Mental Health

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It’s difficult to tell in this snap, but it’s really quite nice out for March in Massachusetts.  Not exceptionally nice like it was on Wednesday, but nice enough.  A bit of a cool breeze, temperatures in the high fifties at 9:30 in the morning, clouds, and a bit of sun.  It’s the sort of weather that makes me feel like all hope is not lost.  Winter will end, the Earth is not dead, and I don’t have to be a crazy shut-in who only talks to her cats.  A change is blowing in with the wind and I feel good.

But, for as good as I feel when Spring is knocking on the door, there are still things that bother me: Americans, for example, work too much.  I think we’re pretty much insane for working such long hours.  I say this despite being a bit of a workaholic: I’ve been known to only take breaks during the work day because someone placed a sandwich in front of me and said ‘Bex, you need to eat something.’ (Not too often, but it’s happened more than once.)  Regardless, people work too much.

A few years ago I had a temp job that got me up before the sun, and didn’t let me out until after it had set.  It was winter, so this wasn’t all that difficult, but, still, it was the most depressing thing I’ve ever experienced.  Except when I looked around the office at the people who actually worked there: there were employees who where already in the office when I arrived.  As the sun was rising over the Atlantic, they were already on calls with clients and customers.  These same people were still on calls when I left an hour after the sun had set way beyond the Berkshires.  Another temp and I rode the elevator together at the end of one day and we asked each other “How the fuck do they do this?”  This life was for neither she nor I.

Now, I’m not trying to be insulting or make anyone feel badly about their job.  If I have, I apologize.  A person is allowed to love their job, or choose to be at work before the sun’s up and stay until after it’s down. This is not a criticism of individuals, but of the system.  America seems to value working long hours and not taking breaks; and we are conditioned to expect to be punished for taking breaks while trapped indoors during prime tanning hours.  It starts in school when we can see the beautiful weather but are forced to stay inside.  Therefore, as adults we accept being trapped in cubicles, chained to desks, stuck in windowless rooms with bad lighting and poorly regulated air conditioning.  That’s why I was pleasantly surprised yesterday.

I’ve picked up some hours tagging and folding shirts in a warehouse.  It’s a pain, literally, to stand at a table and fold tee shirts all day, but it’s not the least exciting work I’ve ever done (that would be that temp job in the sales office).  Nor is it the most difficult.  It is physically taxing, but so was environmental ed. and summer camp.  It might be a bit more physically taxing because I’m older now and I’ve already put my body through years of environmental ed. and summer camp, but it’s nothing I’m not familiar with.  The other people who work there are pleasant, and there’s a window so we can see if it’s sunny or rainy.  In the afternoons, the older ladies who work there are replaced by a group of teenagers coming off their school day.

Yesterday, two of the boys were talking at the table behind me.  One asked the other why he wasn’t in school or at work the day before, the extremely nice day for March in Massachusetts.  The boy said simply that he had stayed home.  He told school he was “sick”, but in reality it was just that it was nice out and he spent his day outdoors.  The other teens were amazed and surprised.  One girl couldn’t believe his audacity.  I, however, couldn’t help being extremely proud.  This kid, all of sixteen or seventeen, understood that Wednesday was a Beautiful Day, and that Beautiful Days are meant to be enjoyed.  He’d even decided that this Beautiful Day was meant to be enjoyed out of doors.  The other teens went on and on about how crazy he was, but I couldn’t help but be impressed this kid chose his mental health over his attendance record, his grades, and a paycheck.  This kid has his priorities in order.

Take care of your mental health people, it’s more important than we Americans realize.

Happy National Friendship Day: A Tribute

In the past two months I have written two short stories about a single woman looking for love.  One, specifically; the other, well, she sort of finds love by accident.  (Well, she meets a couple of dudes, we don’t know that she loves either of them.)  Neither of these stories would accomplish the wretchedly simple job of passing the Bechdel Test, a test I find important, but not as important as representing “real” women, whatever that means (see my post about Thor v The Avengers).  But neither story is about female relationships (although one could analyze the female relationships in the first story).  I tend to write about what I’m currently going through and my mind was heavily on my own hetero-romantic relationships while I was writing them.  Because those are in a constant state of flux.  I didn’t write about my female relationships because my female relationships are solid.

Today is National Friendship Day, or some such nonsense, and it’s got me thinking about my most significant friendships.  Weirdly, or not so weirdly, the older I get the more important my female friendships are to me.  I still love my boys and my life would be sad without them, but it’s my girls, if ‘importance’ were a scale, who are the most important.  There are specific women from various points in my life who have greatly impacted me and continue to be my friends despite my wildly narcissistic and transient lifestyle.  And, the beauty of these women is that they are all different.

My oldest friend is someone who has always been supportive of me.  We met in the third grade in violin class and I have valued her opinion and her esteem and her friendship very highly ever since.  We had a small period of separation in college, but managed to reconnect afterwards and are still very close.  A very confident woman, she is also confidence-inspiring.  I never feel more encouraged, more empowered, than after I speak with her.  She took me clothes shopping for a “professional” outfit when I was temping, she sends me information on writing retreats and contests, she buys me dinner a couple times a year, and a birthday present even when I want to ignore my own birthday.  Always so career driven, she has served as an inspiration in my own professional life, making me believe I can forge ahead with the notion that I am a writer and might actually get paid one day to write.  I was happy to be a part of her wedding party when she asked.  She and her husband are one of the coolest couples I’ve ever met and have never, even inadvertently, made me feel badly about being single.  Their daughter is five months old and I know they are going to be excellent parents because they’ve been practicing on me for years now.  Every time I visit with them they feed me, give me career advice, and counsel me on my most recent romantic disaster.  When their kid is a teenager they’d be wise to remember how they’ve advised me over the years.

In high school I met my Best Friend (technically, all these women are my “best friend”, after all, like Mindy Lahiri says “best friend isn’t a person, it’s a tier”, but this one is my Best Friend).  My Best Friend is a funny woman.  She’s very analytical, enjoys making lists, and loves setting “life goals” — she was the only teenager I knew with a five-year-plan.  We met in a church youth group when we were sixteen and have been friends from the moment she introduced herself to me.  I don’t really know what drew us together initially, but a desire for a certain sort of connection kept us together.  Best Friend is a friend with whom I can discuss Important Topics.  From the time we were juniors in high school, she has been the friend with whom I discuss books, articles, philosophy, current events, the political impact of music, education, careers, travel, and religious matters.  We rarely talk about boys, men, love, or sex.  It was never a subject either of us brought up in high school and we rarely bring it up now.  Only occasionally have those subjects arisen, and mostly when she’d first met her now-husband and wasn’t sure how she felt about him.  Our friendship not only passes, but defines the Bechdel Test.  Which is odd for a Best Friend relationship, one might think, in stories it’s always the best friend who the protagonist goes to for sex or love advice.  It’s an entire category of movie character, usually played by Judy Greer or Jeremy Piven.  But our friendship has never been of that sort.  In high school it was sort of a relief, because there were plenty of other girls who were happy to talk about those topics ad nauseam and nothing else.

College.  So many significant things happened to me in college.  One, I learned that I am smart.  Highly intelligent, even.  Not like Mensa intelligent, not like best-friend-from-college smart, but of above average intelligence.  I also learned how to drink alcohol, kiss boys, and to travel independently.  Sophomore year I met previously mentioned best-friend-from-college at our tiny college, in our even tinier English department.  Originally an equine major, she moved to the dark side after taking a seminar on Tolkien freshman year.  She and I wound up in almost all the same classes Sophomore year, including a Theater History class where, I feel, we really bonded.  Self-centered moron I am, I didn’t realize how close our friendship was until after the opening performance of Fahrenheit 451 when she ran up to me, gave me a huge hug, and told me how well I’d done.  Starting then our friendship deepened significantly.  We were travel buddies during our semester abroad, she was there the first time I got really drunk, the first time I got really hung up on a dude, the first time I went home with a guy.  And I was there for her when she underwent similar foolishness.  We saw each other be incredibly silly about men, and make unbelievably wise decisions about our education and work.  We are each other’s favorite theater-going friend and she is still one of the first people I will talk to about dating woes.  All the things that brought us together in college — literature, theater, writing — are still our favorite topics.  She is lovely, generous, and supportive.  I see her the least of the four women I’m writing about today and, therefore, I miss her the most.  But I am always incredibly proud of her.

The friend I’ve seen the most lately is technically my boss.  We work for a seasonal outdoor education program where staff live all together on site, and recently I’ve shared a house with my direct supervisor.  We started working together in the spring of 2014, before that we knew each other a little, mostly by sight.  That first spring we worked together, however, our knowledge of one another turned from knowing a little about each other, to knowing everything about one another.  Staff relations that season were a little tense and few came to our house (even though that’s where the food is).  The Boss and I found ourselves, many nights and weekends, the only two hanging out.  A fun, friendly, chatty woman she and I quickly opened up to each other about a whole many things.  I used to lament that I didn’t have any Sex and the City friends, no group of women with which to discuss life, dating, and sex over brunch.  Suddenly, amongst other things, I had this: a woman I regard highly to whom I could unburden myself when feeling emotional, or frustrated about anything (not just men or sex).  She is a friend who would drink whisky with me when I broke up with someone and get excited with me when I met someone new.  The twelve months I was 29 turned out to be a particularly trying twelve months.  I was getting down about all the bummed out things that happened, sure nothing good happened that year.  But then I remembered the new friendship I’d developed with my housemate and colleague.  If there has ever been a bright spot, it has been her.  I am certain I would not have struggled through certain things as well as I did if it weren’t for her friendship.  I am happy she is there when I need her and I am more than happy to be there when she needs me.

The Girl Scout Law commands that one tries her best to “be a sister to every Girl Scout”.  Growing up with three older sisters, Girl Scout sisters, and, once I started school, a number of girl friends, I’ve always felt that line applies to all girls, all women, I chance to meet.  Sometimes those relationships don’t last, but others remain strong even when far apart.  That isn’t to say the latter is “better”, or “more real” than the former.  As Cher Horowitz says “all my friends [are] really good in different ways.”  I love all my friends for those things that make them good.  These four women, in particular, are friends whom I am exceptionally lucky to have because my life would be significantly different without them.