MENTAL HEALTH | mental illness benchmarking

2018-07-08 20.41.34

those of you who’ve been following me for longer now already know that despite struggling with my mental health for almost a decade, i only started getting medical help about a year ago, and began therapy at the beginning of this year.

why did i wait that long? well, the answer is pretty simple: STIGMA. and even though it might seem like the stigma around talking about mental health is progressively lifting, it is still deeply rooted in how we perceive, and therefore, experience, mental illness(es) too. and that’s what i want to talk about today.

does that sound a bit confusing to you? let me break it down then.
(and, as always, i will try to explain my points on my personal story. however, that does not mean what i’m describing universally applies to everyone, of course)

this stigma is a very peculiar thing. not only that it is behind all the repercussions one faces when openly talking about own mental health (such as losing a job, friends, a place to stay, or, in fact, being at much higher risk of being met with police violence) and makes the people you want to confess to seem like real jerks letting you down and not really caring about you (because, thanks to the stigma, they have never learnt how to approach a mentally ill person), it also forces itself onto the mentally ill themselves.

due to the fact that the mental illness discussion has been frowned upon for so long, a lot of mystification surrounds how each mental illness actually influences those suffering from it. thus, there is an understanding (which is very wrong) that the symptoms and characteristics are the same for everyone, that every single mentally ill person experiences the illness in an exact same way. there’s a whole lot of other misconceptions attached to it too: that other people can “tell” how serious your illness is; that if you’re still able to somewhat function “it can’t be that bad;” that mental illness aren’t as serious as physical ones; that once you start getting medical help, you’ll be fine, and if not, you’re “not trying hard enough”; that your progress/recovery will be linear.

i believe that all these ideas really harm anyone who struggles with their mental health. how exactly? through a practice that i call “mental illness benchmarking,” something i recently discussed with my therapist. there is the generally approved image of what a certain mental illness looks and feels like, and that becomes a certain benchmark. a reference point, if you will. you know you feel bad and that your mental health is definitely not ok, so you try to check your symptoms and match them with these clean-cut categories. but wait, my experience doesn’t really fit anywhere? and, um, it’s actually not THAT bad. i can still go to work/study and have friends, i can’t really be ill, right? guess i’m just over-dramatizing, haha. so you shrug it off and go on with your days, and it keeps on getting worse and worse, but you’re still not confined to bed, surrounded by takeaway leftovers and snotty tissues (because that’s how depression, for example, is often presented), so “it’s not THAT bad.” and you do keep on questioning if you, maybe, but only maybe, might not really be mentally ill, but nah, it’s not that bad. until one day, you crack. and you realize you should have gotten help ages ago.

and that’s something that happened to me, actually. as some of you might already know, my dad also suffers from depression. when i was a teen, he cracked exactly like that, and his depression showed in quite the perfect media form: he just laid in bed, slept a lot, and was basically a ball of sadness. that was my only first-hand experience of someone suffering from mental illness, and for years, it was the benchmark for me. i had anorexia, self-harmed, planned my suicide, cried myself to sleep, but i couldn’t have been really ill, because i was still a very active and productive person. since the discussion around high-functioning mental illness only opened up years later, i believed that since i wasn’t that curled up ball of sadness, i couldn’t have actually been mentally ill. and i wasn’t always sad, i could still laugh and smile and stuff, how do you explain that, HA?

i had been failed by the society’s perception and definition of mental illnesses, which prevented me from doing anything about my mental health for years. i did not realize that all that extreme workaholism i definitely did exercise was in fact just a fight with my fear of being a failure, fuelled by the, back then, unnamed anxiety. i did not realize that being bitter and negative weren’t really my personality traits, but the depression overtaking my whole being. i had no idea each person experienced their mental illness differently, that the symptoms could change and heighten and overlap, and that, most of all, all i was feeling was valid.

all those years full of doubting if what i was going through was real, of down-playing my actual state of mind, and of persuading myself that it wasn’t that bad at all lead to where i am now – ruled out of “normal” life thanks to the depression and anxiety i left untreated for so long. i haven’t had a proper job for over two years, i dissociate every time i am faced with unknown situations or simply when i’m out of my safe space which is my room (which makes my long-distance studies incredibly difficult for me), unable to travel or be productive the same way as i used to be. while i know i am on a good track now, thanks to my therapist and psychiatrist, i often think of how everything could’ve been different if all this stigma didn’t influence how i—and others around me too—treated my own mental health.

i know that this is a real long read, but i felt a huge need to share it and, perhaps, help someone out there. the belief that mental illnesses have very specific and rigid characteristics needs to be destroyed; no, smashed to tiny little pieces, for god’s sake!

depression is not just about being sad and miserable 24/7. 
anxiety is not just about overthinking everything. 
bipolar disorder is not just about mood swings. 
OCD is not just about liking things organized. 
and so on.

if you feel like your mental health is not ok, don’t question yourself, don’t downplay it – go with your guts and try to get help. of course, medical help is not available to everyone, but there’s a lot of free support groups (even on Facebook), so that can be a start. 
treat yourself right, ok, mate?


GENDER | queering up the everyday


so you’ve familiarized yourself with feminist and queer theory. you’ve realized that the gender binary is bullshit, that our society is incredibly sexist and racist and classist, that not everyone is born with the same privileges, that even feminist and queer movement itself has a lot of issues within itself. but what now? how can you, as an individual, practice your queer and feminist beliefs and, so to say, get them out there? how to turn the theory into, at least some form of, activism?

well, worry no further, i’ve compiled a short list of things i myself try to incorporate into my everyday life to act according to my beliefs and share them irl!

ask people for their pronouns – it can be as simple as saying “what are your pronouns?”. or saying “i’m Anna and i go by she/her. what about you?”. i really believe this is a practice we should incorporate everywhere and at every occasion to finally break the gender binary!

use gender neutral language – “they” instead of “he or she.” use other neutral terms when describing people. while it might seem like a whole new thing, this is actually incredibly easy in English. it might be more difficult in other languages that are very gendered by default, but it’s possible too.

don’t assume anyone’s gender until they explicitly tell you (and respect that after) – refer to people as “they” until you’re really sure how they identify.

continue to educate yourself – follow feminist and queer Instagram/Facebook/Twitter/... accounts, join online groups and forums, check out articles on websites and online platforms, read books, attend events,...

support/participate in the community – whether financially (if you can afford it) or just by your attendance or voluntary labor, there’s so many ways you can help out organizations promoting feminist agenda.

use your channels to promote feminism – people always slam social media but i believe they have a great potential in encouraging social change. share interesting articles. express your opinions. highlight others doing great work. of course, this doesn’t apply to the Internet realm only – you can also promote your beliefs simply by your choice of clothing and accessories (e.g. feminist merch such as tees, pins, stickers,...), talking to people around you, distributing leaflets/posters of like-minded communities and projects etc. etc. – the list is endless.

stand up in the events of violence and discrimination – of course, first you need to evaluate whether the situation is safe enough for you to challenge the discriminating person. but, you know, i really believe in the saying “silence is violence,” and by deciding to overlook occurrences of oppression, you are perpetuating and participating in it too.

educate others – share your knowledge. recommend articles, books, courses, videos and so on you enjoy. explain to others when they do something wrong, why it is not ok and how can they change their behavior.

empower others – step away to give platform to those less privileged than you. support causes that might not affect you directly but harm others significantly. think outside of your own reality, and support anything that goes beyond.

support others – highlight other activists that do brilliant work. amplify other people’s voices. sustain a supportive, strong community!

these are a few examples you can practice in your everyday life and contribute to changing the society, step by step. most of them are really simple and easy to incorporate, and while they might seem like they’re small acts that might not have much effect on their own, trust me, they can push the norms a bunch.

how do you incorporate feminism into your daily activities and who you are in general? do you have any tips? please let me know!


WORD UP | five (vegan) years


um, the title is quite a lame take on David Bowie’s song “Five Years,” and naming my blogposts after the songs i liked used to be quite my thing back in the days i was the good ol’ ~lifestyle~ blogger (lol). this post is all about reflecting on my vegan history, and i remember being very open about my diet switch on the blog, so i guess some weird blogger spirit possessed me for a bit when i was coming up with the headline, haha.

ok, now to the main point of this article. it turns out it will be five years since i turned vegan next month. crazy, huh? my vegan rebirth happened quite unplanned, and it was more of a bet with myself in the beginning – i was diagnosed with cow milk intolerance, and having already been a vegetarian for a few years, i decided to try the next level of the veggie diet. in fact, i was pretty devastated when i found i was not destined to snack on milk and cheese anymore, and “pretty” is quite an understatement, to be honest. but veganism has grown on me (um, surprise surprise, otherwise i wouldn’t be writing this article) as soon as i got more into the ethical reasons behind it.

five years is quite a while, right? well it wouldn’t be me without celebrating this lil anniversary of mine with a highly opinionated article, a reflection on the reality of being a vegan in this case. have fun reading, i’ll sit here quietly waiting for all hell to break loose.

veganism is difficult 
you kind of have to relearn your eating and cooking habits. you have to stop doing mindless grocery shopping and start reading labels. you have to give up quite a few foods/meals you might love with your whole heart. you have to get used to being faced with endless questions about your protein intake and dumb jokes about bacon. you have to get really good at fighting your own cravings (anything Kinder is still giving a lot of trouble).

but it’s also easy 
listen, there’s shitloads of great meals that have zero animal products in them. finding vegan options in the supermarket/restaurant isn’t so rare (especially since veganism is trending more and more lately). yeah, sometimes you need to stick to French fries with ketchup as it’s the only vegan option on the menu when you go out with non-vegan friends. but you definitely won’t die of starvation, and can in fact have a really good foodie experience every single day.

meat substitutes are overrated 
BUT WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR PROTEIN? meat substitutes, like veg sausages, schnitzels, gyros etc. sure might be an easy way to get your daily fix of protein, but often the taste is nowhere near the original thing (hey, i love the Vegetaria schnitzel, but it has nothing to do with the Viennese piece of meat) and the products are incredibly processed, not to mention overpriced and packed in an insane amount of plastic. there’s so many recipes you can cook instead; and legumes and tofu and plant milk are basically all you—or i, at least—need.

you can cook tasty vegan dishes without using twenty high-end ingredients 
while i really enjoy browsing vegan cooking blogs, i find it funny, and very misleading, how complicated all the recipes are. liquid smoke? almond flour? date paste? not in my Caucasian house! (sorry, i don’t think i’ll ever get bored of this Joanne the Scammer quote) there’s no need to buy out all the fancy ingredients section at your local Marks&Spencer to prepare a nice dish. my personal fave: spaghetti a la puttanesca (which literally means spaghetti a la “whore”—but we are all woke enough to know we should use the term “sex worker” now, right??—, which is just another reason why i love it so much). you can literally dump a handful of spaghetti, minced garlic, a splash of oil, capers, olives, canned tomatoes (i prefer fresh but you do you), dried basil and parsley into one pot and let the magic happen. you’re welcome.

veganism ≠ healthy diet
fries. pizza (sans cheese, ofc). chips. burritos. Oreos. instant noodles. plus all the veganized versions of regular meals, like burgers and mac and cheese and hot dogs and what not, either from restaurants or supermarkets. it’s not all sprouted beans and quinoa. long live crappy vegan food.

the (cheap) vegan snacks offer is incredibly limited 
please give me more interesting flavors of chips and ice cream. paprika and vanilla is getting boring, and dark chocolate sure ain't no fun. i can’t stand the Lidl vegan cookies anymore.

no matter what anyone says, veganism IS expensive 
ok, if you stick to a really basic, staple-ingredients-only diet, it can be cheap. but a diverse, healthy vegan diet, especially if you’re trying to buy from local and eco sources only, is expensive. most vegan versions of regular foods are about 8 times more expensive, and are often not available everywhere, so add the travelling/hunting down time to that, and time is money (in our capitalist society for sure), right?

veganism is mostly for privileged people 
as i’ve said in the previous part, varied vegan diet may make your wallet skinnier than you’d like. if you’re trying to eat unprocessed foods, shop package-free, shop local and organic and stuff like that, it only adds up, or rather deducts the cash out of your bank account, to be precise. i’m really sick of all the well-meant advice telling people to just make their own snacks, like cookies and granola bars, at home (not everyone has time or even the equipment for that), to make that extra mile to the zero packaging store (time! transport!), to buy in bulk (you need to have some extra cash in your account to be able to afford buying in bulk – it’s the “poor will always pay the most” theory, you know?), and so on. add the fact that as a vegan, you’re supposed to only go for non-tested all-vegan cosmetics and household products, which, again, are very pricey and sometimes rare to find. people who can do all that are very privileged. veganism caters to the privileged. end of discussion.

it’s almost impossible to be 100% vegan
animal products are in so many things around us you’d have to live in a land completely untouched by the Western, consumerist society to be able to pull of full-on veganism. it’s sad, but that’s how it is. we can all still try our best though!

it’s ok to slip 
while many hardcore vegans definitely wouldn’t agree with me on this point, i’m very do-what-feels-the-best-to-you in many aspects, dietary choices included. vegan diet is restrictive in many ways, and with restrictions come urges to break away. you’re most probably still doing way better and are nicer to the planet than most people, so that one non-vegan thing you bought/ate is not in fact such a big deal. and sometimes you don’t even give up to your urges to break your own veganism – i’m talking forgetting to check the ingredient list and accidentally buying candy (or eyeliner) with beeswax or cookies with powdered milk, or ordering a dish that comes with a bit of grated cheese on top. it happens. you’re not gonna throw that thing away, are you? whatever. you’re doing your best, anyway.