Jul 8, 2016

In light of recent events

If you're reading this, you probably already know this-- but I grew up in a very small town.  And while racism there is alive and well-- I didn't know that until late high school.  In fact, I didn't even know what white privilege was until college.   I don't mean that in an insensitive way, and I want to be careful about that because right now everyone feels a little sensitive one way or another.   My mother grew up teaching me to love someone for their heart, for their spirit.  From the first day I can remember, I was taught to love and accept everyone.  We were a very open family.  I don't remember ever needing to 'learn' that people were different.  I knew each person was an individual.  There weren't many boundaries with my parents.  They shared their experiences and they answered all of my questions.  I grew up knowing my uncle was gay.  I literally never blinked an eye about it once.  Looking back now, I had no idea how hard he had to fight to be happy and just be who he was, but I remember thinking he was the coolest person on the planet-- to me he was some kind of superhero.  He got out of our small town, he sent me awesome postcards of his family and his cats, and he lived in California.  To me, it didn't get much cooler than that.  As an adult, he's even more my hero-- because he lived his life even when it wasn't easy.

As an adult, I wonder how many times I was so naive that I was being insensitive.  I never paid much attention to how someone might view my life as privileged.  I never had a single person tell me that I had been insensitive to their plights, to their adversities.  I didn't have a clue.  Sure, I knew there were cultural differences, but I didn't feel like I had been entitled... until my adult life.  Especially now.   I don't think I was ever confronted with a situation that really forced me to come full circle with it.  I don't know if by being naive I ever hurt someones feelings, but if I did,  I am putting it out here:  I'm sorry.  I may not know a solution to white privilege, and I won't pretend that I can possibly understand what you're going through if you're of a sexual orientation, gender, race, or religion subject to so much darkness these days-- but I can promise you empathy.  I won't always understand, but I would love to try.  I love learning, I love hearing views different than mine. Maybe I'm in the minority for that feeling, but I wouldn't ever be bothered by someone telling me that when I say _____ it's really off putting for them.  Maybe being blissfully unaware made me a better person?  Or maybe it made me terribly insensitive?  I can't be sure.

What I do know is this-- sure all lives matter but that isn't what is in question right now.  And the more you say it, the more you're ignoring the actual fact that the question here is how to stop making one life matter less than another.    I've never seen a problem solved out of spite, out of hate, out of darkness.  Respect one another, offer a helping hand, share the good.  If you have children, teach them to open their hearts to all different experiences.   I'm raising a child and while that scares the daylights out of me because of the current state we're in it also gives me hope that I can send him out armed with love and empathy for all types of people.  Travel.  Read.  Volunteer. Educate. Never stop finding the light, never stop encouraging people, complimenting people, motivating people.

I don't know if  writing this is 'doing something', but it's a reminder to myself and others.  I'm not perfect, but I'm never to old to continue trying to be better.

Jun 8, 2016

Some personal words on the victim from Stanford

I haven't been writing much these days.  I have a lot of thoughts but nothing that I've felt like putting down on paper... However in light of the recent news coming out of Stanford... It really got my wheels turning.  I don't often put much emphasis on how societal norms impact our lives.   Typically, we just consider our lives 'normal' because that's what we allow, what everyone else is doing, what's popular etc.   Having said that,  sexual promiscuity in women has a stigma.  Men are applauded for their conquests and women shamed for 'being used up'.  For that reason, women tend to not openly discuss their sexual history, it's frowned upon or criticized.  Perhaps the only person I was ever transparent with about conversations around sex was my life long best friend.  So when she wrote this post about some of her experiences, it really echoed the one experience I have.. and why the letter from the Stanford victim really was hitting home for me.

I don't write this letter for sympathy.  In fact, the less you associate it with 'me' and more your start thinking about the number of women who deal with this the happier we'll both be.  It's nerve-wracking writing this out for my friends and family to read. My liver gets a big apology from me for my college years.  I was a hard worker, but I went to a party school where I met great people and had a great experience.   We became regulars at places, and you see the same faces and bar specials.  One night in 2009 I attended a local bar where you go for a certain drink special.  I had a couple of my closest friends with me and we had a really great time based on the photos I took....  Now you know when you've reached the point where you're going to be hurting the next day, so don't think I expected to not pay in the morning... with a hangover. The progression of photos that night shows my tipsy buzz becoming more of a full on drunk until I eventually am not taking photos anymore.

I don't know how I seemed when I left the bar, with a strange guy who I hadn't ever met before (and to date never saw again).  To his 'credit', maybe I seemed put together and less drunk than I was.  How would he know my 'normal' right?  But then again, why not error on the side of caution. I won't attempt to fill in the blanks of a night that I 'knew better' about (ie don't get that drunk) but college is a time of self discovery, of adventure, of poor choices and risk.  While I won't go so far as to say I was raped, I don't recall a lick of what happened from the bar to my terrifying scramble to leave that apartment.  It is legitimately the only time I don't remember an evening from drinking.

Why am I sharing, right?  Until today I literally never said a word. Ever. I mean after all, I chose to get hammered drunk in a college town out with my friends.  One might elude I was 'asking for it' right?  Or 'well she got black out drunk, what did she expect' -- I expected a hang over, silly photos I would be 'mortified' about.   My point is that the variables for the victim at Stanford aren't much unlike my own and so many women I know. Society has coached us as women into thinking if we dress a certain way, if we even flirt with a man we are "asking for it". 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime  We live in a society where the internet is outraged either way about a gorilla, but a man who violates a women is punished with 6 months of jail time.  If that statement upsets you, do something about it. If your friend is too drunk to make good choices, say something. And most importantly if you're unsure if someone is too drunk, assume they are.

I'm lucky. This instance has been the only bad experience I've had. The fact that I'm ending a discussion like that with the word lucky almost seems vile. But yes, lucky that I am in a relationship where I am shown respect and admiration. I'm lucky that my body is clean, safe, and assault free. I am lucky enough to be able to use this as a space to advocate for women and encourage speaking up. It's not okay for someone to touch you or talk to you in a way that makes you uncomfortable. Do not go quietly because society might project that experience as shameful. Share and help others. ❤️

May 4, 2016

A Letter To My Best Friend Before She Gets Married....

First, let me start by telling you (as I have a hundred times, you're probably rolling your eyes seeing this) that our friendship up until this point has been what others might call unusual, unconventional and incredible.  You're the first one to empathize with my crazy life, you have a chronic history of being the one to tell me my ex-boyfriends were douche bags (aren't you glad you don't have to do that again?), you've been the friend that will make t-shirts and booty dance with me, the friend who loved me in awkward high school years when I was so damn naive and lost.  You were the friend who'd solve any problem with a shopping trip or a drink, took on crappy college jobs with me, and were always down to for an ugly face game (now brought to you via snapchat.. hallelujah!).

Tomorrow, tomorrow-- it's the day I get to stand next to you, as I have through a majority of lifes highs and lows.  Tomorrow you'll make a decision, calculated and with conviction the way you follow all of your choices in life  Tomorrow, I will gleefully watch as you have found someone to 'be your other half', somewhat bitter sweet to write as we've been that for one another so much in life.  Though I haven't spent a great deal of time with Pepijn (you'll always be Pep to me my friend!), I've seen this calm in you when he's nearby.  I've seen him smile at your independence and comfort your anxieties.  I've watched as he negotiates life choices and varying emotions with ease.  That's all we could ever ask for in a life partner right, a best friend?  It's with great honor that I stand beside you tomorrow as you take this man to be your husband.   It is with great pride that I watch you find someone who doesn't make growing old seem like enslaving you to one another, but instead makes you look forward to being spirited and jovial together.

I'd normally say marriage is the end of an era, but we'd ended 'the era' of HanManda when our livers started giving us middle fingers, life took us to opposite sides of the continent, and I popped out a tiny human.  Make no mistake, I'm not even remotely sorry about any of it because it brought us to THIS era, the era of Mrs. Dekker, of cocktails at your loft apartment and of 10pm bedtimes with no regrets.  Thank you for being my life partner all these years.  I'm so proud to call you my best friend, to watch you join hands with this special someone who knows just by that smile in his eyes how lucky he is to call you his.  Congratulations Biffy.  I love you tons and tons.

Love, Neil

Oct 24, 2015

Some thoughts on the stigma surrounding mental illness

I've spent a lot of the last year and a half being angry at death. Sounds silly when I write it here. The truth is I lost one of my dearest friends to suicide and since then have spent a lot of time reflecting on the person I should be. The last conversation we had together, she told me "I always knew what to say" and "was her source for positivity". The words still bite a little because maybe if I had said it's okay to be sad or angry, the way I feel about losing her, it would have been different.  I spent some time being angry with her, for thinking it would be better this way and a great deal longer being angry at myself for not being a good enough friend. The truth is none of that could have changed it with any sort of certainty.  Depression is a vile disease and I've watched it eat away at people I love for a majority of my life. I've watched as this country holds a stigma on mental illness that is so substantial, people are afraid to seek help in fear of being labeled. Some of the most beautiful brilliant people I've ever met have struggled with a dark cloud. It doesn't make their light any less significant and it doesn't mean they don't have big ideas for this world.  If we spend time building each there up instead of opening our mouth to criticisms, we might start to see slow growth. Tell people what you love about them. Tell people you have dark days and fears because we shouldn't need permission. Make a conscious effort to teach your children to be fair, empathetic, and that compassion is one of the best qualities they can carry out into this world. I can't change the world, but it won't stop me from trying to make it a better place. It won't stop me from uplifting people around me.

Jul 6, 2015

It's been quite some time since I put anything that is in my head down on paper. I think sometimes that's because it's like saying it out loud-- it makes it real.  There's nothing wrong with having dark moments, I know, but with all I have to be grateful for, I've always programmed myself to not put most of that in a place where it can come back to bite you later. The truth is, people get their feelings hurt if you are expressive in a way they're uncomfortable with-- even if you are ambiguous. What's that quote though? 

"You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” -- Anne Lamont

I'm blessed with this incredible little family. Don't confuse "incredible" with "perfect". My child has never been a successful night sleeper, and that sleep deprivation has taken its toll on Bryan and I. But there are these moments of clarity (after the babies stopped crying and I have had SO much coffee) that I remember this is just a phase (and largely in connection with the tubes this kid so desperately needs. Come on August 4th!) and that we are incredible together, even when we feel like fragments of our former selves. Bryan is my sanity, my reality check, my motivator, and my saving grace.  I've needed that more than I can ever express appropriately. 

You see, I don't have post-partum depression, but I have most certainly seen my anxiety take a nose dive for the worst. And that came from a combination of things that robbed me of my self-confidence and control that I so desperately thrived on. 

Let me preface by saying I AM NEUROTIC. Every fiber of my being has been that way for as long as I can remember. I could give you a list of reasons why, but I will just say have always been the fixed, the reliable one, the solver. No one put that on me, but I accepted that responsibility in a lot of areas and that's a lot of weight to carry around. That was always offset by a social circle and a thriving optimism I was always able to renew. I am a worrier and simultaneously find something beautiful in each day. It's a lifeline that I hold on to. I still do this. 

In the last few years, though, a particular set of circumstances started to unravel my soul a little. Professional identity, loss of two close friends, and a baby (before you get defensive-- he isn't unraveling it's the circumstances). 

1) I left a job that although grueling allowed me to feel like college was "worth it" because I was good at it-- damn good and I rarely toot my own horn. It wasn't the best suited match for me organization wise and I don't for a minute regret choosing to move here and be healthier but it's been a long 2 years without a job that fulfills me that way. I think professional identity is very important. 

2) In a matter of a couple years, I lost two of my dearest friends. I think I've really disconnected with that fact because I had to. Because the reality of it was too much. Because when Jess died, I was in the midst of a high risk pregnancy and knew detaching from the reality of her death was necessary to be healthy for the baby. But now I'm a year out from her death and it has become a heavy weight. I don't talk about it-- because the circumstances of that aren't what people discuss.  I'd like to note I am grateful that I have the handful of solid friendships I do. The friends that get your dark days and don't require a daily check in but know something is  up if you don't. 

3)  I had a baby. He's the best damn thing I've ever created.  But with his current situation, he's isolating. Motherhood in general, I've discovered, is isolating. In part because everyone thinks the way they mother is "right" and doesn't want to risk criticism, but also because you put that baby first. They need a schedule.  My kiddo has had ear issues since about 3 months. He doesn't ride well in the car, it hurts him. So we are homebodies. And that's sort of isolating too. I don't really miss social outings by myself too much. I just yearn to take him with me on adventures and show him off. Perhaps what really pisses me off, though, is the lack of effort from people who couldn't wait to be there for you, but are conveniently never available at all? I don't have the time or energy to fight or beg. Come around or don't. 

Having said all this, I'm not in the least unhappy. I don't want it to sound that way-- I just think I have been bottling up a lot of things that I think would hurt someone's feelings or that no one wants to talk about. But I want to talk about it-- and you can take it or leave it. Part of renewing optimism is getting rid of the things that weigh you down.