Author:Paul Gilmartin

Guest Blog: My Super-Sexy Facebook Alter Ego by Jeanette Geraci

Split Personality: My Super-Sexy Facebook Alter Ego

Someone I slept with last year made a comment that’s haunted me ever since: “I’ve never seen such a huge discrepancy between someone’s actual sexual personality and the way she presents herself to the world.”

Initially, I was taken aback — what the hell was that supposed to mean?

When I asked him for clarification, he said something along the lines of, “It’s just that in your life, you’re so bold, so forward, so This-Is-Who-I-Am. It’s not that you’re timid in bed. …There’s just a tenderness about you that I didn’t expect.”

I sensed exactly what he was getting at.

I often feel as though my “self” is split into two distinct halves (Gemini is, after all, my Ascending sign – go figure!): There’s the soft-hearted poet who listens to indie folk ballads, drives to the ocean alone to think, can talk about books for hours on end, practices and teaches yoga, has long, emotional conversations into the wee hours of the morning. And then, there’s my playful, gregarious, I-don’t-give-a-fuck sex-kitten-alter-ego who doesn’t take herself or anything else too seriously, who’d prefer to stay on the surface of things, who wants, in fact, to do nothing but doll herself up, go out, get sloshed, flirt with everyone in sight, and put all those hours of asana practice to good use by doing full splits on the bar.

My latter half – we’ll call her “Yvette” – is a ruthless attention-seeker. She has a crude sense of humor. She does backbends in 4-inch heels in the middle of the dance floor. She’ll talk to anyone. She’ll make out with attractive strangers for sport. A few years ago, she flashed the bartender to get a round of free shots for all her friends. For five minutes, she considered working at a bikini bar, accepting tips in exchange for giving lap dances (Yvette went so far as to schedule a series of job interviews before Jeanette checked back in and vetoed the idea entirely). In other words, she’s a shameless, champion party girl.

One might expect a shameless, champion party girl to go home with him at the end of the night — to sleep with him quickly and casually. But truth be told, opening my legs is a big deal to me. There’s nothing in the world that probes more vigorously at my oldest scar tissue and deepest vulnerabilities. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing that carries more potential for damage or alternately, for healing — nothing more moving, scary, or spiritually revelatory. In my opinion, sex is as deep, real, and raw as it gets in this life.

I could learn more about myself from a night in bed with someone than I could learn from a year’s worth of conversations and experiences outside of the bedroom.

For better or for worse, the way I feel about sex is the opposite of what one would likely expect from Yvette.

All this being said, Yvette isn’t exactly fake. We human beings are multidimensional creatures; our personalities have many facets. To a degree, Yvette serves to give my innate wildness healthy expression, and often, she genuinely enjoys herself. But at this point in my life, I recognize that Yvette = something of a costume, a personae, a buffer between my thinner-than-average skin and the harsh world we exist in.

Yvette = my chosen route to escapism.

I began to (unconsciously) cultivate this part of my personality circa age 18 as a means of self-protection, as well as rebellion against my own sensitive nature. I needed some semblance of character armor – a way to temporarily abandon my tangled mess of emotions and unresolved traumas, which didn’t exactly blend well with weekend college culture. I wanted a break from being Jeanette — from feeling so intensely and caring so damn much. I latched onto Yvette (and, not irrelevantly, to an eating disorder) the way a lot of college students latch onto drugs and alcohol.

Yvette seems to have taken root in me; she’s stuck around a few years beyond college. These days, she seems to surface on Facebook more frequently than she does in real life.

Some of what I publicize via social media communicates a message I’m not sure I want any one of my 600-someodd Facebook friends to drink in and interpret as they wish. When I post a black-and-white photo of me posing in my bra or a video of me pole-dancing to “Cockiness” by Rihanna, I become yet another emblem of a superficial, pre-packaged, American sexuality that isn’t authentic to who I am, what I want, or what I stand for.

I recognize that this perpetuates and contributes to our culture’s demise while threatening my personal sense of fulfillment and self-respect. As a result of ‘advertising’ myself, I attract the sort of attention I don’t want – men feeling as though they have the right to flirt with me in a way that makes me uncomfortable… men making all kinds of assumptions about who I am and what I’m looking for. And yet, I find it almost impossible to quit putting myself in the line of fire.

I don’t blame the men, and I although I take ownership for the role I play in precipitating these interactions, I don’t blame myself. I blame our culture.

It seems that most of us are confused as hell about how to treat ourselves and relate to each other.

In 2012’s “Sexy Baby” – a, “documentary examin[ing] what it’s like to be female in today’s sex-obsessed culture, from a pre-teen battling with her parents over social media to a young woman undergoing plastic surgery [to] an ex-porn star teaching exotic dancing” – 12-year-old Winnifred, who states that Facebook comprises literally 30% of her life, says, “Your Facebook photo isn’t who you are, it’s who you want to be. We make ourselves seem like we are up for anything, and in a way, all of this Internet stuff kind of traps you. You started an alter ego that has to be maintained and in a real way, it does kind of shape how you end up and how you actually are in real life.”

I’m floored by Winnifred’s insight and equally disturbed by the fact that, in spite of her deep, precocious awareness of what’s going on behind the scenes of today’s social media phenomenon, she still participates in it wholeheartedly — dressing provocatively, conducting “sexy” Facebook photo-shoots with her friend, Olivia, et. al.

What’s more disturbing: at 25-years-old, I’m no different from Winnifred.

What is going on here? Why do we, as strong, bright, creative women with an obvious capacity for independent thought, fall hard, fast, and repeatedly into these insidious trappings? How have we become so numb?

Why do I turn on my car radio and scream along to songs that contain offensive, misogynistic lyrics? Is it the same reason why so many American women shave or wax their pubic hair without knowing or even questioning why? Is it the same reason why, four years into my recovery, I still sometimes deny myself pizza or cake when I want it, even though I think that lush, full hips are the sexiest part of every other woman’s body?

Every day, our culture bullies and brainwashes women into a state of desperation — into emotional, spiritual, and sometimes physical starvation.

According to an article I found on camgirlnotes, Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus — the directors of Sexy Baby — came upon the premise for their documentary when, “Gradus, a photographer, was shooting a story on college bars and … noticed even the mainstream ones had stripper poles.”

“All the girls were pole-dancing and their guy friends were treating them like strippers, putting dollar bills in their shorts,” she said. “It was weird. No one was having fun — it was autopilot behavior. …We are all so desensitized. To get any sort of attention, they have to put it all out there and one person works so hard outdoing the next.”

I, too, find myself competing in a marathon I never signed up for.

If you were to strip my identity of all the cultural influences that have come to color it over the past 25 years, I have no idea what would be left. What would that woman look like? What in this world would she value? Who and how would she love?

It’s no breaking news: Our society breeds girls to believe that they’re not enough — that if we let ourselves be, we’ll grow into fat, lonely, invisible women. In turn, we have to keep pace. We must tend to our images, fight to maintain our bodies, fight to be noticed, work to be lovable. And in our culture, lovable translates directly to fuckable.

Perhaps every time I channel Yvette, what I’m trying to say is: I’m sexy. See?

…If I’m sexy enough, you’ll let me in. If you let me in, you’ll see that I’m worth loving. If you see that I’m worth loving, you’ll love me. Please love me. Please. Please. PLEASE.

I can’t imagine a more backwards, distorted thought process. I know that I won’t attract the intimacy I crave by appealing to what I’ve been taught men want. And yet, like Rihanna in “Pour It Up” (look up the lyrics – they’re downright vile) or Karen in Hans Christian Anderson’s “Red Shoes,” I can’t stop dancing… can’t stop moving… can’t stop selling myself.

It’s a hustle; I’m afraid that if I pause to take a breath, I’ll be left behind.

Is it possible to feel integrated/participate in contemporary culture – digital culture, specifically — while maintaining perspective, retaining self-respect, and staying true to our individual ideals? How do we go about striking a healthy balance?

 

Jeanette Geraci lives in New York and works as a yoga teacher and freelance writer. She plans on going back to school to earn a Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work in fall 2013. You can check out some of her casual musings at http://jeanetteicdisorder.tumblr.com/.

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Guest Blog: Heroic Fantasy by Jason Thomas Howl

Captain Awesome

 

I have this pathetic fantasy about saving a little boy’s life. Like we’re on the busy curb, and the kid’s ball bounces into the street or something, and he goes chasing after it, and there’s a car speeding by that doesn’t see him, and I dash out and grab the kid, and shield him with my body, and wrap up into a ball, and the car hits me, hits us, and we go off the windshield, and go flying into the air, and bounce on the pavement. And there you have it.

 

I fall limp like a pile of laundry. Cracked ribs. A spiral fracture of the skull maybe. But the kid is okay. Hysterical, two parents sprint in and grab the little boy up to find of course there’s not a scratch on him. Traffic stops and people get out of their cars. Cellphones materialize in the palms of passersby to flood the 911 lines while I bleed unconcious on the pavement. That kind of thing.

 

The pathetic part of the fantasy is that every person who I want some kind of approval from: high school friends that are more successful than me (Jimmy Rollins of the Philadelphia Phillies), coworkers who don’t respect me (you Tom Wilcox in accounts!), women. Mostly women. All the women I know and like are there and they witness this selfless, noble, spontaneous disregard for my own physical safety.

 

Why? Well, saving a little kid in front of anyone you’ve ever wanted to impress would probably forever relieve you of the burden of having to impress them ever again. Wanting to be witty and charming and liked by people, but instead being mostly awkward and clumsy and uncomfortable around them is fucking exhausting. I just want to save a little kid’s life and forever be known as Captain Awesome and not have to impress anyone ever again. Done and done. I’m The Kid Saver. My mettle isn’t up for debate. Profuse apologies for physio-social and socio-conversational stammerings are now a thing of the past so far as my person is concerned. Freedom is never having to say you’re sorry. True. But an even greater freedom exists in not having to try and get what’s on the inside outside. This is what purple hearts and tattoo tears are for.

 

When I tried describing to a friend what my anxiety was like, I told her: You know that trapdoor plunge at the end of every roller coaster? That plunge that dislocates intestines and fans weightless fear through your chest and throat, then subsides the instant the rails come to their senses and bring you back parallel with the earth? I walk around feeling that way all the time, like I’m falling. Except that unlike with a roller coaster, there’s no flat ground waiting to smooth me back out. It’s just a bottomless drop.

 

It’s almost impossible to operate like anything resembling “the real you” when you feel this way. Which is, of course, all you really want — to “be yourself”. Instead you stutter, or flub your words, say random, disappointingly stupid things — or worse — rehearsed, hopelessly-timed formulations that make people look at you like there’s a giant sea monkey where your face should be.

 

And this just makes the plunge that much steeper. The drop, faster.

 

It starts to eat into your nerves. Coil your arms and legs. Make you tremble. Make your eyes go raw.

 

And you have to somehow function this way, out there in the world.

 

You end up thinking like a dog who only wants to crawl underneath something and die out of reach of any arm or gaze. But there’s nowhere to crawl to, except deep inside your own head. To your fantasy asylum.

 

And that’s where Captain Awesome comes in.

 

You have no idea how good that feels to write.

 

There’s two principals at work here. One is the Flannery O’Connor idea of:

 

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

 

The other, a banal Joseph Campbell quote about psychoanalysis:

 

“When people find out what it is that’s ticking in them they get straightened out.”

 

Writing isn’t a substitute for therapy (as in talking to a trained professional about your seldom-revealed insides), but it can be a therapeutic instrument if you play it that way. Which cringes me as I type because it sounds like some kind of yuppified secular prayer. But then again, so do fruit salads. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good for you.

 

Here’s a slightly more broad-shouldered, enterprising way to look at it: Think of your notebook as being a refinery. At one end, the crude oil (in my case anxiety, in your case, maybe something else) goes in, then there’s some smoke and fire, and out the other end comes a useful, precious fuel.

 

Emotion –> Language –> Ownership.

 

And ownership feels good. Comforting fantasies, by comparison, are tiny rented things.

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Paul’s Best Friend Dr. Michael Sebahar

The Intervential Pain Specialist has been Paul’s best friend since 1982.  They recount the evolotuion of their relationship, especially both dealing with the effects their father’s alcoholism had on their families.  Mike also talks about the tightrope of treating people with chronic pain while trying to weed out potential abuse.  Mike recounts the intimacy he finally felt at the end of his father’s life.

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Meghan P. Returns

Listener Meghan P. returns to talk about being diagnosed with “Psychotic Disorder Not Otherwise Specified” and the hospitalization that resulted from going off of her meds in anticipation of losing her health insurance.    She discusses the intense paranoia, her brain feeling “stung” and  the belief that she was being filmed for a reality t.v. show everywhere she went.  Meghan is the writer/producer/director of the documentary eXtreme, Loyal, Victorious: The Packer Fan Experience.

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Ashly Burch

The 22 year-old writer and actress (Hey Ash, Whatcha’ Playin?) and VO artist (Tiny Tina of Borderlands 2) opens up about the recent accidental overdose death of her boyfriend, the truths and myths about addiction, loving an addict, and her guilt about wishing she could have done things differently, plus the struggle to put her life back together.  They also talk about the danger of invalidating children’s feelings and the shame of obsessive or intrusive thoughts.

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Listener Michael D.

Michael opens up about his teenage struggle to avoid dealing with his chaotic and abusive childhood by being extremely regimented, developing an eating disorder, punching himself, compulsive exercising and eventually having a nervous breakdown.  He shares about finally dealing with his PTSD in therapy and confronting the cycle of abuse in his family so it won’t be passed on to his children.  He also talks about having to cut contact with his family because of their refusal to deal with a one of them being a pedophile.

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Listener Adam, Describes the Effect of Having Family Members with Severe Mental Illness

Dear Paul,

First off, let me tell you that it only took me about five minutes to become a huge fan of the show. Mental illness in America is quite literally the crazy aunt in the attic that we don’t talk about, and I’m glad that you have decided to start bringing it up.

I have never had mental illness myself, but I still think of myself as a victim of it. My mother is a bipolar who hears voices, and my older brother is a bipolar who suffers from paranoid delusions.

It goes without saying that my mother’s voices never said things like “Wow! You’re doing a great job! You’re awesome!” Her voices said things like “All of your children are sick and dying,” or “We have pictures of you molesting children.”

That’s the thing about the mental illnesses in my family. They are not quiet, discrete mental illnesses. They are loud and aggressive. Everybody’s parents embarrass them when they are teenagers, but my mom embarrassed me for legitimate reasons and not overdramatized teenaged ones.  She would do things like stand up and start screaming at school board meetings, or accuse my teachers of selling me drugs at parent teacher conferences. The “up” part of my mom’s bipolar disorder wasn’t fueled by happiness and optimism. It was angry, and paranoid, and fueled by the conviction that someone was actively hurting her or her family. The “down” cycle was pretty standard, I guess. She would burst into wracking sobs at random moments, or wake me up crying because she was convinced that everyone was “going away forever.”

My brother’s delusions were similarly poisonous. He believed that a man in Richmond, Virginia was pulling strings to ruin his life. The part that scared the shit out of me about that was that this man in Richmond was a real person, and, well, this is Virginia. It’s not like you can buy guns at the CVS, but they don’t put a hell of a lot of inconveniences between people and the Second Amendment. When he was “up” he would go out and max out his credit card, and when he was down he would sit in a room for months and literally cover himself in garbage. He would not clean up after himself, and would get enraged if anyone tried. The rest of the time was spent searching the internet for clues about this man who was ruining his life, and thanks to his illness, he was finding them everywhere. In articles online, in the newspaper, in the tone of voice of the bill collectors who would call day and night.

I managed to not get mental illness. My brother and I have different fathers, and I’m assuming that my Dad’s DNA kept that particular pack of wolves at bay. But I can’t be sure that if I ever have children that they will be safe. I don’t want to bestow that cursed fucking existence onto anyone, and also, if I am honest with myself, I am pretty goddamned sick and tired of crazy people. I think if I had a son or daughter who became my brother or my mom, and if I had to go through all of it again, I think I’d probably fucking kill myself.

Living like this has left me bitter and suspicious and cynical, because I not only saw the worst of my own flesh and blood, but I also saw the worst of our society in how we deal with the mentally ill. I was a teenager with a mom who was clearly buggy ding dong fucking crazy, and I got no help from anyone. Everybody knew my mom was crazy. Teachers, neighbors, friend’s parents, fucking EVERYONE, and nobody did shit. I got a lot of sympathy, but no help, and neither did mom. You can’t just commit somebody. They have to be a danger to themselves or others, and my mom never was. And as far as my mom was concerned, she was the only sane one on the planet. It was everybody else that was crazy.

When I turned around 15 I ran out of fear of her. And I also ran out of sympathy for her illness. Too much had happened, and I had realized that no help was coming from anybody. I just started telling her to go fuck herself. In the middle of her rages, in the middle of her crying jags, whatever, my answer was always “Go fuck yourself. Kill yourself. I don’t give a shit about you, you crazy psychotic bitch. Die already.”

I know that sounds terrible, particularly since you are a victim of mental illness yourself, but this wasn’t just a depressed person that I was dealing with. My life was chaotic, and it was humiliating, and here’s also what it was: entirely my mother’s fucking fault.

My mom stopped taking her lithium when she knew damn well that she had a mental illness. In fact, one of my first memories was my dad taking me to visit my mom at “the hospital,” and I remember the hospital not being like what I had seen on TV. In fact, it reminded me of my kindergarten class. Lots of construction paper and crayon drawings on the walls. I remember that there was an old woman who I got introduced to, and she said hello in a funny voice, and then she started drooling, and then she was led off, and that’s all I remember of visiting my mom in the hospital when I was about 4. I guess when I turned 12 or so she started doing the mental gymnastics that every mentally ill person does eventually. “I don’t need these pills. I’ll be fine.”

When I was 13, she demanded a divorce from my father. My dad didn’t have a full understanding of what was going on. In the first place, my dad was a lot older than my mom, and his thinking was different. As far as her mental illness went, he had that old school mentality of “I thought we fixed that!” I think he thought that she just turned out mean. I know that’s what I thought at first too.  He moved to a house across town and left me alone with her, and shortly after that the crying jags and screaming paranoia began in earnest. All those early hospital visits began to be remembered and started to make sense. My dad eventually figured it out and moved back in after about ten months. Ten really long and terrifying months.

One night after a psychosis induced fist fight between me, my dad, and her, she disappeared. Woke up the next morning and she was gone, and she stayed that way for about 18 months. My dad knew where she was, as he was paying the credit card bills, but he didn’t tell me, and I didn’t ask, because I was just glad she was gone. I’d get the occasional phone call from a panicked hotel clerk somewhere, who was calling me, because there was this sobbing woman in the lobby of the hotel who was convinced that her children were all dying, and could I do something please? I’d say “She’s crazy. Call the police.” And I would hang up.

She ended up getting arrested in Pennsylvania, and finally committed. I’m not sure what caused her to get arrested. I have never asked. I don’t want to know.

She’s ok now. Relatively. She hears voices, but is able to keep the volume low. I know it seems strange to say that I have “forgiven” her for being sick, but again, she was the one who stopped taking her pills. I love her, but that love is conditional. If she stops taking her pills to the point where she becomes crazy again (which is ALWAYS a possibility) I will instantly go back to hating her. And make no mistake about it, man, I fucking HATED her.

This has affected me in a lot of ways. I have bailed on more than a few relationships with women who were probably fine, but something would happen, maybe a yelling match that got a little too strident, maybe a bit of behavior that struck me as odd, and I would leave them. The idea of being with someone who might turn crazy is terrifying to me. I’m pretty much resigned to living my life alone by now.

My brother is just now crawling out of the hole that he has dumped himself into. It’s been more difficult for him. My mom had the benefit of being the wife of a military officer, and that health insurance is taken everywhere without question, but my brother had only the soulless, sociopathic clusterfuck that is private health insurance.

This latest episode was the third time that my brother decided that the pills were optional, despite proven evidence to the contrary, and I am still fucking furious with him for that.

I’m also furious at our system. My brother’s shitheel of a psychiatrist saw him for about three weeks, and then insisted that he check himself into the mental hospital, which is fine, except he insisted that he check himself into the really expensive private mental hospital where he practiced, and he did so without bothering to do a cursory glance to see if my brothers health insurance covered such things, and of course it didn’t. 6 days in the mental hospital where nothing was accomplished except $13,000 worth of debt for my brother, who had of course by then lost his job due to his erratic behavior. Said shitheel psychiatrist then stopped seeing my brother because of his inability to pay.

In his paranoid mania, my brother managed to burn every bridge available to him. He was living in a room in my mom’s house (and the stress of having him there was making her condition even more tenuous,) not bathing, pawning everything that wasn’t nailed down so he could buy cigarettes and chewing tobacco and Taco Bell, and searching the internet and newspapers for more and more evidence of this nefarious bastard down in Richmond.

As an aside, the ridiculousness of this delusion could not be understated. Everything about it was ludicrous. My brother was convinced that this man, who is some sort of tycoon, was ruining his life because he would not marry this man’s daughter. My brother, who weighed 300 pounds, could not clean up after himself, and was about 27,000 in debt. That’s who the millionaire must have for his son in law.

Even this guy’s name was ridiculous. Old rich Southern men are given perfectly ludicrous nicknames. Like, if you look at the names of the Crimson Tide booster club you’ll see a lot of guys named “Shuggie” and “Wiggie” and “Coopie.” I will spare you this guy’s actual name, but imagine someone telling you in all seriousness that the person ruining his life is named “Cuddlebear McSnugglepie” and you can imagine the level of frustration that my brother’s delusions caused my family.

We actually had to manipulate the system to get him help. We called the police and told them that my brother was talking about killing himself, and then and only then did they come and get him. They had a hearing, in which he swore up and down that he had never, and we swore up and down that he did, and miraculously, they put him in the county psych ward. Ironically enough, once the pills kicked in, and he stopped focusing on Snugglebear McCuddlePie, and he surveyed the fucking wreckage that was his life, he actually was put on suicide watch.

He lives in a homeless shelter now, and works in a Walgreens. He can’t stay at my moms. That will end up killing her, I know it. My brother says he is on his pills, and he might be. I mean, he’s holding down a job. But he’s been losing weight lately, and that makes me nervous. That could be a sign he isn’t on his pills. There are several, and I know them all pretty well by now.

·         Weight Loss

·         Putting tape over peepholes on doors or on any available webcam on any computer

·         Assigning significance to the trivial. “Hey man, did you leave this cup near the sink?”

·         Sudden religiosity. Intense bible study. Wearing a cross.

 

From here it’s only a few weeks before he’s back to hunting for more evidence of the Cuddlebear conspiracy to the exclusion of everything else. And it would not surprise me if he did get off his pills. Even after seeing what not taking his medication has done to him, I bet somewhere in his brain is a little wind up cymbal monkey, just clanging those cymbals together again and again and again, and those cymbals sound like “You’ll be fine! You don’t need them! It’ll be ok this time!”

 

I recently caught my mom succumbing to that same cymbal monkey recently. She’s going through chemotherapy, and convinced herself that the lithium would make things worse. Do you get that? After knowing goddamn well what happened to her, and after seeing what happened to her son, and even though she still has auditory hallucinations, she still managed to get to the point where she thought that MAYBE IT WOULD BE OK THIS TIME.

 

I’m sure there are things that I don’t get. I’m not them. I’m not mentally ill. But after someone has taken their shoes and used them to beat the living shit out of you, the last thing you want to do is put them on and walk a mile in them. My sympathy reservoir is pretty much empty at this point. I’m know I’m not really a victim, but I’m just worn out. In fact, I’m a fucking absolutist in how I think we should treat the mentally ill. I say we bring back the guys in the white coats with the butterfly nets. I say we start enforcing treatment. To me, a vagrant on a street corner crying into a trashcan is no different than a guy lying on the street with a broken leg, yet for some reason we do nothing for one and call the ambulance for the other. Maybe because there isn’t a quality profit margin in treating crazy, I guess.

 

My mom made me paranoid about women, and my brother made me furious about paranoia. Every time I see some right wing Cleetus on some political show going on about one conspiracy or another, I don’t laugh it off. I get really angry. I think “Fuck you. What makes YOU so goddamned special? And who’s life are YOU destroying with this delusion, you selfish, non-pill taking son of a bitch?”

 

I don’t know if I’ll ever get over this. I’m almost 40. I’m shell shocked, and I don’t know how to relate to people. I’m lonely but am afraid everyone is going to become crazy, so I keep my distance. Pretty much every relationship that I have developed over the past fifteen years or so has been superficial. Guys I drink with at bars. Women I have flings with that go nowhere.

 

My friends are all married with kids. I can’t do that, so I’m the weird guy. I get invited over for Sunday football less and less. I understand why. I get it.

 

Anyway, I just wanted to bring to your attention the plight of those who aren’t mentally ill, but get fucked completely by it anyway. Not that you have neglected the subject or anything, or been dismissive of it, but there is a whole peripheral group of people who suffer due to mental illness, and suffer pretty hard.

 

Thank you for your podcast. It makes me feel better. And thank you for tolerating the ramblethon that was this e-mail, if indeed you have gotten this far.

 

Thanks,

 

Adam

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Lynn Chen (Voted #10 ep of 2013)

The first generation Chinese-American actress (Saving FaceNCIS, Lakeview Terrace) and blogger (The Actor’s Diet) opens up about processing the complex emotions of losing her father, the shame of food addiction,  and forgiving her abusers.  Paul opens the show with an extended update on current emotional, mental and physical battles.

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Unwanted Arousal & Sexual Shame: A Guest Blog by Jeanette Geraci

Unwanted Arousal and Sexual Shame: Embracing The Shadow Side of Your Sexuality

 

Western society is gradually coming to think more progressively and inclusively.  That said, in spite of recent evolutionary leaps, many Westerners still have a fairly static, black-and-white image of what constitutes morally acceptable sexual appetites and behaviors.

In “Sexuality and Shame,” Carolyn Shadbolt writes, “…moral edicts about what is sinful, the chastity of women, the sanctity of marriage, the moral degeneracy of homosexuality, the superiority of male heterosexuality, the deleterious effects of masturbation, gender roles, sexist imagery, biological determinism, and so forth are part of adult consciousness and life experiences that directly impact adult sexuality.” Western culture is highly opinionated.  We’re constantly bombarded with propaganda of right vs. wrong.  Over time, we internalize these messages – integrate them into our personal belief systems.  Shabolt goes on to write, “…when the uniqueness of our sexual identity collides with the views and expectations of what is ‘normal’ and of how we should be in both our private and public selves, shame will not be far behind.  In the area of sexuality, all too often shame is the result when the inner meets the outer.”  This discrepancy between inner and outer creates the kind of internal schism that tears people apart – that wreaks havoc on people’s relationships, marriages, families, health, and sense of self worth.

Remember: matter can be neither created nor destroyed, only converted into other matter.  If one represses his/her sexual energy, it will not conveniently evaporate — it will bubble up elsewhere.  It will switch form – manifest as a whole different animal.  It very well might mutate into something ugly, toxic, and truly hazardous.

Genuine sexuality, which is, by nature, fluid, complicated, and sometimes confusing in its expression, does not always align with what society labels ‘healthy’ or ‘decent.’ [Sorry, but not everyone wants to f*ck in the missionary position with one select member of the opposite sex twice a week, every week for the rest of his/her natural-born life.  That works for some, and that’s absolutely, positively fine.  If this is how you derive authentic sexual fulfillment, more power to you.  Sincerely.  But please recognize that for others, getting off is a bit more complex.]

Western culture lays the foundation for ‘the perfect storm,’ so to speak – an all-you-can-eat buffet of guilt, shame, and self-loathing.  And Heaven knows, around these parts, everyone loves a buffet.  In the face of socially unacceptable sexuality, shame is twofold – ignited from the outside, as well as within.  Many people silently pathologize themselves and waste a lifetime toiling away under layer upon layer of anguish and self-reproach.

I can’t believe that I’m about to admit this on the internet, but here goes: since the dawn of my sexual maturity, images/descriptions of erotic humiliation have been known to get my blood pumping like none other.  I’m talking the likes of public exposure, forced orgasm, people – women in particular — getting stripped, bound, and otherwise sexually debased, all for the viewing pleasure of hungry voyeurs.  (Bear in mind that I identify as a Feminist – talk about cognitive dissonance!)  For years, I was certain that this made me a morally bankrupt human being: the opposite of what I wanted to be.  I wanted to be a good daughter, a straight-A student.  I wanted to be admitted to a Tier 1 college or university.  I wanted other people to see me as sweet, smart, pretty, wholesome.  Sweet, smart, pretty, wholesome girls, I thought, definitely don’t get off on these kinds of twisted fantasies…

I remember confiding in one psychotherapist who confirmed my biggest fear.  She implied – more like stated outright — that my sexual proclivities served as evidence of a troubled childhood and subsequent, deep-seated moral disfigurement.  When I opened up to her about my darker desires, her knee-jerk response read as shock/mild horror, accompanied by [what I now recognize as] some ignorant platitude along the lines of, “You can get over this… slowly, over time.”  She saw my desires as warped, distorted, defective, a reflection of emotional/psychological disturbance, a problem in need of correction.  This was traumatic to say the least.

I hated myself for wanting what I wanted.  In high school, I kept myself good and occupied with academics.  In college, I ultimately developed what amounted to a serious eating disorder.  I guess I hoped that if I were skinny and ‘beautiful’ enough (yes, at the time, I equated beauty with emaciation), no one would notice that I was a ‘demented pervert.’  I guess I also hoped to alternately binge and starve away my ‘sinister’ cravings — to distract my fettered mind with something not only tangible and manageable, but also ordinary (worrying about food/weight seemed a hell of a lot more normal than dealing with my sexuality-guilt complex).  But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize — through a combination of quality psychotherapy, a steady yoga practice, and long, candid conversations with solid, trustworthy, open-minded friends – that people can’t control how their bodies respond to certain stimuli. I’ve also come to realize that it’s possible to crave whatever it is you crave and still be a good person.

If you feel compelled to investigate the origin of your shadow desires, you’re entitled.  But in some cases, I’m not sure that it’s entirely necessary or fruitful.  Regardless of your arousal’s source, which you may or may not be able to pinpoint, it’s never wrong — it just is.  You have green eyes.  Period.  You’re 5’9″.  Period.  Images of 300-lb. grandmothers in dalmation-print moo-moos sitting on balloons make you come.  Period. Who cares?  Furthermore, who are you to judge that as ‘wrong’ or ‘disgusting’?  As a friend of mine from eating disorder treatment once said: “Your body is none of your business.”

Have you ever gotten off on something in spite of yourself?  Has the source of your sexual excitement ever contradicted who you wish or strive to be?  I assure you: so long as you take responsibility for your behavior — as in: so long as you don’t harm anyone who hasn’t given you his/her express, adult consent — your closet affinities, no matter how bizarre, downbeat, or taboo by mainstream society’s standards, do not make you a degenerate. Don’t try to shut off your primal impulses; they’re stronger and more potent than your mind.  Whatever you try to push away will eventually push back with equal force.

No matter what salacious hungers you harbor, there are so many ways to sublimate your shadow yearnings, making for a rich, creative, deeply satisfying sex life! Worry not — you’re not vile.  You’re not hopelessly depraved.  You’re not a menace.  You don’t need to ‘fix yourself.’  And perhaps most importantly — you’re far from alone.

Jeanette Geraci lives in New York and works as a yoga teacher and freelance writer.  She plans on going back to school to earn a Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work in fall 2013.  You can check out some of her casual musings at http://jeanetteicdisorder.tumblr.com/.

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