Today is Memorial Day, although it's not actually "day" right now, it's 3:25 AM (insomnia has been a big problem again lately). This is a day when Americans are supposed to remember the soldiers who have defended our freedom in the United States for all the years it has existed. So, on the topic of freedom, I thought I'd write a bit about the freedoms I am grateful to have. Earlier tonight, I was reading a post at Polar Bear's blog about feigning happiness for the benefit of other people. This brought to mind two recent, excellent books I have enjoyed discovering in bookstores when I get chance to stop in them and read for a bit. One of them is Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by one of my favorite authors, Barbara Ehrenreich. The other book is, Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness by feminist author Ariel Gore. (Note: Barbara's Blog has an interesting article on one of the topics this book of hers covers; you should check it out).
The premise of each of these books is basically that our society has placed such importance on the expression of happiness and fulfillment, that people who are not feeling particularly happy or fulfilled are looked down upon, and people who are going through issues like serious illnesses are made to feel like their thoughts provoked their illness. You may have seen the film, The Secret, or read the book, which came out a few years ago. There were some really inspiring words in that video, and it did make me think that perhaps I need to pay more attention to the kind of vibes I'm sending out into the universe.
However, the problem with this kind of film, or book, is that it can have bogus, unscientific information, and places the blame for all of life's woes on the shoulders of whoever is experiencing a hard time. All of those Deepak Chopra books that have made him so much money are not my cup of tea, because I find in them some messages that are ridiculous and cruel, such as the idea that if a person gets cancer, that person just wasn't thinking rosy thoughts enough. That person frowned too many times. That person forgot to give blood at the blood bank, didn't bring brownies to her new neighbors, left the dishes for somebody else to do them.....so now she has lymphoma. Ok, the books don't put the two together quite that succinctly, but this basic thought is what I despise about Deepak Chopra's books, and other books, like The Secret. Both Gore and Ehreinreich wrote about these types of books in their recent books mentioned above, which I highly recommend.
Further, while I am a proponent of medication when it's necessary, Gore's book discusses how much antidepressant medications have been marketed and doled out in recent years, and correlates that with the entire cult of required happiness. She writes that when antidepressants were first invented, they were used primarily by women, were tested on in women only, and depression then took the place of "hysteria" in the medical books. Think for a moment: how many people do you know who are taking or have taken antidepressants? I know many. For some of those people, the ones who have Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder, or a similar condition, those drugs are certainly very appropriate and even necessary. But for the other people, those drugs are a synthetic smile in a bottle. A culture that places so much value on the expression of happiness and is also blatantly sexist is a culture that will not allow women the right to express "negative" emotions at all. Or men, for that matter. How many times have we heard that men never cry?
What I'd like to point out here today, this day of valuing the freedom fought for by so many military service folks, is that we have the right in this day and age, and in this country, to refuse to place the permanent smiley face doled out at Walmart on our lips. We don't owe other people a smile. We don't owe anyone the suppression of our emotions, the hiding of our medical illnesses, the silence that ensures the continuation of ignorance and stigma. Rather, what we do owe both the world and ourselves, I think, is acceptance of all human beings, within this great melting pot we call America. And that means that when someone has an illness we allow her to be upset about her illness and not say to everyone around her that she's perfectly happy and there is nothing wrong whatsoever.
Obviously we don't want to live in a culture where everyone is always discussing their problems at length all day long. But that extreme is not what I am talking about; I am merely talking about allowing people to be themselves, to express themselves, to share their thoughts and feelings, and to not make them feel guilty for getting cancer or Schizophrenia, or for mentioning to someone that they are having a bad day. This is a basic human right, to be able to be ourselves, and in this country where we are grateful for the protection of our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, where individual rights are valued so highly by our government, it is just plain silly to pretend that everybody is content and happy at all times. The world, my grandmother always said, takes all kinds. And that includes the kind that are having a bad day, or facing a horrible illness, or going through a divorce, or living in poverty or homelessness, etc.
The freedom I'm grateful for because freedom's more than "just a word for nothing left to lose":
- I am grateful to live in a country where I have the freedom to express myself about such matters as those above.
- I am also grateful to have the freedom, right now, from auditory hallucinations. Though I have always had them even while the medications were working, for the past couple of months I have had days, even weeks, where they do not occur, which is absolutely wonderful. It is quite liberating when your mind is not held hostage any longer.
- I am also grateful for the medications that gave me that freedom, and for the freedom to obtain those medications.
- I am grateful for the freedom to exist, whole, with flaws and all, without having to bind my feet, go through female circumcision, have unwanted pregnancies, or be forced to where a Burka.
- I am grateful that my life is no longer eclipsed by the forceps of an eating disorder. Anorexia was a total prison of the mind that I lived in for many years, and it is absolutely wonderful to be free from that.
- I am grateful for the freedom of the First Amendment of the United States, which protects my right to write.
- I am grateful for the freedom to express my emotions, whatever they may be, and to cry, if I need to cry, frown if I need to frown, laugh when I want to life, and smile as I please, which is much different from responding to the adage that a girl should "smile pretty" at all times.
- I am grateful for the role models I have in the feminist movement and the female trailblazers who created the path to freedom for women.
- I am grateful for my cohorts in advocacy for mental illness.
- I am grateful that you are taking the time to read this post.
I hope you are feeling as well as possible and have some happy moments in your day today. Happy Memorial Day!