Jack

I have been dying for something to write lately. I’ve had posts slowly forming in my head, being forgotten and then rewritten before they ever make it to paper. Although I have ideas, nothing has yet compelled me to the point of settling in and writing it out. That is, until this week, when something has happened that is so devastating to me that I need to write so that I can attempt purge the sickness from my heart.

I knew a girl once. Her name was Amber. Her hair was short and she wore children’s barrettes to keep her ponytail in place. Her hair was dyed red and it clashed with the long sleeve button-down shirt that was the uniform of the restaurant where we worked.  She was visibly pregnant and entering her second trimester. She would become, for a time, one of my dearest friends.

We bonded quickly; I gave her a ride home one night and we stopped for snacks along the way. The same week we stayed up late together and visited my boyfriend on his overnight shift at the Whately Diner. We became regulars here; routinely monopolizing the jukeboxes, our laughter echoing off the steel walls.

But there was another routine too; this one less joyful and carefree than our gleeful late night rides. Randy, Amber’s boyfriend, took issue with our outings. Once, while we were driving to my apartment, he called and demanded to know where we were. Unsurprisingly, he did not believe that we were simply en route to Sunderland. Citing my radio in the background, he insisted that we must be in a nightclub and demanded to know where. When he and Amber got off the phone, he called her back. He continued to call her for the next ten minutes until she shut off her phone. Then he moved on to calling my phone until I was also forced to power it down. This happened multiple times.

I remember one morning, as I was waking up at my boyfriend’s house in Turners Falls, Amber called me, frantically crying and begging me to come get her from her apartment in Greenfield. I rushed over to find that she was trapped in her bedroom, Randy cursing at her on the other side of the door. I called the police, who told us that they had no power to make him leave the house, as they were both subletting and neither was on the lease. This happened at least twice more.

Although Amber officially ended her relationship with Randy, she had no choice but to let him continue living with her. When I went to her apartment I found poorly-written letters from him, promising her that he wanted to work it out and this wouldn’t happen again. When she was at work he would sit on the bench outside the restaurant, staring into the windows, waiting for her to get out.

In December, a month before her son was born, Amber left Greenfield and moved back in with her mother in Central Massachusetts. A few months later Randy contacted her, threatening to gain custody of his son, whom he called by the incorrect name.

My relationship with Amber has been spotty since she moved. We have reunited, we have fought, and we have lost touch. It had been nearly a year since we last spoke. But out of the blue, she messaged me: “I wish you were here.”

It has been a week since then, and in that time my heart has sunk deeper every day. On Wednesday she told me that her son was in the hospital. She told me that he has been in Randy’s custody, by her mother’s doing, and that she had been refused her visit the previous weekend. On Thursday she sent me a picture of him in the hospital, full of tubes, unconscious and unresponsive. On Friday I learned that his kidneys were failing when he was initially admitted to the hospital and we touched, though could not bear to address, that he may not make it.

I have not seen this boy since he was three years old, and I have not touched him since he was an infant, but my heart is broken. Today Amber’s story made the news, and the details have repeatedly made me tearful and nauseous.

According to court documents, doctors found the child was suffering from “starvation and dehydration” and had become unresponsive as a result. A state police report indicates the boy’s injuries are “life threatening.”

A police report states that the little boy also had suffered bruises to his forehead and jaw, which Mr. Lints allegedly said were caused by a fall from the child’s bed, something doctors determined wouldn’t have caused such injuries. The boy also had what are believed to be bleach burns on his hands and knees.

The police report indicates that the child was rarely out of his father’s sight and that there is a history of Randall Lints limiting “consumption of food and liquids,” which is an issue that had been addressed by a therapist in May.

Worcester Telegram

I don’t know what to say. How do these things happen? DCF placed him in Randall Lints’s care; why doesn’t the system work?

I don’t have a point. I don’t have an empowering ending. I have only sadness right now. Send Amber your love and support. My god, she needs it.

Update 7/24: Jack Loiselle remains in a coma, but is subtly responding to stimuli. The media has picked up his story as well, demanding answers for DCF’s gross negligence. I have set up a donation site to assist Amber and her family with any accrued medical and legal costs:Please help if you can.

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An Open Letter to Lindsey Stirling

Hey Lindsey-

I have a bone to pick with you.

Last week you came to Boston and I was fortunate enough to see you at the Blue Hills Pavilion. I have been listening to your music for the last few years and I have been hooked ever since the first song I heard. Your show was beautiful. Sharing your music with some of my closest friends and my very musically-inclined boyfriend satisfied me in a way that not much else can. But the truth is that you said some things that truly marred the evening for me and I haven’t yet let it go.

Towards the end of your set you put down your violin for a heart to heart with the audience. You spoke of how you are often complimented on staying so true to yourself and not being afraid to do so. You confided that you have not always been this way and that you suffered a bout of depression. I wish you had stopped there.

You see, when you continued on to say you were self-absorbed as a depressed person and that you simply had to change your mind, you stopped being helpful. I could no longer identify with you because I was instead disappointed and somewhat insulted. I believe you when you say that you practiced changing your frame of mind the same way you practiced your arpeggios worked for you, and I am truly glad for you. But please don’t make the mistake of thinking that it is that simple for everyone.

I have now been aware of my depression for over a decade, though I suspect it was present even in my childhood. I am as well-versed as anybody could be in the routines of self-care. I try to sleep well, eat well, hydrate, do things that make me feel good, enjoy the sunshine, etc. But the fact of the matter is that sometimes none of these things work and sometimes I am simply not capable of doing any of them. I promise you that if I could think my way out of depression I would have done so many years ago. Instead, I am left hoping to be functional at best and proud of myself when I go a full two weeks without randomly considering suicide. This is an illness; it cannot always be walked off.

Please know that I do not intend to one up any experiences you have had; depression doesn’t behave the same for everybody. But this is the point that I am trying to make: your experience is not universal. As you must be aware, there is a certain stigma that people who are mentally ill must battle. It is a kind of illness that is not widely understood and often gets brushed off in ways that are harmful – frequently by people who are close to us. We are often misunderstood as lazy or flaky or self-absorbed when we are simply not as able as an average person. It is not about choice; it is about capability. 

Your music has become my go-to writing music and I have written countless blog posts and letters while listening to it. II believe I understand very clearly the emotional messages conveyed in your music that you described to us last Saturday. I understand the deep somber beginnings and the crescendos of hope. You have helped me and inspired me with the beauty of the pieces you have composed more than you could fathom. You have, in your own way, already saved me.

This is why I am asking you, Lindsey, not to insinuate that your experience is the same as mine or anybody else’s. Please do not speak as though you are the authority on depression and the way out. You have such a large audience to hear you; please do not reaffirm the stereotype that people with mental illness need only to think their way out of it and to try harder. Please do not blanket all of us with your statements while neglecting that we do not all feel the same things, we are not capable of the same things, and we do not all have the same resources.

I believe fully that your intentions are only good. When you are next on stage and sharing your struggle with your fans, tell them this:

“Depression is terrible.”

“It gets better.”

“You are worth it.”

Yours,

Marie Billiel

Here are some of my very, very favorite resources for helping people understand depression and its stigmas:

Adventures in Depression By Allie Brosh

What if People Treated Physical Illness Like Mental Illness? via HuffPost

Depression Quest By Zoe Quinn – This is about as real as it gets, folks

Bad Body Days

The air has been beautiful lately. Even at my most tired, I have opted to walk to work in the early mornings and soak up the sun’s first rays peering through my neighborhood’s gold and crimson leaves. The air has also been biting on these occasions, but unable to give up the smell of the night’s rain on the pavement, I have pulled my scarves and sweatshirts from the back of my closet, and inhaled the changing seasons.

This particular time of year is usually one I find difficult. This time around isn’t especially different, although I have been taking steps to avoid the annual hibernation and shutdown I have experienced in the past decade. The frost gets in my bones and saps my already-meager supply of energy. I have written about this before: it is debilitating. So far, I am still able to get out of bed at a reasonable hour and I can laugh honestly.

By this time I have generally barricaded myself under my warm covers and turned away from an active social life, save one that exists only electronically. But I find myself participating as actively as I can in this small town where I know only a few people. I have learned the limits of my energy in this past year and in doing so I have begun to manage it as efficiently as I am able. So in this sense, I suppose this year has been different. Of course, that is not to say that my worse days do not make an appearance. This time, it is not the icy air and the falling leaves that has saddened me. Nor is it the early evening onset of a darkness that is so deep it lingers into the morning as I make my way to work, when just a month ago I could breathe in a brightening dawn. Rather, it is as I reach for my woolen coats and see my sweet summer dresses, hardly worn, that I feel a desperation to put off the impending winter.

When I am truthful, I can admit that I spent the whole of this summer in turmoil with how I perceived my body. More often than not, it was my distaste and loathing for my physical appearance that reigned over my practicality. Most days I chose to wear clothes that were ill-suited to the temperature rather than reveal whichever part of my body was causing me shame. My back was spotted with acne that I felt should have cleared up years ago. In my embarrassment, I forewent tank tops and dresses and my shoulders remained pale and unkissed by the sun.

I am unsure if the troubles I have with my physical appearance are a symptom of my emotional difficulties, but somehow they have become intertwined so tightly that sometimes it is challenging for me to decipher the feelings I am having in relation to my body. This post has been brewing in my mind for some time now. In fact, the first paragraphs have sat on pages in my notebook for weeks, but every time I attempt to continue, I stare blankly at the paper and instead flip aimlessly through my phone. Sometimes I am apt to believe that I have trouble expressing this because the feelings themselves have passed and become irrelevant. Other days I am painfully aware that the relief of these feelings is only temporary and at those times I find the things I want to write so personal and humiliating that I have no desire to do so.

Maybe also, in some small part, is the principal that has been drilled into my head: talking about one’s body is essentially forbidden. I am acutely aware of what women are supposed to look like, and like everyone else in the population, I know exactly where I do and don’t measure up. This creates its own problems; I have learned to feel ashamed about the physical parts of me that do not adhere to the model. At the same time I have been taught a distaste for vanity and whatever pride I could potentially take in my body has been smothered. In a single breath I have inhaled these ideals and as a result I have been blinded to the parts of me that may remain attractive to the popular standard. Worse yet, as much as I’d like to subvert this, I catch myself considering this The Standard. Society dictates that I am only allowed to look a certain way, but that I must never, ever take pride in the parts of me that are deemed acceptable. It is a vicious and detrimental combination.

I suppose that I can imagine I’m basically attractive. But this thought has taken years of work to say and believe, and on many days it still does not ring entirely true. I asked Miguel the once, “How long have you known you were hot?” I can tell that my questions are strange to him. I know that he doesn’t experience a physical self-loathing in the same manner I do. I watch him strut around the house completely undressed and I am stunned by and envious of the confidence that seems to come so naturally to him.

“Have you always walked around like this?” I ask, “It’s just so foreign to me.”

He looks puzzled. “But you’re naked all the time,” he says. It’s lost on him that learning to be nude in his presence has been a difficult and painful process for me. Even now, over a year after he first saw me bare and vulnerable, I always avoid his steady gaze.

“Stop staring,” I tell him.

“I’m just looking.”

“You’re inspecting.”

“I like your body; I want to learn every line.”

I know Miguel means it sincerely. Even so, I tense up. I can feel a spotlight on each imperfection. As I lie there rigidly, I recall every stretch mark, spider vein, clogged pore, and every hair. I can never stand this for as much as ten seconds before I push him away.

I wonder if he knows how much these insecurities have affected our sex life. I can think of numerous times that the moment was heavy and our sexual tension was high but I could not bear the sight of my body. As much as I wanted him, my anxiety took over. There have been times I begged for him to turn the lights out even though it was disruptive and somewhat killed the mood. There have been times I have wriggled away from him, humiliated at the thought of him seeing the blemishes on my back. Time after time I have kept my shirt on under the guise that I was cold.

Some days I sit in front of my full-length mirror and stare at myself hatefully. I have begun to carry weight on my small frame and my hips spill over the top of my jeans.  My upper arms jiggle and new stretch marks crawl down my inner thighs and up my sides. I am angry to watch my size 4 body acts as though it is a size 14. I see so many girls who are both considerably larger and more radiant. They carry themselves and own their pudge in a way that I am just not capable. I am bitter that I am fortunate enough to be a size that is supposedly attractive and somehow I still feel morbid and disgusting. I stare at the mirror and I cannot unsee the small hairs on my upper lip, the too-big pores, and the acne scars.

On these days I opt out of social activities. “I’m having a bad body day,” I tell Miguel. He doesn’t understand; he thinks I mean I’m sick and offers to make me soup. There have been times that I have felt this way but kept silent and that he has told me I look good. When this has happened I have been certain that he can see how terrible I look that day and that he is trying to make me feel better. Only later do I realize that he may have actually meant it.

That is another part of the problem: I am not able to take compliments at face value. I generally have such a poor opinion of my body that I assume compliments are in someway insincere. Most times, I feel as though I am being mocked. When I can see that the attention is genuine, I conclude that the person must be some sort of creep. I have difficulties believing that “normal” people would find me attractive, and so I determine any admirer must in some way be predatory.  I have posted nude pictures online on multiple occasions when I have felt inadequate. And in a more artistic move, I have modeled nude for a photographer friend. Always, the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. Still, I pinch my belly in the mirror and look on with scorn.

I am practicing. I have given up on the hope that my breasts will ever grow and I have found positive aspects of their size. I am trying hard to look at the jagged purple marks on my legs and hips and to say, “yes, those are my stretch marks. Those are my stripes.” I want to glance at the little blue veins popping up on the back of my knees and thighs and feel unphased by them. I am trying to accept that I am aging physically and to think of all the weathered women I have known and how glorious they were in all of their experiences and laugh lines.  Certainly there are things that I could try to reverse some of my flaws. But generally they are expensive and ineffective. It has become more important to me at this point to ease out of attempting to attain physical perfection: instead, I want to look at my body with a forgiving eye, and then a loving one. None of this comes easily to me, but I am grateful to know that Miguel is a safe place for me to struggle through these lessons. Our bodies are so much a part of our identity and it is cruel to be unaccepting of them. For me, it is a big first step to be outing my struggle in this way. But sometimes when things are said out loud they lose some of their hold on you. And now, I am going to go easy on myself.