Life Rants

Advice from the Bard

“The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.” –William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

May I suggest this thought applies so very well to that noble profession, that (and I quote) “work of heart,” also known as teaching?  Though lacking in the poetic elegance of Shakespeare, I stand by my statement.

With a new job this year, a large percentage of my responsibilities has involved teaching those tenderest of college students who (among other gender identities) are not girls, not yet women:  first years.

And I barely remember being a freshman–not, as you may imagine, because I spent the year on a months-long bender, but because I spent that year (as I spent all of my college years) intensely ignoring my symptoms of social anxiety and depression.

I can remember my poor, poor college instructors who tried so hard to encourage me to participate, recommended me for a job at the writing center, held one-on-one conferences outlining plans for me to speak up in class.  And those who, perhaps simply to move discussion along or out of their own discomfort, called on me in class without knowing the immediate panic I would feel as I strung together an incoherent jumble of words.  It was so much easier for me to write, to take tests, to read chapter after chapter, than to learn to speak in class or make small talk with my peers (which I of course had no idea I was supposed to be learning).

Now this is the kind of thing students can get support for, and I’m sure it was then.  But I wasn’t going to do that most shameful of all step that akin to a confession that I wasn’t really supposed to be there:  ask for help.

For a long time, I thought things would have been different if just one instructor showed some compassion.  They did–but I didn’t recognize it because I needed to show compassion to myself.  I did eventually go to the counseling center, and I learned what a gift it was to enter a space where I always had an attentive listener, where what I said mattered.

Another piece of my college experience that affected me unexpectedly was my campus job, which I still wish I had gotten sooner.  Rejection’s a bitch at any age, isn’t it?

I had always wanted to work in libraries, so it perhaps wasn’t too much of a shock that I loved my job in the library.  Beyond the work that I did and the slightly stern but calm environment of the 7-story building, the job was much more than the shelving or pamphlet binding I did.  It was a place where people were happy to see me, grateful for my help, and always said thank you (if you ever supervise college students, the extreme gratitude for common courtesies will make so much more sense).

Now that my job is at least to some extent being an instructor, I can appreciate how those silences in class can be crushing.  I understand how frustrating it can be when those really smart students with a lot to say refuse to utter a goddamn word (a lot of them women, first-generation college students, of racial minorities).  And I really, really get how making a mistake can be such a great learning experience, though it may not feel like it at the time.

I don’t have words of wisdom for students, and I definitely don’t have advice for teachers.  The only thing I can say is if you’re in college, go to that fucking counseling center.  You have no idea what a beautiful thing it is to be able to take those services for granted until you’re paying $50 or more every time you want to speak to a counselor or how difficult it can be to schedule those sessions when you’re working full-time.

As for teaching…there’s a reason this meme was created.

Featured image by Marco Secchi on Unsplash

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, or: Lute Duet

I’m sad and astonished to report we’re close to wrapping up the best month on the blog.  This week brings us more horror with the unintentional bonus theme of (mis)handling mental health.  But let’s be honest—that’s every month on this blog.

The Film:

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death

The Premise:

Upon moving to a creepy house in the country, a woman’s dark hallucinations return, disrupting her connection to reality.

The Ramble:

After mysteriously moving to a small, rural town, Jessica is ready to put the past behind her.  She’s arrived in town rather ominously in a hearse, along with her husband and also…some random guy who just lives with them?  Like I tried really hard to figure out why he was there being the awkward live-in third wheel but that remains unclear.

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Cemeteries are pretty cool, though.

So anyway…Jessica alludes vaguely to her visions and time in the hospital, but is more than happy to leave all of that behind.  It seems eerie visions aren’t entirely in the past, though, when she sees a ghostly figure of a woman in a graveyard.  To avoid any unwanted questions, Jessica keeps this particular sighting quiet, convincing herself she didn’t really see anything.  That always works out well in horror, right…?

To make things worse, the group takes a ferry over to the house, aka the old Brookfield place.  The man who runs the ferry tells them sinisterly they’ll be on the other side soon after hearing where they’re heading.  Ooooooooh, double meanings!

Upon arriving at the house, Jessica and the others discover they aren’t quite alone.  A woman named Emily has been living in the abandoned house and, feeling a kinship with her, Jessica invites her to stay.  She sort of regrets this immediately when Emily and Jessica’s husband, Duncan, share an uncomfortable lute duet filled with sexual tension.

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Nice…lute?

Meanwhile, Jessica is seeing more and more dark visions, including seeing blood, hearing voices, and encountering a dead body floating in the nearby pond.  The small town vibe is rather eerie as well—the approximately 4 dudes who live in town seem set on being really standoffish and uninviting.  The one somewhat friendly face in town is the antiques dealer, who is quick to reveal the sad story of a local woman who drowned and now haunts the town and/or may be a vampire (begging the question of whether you can be both a vampire and a ghost simultaneously).

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TBH, I was expecting this to become a scene from IDFAHITWA as soon as the antique shop came into play.  Sadly, it did not.

As Jessica sees increasingly disturbing images, Emily is more and more sinister, and Duncan acts even sleazier, Jessica begins to question what is real, desperate to convince herself she’s imagining everything.  Who will make it to the other side, as it were?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

It’s not especially scary as a horror film, but it does set up an atmosphere of paranoia very effectively and tackles mental health quite well.  Jessica seeing things no one else can see and constantly second-guessing herself and the voices in her head is so real.

I really enjoyed Emily as a character/chaotic force of nature while simultaneously feeling a lot of sympathy for Jessica.  The men in this film could’ve just spontaneously combusted and it would have been fine with me; they were quite bland characters.

Ha, though some of the, er, suspenseful music is hilarious and does take away from the drama of it all at times.  It makes me wonder if all of the intense music post-Dark Knight will be laughable in a few years and take people out of the scene immediately.

Did this one scare Christa to death or would she hop onto a ferry in search of something better?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews, Uncategorized

Poppy Shakespeare, or: Arguably the Less Fun Shakespeare

I thought this week’s film would go nicely with our theme and be somewhat satirical in the vein of Trainspotting.  Horrible moments dotted with the occasional winking nudge along the lines of “Blimey, this mental health business is a bit much, isn’t it?”

I don’t know where this delusion came from…possibly too much John Oliver?  The moral of the story is that I was wrong.  So, so wrong.

The Film:

Poppy Shakespeare

Where to Watch:

Amazon Prime

The Premise:

Pray you never find yourself at the mercy of the mental health care system, whether you believe in a higher power or not.

The Ramble:

N is a patient who has been in psychiatric care for many years, carrying on a legacy inherited from her mother and grandmother, and possibly farther up her family tree.  She’s pretty content with the status quo—she collects “mad money” as her income, gets to come and go more or less freely, and enjoys the company of her fellow patients.

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Based on this scene, I’d be totally fine with a stay at Dorothy Fish.

Obviously a change is coming, which arrives in the form of Poppy Shakespeare.  Though everyone in the Dorothy Fish hospital is there voluntarily, Poppy insists she isn’t.  N is assigned to help Poppy understand how the ward works, but the only help Poppy is interested in is how to return to her life and daughter.

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Dress every day as if you’ll be committed to psychiatric care.

Meeting with a lawyer introduces Poppy to the catch-22 that is the entire mental health system:  to collect “mad money” and pay for representation that proves she is fit to leave Dorothy Fish, Poppy must prove she is, in fact, mentally unstable.  Luckily, she has N to help her con the system by falsifying her forms and demonstrating symptoms like pulling out her own hair and burning herself with scalding water.

Meanwhile, the ward is undergoing massive changes.  In an attempt to cut costs and receive bonuses, assessments will be made more frequently to discharge more patients more quickly.  N is terrified as her usual yearly performance must walk a very fine line to avoid the dread of placement on one of the upper floors for more severe mental health issues without being discharged entirely.

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They like me–they really like me!

As N and Poppy try to cheat the system, they become close friends.  The chemistry between the two leads is perfect, making their friendship believable yet bittersweet.  While N is confident their plan will succeed, of course things aren’t going to be so simple as the two patients wind their way through the maze that is the mental health system.  All of this madness begins to take its toll on both characters, and the emotional damage they suffer together will have understandable, realistic consequences for them.

Yeah, this is less Trainspotting and more…slowly bludgeoning your feelings with a wooden plank for an hour and a half.

The Rating:

3/5 PPHs

I wouldn’t argue that this is a bad film or one that mishandles its subject matter, but it’s heavy as fuck.  Oh, you wanted an uplifting film about overcoming crises and handling mental health issues effectively?  Not this one.

Poppy’s situation is horrifying as she describes completing a profile, then out of the blue being identified as someone with a severely disordered personality and being stuck in limbo.  Her experience begs the question of who exactly defines sanity and what motivations may influence them–especially when N uncovers a secret towards the end of the film.  N isn’t in a much better place, as she and just as much at the mercy of the system–a system that failed miserably to help her mother and grandmother.

Chillingly, Dorothy Fish is recognized for its excellence at one point in the film.  It’s a bit of an Ivan Denisovich move–if this place is considered exemplary, how terrible must the other wards be?

Would Christa let this one loose or send it up a floor higher?  Find out here!

Life Rants

On Counseling, or: How Does That Make You Feel?

Six different counselors have listened to me, and I don’t think there will be a seventh.  At least not for a while.

Some terminology first:  I use the word “counselor” over “therapist” because counselor to me suggests someone advising you versus someone “fixing” you.  Therapy inevitably winds up alongside concepts like physical therapy, which you do for a set amount of time until your muscles have healed.  Sometimes this is how counseling works—you do it until you no longer need it.  But I haven’t ever felt “fixed” so much as I’ve learned some new coping strategies and some ways to recognize when I’m not coping well.

I’ve had counselors I’ve really clicked with, and others not so much.  My latest taught me two things:  1. Sometimes the counselor is wrong for you, and 2. I have the tools I need to be my own best counselor.

I should clarify the first point—I don’t think my counselor was under-qualified or giving out bad advice, but it wasn’t advice that made sense for me.  The best counselors for me listen and help bring me to my own conclusions, whereas this one told me on several occasions what I should do and, implicitly, how I should feel.  She told me about the solace she has found in religion.  I honestly wish I could say the same, but I don’t, and the tone she took made me feel inexplicably guilty.

At the time, I was feeling inadequate about starting a new job, managing one of the worst family conflicts I’ve ever dealt with (and that’s saying something), and feeling extremely isolated.  According to the counselor I spoke with, the key to unlocking all of my problems was forgiveness (and, I swear, The Secret, but I will try to refrain from being overly snarky in this post).  I do know that I hold onto grudges and don’t forgive easily, but telling me that I should be more forgiving does absolutely nothing to help me feel better about myself.

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We weren’t even halfway through our 6 sessions, and I already knew this counselor didn’t understand where I was coming from.  She told me I was adorable and angelic, both of which made me feel worse.  I catch myself being fake nice all of the time and suppressing the shit out of my negative emotions, so being complimented on how sweet I am just makes me feel like complete garbage.  She asked me if I love myself, and I don’t know how to fucking respond to that.  I’m human.  There are things I like about myself, and things that I don’t.  I know that one of the people I’m most reluctant to forgive is myself.

The worst was when I told her my reasons for coming in, and she paraphrased, “So you’d say you’ve had a pretty easy life.”  Would a single fucking person in the world say they’ve had an easy life?  Life is damn hard, no matter who you are.  I’ve certainly had privileges others haven’t, but I felt so obliterated when she said that, so completely invalidated.  In retrospect, I should’ve said that it wasn’t working out and asked to see another counselor, but I am so goddamn stubborn and feel like I’ve failed if I quit something.

Even though I don’t think of the sessions with this counselor as successful, being unable to connect with her gave me room to connect better with myself.  I realized I didn’t need these sessions at all—what I really needed was to give myself time alone to unravel my feelings, space to breathe, and compassion to be fair to myself even when I don’t like who I am.

I’m not particularly good at trusting or forgiving people or feeling like an authentic version of myself, whatever that actually means.  Sometimes I dig myself a pit of self-despair and don’t know how to get back out.  But that’s part of who I am, and I’ve gotten better at recognizing when I’m doing those things and trying to refocus my energy.

Believe me, I’m not saying you should ignore the advice your counselor gives you or skip out on counseling.  I am most certainly not an expert on mental health issues.  Besides, I really clicked with a couple of my counselors, one of whom I still imagine having conversations with when I’m feeling really low.  He really understood me and pushed me to follow through to conclusions I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with.   But even psychologists are only human.  Like all human relationships, some work out better than others, and it’s not your fault if they don’t.