Author:Paul Gilmartin

7 Tips to Help Kids Stay Focused in School: Guest Blog by Tyler Clark

7 Ways to Help Kids Stay Focused in School

Multitasking is a skill most kids are great at nowadays. From listening to iPods while instant messaging, from texting to Web-surfing, the interruptions are everywhere. With so many potential distractions, it’s no wonder kids have a hard time staying focused.

7 Tips for Helping Children Focus Better in School

Your child needs to develop effective concentration, focus strategies and self-discipline skills early on. These skills will increase his/her chances for long-term success throughout life. Here are some tips for parents hoping to help their kids with staying focused in school.

  1. Set and Share Expectations Early On

Adults have many vital responsibilities within their communities, at work, at home, etc… To prepare your children for adulthood responsibilities, they need to have some of their own right now. What’s the most important job in your kids’ lives? That would be learning. The sooner you establish your expectations and normal learning, studying and homework routines, the simpler it will be maintaining them.

  1. Manage and Minimize Distractions

Sure, it’s almost impossible to eliminate every distraction possible. However, there are effective ways you can minimize and manage the amount of things drawing your kid’s attention away. Where should you begin? Well, that would be technology, of course. Set rules that include no Web surfing, texting or talking on the phone or watching TV until homework is complete.

  1. Establish “Homework Time” Rules

Children can be quickly distracted by knocks on the door inviting them to play. Never allow play-time until homework and study-time are complete. You may need to be a bit flexible in order to adapt to schedule changes, including daylight savings time. But, homework-time should remain a top priority.

  1. Model Good Homework Standards

Do you attend school or manage projects at work? Is there some reading you would like to catch up on? Any unpaid bills or unopened mail that needs your attention? Be disciplined during your own homework-time by turning off the computer and phone ringers. You kids will model your good standards.

  1. Set a Designated Homework Area

Just as your child has a designated place to sit and learn when in class, there should also be one for studying at home. The homework space should be free from distractions. It should include a desk or table large enough for papers and books, with easily-accessible study supplies.

  1. No Texting Allowed

“Texting while driving”, and now “texting while walking” are serious crimes in numerous areas. Why? Texting interrupts your concentration, making it impossible to give your undivided attention to anything else. So, make sure to the rules are clear. Calls should only be allowed when necessary to complete an assignment. And, those calls should be short and monitored by you.

  1. Decide Your Take on Rewards

This is a controversial subject for a couple of reasons. For one, if you’re not careful, your rewards can easily be transformed into bribes. However, it’s a child’s nature to respond in positive ways to positive reinforcement. So, if you believe that a reward system will effectively motivate your child, go for it. Just be sure that the rewards aren’t monetary, materialistic or in any way related to food.

 

Tyler Clark is the online outreach coordinator for the Liahona Academy, a residential treatment center for troubled boys. For the past couple of years I have been helping Liahona Academy help educate the public about the Academy’s mission through social media and blogging outreach. In my off hours I enjoy reading historical novels, 80’s action movies and hanging out with my dog.

 

http://www.liahonaacademy.com/

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I Never Knew I Was A Dude Until I Was One: A Guest Blog by Keagan

Hi MIHH listeners,

 

My name’s Keagan and I wanted to write a blog post after listening to some podcasts and listener e-mails. This is because it seemed to me that there was a yearning or need for more information about gender and gender minorities, and I have a lot to share. More broadly, what I’d like to share is how I went from agreeing with all of the dogma of the GLBT “community” and the stereotypical rationalizations you hear people make for trans etc. individuals and finding an incredible amount of solace in that, to realizing that the GLBT and even trans “communities” (in my experience), as well as my professional work related to all of these topics.

 

I very rarely disclose my personal story when I give lectures, talks, trainings, etc. about this topic because it it’s irrelevant to the task at hand. I don’t mean that in a self-defeating way and I’m not closeted whatsoever, I mean that my personal experiences should have nothing to do with how one interprets information that is presented to them. However, I think the nature of this podcast and community allows, perhaps might demand, that I do that, and it would only be fair given how open everyone else has been.

 

I grew up as an adorably tomboyish little girl in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (the part that nobody remembers is a part of the US), where we unintentionally epitomized the polar opposite of diversity. Naturally, then, ideas about fluidity in gender were never entertained because they were never even conceived. As my parents have told it, I was such a tomboy that my mother’s pregnancy with me felt just different (versus my older sister) and resulted in her arguing with the doctor who delivered me that I was NOT a girl, I COULDN’T be a girl, etc. Indeed, I was a girl. Maybe it was her particular fondness for Taco Bell during her pregnancy that made her feel differently—I certainly have never lost my love for tacos.

 

I never had any desire for the stuff my sister liked to do. Rather, I liked hanging out with my dad, watching him build and make things, watching how he took things apart and put them back together, and basically watch him embody the life of a person who persevered out of gross poverty using sheer willpower and an ability to think critically. As a young child, all of my Christmas presents and toys were things like hockey sets, skateboards, KNex, Tonka Trucks, Little Tikes faux tool-belts for toddlers, and the like. Despite my mother’s desire to impart a sense of pride in us from an early age by having us show up to the first day of school each year dressed nicely (which meant a dress), and despite her immense degree of stubbornness (to be fair, we’re a stubborn family), I threw such a fit on the first day of preschool that I broke the tradition of wearing a dress on the first day of school.

 

Throughout my early childhood it seemed that everyone loved my tomboyishness—I was stubborn, I didn’t put up with boys’ (or girls’) crap, and I couldn’t be more content trying to build some invariably crappy thing out of old cereal boxes, Scotch tape, and whatever scrap wood my dad had left. I liked my Adidas boys’ hiking sneakers because it made exploring in the plentiful woods to collect bugs and other gross animals much easier, and I loved to get dirty. I wore t-shirts and jeans, most of which were bought from the boys’ department. Unlike my sister, I relished finally reaching the age where my dad would let me help him mow the lawn, and I loved it so much that I saved every penny I earned (even mowing more lawns than our own) to buy the Nintendo 64 when it came out. I bought the Ice Blue version, which my sister informed me was a stupid choice, but almost 20 years later I think we can all agree Ice Blue is still way cooler.

 

A critical point I want you to remember moving forward: at no point did I ever think I was a boy, want to be a boy, or want to change my body.

 

Then one day puberty hit. We had already been given the “your body’s gonna change one of these days, so here’s a weird random packet with stock photos of moms and daughters and a free pantiliner and maxipad” talk at school, but as it was back in those days, that class literally taught me nothing. All I knew is that one day I’d start bleeding out of my crotch and I would venture into terrifying territory that suddenly helped make much more sense of why adults were so much less playful all the time—they have to worry about bleeding all the time! I remember I was home alone while my parents were out shopping at Kmart when it happened. I didn’t know what to do (thanks, sex ed!) so I sat on the toilet for 2 hours waiting for them to come home (we weren’t a magazine-stack-in-the-bathroom kind of family, either). When they did, and I first saw my mother approaching the bathroom, I burst into tears and started pleading for forgiveness and for a light punishment. She assured me I wasn’t in trouble and didn’t do anything wrong, but, in so many words, I was now sentenced to 40+ years of a whole bunch of uterus bullshit. Sure enough, FYI, I had the kind of cramps that were so bad I was doubled over in pain an unable to move, even with birth control trying to help.

 

Now, I grew up in an area and era where playing “Smear the Queer” at recess was common, and because I only ever played with the boys, I engaged in playing that game. We’d beat up boys who were suck-ups, too sensitive, or that we just didn’t like. I took down this one obese kid in our class that no one liked one day and have a chipped tooth to prove it. I probably should feel bad about that given that I can’t remember why I did it, but I still feel pretty proud of it.

 

I wasn’t an angry kid, and I didn’t hate girls, I just didn’t know how to relate to them. The vast majority of my best friends growing up were girls and I loved every moment of hanging out with them even though they were super girly. But, of course, Mean Girls style, there were plenty of girls who wanted nothing to do with me. And because, for some reason, that stung a little too much, and because the boys (in general—their like/dislike of me as the token tomboy was proportionate to that of the girls) were much easier to get along with as long as you weren’t a dick, that’s how it played out.

 

But puberty, as I’d find out, was supposed to change everything. I was supposed to snap out of that phase and all of a sudden want boys begging to put their P in my V, and be SO girly that my mother would have to regularly sit me down for talks on how to be a proper lady, and basically grow into a proper young woman.

 

It didn’t happen like that at all. Because all of my peers were going through puberty and now learning about and executing the same social norms with which you accept or make fun of people, I went from having lots of friends to having maybe 2, who still didn’t like to be seen with me all that often. I was often made fun of, with the most oft-hurled insults revolving around, “Janine wants to have a sex change, ooooooohhh!”or something of that nature. This, paired with the fact that I was smart and much better at math and science (and almost all other classes, honestly) than the boys, translated to a hell of a time. Eventually, once my peer group and I were more stable in puberty and in high school the teasing stopped, but there was still that resounding pressure to do my duty and become a young woman.

 

Though I don’t know that she was conscious of it at the time (and I wasn’t), my mother in particular increasingly pressured and/or punished me for continuing to dress more like a boy than a girl and the like. I used to hate her for it immensely, and it still feels kind of raw if I think about it too much, but now I can reflect and understand that she was acting out of fear for me and a desire to protect me, because she knew that the probability of me being bullied and put down to the extent that a lot of bad things would happen to me and in my life was incredibly high. Even thinking back now I can clearly remember the thesis of many arguments being “I know it’s shitty, but if you don’t do X, Y, Z, you’re going to be in a lot of undeserved pain!”

 

But I didn’t. Not necessarily because I didn’t want to or because I wanted to rebel, but because I literally did not know how to be a “young lady,” and every time I tried I felt like I was coated in a layer of leeches that were sucking away the life in me. The idea of being a girl in the colloquial sense has literally never made sense to me, and I don’t mean that in a subjective manner. Asking me to understand the appeal in feminine things is like asking a grasshopper to do calculus, and it still is that way.

 

So I spent my teenage years in so much anguish that I don’t recall much of them. As my ridiculously large boobs grew, I grew more and more hatred towards them that manifested in my desire to hurt them. So I started pinching them so hard that my fingernails would literally cut the skin off and they’d bleed. And then I’d not let the wound heal, because all of this was in hopes that they’d get infected and have to be removed. And the worse it got, the more no one understood me and I felt increasingly alone. Honestly, I think a hug here and there would have done so much for me back then, but I didn’t even have that.

 

I had never heard the word “transgender” until I was just about to turn 21 (thanks to where I lived). About 2 months after I learned about the word and the concept, I knew that was me.

 

At 21 and a half, I started hormone replacement therapy. I legally changed my name 3 months later. Even though I had a voice high enough that you would have paid good money to hear me sing a Michael Jackson “Hee-hee!,” I started asking people to use different pronouns when referring to me. Obviously, as my voice got deeper and my body started to restructure into a more masculine form, that got a lot easier for everyone else.

 

For the most part, life was good. I had supportive friends and coworkers, I loved the university I was at getting my degree, and I finally felt like I had made some sense of peace with the world and I understood myself much more clearly.

 

But there were still those huge goddamn tits.

 

I hid them everyday, but there was nothing on the face of this planet that could make them look like they weren’t there. I wore so many binders that I’d often have a hard time breathing. Seems stupid, but it felt better than how I felt otherwise. I actually had to pull them down enough to stretch them out to flatten them that I have permanent stretch marks up near my shoulders from the pulling.

 

As I became more and more settled in my identity, I experienced more and more anxiety about my chest. Every moment of every day I worried about how my chest looked—were my boobs creeping upward? Were they flat enough? What sorts of shirts could I wear to make it look even better? Were people looking at me and knowing what I was and thinking I was a sick freak? I think the worst part was knowing there was no one I could blame for the pain and anxiety I felt. And the more and more people tried to empathize with me, the angrier I got.

 

Eventually it got so terrible that I made a pact with myself: if by age 25 I didn’t have chest surgery, I was going to kill myself. I would rather not live at all than live the way I was living and feeling. Even now, past that point, I still believe that would have been the right choice to make because I just hurt so much all the time and had no one to talk to about it.

 

I had chest surgery 1 month before my 25th birthday. To back up my claims about my huge boobs, I weighed myself before and after and, even with post-surgery swelling, I had lost just shy of 10 lbs. Go put your boob on a scale and see how much it weighs if you need a comparison.

 

 

So, that’s my story. Now that I’ve finished transitioning I’ve started to realize a lot of funny things about life that have allowed me to make a lot more sense of the weird world we’ve created around us. That’s what I wanted to share with all of you—why I think we’re thinking about gender in such a fashion that it’s exemplary of a poor understanding of it, or at least an understanding that was made under patriarchal guidance.

 

I used to call myself transgender, because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. Now, I basically never do it—the only instance in which I do is when I realize that the person I’m speaking too is never going to get it otherwise and I don’t feel like engaging in that conversation because it’s too tiring.

 

Why not? Because, basically, I think it’s a stupid word, a stupid construct, and a really nice way of tokenizing people like myself. It’s an EXCELLENT way for people to put you in the “them” category when playing the “us vs. them” game in life. It’s also an excellent way for people to write off a lot of things about you as invalid or not worth consideration just because you’re trans.

 

Most of all, it implies an inherent difference in humanity. It suggests there’s something inherently different about me, as opposed to the “natural” differences amongst humans already. Yes, I am different in a particular way, but the way in which I’m different from others isn’t so far from how we’re different from one another in a whole lot of other ways. Thus, I’m not inherently different, and I don’t think any gender minority should be relegated to being treated as such by being called transgender.

 

Further, it implies there’s been some huge change about me. Yes, my annoyingly massive knockers are gone, and my body is that of a man’s now (just one with a vagina), but in all honesty that’s not too big of a deal. I still wear the same kind of clothes. I still have the same demeanor and temperament. I’m still the same person I was, just a lot happier.

 

Thanks, all!

Keagan

http://www.technicallycerebral.com/

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Christina Jasberg

She was raised by a father with Schizo-Affective Disorder (whose symptoms can include delusions and paranoia) who would often break from reality.  By her twenties she was battling the same disorder along with bulimia, anorexia and cutting.  She has had over 80 psychiatric hospitalizations and she shares about coming out the other side, including the people, support and therapies that helped her.

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Sexuality and Being Bipolar: A Guest Blog by Jon Press

I posed the following question to several of my Bp buds: What impact has your bipolar diagnosis and treatment had on your sex life?

“Bipolar has influenced sexually addictive behaviors particularly around pornography and other online activities. When I’m manic, I’m impulsive. My inhibitions disappear and I make decisions that I later regret.  When I am depressed, I seek out sex to medicate the pain.”

“In periods of mania or hypomania, I find myself feeling extremely sexual. I have more energy and desire to pursue these means. This leads to more confidence, and well, more sex. However, the exact same applies when I experience a period of depression. I find that my sex drive diminishes significantly. I lack of confidence and a decreased sense of self-worth.”

“When I’m manic, I have a high sex drive. When I am depressed, I don’t even know what sex or being in the mood feels like.”

“The mania can obviously spark your sex drive and make it almost impossible to completely satisfy, which some women love. On the other hand though, the depression can totally kill it. For me, I’ve had problems in my past during bouts of depression where my ex’s have literally said, “You’re a guy, how could you possibly not want sex all the time?”

Medication: Sexual side effects

 

“Certain medications have impacted the functionality of all the fun….cough, cough. However, I have not noticed this side effect for all medications. In addition, fitness and exercise has been a huge part of my treatment, which has helped improve every aspect of my sex life.”

 

Many of us have had similar experiences ranging from delayed orgasm to erectile dysfunction. After much trial and error, the majority of us have found the right medication without intolerable sexual side effects.  However, if forced to choose between sexual satisfaction or mental/emotional stability (which is sometimes a life or death decision), we would opt for the latter.

 

Has your diagnosis and treatment had an impact on your sex life?

 

Jon Press is a husband, father, and coffee addict living in the Chicago suburbs.  He blogs regularly for Bp Magazine for Bipolar, www.bphope.com.

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Yes There is Such a Thing as Sex Addiction: A Guest Blog by Jess Levith

Denying Our Reality

A Response To The Recent Sex Addiction Study: “Sexual Desire Not Hypersexuality, Is Related To Neurophysiological Responses Elicited By Sexual Images”.

 

To Mr. Steele et al.,

My name is Jessica Levith and I’m an Intern Marriage and Family Therapist currently working with Sex and Love Addicted clients. I’ve also been humbly recovering for almost nine years from an addiction you’ve recently claimed doesn’t exist. I speak for only myself when I voice that your methodology and conclusion for this study was insufficient, deeply hurtful, and clinically dangerous.

Taking this extremely complex issue of sex addiction (which involves multiple levels of trauma, unhealthy attachment, sexuality, physiology, and self-concept), you extracted for testing only its most provocative, media-grabbing symptom of pornography. You had your subjects examine sexually provocative still photos and then tested their brain activity for addictive responses paralleling those of substance addicts. When no parallel showed up, you concluded that sex addiction must simply be a high level of sexual desire. I’m respectfully proposing, that your study may have excluded many other, potentially unaccounted for psychologically addictive factors contributing to your subjects’ sex addiction, including previous trauma(s), social conditioning, and internalized shame.

I’m wondering if you consulted with sex addicts before beginning this study, asking them what their most powerful triggers are. I’m wondering if testing those same 52 subjects from your study (86% of whom were heterosexual white males) for addictive responses to more person-specific events might have yielded a higher correlation. In my experience, what triggers one sex addict does not necessarily trigger another, even if they both happen to binge on pornography. Perhaps my idea might not provide great results either, but it would sure feel like a more comprehensive stab at this complicated issue. To deduce that all sex addiction is merely a high level of sexual desire, based on a single-faceted physiological study, without any reference to the psychologically-addicted mind, is denying the truth of myself and millions of people who’ve had to scrape our lives off the ground from this dis-ease. Additionally, it dangerously plays into the caricaturing of the sex addicts as insatiable studs or hungry perverts.

What I most fear is that your narrow criteria for what negates the existence of sex addiction will perpetuate the already dangerous myth that sex addiction is something a person can control if they just try hard enough. It tacks on an extra layer of shame for those already struggling to slow down their compulsive behavior. I realize it’s not your responsibility that blogs and other media have been headlining the more provocative snippets of your study, however, it’s important to clarify to the general public there are other potential ways to be addicted to sex (and love) besides physiologically.

Respectfully,

Jessica Levith

Jessica Levith provides psychotherapy for adults and young adults in the SF Bay Area.

www.east-baytherapy.com or www.eastbaysexandloveaddiction.comPhone: 510.883.3074        email: jesslevithma@gmail.com Tumbler: http://sexandloveaddiction.tumblr.com/                                      Twitter: jesslevithmfti

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Adrienne Selbert

Raised by attentive, loving parents she nevertheless grew up with a pervasive feeling of emptiness that she sought to soothe through relationships with men.   In her words she, “Burnt her life to the ground”, but used the experience and pain to grow.

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Sense of Smell Memories and Trauma: Guest Blog by L. Ruitzel

From the most terrifying moments to the most intimate, a scent can trigger a diverse emotional spectrum within our bodies and minds. Our memories, experiences, and the associations we attach to smells have the power to influence us for an entire lifetime, perhaps even beyond.  For me, the scent of Old Spice cologne has the power to evoke a longing and nurturing down to the marrow of my bones.  I wonder sometimes if it is the result of an unmet need, or the distant ghost of an actualized moment in my infancy.

 

Old Spice, original, was the cologne used by my father.  I do not know if my dad still wears Old Spice, and if he does I do not know if it would it still create longing within me.  My guess, or perhaps hope, is that it would not. My dad is not absent from my life, he is still alive and married to my mom, but our interactions are rare and often times loaded with emotional expectations that can’t be defined.  I was raised in a household with six siblings, our small 3 bedroom, 1 bath farmhouse had seven kids and two adults; personal space and respectful autonomy was severely limited.   My dad was a distant and abusive father through circumstance; he was overwhelmed by noise and chaos and had a strong need for control.  The stress of an impoverished, domestically violent marriage coupled with his emotionally void spectrum meant that he often retreated to his garage and was rarely parenting with any joy.  Most of his interactions were based on administering discipline; a punishment that was often released when the fuse inside him exploded and became uncontrollable.

 

I once asked my mom why she had so many children, when each birth created more stress and dysfunction, and her response was that my father was so gentle and loving when she was pregnant. Pregnancy was a way to feel: taken care of, nurtured and safe?  Perhaps a selfish and ironic thought process since every addition to the family meant fewer resources for any one member. I am the second oldest and learned quickly to navigate my childhood with as little noise and need as I could.  While I may not have understood the dynamics that were being played out between my parents, I did witness, with a certain consciousness, the violence and neglect escalate.  For the most part I didn’t question anything; my family was my reality.  But the unique violence that occurred between my dad and my brothers was something I always felt hopeless and angry about.

 

My brothers, Jon and Aaron, were children four and five in the birth order.  By that time, my mother had already started the “I want a divorce” rant and it seemed like life was full of threats; real and imagined.  Emotions were constantly spilling over between rage and grief. Resources were tight, tensions were high, tempers flared and things were falling apart, but somehow we stuck together. Whether through fear, stubbornness or religious ideals we still managed to present as a loving and resilient family.  However, one of the tragedies of our childhood was that my brothers gradually became the brunt of my dad’s criticism and rage.   They were “boys” and in that I think my dad unconsciously gave himself permission to be harder on them, to expect more from them and used them as an outlet to process his own, never identified, childhood abuse.

 

Have you ever told yourself, “I’m not going to be like my mom” or “I’m not going to be like my dad?” I think when families experience some internal combustion and pain it’s a common theme.  We all have a desire to be different than our harmful experiences.  My brother Jon was no exception, as a teenager he used to cry with me and repeat over and over, “I don’t want to be like dad.”  Jon was a very loving and sensitive kid, but he was also the epitome of masculinity.  He was physical and rugged, had dark looks and the strength of a warrior.  He would give and give from his heart, but was often wounded in non-reciprocity.  My dad used to beat him for normal childhood absent-mindedness, like leaving a hammer outside, but he was also beaten for Aaron’s behaviors. He was repeatedly told that being older made him responsible for Aaron’s actions as well. His world was filled with violence; violence against himself, his sisters and his mother whom he adored.  Jon’s world was chaos and he internalized that chaos into believing he was a failure and deserving of the abuse.  Perhaps he didn’t even know what he wanted, or how to experience it but I believe he knew in his soul it should be different.

 

There are two things that call to mind a certain fondness for my dad.  One is the smell of his pipe tobacco and the second is the smell of his cologne.  Despite not wanting be like our dad, Jon assumed both of these scents into his life.  As a teenager he adapted using the cologne into his grooming repertoire and by his early 20’s he picked up the pipe and used the same tobacco brand as my dad. I am often curious as to where the fondness for these smells come from. While I don’t actually have many conscious memories of loving behavior from my dad, somehow my psyche developed a positive relationship to these smells.  When I was a teenage girl I spent a period of time yearning for a father.  I longed for a figure that could exhibit what fatherly love looked and felt like. I didn’t know it at the time, would never have been able to put it into words, but I was trying to fill an emotional hole.  Whenever I caught the barest scent of Old Spice, I would stop, sniff and look around for the source.  Could this person be my father, could this person love me?  It was primal and unconscious but the smell turned me into a two year old, and as my sexuality bloomed, it turned whoever was wearing it into an attractive figure for my teenage desire. I wonder what this void looked like for my brother and how is it that we were attached to the same scents despite our gender and age differences.

 

Jon and I had the opportunity to live together when we were in our 20’s.  He was my best friend and quite honestly, I believe, my twin spirit.  I had no premonition that suicide was in his timeline. I still remember how I wish I had said, “I love you.” as I headed out for a soccer game that Sunday evening.  In the ninety minutes that I was gone, Jon altered the course of our family’s path.  It’s a moment that I grieve and cherish simultaneously.  It transformed me in the ways that are hardest to appreciate; the momentary destruction of my heart and soul. Before my brother’s death I was unable to see the depths of depression and abuse in our family history.  I just assumed that life was hard for everyone, that suicidal ideation was the normal thinking process for struggling humanity everywhere.  Since Jon’s passing I have had to process a lot of anger in feeling like he took away my ability to choose my existence.  Death was no longer an option; once you witness the grief and confusion of a suicide you hesitate to repeat the pattern, especially to the same family.  But in grief I felt even more stuck and hopeless.

 

I had created a distance of opportunity from my parents.  I didn’t consciously condemn or feel active anger towards them; I just didn’t feel inspired to cultivate a relationship beyond the Holiday family gatherings.  Regardless of that distance, regardless of the high level of denial in our family, I still had to call my parents and tell them that their son had taken his own life.  It was a role that still haunts me at times.  It was late, perhaps 10 p.m., and my parents arrived within the next couple of hours. I can’t even imagine the drive, the grief and guilt probably bearing down on them more and more with each passing mile. My dad arrived angry, upset with me that the first responders had released my brother’s body from his noose and taken him to the morgue before he had arrived. I recall a comment about how disrespectful I was that I didn’t let him “handle” his son’s death.

 

The week following my brother’s death seems like a blur, family invaded the house and lots of arrangements had to be made. I had two sisters in high school, a boarding school in California, and a sister in North Dakota with three kids, all whom had to be flown to Oregon.  We hunkered in as a family and shared tears and whiskey all the while questioning, what went wrong?  I’m sure there was confusion and grief for my parents, a sense of failing their children, of failing themselves, but the way anger and denial often manifest is with blame. So the defensiveness was erected right away, there’s no one to blame, and we did the best we could. I never really accepted that. Yes, I do believe, we all do the best we can, but you still have to take accountability for how you affect the lives of others, including your own children and the ones you love.

 

Sometimes my mom tries to get me to be compassionate for my dad.  She likes to tell me I am his “favorite”, the anomaly of both rough and tough and sensitive; a good mix of both genders perhaps. But I think that it is more likely that I am my dad’s biggest conscience check, that my aloofness and self-dependency is a challenge for him. I don’t conform, I don’t try and like him and sometimes I can even convince myself that I don’t care how he feels about me.  I certainly don’t strive for his approval or support. I had already been too hurt and some things can’t be undone, some words can’t be fully taken back.  The death of his son inspired my dad to find ‘his Truth’, to share the things that are on his heart in case he loses the opportunity.  On the Tuesday of that dark week my dad felt it in his best interest to tell me my “life is not a blessed life”.  I wasn’t really sure what he was saying at first, grief was so heavy on me; was he blaming me for Jon’s death? But then he clarified. There are two kinds of people who go to hell – those who commit suicide and those who live homosexual lifestyles.

Oh yeah, I’m transgender and live a lesbian lifestyle. My dad wanted to know; was all of it his fault?

 

It is now 7 years later and six months ago I finally moved out of the house where my brother died. While there is a world of difference between how my family and I lived back then and how we live now the grief of death never really goes away, it just evolves. I have multiple times removed my brothers’ possessions out of my space, dwindling down the mementos that can no longer capture his essence; my only true tribute to him now is a beanie hat that I wear year round.  Sometimes I feel like I can still smell him in the knit of the fabric.  We shared a lot of common outdoor activities together so every time I sit by a fire, talk a walk in the rain, or play in the snow I get a scent of his body, his hair, his blood pulsing with life.

 

But when you move, you find hidden treasures, or twisted reminders, depending on how you choose to categorize the past.  My nephew is now old enough to want to know if there are “things” of Uncle Jon’s that he can embody; a book, a backpack, a pair of shoes.  So I cleaned out the garage and went through the only two boxes remaining.  Is there anything worth still hanging onto?  Surprisingly I came across an old bottle of his cologne, Old Spice, the original. Not a bottle from the store that just smells the same, but the very bottle that he put his finger on and transferred this scent to his living body. A scent that connected him to his dad, our dad, and despite the violence, despite the injustice of his childhood, he still in some part embodied a longing for this fatherly love.

 

So I now wear my dead brother’s cologne.  It soothes me, reminds me of a happy and loving childhood, a father who was safe and gentle – even if I don’t actually have these memories. It reminds me to keep striving for a soft heart, one that will someday see my parents without a child’s neglected perspective.  I choose to feel nostalgic when I smell Old Spice, I choose to honor the path of longing my brother and I shared in the desire for safety and love. I choose to recognize the ways I can create them within my own future family.  Jon will be an uncle, a brother, a son that will forever be missed but his scent still lingers in our hearts.

 

 

I’ve kept my distance, done my healing, learned to accept my parents for who they are.  My dad has since found Eastern Orthodox religion with a passion, committed to working on forgiveness and acceptance. He is actually a kinder and more gentle man but not necessarily more expressive.  He is still incapable of saying “I love you”, even when it is said first and he merely has to agree. This year he asked me if I was all healed and over Jon’s death.  He shared that it doesn’t concern him anymore and he doesn’t understand why it is so hard on my mother and my sisters.  I told him that I am at peace with the situation and that I deal with my grief in my own ways but that every ones process is different. I’m still not able to be honest enough to say how ignorant he is.  My dad is confused by love and loss, unable to truly acknowledge that his behavior led strongly to my brother’s mental health, that there is much more accountability to be had in our family.  Neither of my parents will apologize at this time.  For they did the best they could and forgiving themselves of blame is the only way they survive.

 

L. Ruitzel lives in Portland

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I Couldn’t Say the “R” Word: A Guest Blog by Chelsea

Note: This piece gets a bit graphic about sexual assault, so if that is triggering, you might not want to read it. I know that for a long time, I could not read or hear anything graphic without being very triggered, so do what feels right to you.

After eight years, an inpatient psych hospital stay, four therapists, and tons of meds, it is still hard for me to say the “r” word in reference to what I experienced at the age of 18 in my second week of college. For many years, I just referred to it as “it” or “what happened at Holy Cross”. Never rape. Then I started being able to say I was assaulted, but still. Never rape. Because that couldn’t happen to me, right?
I was so unbelievably excited when a sophomore football player wanted me to come to a party with him. It was my second week of college and I had come from a very small, all girls Catholic High School. I had never gone to a “real” party or a date with a football player. I spent hours picking out my outfit and purposely wore a tight t-shirt that showed off my breasts. I was finishing my hair when he texted me to meet him at his dorm.
When I met up with him, he asked me to come back to his dorm room for a second so he could finish watching a movie before we went. He said his roommate wanted to come to the party and wanted to shower first. I didn’t think anything of it and followed him nervously.
When we got to his room, we sat on his bed and he showed me pictures of his family. The movie he was watching, Minority Report, was on in the background but I don’t think he looked at the TV for even a moment. I remember being touched that he was already showing me pictures of his mother. I asked him when his roommate would be done, and he avoided the question and kissed me. I was taken aback but willingly kissed him back.

He was by far the most attractive guy who had ever been interested in me, and I am ashamed to admit that was a stroke to my ego. The kissing quickly became aggressive and he put his hand on my left breast. I stopped kissing him and told him I wasn’t really ready for that just yet. He started to get more forceful, called me a slut, and said I was lying. Things quickly turned from the casual atmosphere of showing me family photos to a scary, painful experience.

He shoved me down on the floor and held me down with one hand while hiking up my skirt with the other and removing my underwear. I kept saying no and started bawling. But I didn’t scream, push back, or fight in any way.

I eventually stopped telling him no, but I couldn’t control my sobbing, which angered him even further. He assaulted me vaginally, and anally. When my vagina would not get wet, he began to swear and yell at me, and bit my nipples and did other things that I assume were meant to turn me on. When it didn’t work, he spit on my genital area and continued.

The anal sex was so very painful that I started crying out. He slapped me, and I stopped. I probably could have gotten him to stop by screaming more since we were in a populated dorm, but I didn’t.

When he was done, he threw the used condom in my face and told me to lick it. I did not. He then got up and left the room, to “rinse me off of him”. I am ashamed to admit that I did not leave. I remained there on the floor in a daze and was still there when he came back from the shower. This made him irate and it was at this point that I got dressed and left.

I stayed in a daze for three days, did not eat anything other than granola bars and did not leave my dorm room other than to pee.

My roommate got the RA involved and she eventually helped me to tell my story.

I called my mom, and she came down and took me to the hospital for a rape kit. Since I had not showered (lovely, I know), there was still some evidence left on me. Long story short, the state of Massachusetts believed they had a strong case and said they would press charges even without my testimony. I came back home for a week but my family wanted me to try and stay at the school.

I went back to school and met with the detective my first day back. My mom came along for emotional support but was not allowed in the room while I was being interviewed again. The detective grilled me about certain details, and for some reason I left feeling that she did not believe my story. Now I know that was just in my head, because she has contacted me several times since to let me know she did believe me, she just needed to get the details a defense attorney might eventually ask. I freaked out and begged her not to prosecute him; that I just wanted to move on with my life.

After dinner with my mom, she went back to Maine and I again holed up in my dorm room. Five days later, the pain became too great and I overdosed on pills. I spent a week in the hospital and then another week in the psych hospital.

When I came home, I slept around to an extent that still makes me sick. I slept with strangers, my best friend’s boyfriend; you name it.

I went to a local college but was floundering in every aspect of my life. Despite what the detective originally told me, he was not pursued by the state because I did refuse to testify. I still carry a lot of guilt about this, especially since my room mate and I kept in touch after I went home and she let me know that he had assaulted someone else. I often wonder if I could have prevented her being hurt, and I think I was selfish for not just going through with testifying if it came to that. Holy Cross did find him guilty in their disciplinary committee and he lost his football scholarship. He also was placed on academic suspension, though I do not know for how long. I do know that he played football again the next year.

A year after I came back home, I met my husband and seemingly turned my life around. I stopped sleeping around with multiple men, stopped using drugs, and obtained my master’s degree. But I continued to feel empty inside and was filled with such a deep sense of disgust and shame. I thought that I was probably wrong about being assaulted. I thought I probably had invited it and it was deserved.

I became pregnant with twins and gave birth to them in June. They make me so incredibly happy but I am still left with that nagging feeling of emptiness and self-hatred. Since I suddenly had my hands full, I found it difficult to focus on the t.v. because I couldn’t keep  my eyes on the screen.

I decided to start checking out podcasts, and stumbled across Mental Illness Happy Hour. I found I could concentrate on podcasts because I could take care of the babies without having to try and keep my eyes on the screen. I quickly became obsessed with Mental Illness Happy hour and began listening to all of the episodes in order. After about a week, I had a breakdown where I began sobbing and it truly hit me that I had been raped. I had not deserved it. After listening to so many other people express similar feelings of questioning their own role in being victimized, my mindset shifted. Thank you so much to Paul, the guests, and all of the listeners for helping me come to this realization and making me see that I was not a willing accomplice and did not deserve being attacked. As I write this, my self-hatred is telling me that I sound cliché and corny, but at this point I do not care. I will forever be grateful for stumbling across this podcast and how it brought me such an epiphany.

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