Tag Archives: resources

So Give Us Something Better

14 Jul

The Singer - cropped

Slate journalist Amanda Hess released an article today entitled “Let Them Blog” discussing why “the panic over pro-anorexia websites and social media isn’t healthy.” Her article talks about the function behind the form, and how vilifying a very grey area of self-expression ultimately nets more harm than good. She does an excellent job analyzing the nuance that “pro-ana” has evolved into over the past decade or so, and I highly recommend reading the entire piece for yourself.

Especially since, as someone who struggled with anorexia for about a decade and had to fight pretty fucking hard for her current three years of solid recovery, I agree.

The panic over the proliferation of pro-ana and pro-mia sites isn’t healthy. Mass cultural freak-out over the existence of twelve-year-olds and seventeen-year-olds and twenty-four-year-olds launching a wordpress page or even entire forums to give vent to the mind-chewing of their internal delusional demons is some seriously misdirected fear. Terrified of these internet shrines to life with the disease? How about we shift that feeling to being terrified of the disease itself.

Shutting down these sites won’t shut down the eating disorder, after all. And these testaments to life as a slow death from fucked caloric addition only exist because generally, culturally, their hosts and their visitors in their search for relief have found nothing better.

Once upon a time, I was very, very eating disordered. And once upon a time, I visited these sites, too.

I was not the most religious of visitors, and it was a fairly long road that finally got me peeking at that corner of the internet. I’d known about pro-ana sites for years before I ever visited one. It was a marker, for me, of my decline into the disorder. I’d gone from restricting for reasons my brain had generated all on its own while I really had no clue what I was doing, or that I even was doing any sort of something, to eventually having the label for it all tossed at me – by my mother or a health professional or some after-school special, I don’t really remember – to embracing the label as yes, the proper term for the beast of internal mis-wiring that I was fighting.

Or riding. Depended on the year.

I was already an adult, in college, by the time I first visited a pro-ana site. I was slowly, quietly slipping back from the “surviving” end of the health spectrum towards the “dying at an alarmingly faster rate than usual” side of things. I’d been drowning in the disease long enough that I wasn’t out looking for all those “tips and tricks” of the trade. I’d gotten them down quite well by then, thank you very much. No, my brain was out looking not for self-carving fuel but for the ever-so-slight-sense of thickening that is validation.

A very strange, warped sort of validation, sure.

But the sentiment was at least more self-affirming than eating disorders usually allow for.

I was struggling. And I wanted to embrace that struggle. Confirm it, I guess. I couldn’t go throwing my dysfunction at my friends – worrying other people was not what I was out for – but I wanted something that would strike some resonance in me, instead of just hollowing out further my ever-growing emptiness.

So I wandered my way through the pro-ana selection. Clicked through a few narratives. Poured over stories of other people’s decline into our shared brand of madness. Read about other people’s fasts and weight loss and body-whittling and mind-mangling.

And at the end of it, having glutted myself with proof of the vast existence of the disease, I felt… better.

Did I want to lose weight? Yes. Did I want thinner thighs? Sharpened collar bones? Yes. Did I want to feel the slow cloak of a self-destructing existence tighten even more around my suffocating life? You betcha.

But surprise, surprise – it’s because I’d already felt that way before.

I felt the same way, before and after perusing those pro-ana sites. But afterwards, those feelings, they felt less imminent. Less pressing. Less I-need-to-do-something-about-them-right-now.

Because while I still felt all those terrible, terrible things, I also felt less alone. Less strange. Less crazy. Less like something that had gone horribly, horribly wrong and was now an abomination compared to the rest of humanity.

I had been shown, in thousands and thousands of Google search results, that I was not the only one who felt this way.

“This way” was a complicated thing, too. Eating disorders are very much like abusive partners – you love them, you hate them, they do things for you in one area of your life while cutting you off from so many others. And somewhere along the line of the nauseating emotional flip-flop, you convince yourself that you can’t tell anyone else about it.

There, in those pro-eating disorder corners of the internet, you tell people about it.

And these people, they understand. Because they’ve got that abusive partner, too. They understand that you can’t “just leave.” They understand the good and the bad of it. They understand the hook. They understand the fear. They understand how to leave you, this broken thing making horrible decisions, feeling slightly less like someone who’s already dead. Validation. Empathy. And eye contact that doesn’t hold judgment or fear or condescension in it, because to them you are not some strange, sick, alien thing. You are them.

I’ve seen quite a few treatment professionals in my time. Therapists. Psychiatrists. Dietitians. Without them, I’d probably be dead now. I needed them, these people on the outside, in order to break out of the secluded, inwardly-collapsing world of my disorder. I needed them to call me out on my shit. I needed them to help show me what “better” was.

But kind and diligent and sympathetic as most of them were, those with only a clinical understanding of what I was going through could never really reach me when I crawled into the darkest of my brain’s corners. They had never been there, themselves. They didn’t know. Their attempts to pry me out often boiled down to essentially trying to shame me out of my darkened corner. Shame and guilt, as it turns out, are less than the best of incentives to use when fighting a disease of shame and guilt.

And yet I know that even still, I was one of the lucky ones. I had to fight my insurance tooth and nail for it, but I at least got treatment, and at the appropriate level of care for most of the time. I managed to find the centers with staff that actually knew what they were doing. I had enough of a support network around me that I could manage the luxury of garnering a team to help me fight my battle.

Not everyone has that ability. Not everyone has those friends. Or that money. Or the insurance. Or the time. Or the community resources. And even then, treatment – whether it’s due to the center or the staff or the structure of the health care system – fails a lot of people.

And so there is the internet.

The internet will not tell you that you are not recovering fast enough, and so you can no longer be in treatment. The internet will not tell you that you are recovering too quickly, and so you can no longer be in treatment. The internet will not tell you that there is no money, so you cannot enter treatment. The internet will not tell you that there are no treatment providers in your area, and so you cannot get help. The internet will not tell you that it is your mother, or your father, and you should just suck it up and stop disappointing them. The internet will not tell you that your pain makes no sense. The internet will not tell you that your pain is too much for it to hear, so you should just suck it up and pretend like nothing is wrong. The internet will not tell you that it does not understand.

The internet will tell you that it does understand, all too well.

And while yes, pro-ana and pro-mia websites will drive some people further into their disorder, if the websites didn’t exist, those people would still have found fuel for their decline elsewhere. Eating disorders will get what they need. It’s the people underneath them that don’t.

If pro-ana and pro-mia websites, these hosts of people’s shared pain, are so damn popular, it’s because they are better than those people’s current alternatives.

That is what we should be panicking about.

Don’t want so many pro-eating disorder sites? Until there are enough other accessible, effective resources to help people deal with what’s eating them alive, they’re going to stick around.

So give us something better.

The economic meritocracy is broken. Let’s ditch.

15 Nov
I here the internet likes cats and infographics.

I hear the internet likes cats.

The world can’t be a meritocracy; the reward system isn’t even.

By which I mean, there’s a whole lot of disparity in the way that the world’s resources get distributed. Where “resources” means food, water, shelter, medicine, money – and pretty much everything else.

Guys, this is not ok.

So, call me a crazy anarchist hippy, or whatever political term of undearment (yes, spelling is intentional) you prefer, but generally, I think that people should pretty much be able to do whatever they want, as long as it’s not hurting other people (or, you know, themselves) in the short or long term. Yes, sure, go out and spend your money however you want, as long as you’re not buying mass amounts of mercenaries or heroine or something.

But, well, purchases are not made in isolation. And unfortunately, it appears that how we spend the resources of the world around us is currently a zero-sum game. Which means that while you’re not directly hurting anyone by buying your second mansion – or second latte – there are other people who because you made that purchase instead of giving the money (or the resource it could have bought) to them aren’t able to get their kid’s dinner, or their wife’s medication.

Now, I’m not saying “go out and donate every fucking chance you get.” There are waaaaay too may organizations out there, for just about every cause there is, for donating to every single one of them to do much good. Not all organizations are made equal, and not all money goes straight to funding what you thought it was. And besides, I get that not everybody out there has spare change to give. It’s okay for people to want to maintain a reasonably enjoyable standard of life. This is not entirely a “people don’t give enough money away” problem – it’s a corruption and inefficiency and societal structure problem as well.

But… still, on a pretty fundamental level, it is a problem with the way people spend money. There are tons of people out there who far surpass the “reasonably enjoyable standard of life” level. Millionaires. Billionaires. Hundreds-of-thousands-aires.

And then there’s our government. Oh god, our government. I’m referring specifically to the one that sits around most of the day in an air-conditioned building in Washington, DC (except for when they, you know, decide they don’t want to talk to each other anymore for a few weeks…), though what I’m about to say is probably true for pretty much every government. The US head haunchos collect so much fucking money every year, largely in the form of taxes from the lower and middle class, and is absolutely terrible at spending it. Because instead of funding domestic aid programs and poverty-prevention programs and welfare options for women fleeing abuse and higher salaries for teachers and a whole bunch of other things that might actually help relieve a lot of the poverty and homelessness in this country, it’s somehow more necessary that the government buy even shinier weapons for our military (because apparently wars are won through an our-technological-dicks-are-bigger-than-yours contest or something…), even as we by and large forget about the actual military people after they’re done shooting guns at non-Americans.

But anyhoo. That’s a really long rant, and there’s still a slightly different direction that I’d actually prefer to take this.

Let’s discuss a solution.

Vaguely.

Now, what I’m about to propose may sound like heresy. And yes, I understand that it would involve massive global reform, all the way from the level of the government down to local NGO’s, but with the understanding that I’m taking the spherical cow physics problem approach here, let’s move forward.

So – what if we just finally sucked it up and decided that we are in fact living as a collective pool of humans with a collective pool of resources, instead of a bunch of individuals who just don’t give a fuck about anyone we don’t actually have to deal with, as long as we can have that second latte every day?

I know it may sound like “raging dangerous communism,” but what if we had a “third party” (NOT our government, which already sucks at just doing its own job) decide who’s getting taxed how much and how all of that collective money is being spent (I know, I know, oh god, all the logistics), and see if we can’t do a better job of spreading around our polio vaccinations and PB&J’s?

“But I don’t need the government telling me how to spend my money!” Oh how many times I’ve heard this one. I understand. Yes, you have worked hard for that money. And it’s not optimal that someone else would take some away. But you did not make that money in a vacuum. And because all the collective money-spenders of the world haven’t seemed to do much besides make things worse while they’ve been running around without anyone really telling them what to do with all their dollars and cents, it’s time someone steps in and tells them how to clean this all up.

Think about it. How similar does this all sound to a belligerent teenager with a messy room? Yes, he knows his room is starting to sprout its own ecosystem, but it’s Friday night and there’s a party, and he’s worked hard on his homework all week, so doesn’t he deserve to go out and have a little fun?!

You know what that teenager’s mom is going to do? She’s going to tell him that he already had a little fun at that other party last week, that she’s been asking him to clean his room for weeks now, and since he still hasn’t done it, she’s freezing his assets – a.k.a. the car keys – until he’s learned to show proper respect for the rest of the people living in his house and not let his room turn into the source of a house-wide mold infection – or at least get rid of whatever rancid pizza box is causing that retched stench. And – if the teenager’s got a particularly vindictive mother – that mom might even tell her son that hey, his sister hasn’t been able to use the car for three weeks, so it’s her turn to have the keys anyway, never mind that he’s paying more towards the car insurance and gets better grades than she does. Because we were all supposed to learn share back in, like, kindergarten. And when you live in a collective, whether it’s a family of four or a world of almost seven billion, you base resource distribution on the recognition that there is another human being standing before you, not on what kind of “productivity value” has been arbitrarily assigned them by the luck of the draw that is existence. Because think about it in terms of a family; if members were given resources based on how much economic productivity they contributed to the family, live-in grandpas and hospital-bound newborns would be shit outta luck.

Because again, you can’t make the world a meritocracy when its reward system is broken. In the urban US, working 50 hours a week might get you enough to pay for a nice studio apartment, eat out a few times a week, and take a yearly vacation. In rural Pakistan, working 50 hours a week will get you a sore back, a sunburn, and oh man, your kids didn’t starve to death! Though oh hey, your medication-less wife did still die of a totally treatable infection…

So, how about until we’ve managed to become responsible global teenagers and cleaned up the world’s resource disparity, we freeze some people’s assets, reallocate what we have, and create a mother figure (you know, crowd-sourcing knowledge is a thing…) who can tuck in all the respective governments for a nap until they stop throwing hissy fits and learn to share better? Sound like a plan?

Yes, I know, it would be almost impossibly difficult.

But then again, people said that about airplanes too.

Did I mention that I just bought tickets for a flight on Monday?

 

 

Feel like shouting yet? The awesome Harry Potter Alliance has a plan (Hunger Games-based, brilliantly enough) to make some noise at our own Capitol about how we feel about all this economic inequality:

http://oddsinourfavor.org/