#NoShameDay :: About the Day I Couldn’t Swim Anymore

This post is a day late.  But I thought I’d still write it, in case it helps someone else.

Earlier this year, in January, I contemplated committing suicide.  This was the first time I’ve done so.

2013 had been a clusterfuck of bad things happening that I couldn’t control leading to my deepest depression ever leading to bad decisions that left me feeling like I was a general failure at life, and that everyone I cared about was disappointed in me.

On January 8th, the dog who I had helped take care of off and on for six years had to be put to sleep.  He was twelve, and his health had deteriorated pretty quickly over the course of a couple of months.  He was living with me at the time.  And I was struggling with feeling like I wasn’t being a good mom to him because I had to go to work and in his old age, he had become very clingy, which could be frustrating.

So on the morning of January 8th I had been up several times in the middle of the night to let Biko out because he had pooped on the floor.  It was solid, which confused and frustrated me.  I had a call that was supposed to settle an unemployment claim that my former boss was fighting.  My cell phone, at the time, was a piece of crap and when the call came, it wouldn’t let me answer.  I called the office back, tried to explain what happened and get a new appointment.  No dice.  So I lost $900 that day, which I desperately needed because I couldn’t afford to pay my rent that month and was already a month late for December.

I looked over and watched Biko stand up and come over to my bed.  Where he had been laying was a fresh poop.  And I realized, in that instance, that he hadn’t squatted and pooped - it had slipped out while he was laying there.  Because he couldn’t hold it.  I wailed.  I’ve never cried like that.  And I called his sometimes owner and told him that we had to put Biko to sleep because he couldn’t hold his bowels anymore.

So I lost $900 and the sweetest, smartest, most gorgeous dog I’ve ever known in the same day.

The next week I was emailed a notice to vacate from my landlord.  I immediately started contacting folks on craigslist.  I was actually relieved.  I’d been looking for a second PT job for four months with no luck.  I couldn’t keep struggling to pay my rent every month.

I found a place quickly.  Move in was set for the last couple days of  January.  I started packing.  So I’m at home one day, just a couple days before I’m set to move, and I hear someone drilling at the security door.  My first thought is that someone is trying to break in again.  I’d had an attempt a couple of months prior, but Biko presumably scared the shit out of the would-be thieves because they never actually entered the house.  I go to the door and open it.  It’s my landlord attempting to change the locks on my door.  He thought I wasn’t home because I’d left my scooter at a friend’s house.  He claimed that my lease stated that the punishment for non-payment of rent was that he could keep all of my possessions.  I knew this was bullshit, and told him that he hadn’t even gone to the sheriff and had them post a paper eviction notice, so there was no way it was legal for him to do that.  He left, claiming that he’d be back with a notice and to change the locks.

I called some people, but I could tell that they were tired of my problems and my neediness.

I cried.

I tried to pack, but couldn’t.

I googled landlord/tenant laws and felt vindicated and helpless.  Just because I was legally right didn’t mean that the right thing would happen.

I struggled to breathe.

I thought about how the people who weren’t there for me would feel if I were found dead in my apartment.  They would mourn, but would they realize how easily they could have helped me?

Mostly I thought about how good it would feel to never disappoint someone again.  Even though he was being an asshole, I felt bad for disappointing my landlord.  I felt bad for disappointing the guy I was dating, who was constantly lecturing me about things that I’d dropped the ball on in the midst of my depression.  I felt bad for not being as present of a friend as I had been in the past.  I felt bad that I had managed to add new debt to my credit score.  I felt bad that I couldn’t relate to my mother, and that her 2 week stay had nearly driven me crazy.  I felt bad that I had gone from being a great employee to being an unreliable employee.  I felt bad that I had gained so much weight.

I felt bad that I hadn’t been able to spend as much time with Biko as he wanted me to before he died.

I felt bad that for all of my supposed talent, beauty, and intelligence, I could not even get my shit together enough to wash my dishes or shower.

I’m not sure why I didn’t kill myself.

I think part of it was because I’d never settled on a way to do it that wouldn’t involve pain or sickness or the potential of not dying and becoming incapacitated.  Wrist slitting I’ve heard can make you nauseous.  Not interested in asphyxiation.  Not sure if it’s possible to overdose on Zoloft.  No guns, and I wasn’t really interested in shooting myself.  So.  I wasn’t sure how to do it.

Also, Biko’s little brother was now living with me.  He was a very sweet and energetic puppy, and in that moment it felt like he was the only person I loved who was not disappointed in me.  He was just happy with my presence, even if it was a melancholy one.

After all of that crying I felt like crap - huge headache, nausea.  I decided to go back to bed.  When I woke up I felt better, both physically and emotionally.  And I dealt with my shit fairly well after that.

I don’t know what to tell someone else who is considering suicide.  It wasn’t some random outpouring of love from a friend, or sudden desire to live, or a surprise solution to my problems.

I don’t know what it was.  But I hope it appears the next time I seriously consider not swimming anymore, and allowing the deep, dark waves of the sea envelope me.

About: Diversity, Affirmative Action, and Passive Discrimination

I had an interesting experience today at one of my jobs.

I work at an organization that provides continuing education, in the form of a yearly symposium, for a subspecialty of physicians.  They’ve been producing this symposium since 1951.  Part of my job is marketing and social media interaction, and one of my self-created projects has been to highlight one faculty member from every symposium that we’ve ever had.  Automatically, I’ve found myself paying attention to how many female speakers there have been, which is fairly easy to tell, and how many speakers of color we’ve had.  I finally decided to just go through the list completely, using my Google University degree to sniff out how diverse our faculty has been for the past 63 years.

The answer is:  not very.

Until the early 2000s there were only a handful of female speakers; a handful of Asian speakers; a handful white Latinos.  And until 2001, there had never been a Black speaker.  She has spoken twice at our symposium, and she is the only Black person to do so.

I eased into this conversation with my boss, who is white and liberal, today.  ”So, how long have you been working here?”

"I started in 2001."

"Oh…to your knowledge, have there been any other Black speakers besides the one who spoke that year?"

"I’m not sure…is she the only one you’ve found?"

"Yeah…there haven’t been many women, either."

"I knew about that.  Since I started working here, I’ve tried to push the board to suggest a few women as faculty, with the hopes that at least one will be available to speak.”  Which is something that I figured - women’s issues are more at the forefront of her mind.  We went through the list of speakers that I’ve been using, and found only three women who had spoke between 1951 and 2001.  There have been 4x that many in the 13 years since my boss started.

As we settled back into the work of the day, my boss said, “We’ve only had one Black speaker?  That really bothers me.”

I’m sure that sounds very passive and meaningless, in the grand scheme of things.  But I think that the lack of faculty diversity is an issue of passive prejudice, rather than every board since 1951 making an effort to exclude Black speakers.  It’s still shitty, but it’s the kind of problem that can be fixed by someone with influence over who the speakers are, like my boss, being “bothered” by said problem and doing something to fix it.  I wouldn’t be surprised if by the end of the week she’s Googled all of the suggested speakers for next year’s symposium and found that there are no Black men or women on the list.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if she starts searching for Black physicians to add to the list.

What I mean when I refer to passive prejudice, is this:

Most folks, on a daily basis, interact both professionally and personally with homogenous groups - people who look like them and share similar backgrounds and experiences.  So when a profession made up of mostly white men is considering who they hold in high esteem, they mostly think of other white folks and a few people of color whose contributions to the field cannot be ignored.  Our board of directors is all white (save for one man of Indian descent), and mostly male.  The people they interact with professionally are mostly white males.  And so, the speakers who they nominate each year are mostly white males, with a few women and Asian men sprinkled in.

I think that, in all of the discussion and debate over affirmative action and diversity programs, people have misunderstood the purpose of these program (or perhaps the purpose is ill-defined).  Even the most liberal people have to make an effort to not passively discriminate against people who are not like them.  And even if that discrimination is unintended, it can be devastating to the career of a Black person who never receives recognition for their hard work.

So, in the example of college admissions, the purpose of affirmative action is to force admissions officers to select more than just the students who they can best relate to on a socioeconomic level.  As humans living in this society of our own creation, that is our natural tendency.  But when you’re making decisions that affect someone’s future, natural tendencies need to be fought aggressively, or you find entire socioeconomic groups being left behind.  Affirmative action forces admissions officers to consider the achievements of kids who are not like themselves or their own children, and find value in their presence at their school.

Here’s a personal aside about affirmative action and my alma mater, Cornell University:

I graduated with a degree in Sociology, concentrated in Inequality.  My senior year, I took a fantastic sociology class, limited to 10 students, with a Professor who I admire and learned a lot from.  I won’t say his name, because I don’t think he was supposed to share what I’m about to share.  One of our topics was affirmative action, and he shared with us his experience as a former admissions officer at Cornell, which does have an affirmative action policy.

  1. Applicants are only compared to other applicants in their high school.  If there is only one applicant in a given high school, the applicant is compared to applicants from comparative school districts in their county.  So that old standby example that people who are anti-affirmative action give, about the poor white farmer’s child who’s screwed over by the rich Black doctor’s child, when they have the same GPA, SAT scores, etc?  Not likely that those two kids would be going to the same high school, which means they wouldn’t be competing against each other for admission (at least not at Cornell).
  2. But if they were going to the same high school, the poor farmer’s child would actually receive “points” for being poor, the same way that the rich doctor’s child would receive “points” for being Black.  In fact, the poor farmer’s child might have more “points” in the end, because his parents are more than likely less educated than the doctor.  This is because, at least at Cornell, they use a formula based on your socioeconomic status (SES) to determine how impressive your academic accomplishments are.  The child of a poor farmer, white or Black, who manages to get grades equal to that of the child of a doctor, is more impressive in the eyes of an admissions officer.

A (More) personal aside:

I am a Black woman.  I was raised by a single mother who never made more than $25,000 a year when I was growing up.  Sometimes she was unemployed.  There was one time, during freshman year, where she had to get food donated from a church for about a month.  We lived in low-income housing in a county that at the time was the 5th richest county in the country.  My mother graduated from high school when she was 20, and enrolled several times but never completed any specialized or higher schooling.

My fellow students (the ones I would be compared to when I applied to Cornell) were mostly white.  They, on average, lived in two-parent households where both parents had at least a Bachelor’s degree.  Their homes were owned, costing between $700,000 and $1,000,000.

I never thought that my high school was anything special, but I guess it allowed me to take advantage of the privileges that being situated in a rich district can buy a school.  There were a few AP courses, and an SAT prep class that I took.  If Physics and AP Statistics hadn’t fucked me up, I would have graduated with a GPA near a 4.0.  And my SAT score was in the 99th percentile in not just my school, but in the district.

My low SES says that I should not have done so much better than my high SES classmates.  But I did.  And so I was one out of less than five students in my high school who were accepted into an Ivy League University.  Because the Cornell admissions officers found me to be more impressive than my SES should have allowed for.

But you know what?  Since graduating, I’ve had differing reactions from Black and white folks when they learn that I’m a Cornell graduate.  Black folks are proud. They might not know me, but they’re damn proud that my little dark ass graduated from one of the most prestigious universities in the country.  White folks, on the other hand?  Some react like normal human beings.  But some?  I can see them hiding an angry, or annoyed, reaction.  It used to cause me to downplay my achievement.  ”Oh, I was in an easy major - it was my premed friends who had it hard!”  Nevermind that my premed friends were also Black.

It makes me remember when, in my freshman year at Cornell, the Republican newspaper on campus posted a random picture of the previous year’s Black graduates with a headline that read AFFIRMATIVE ACTION.  For some, any Black person who gets into a good school is only there due to affirmative action.  We didn’t deserve it.  It was solely because we were Black.  Or Latino.  Or Native American.  Not because, despite having both white privilege AND class privilege, my fellow classmates were still less impressive than I.

**sips tea while looking at you over the top of my glasses**

Anywho.  My boss just realized, with my gentle poking, that for 63 years our organization has been, whether passively or aggressively, discriminating against Black doctors who have innovated in their field, and have had valuable information to share with our members.  And her knowledge of this problem might make her do something to change it, lest she continue to be “bothered” year after year.  I like to think of affirmative action policies as being the constant “bothering” that forces employers, admissions officers, etc. to pay attention to both passive and aggressive discrimination.  And to do something about it.

Godzilla, In a Nutshell (SPOILERS Abound)

  • Me: Hi Bryan Cranston! Are you wearing a wig? Your hair looks funny.
  • Bryan: **puts on a performance far too good for a summer blockbuster movie**
  • Aaron Taylor Whateverthefuck: I am so good looking that I've lost the ability to emote.
  • Elizabeth Olsen: I'm here, I look like a teenager, and I'm crying.
  • Muto: Hi! I'm awake now and BOY AM I HORNY.
  • Me: Aaaaahhhhhhhhh it's a giant flying cockroach KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!!!!!!!
  • Bryan: **dies**
  • Me: Wait. What? Who's the lead now?
  • Aaran Taylor Whateverthefuck: **points to self, but, like, doesn't really care that much about it, you know?**
  • Me: Goddamnit.
  • Ken Wantabe: **Looks concerned, and disappointed in humanity**
  • Military People: We've got to keep the giant monster that just flew into the sky under wraps!
  • Muto: Ooooh, nukes! Om nom nom nom! Now to go for a stroll through Hawaii...
  • Godzilla: Hello, Muto. What did I tell you about existing?
  • Muto: Godzilla. I see that hiding in the depths of the sea for centuries has done nothing for your figure.
  • Godzilla: Hey come on!
  • Film: **inexplicably cuts away to the aftermath of the fight, like, 12 hours later**
  • Me: What the fuck?
  • Ken Wantabe: Wait! Is there a girl Muto?
  • Military People: Um...I'll be right back. **goes to Vegas to check on the giant cockroach being held captive to see if it's still asleep. See's giant hole in it's cage. Gulps.**
  • Ken Wantabe: They're going to meet in San Francisco to mate!
  • Me: That's romantic.
  • Military People: We have to stop them!
  • Ken Wantabe: That's what Godzilla was created by...evolution...or something...to do.
  • Me: Wut.
  • Military People: We should nuke all of them!
  • Me and Ken Wantabe: But Muto pops nukes like M&Ms!!!!!!
  • Military People: **shrug**
  • Ken Wantabe: **Looks concerned, and disappointed in humanity**
  • Aaron Taylor Whateverthefuck: I know how to do stuff. Especially bomb stuff! Fuck my wife, who has decided to remain in downtown San Francisco despite the imminent threat of giant cockroach fucking and Godzilla stomping.
  • Soldiers: Most of us are going to die horrible deaths because our superiors are making it up as they go along!
  • Film: **Cues really cool but implausible bridge sequence where a lot of soldiers die because Aaron Taylor Whateverthefuck told them that everything was clear**.
  • Girl Muto: Thank you humans for giving me these nukes! I'm going to use them to warm my egg sac while I head to San Fran to meet my boo. My body is ready!
  • Ken Wantabe: **Looks concerned, and disappointed in humanity**
  • Me: Why would Boy Muto make her walk all that way when he can easily fly to her? Man, just like a --
  • Film: **Skips time again so they don't have to explain how ATWhateverthefuck survived a jump from, like, a 1000 ft high bridge**
  • Me: Please don't ever let me become that lazy of a writer.
  • Girl Muto: **Arrives in a glorious blaze of destruction** Hey boo hey. **gives him a nuke**
  • Boy Muto: Hey girl hey. **munches on nuke**
  • Mutos: **Kiss and rub...faces? Boy Muto then disappears behind Girl Muto, and she makes...noises.
  • Me: O_O
  • Godzilla: Awwwww shit, what did I miss? Sorry I'm late, crossing the Pacific takes me longer than it used to.
  • Boy Muto: Goddammit Godzilla, you stay cock-blocking! We are on a date!
  • Girl Muto to Boy Muto: You handle this, I'm going to go lay these eggs you just inseminated in a hole somewhere.
  • Boy Muto: But...you're bigger...
  • Girl Muto: TTYL!
  • Film: **cue super awesome fight scene between Godzilla and Boy Muto. Eventually Girl Muto joins. Boy Muto is killed, and Godzilla is gravely injured and collapses.**
  • Military People: So, about that nuke...it was preprogrammed, so unless we get some of you soldiers to carry it to a random boat and send it off into the Pacific, we're going to nuke the entirety of San Francisco. Sorry. Also, it appears that the nuke is in the same hole that Girl Muto laid her eggs...
  • Ken Wantabe: **Looks concerned, and disappointed in humanity**
  • Soldiers: Goddammit.
  • Me: So the choice is between preventing a nuke from going off at all and risking the chance that neither the Mutos nor Godzilla will kill each other, or...nuking a city that's already been destroyed and the humans are either evacuated or dead, but guaranteeing that the giant city-stomping monsters would die and the world wouldn't be overrun with giant flying cockroaches? I'd nuke the shit out of --
  • Film: **cue really gorgeous sequence where soldiers skydive through a thunderstorm while the sun sets into an already mostly devastated San Francisco**
  • Soldiers: **Make it to the nuke and carry it off to the boat**
  • ATW: **takes a painfully long time to decide to set fire to the Muto eggs**
  • Girl Muto: My babies! MY BABIES!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Me: Wow. I kind of feel bad for her? No I don't, she's a giant cockroach.
  • Girl Muto: **starts chasing the nuke and killing soldiers. Almost kills ATW but then of course Godzilla kills her in a totally awesome way where he blows so much blue fire down her throat that her head comes off, then collapses**
  • Film: **skips to the next day, which is full of a lot of 9/11-like imagery. Rescue workers are pulling people out of the wreckage when Godzilla snorts.**
  • Me: Awww, he was just sleeping!
  • Godzilla: **Stomps back towards the Pacific Ocean roaring with victory while the humans...applaud?**
  • Me: How many humans did he kill on the walk back to the ocean?! Wait, we're not going to kill Godzilla? We're just totally fine with having a giant sea-dwelling Stegosaurus living in the Pacific Ocean?
  • Film: Yep!
  • Ken Wantabe: **Looks concerned, and disappointed in humanity**

It was only after attempting to force school districts to uphold the latter part of “separate but equal” proved to be a failure that the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund changed its tactics, and attacked separation itself. (It was for this reason, incidentally, that the effort to dismantle educational apartheid in the South came to involve Linda Brown, of Topeka, Kansas—a city where there was a parity of resources between black and white schools.) The tactical shift was not universally welcomed by African-Americans: critics like Zora Neale Hurston howled at the implication that black learning could be insured only by proximity to white children. Elijah Muhammad warned, ominously, that “only a fool allows his enemies to educate his children.”

A new national report shows that children of color face enormous barriers to educational and financial achievement — with Wisconsin ranking last in the disparity between white children and their non-white peers. White children growing up in Wisconsin ranked 10th among the states in an index measuring 12 key indicators at various stages of life, including home situation, educational skills and income. But Wisconsin ranks 50th for black children, 37th for Asian children and 17th for Latino children, according to the study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation titled “Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children.”

About half of all 16- to 18-year-olds coming into New York City’s jails say they had a traumatic brain injury before being incarcerated, most caused by assaults, according to a new study that’s the latest in a growing body of research documenting head trauma among young offenders. Experts say the findings, published this week in The Journal of Adolescent Health, could lead to better training for correction officers on how to deal with the possible symptoms of such trauma, which include problems with impulse control and decision-making.