I am. I feel it’s something worth being proud of and telling other people about. Not because I think I’m better than they are, but because if I can go vegan and stick with it (after my rural upbringing and everything else) then anyone can do it. If anything I think I’m weaker than a lot of people, so I tell people about veganism because I’m in full confidence that they can be vegan, and run marathons, and keep doing the 50 billion other things they do. I don’t think I’m offensive, opinions may vary, but whatever…

Anyway, I don’t see how we persuade people to do something or think about something we never ask them to do and don’t ever talk about. Shhhhh. Don’t say the v-word. Somebody might get upset. Let’s just stuff some money in an envelope and after that we’ll put the animals out of our minds until the next fundraising drive, the next envelope.

Heaven forbid we might actually have to make some kind of change in our lives. Better that we should all believe that we can keep doing everything just as we always have and still help the animals and save the planet from global warming.

June 15, 2007

Where We Build Monsters

Posted in animal advocacy, real life, recovery at 10:59 pm by nevavegan

In 1938 Neville Chamberlain conceded Czechoslovakia to Hitler in a policy that has since been called “appeasement.” This went down in history as a one of those great mistakes. War was not avoided, only postponed until the enemy was stronger.

Since then many leaders have made use of this example to justify a policy or deride another country’s choices. What we sometimes lose sight of is how we use appeasement in our daily lives.

It’s certainly not wrong to compromise and seek ways to get along with others. In fact it is our ability to do this that allows us, as social animals, to live in such large groups, share resources, and hopefully find non-violent solutions to our disputes.

The trouble arises when, as was the case with Chamberlain and Hitler, we find ourselves trying to appease someone who is on a fundamental level un-appeasable. When you’re dealing with someone who cannot be made whole, who cannot be satisfied, and wants to inflict harm, there is no solution through compromise to be made. Yet, people still cling to this idea that if only we understood a little better, if only we tried a little harder to talk it out, everything would be fine.

Now imagine sitting down to have a little chat with a serial killer about how he really needs to stop killing the neighborhood children. “I understand your desire to kill children; and I’ll just look the other way as you kill the ones you’ve already got locked up in your basement. But after that you really need to stop. We all want a nice neighborhood and nobody likes seeing all those bodies lying around. Think how the parents feel.”

Ludicrous right? Not one of us can see anything worthwhile coming from that discussion. If we’re picturing this in our minds we’re imagining hitting that serial killer in the head with anything at hand, dialing 911, and then leading those trapped children to safety. Of course. We all recognize that there are situations in our own lives where we just can’t negotiate. Not because we don’t believe in negotiation, not because we want to prove how tough we are, but because we know negotiation and compromise must be a two-way street, must be based in integrity, and require some level of sanity. Minus those things we aren’t even negotiating.

We can recognize this in lesser situations too, this thought process doesn’t need to take place in a horror movie. I knew a woman who was kicked out of her church because she kept spreading malicious rumors about other people in the congregation. The minister spoke to her about it, he counseled her about gossip, and as time went on he came to the slow realization that she simply liked spreading rumors and all her promises to stop were worthless. She didn’t care that she was hurting people, she didn’t care that she was hurting the church. She had become so divisive in the congregation, driving her victims out of the church and creating fights between those who believed her and those who didn’t, that the minister simply couldn’t allow her to participate in church any longer. At some point you just wake up and realize it’s never going to work.

In fact by negotiating we make things worse in those situations. We teach manipulative, malicious people how to act like they want to solve problems. They learn the right words to say, but never absorb the ideas behind them. We give them power and time to do bad things, so that when we finally wake up, it’s a lot harder to try to fix the wrongs we’ve allowed to continue. We in essence build monsters by letting people go on doing terrible things.

The reason why I bring this up is because like with the prior entry “You are an Object” I’m building a base to explain other things. This understanding of when we need to negotiate and when we can’t is so important, but also very treacherous. The last thing we want to do is “declare war” in situations that would benefit from mediation, negotiation, or plain old-fashioned listening. We also don’t want to try to negotiate when we aren’t talking to someone who can’t be negotiated with.

I try to think about these tricky balancing acts in my life and also in animal work. Right now we’re thinking about this in our neighborhood with the cat poisonings. On the one hand we want to get tough and go over to our suspect’s house and threaten him. That would mean that we would believe he’s beyond any hope, that we believe the only way to address this situation is through force. On the other hand we want to distribute information to tell people that a) poisoning cats is cruel, b) it’s illegal and c) there are humane ways to reduce that cat population and get some of the more bothersome behaviors under control. Maybe there’s some way to combine the two approaches, but I’m not so sure.

It took me a really long time to learn that there are things I can’t fix, people I can’t reach. What I do with that lesson is hard to determine.

June 14, 2007

Poison in my neighborhood

Posted in companion animals, cruelty, feral cats, real life, stupid neighborhood at 1:29 pm by nevavegan

Please Note: Poisoning cats is a felony in most states. It is cruel and inexcusable. It also does not reduce feral cat populations, since the cats who see the other cats die will not eat poisoned food, and will quickly breed back to the original numbers.

To learn about humane ways to manage feral cat populations visit:
http://www.alleycat.org/

Now for my story.

For the second time this week Sean found a feral cat convulsing with seizures while walking the dogs. This time a kitten, Monday it was an adult cat. When he found the first cat he rushed him to the emergency vet and the vet said he had no pupil response and euthanized him. Today with the kitten the tests also indicated brain damage and had to euthanize, but now Sean and the vet are both convinced that someone is poisoning the cats. The vet said it’s most likely rat poison.

I have a suspect in mind, as there is someone right by where both cats were found who has repeatedly told me he hates cats. Plus he behaves in ways that worry me, like following me after dark while I walked my dogs. He was in his car and kept a distance, but for blocks he stopped when I stopped, made every turn I made, and just in general frightened me. But I have no proof at all that he’s poisoning the cats. Just saying he’s seriously creepy and scares me isn’t much help.

We feel we have no choice at this point except to ask animal control to intervene. Even though I don’t have much confidence in their ability to investigate. Still if the poison is somewhere obvious, like in a tray on creepy-neighbor’s porch, hopefully AC is competent to handle that. AC has said to people in this area in the past that they don’t trap cats, so I’m not too worried that calling AC will mean they’ll kill the cats.

These poor cats, it’s such a terrible, painful, excruciating way to go. Especially since the problems here aren’t their fault and they’ve never done anything to hurt anyone.

Our prior plans to help sterilize this feral colony never got off the ground. Most of the families feeding the cats don’t speak much English and though I have clearly observed them feeding, only one woman would even admit it when I talked to her. Most just say the cats aren’t theirs and rush into their houses. One guy said the cats were wild and he ignores them, but wanted to know if Jesus was my personal lord and savior. The one woman who told me she did feed said it with a downward glance and a look of shame. “Just to keep the rats away,” she told me.

I’m terrified too because people have thrown food over our fence to our dogs and I worry all the time that it might be poisoned. I don’t leave the dogs in the yard for very long at a time, but it seems that every other week I have to run out and yank chicken bones or moldy bread from their mouths.

I’ll have to make a point tomorrow to go over a couple blocks and try to communicate with the neighbors who do speak English and let them know what’s going on. If nothing else there is one guy Stuart who seems to like cats in general and at the very least should be on the lookout for poison when he walks his dog. There must be 12 kittens just that I’ve observed right now, and we haven’t been able to try to trap and tame them because we’re overflowing already at our house. I’m good at taming, but it’s tough when there are so few good homes around.

June 13, 2007

Lesson The First: You are an Object

Posted in abuse, borderline personality disorder, mental health, recovery at 6:36 pm by nevavegan

I’ve been working on this forever, and I still don’t feel completely comfortable posting it. What I’m doing here is delving into a huge topic, which is so big and requires so much background that it’s almost not appropriate for blogging. However it’s extremely important to me, so I’m going to give it a try.

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs and articles lately about sexism and violence against women. There are a lot of theories floating around out there about violence and general and violence against women in particular. I’m really not qualified to comment on many of these theories. I keep adding titles onto my reading list and I hope that shortly I’ll be able to say more in a much more authoritative manner.

What I do feel qualified to say is that the topic of mental health should be central to this discussion. There is an epidemic in our culture of untreated and often ignored mental illness, and one side effect of pretending this problem doesn’t exist is rampant violence and abuse. This includes abuse of all types, verbal abuse, physical abuse, stalking, and so on.

In animal work, as in feminism, as in the fight against violence, or to improve situations for poor and displaced all over the world, we often find ourselves using the word “objectify.” We use this to explain how someone is able to make a living from hurting animals, or how someone is able to do unspeakable things to another human being. We talk about the ways in which the media or certain philosophies objectify women, minorities, or animals.

But for me, the word objectify has another meaning and it really shakes me to my core. Because there are people out there who carelessly objectify others and can be woken up to the harm they’re causing when they hear the stories of the exploited. But there are also people who by reason of mental defect cannot do anything but objectify others. These are people who are completely cut off from empathy.

When I’ve tried to explain this to some people the first thing they think of is a serial killer, a sociopath, and that is one example. However, most people affected by this are not serial killers, but they are still dangerous to us in various ways. I feel like when that guy tried to grab me and force me into his car while I was out walking, that I was probably dealing with a sociopath at that moment. What I didn’t know was that people who are much less obvious might also view me (or you, or your sister, or your son, or their cousin) as only an object to be used and then discarded. These people might be able to put on a great show of empathy, but they usually do not feel it.

I will never forget that afternoon in the therapist’s office when I described a particularly abusive episode from my past and she brought up a topic that would change the way I thought about everything: Borderline Personality Disorder. I left her office and got several books, hit the internet hard, talked to friends, talked to strangers in support forums, and started wrapping my head around this topic.

My first reaction however was to run back to the therapist and hold up a book. Pointing to a paragraph I read to her “victims of abuse often develop Borderline Personality Disorder as unresolved trauma accumulates.” What does this mean, I wanted to know, does this mean that I might have Borderline Personality Disorder?

The therapist patiently explained that while many people with BPD do have histories of abuse, the diagnosis of the disorder is based more on their distorted thinking and erratic behavior. There are certain criteria they must fit to fall under this disorder. There is also an entire continuum of disorders, such as other personality disorders like narcissistic and histrionic, and then other mental illnesses like bipolar disorder. A person can have bipolar disorder with one or two traits of BPD, or they can have BPD but exhibit traits also of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Very few people are a perfect textbook case of any one mental illness, there are degrees of severity and a whole host of symptoms from the common to the rare.

The therapist reassured me that I didn’t show symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder, which was exactly what I needed to hear. We all need to keep an eye on our behavior and getting the green flag that I’m not mentally ill doesn’t mean I can do and say whatever I like all the time. However, it does feel good to know that I haven’t inherited a serious mental illness.

The trickiest thing about personality disorders is that people with personality disorders often don’t fit out stereotypes of how “crazy” people look and act. People with personality disorders, again on that continuum of severity, can hold down demanding jobs, don’t mutter to themselves or forget to bathe, don’t wear tin-foil helmets. They can be charming and nice; they can seem perfectly normal much of the time.

The main thing that will distinguish the personality disordered from the “mentally healthy” are the things going on inside their heads that the rest of us can’t see, like disordered thinking and unusual reactions or distorted emotions. Most important though is the complete inability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. The thing that you or I would notice would instances of unusual behavior that are hard to classify.

The reaction of a “normal” person (I put normal in quotes as there is a wide range of thinking styles and personalities that differ greatly but are considered ok, ie not mentally ill) to being around the personality disordered is often to start to wonder if they themselves are the crazy ones. Those of us who have been through this often use the phrase “welcome to Oz” to describe the experience, because suddenly you find that all the things you believed about human behavior and how the world works simply don’t apply.

As I said earlier there are varying severities of personality disorders, and it’s very hard to generalize about all people affected by them. Some people with milder cases do feel empathy sometimes, but find it hard to connect to that feeling during the worst times when their disorder really acts up. However, if we are discussing the just the most serious cases, and just those that fall under the definition of Cluster B personality disorders, we are talking about people that are very mentally ill. Even if they don’t necessarily act like they’re mentally ill, there are some extreme problems going on.

Because I grew up with a parent that falls under this definition, or to be more exact a low-functioning, out-acting Borderline Personality Disordered individual, I more or less grew up in Oz. Everything is backwards and upside down and nothing makes any sense. A further consequence of growing up in this environment was that later, as a teenager and then an adult I didn’t always pick up on the fact that some people around me weren’t behaving in normative ways or were engaging in damaging behaviors. Those things were actually very familiar to me. In other words I’d built up a tolerance to crazy in the same way other people have a tolerance for heat or cold. I didn’t really notice it any more.

The downside of not picking up on the fact that others had personality disorders was that people with personality disorders certainly picked up on my tolerance. To some of the most ill, my tolerance, my patience, and my vulnerability were like a drug, and so I attracted some pretty damaging people into my life. The therapist says that people who have been abused have a lower pain threshold sometimes. We might put up with more abuse than others would, but we are also totally crushed by it. Because we are already hurting, insults and harsh words are like rubbing salt in an open wound. A person who hasn’t learned some degree of helplessness by being stuck in a home with an abusive parent will likely stand up and defend themselves. For those of us who have learned, time and time again that there is no escape and that to defend ourselves makes things worse, we tend to ball up and wait for the attack to be over.

For years and years I asked myself “What did I do wrong? Why do people I love hurt me?” But the question was the wrong question. The fact was there was nothing I could change to alter those situations. The people who hurt me hurt me for disordered reasons that make no sense to normal people. Those reasons varied from enjoying the feeling of power they got from reducing me to tears to lashing out against imagined hurts. For someone in the grips of paranoia, simply being myself or smiling or insisting on being treated with respect could be the trigger for an all out attack, in some cases verbal, in some cases slander, in some cases physical. But the real issue is that the reasons never mattered, and staying in a damaging situation wondering why the same bad things kept happening was simply a waste of time.

Since this realization I’ve witnessed friends go through the same thing, wondering why a relationship simply won’t work no matter how hard they try, wondering why someone in their lives keeps hurting them over and over. Why doesn’t matter. When you realize someone in your life tries to crush you when you’re happy and uses moments when you’re down as an excuse to kick you, that’s all you need to realize. Just get out, get away. Move, don’t leave a forwarding address, change your phone number. Whatever it takes, just get out.

Some will argue that it’s not the fault of people with personality disorders that they have this mental illness and it’s unfairly punitive to them to cut off contact. I agree it isn’t their fault. Many have been victims of abuse themselves, though abuse doesn’t cause personality disorders and most people who are abused will not develop personality disorders. In fact, recent studies utilizing brain scans on people with Cluster B personality disorders show that their brain activity is altered as compared to someone without a personality disorder. Whatever the cause: genetic, organic, psychological, we can all agree that nobody ever asks to suffer from a serious mental illness. And certainly in cases where someone in our lives wants to get better, does not have such a severe case, and is not continually harmful to us, there are good reasons to support them during treatment. But that’s not what I’m talking about; I’m talking about the cases where people are severely affected, harmful to others, and very resistant to treatment.

The reason that this is so bad is that to people severely affected by cluster B personality disorders, such as Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or Antisocial Personality Disorder, I am an object. I am something to use for their amusement, or for their personal gain. But they don’t feel empathy toward me and they never will. They don’t worry about how I feel. They might enjoy my pain or they might be indifferent to it, or so lost in their own confusing world they’re unaware of anyone else’s pain, but the point is that I don’t matter.

With that as a starting point, there is no fixing it. Anyway I’ve rambled on in this impossibly long entry, because this is the building block to things I want to post about in the future. I want to talk about how ignoring mental health is harmful to our society. I want to talk about abused animals I’ve rescued personally and wondered how a person could break a rabbit’s bones for example. I want to talk about why bystanders are afraid to confront abusers. I want to talk about how concepts of objectification and ownership affect all of us. But this is the first step, to talk about the worst of it and where it comes from, and then later I can talk about how these things go from a place of mental illness and confusion to taking up residence in the minds of the otherwise healthy people.

June 12, 2007

It was seven years ago today…

Posted in art, real life at 3:39 pm by nevavegan

That Sean and I ran off to the court house and got ourselves hitched.

I’m taking the day off from blogging, though we’re not likely to celebrate much today. We’ll go hiking this weekend with the dogs.

Wait, I lied, I’m not totally taking the day off from blogging. Here’s a really happy thought for the day. One thing we can and should be doing about global warming is instituting green roofs throughout urban areas and building parks on abandoned lots.

Studies suggest that adding just a little more tree cover in urban areas could have a significant cooling effect. Some species of plants also absorb greenhouse gasses. Since many buildings already have extremely sturdy roofs, it would not be terribly hard to put planters on them containing some hardy varieties of plants to have a greening effect on the city.

The tops of buildings could even be set up as roof top parks and gardens to allow urban dwelling folks to reconnect with nature. Further, some minor alterations to the plumbing of the buildings would allow the plants on the roofs to be watered with grey water, that would be the non-sewage waste water from the building. By requiring more eco-friendly cleaning supplies, laundry soap, and dishwashing soap, much of the grey water from urban buildings would be safe to use to water plants. This seems like just an incredibly beautiful, fun thing–think of all those city apartment dwellers planting flowers and veggies with their kids–but it would also be a powerful thing for the environment.

As always though, going vegan is the biggest step we can all take to halt global warming.

PS. My friend says that vegan cooking blogs convinced her to go vegan. It was sort of like, wow, look at all that good food, and I’ll be helping animals, I guess I ought to do this. So for all of you guys cooking and photographing and posting your beautiful vegan meals, keep up the good work!

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