Sunday, December 23, 2012

I Am Miss Shuganah: A Heart Centered Woman Living in a Head Centered World

People sometimes approach me on Twitter and tell me my handle is one of their favorites. I thank them.  That indicates to me they get the joke.  Misshuganah or meshugana means "crazy" or "crazy person" in Yiddish.  

I was a very emotional child. Sometimes to the point of hysteria.  My mother will tell me, "You need counseling." An unkind, compassionless thing to say.  I imagine she was frustrated because she didn't know how to help me.

My father, who I was more alike than either of us would have wanted to admit, would routinely push my buttons and then when I would demand an apology from him he would say, mainly to my mother, "Get this mad bulldog away from me."  My brothers, I suspect, shared my mother's assessment of me but kept it to themselves.

From childhood on, I have been called crazy in one form or another by people who have confused my emotionality with mental illness.  Being emotional does not equal mentally ill, although, sadly, on the surface, to most people they appear indistinguishable.  It is for this reason that I am sensitive to people being labeled crazy.   It's too easy a word to use to discredit someone.

When I was in grammar school, these older girls were singing "They've come to take me away.  To the funny farm where life is gay."  At first I thought they were being friendly, because they were pointing at me.  So I smiled back at them. They were singing a silly song and including me on the joke.  After a few minutes I realized that was their not so subtle way of calling me crazy.  My heart sank.

I am keenly aware of being an outsider and not being understood. It has allowed me to be simultaneously strong and vulnerable.I can slide between these two states with ease.  It has also allowed me to be comfortable with other people's dark places.  Because of that, people either gravitate towards me and seek me out as a confidant or they feel ill at ease around me.  I know that I push past many people's emotional comfort zones.  When I was younger that used to make me insecure. Now I do not worry about being disliked.Sometimes, however, I do perceive people having a desire to distance themselves from me, and sometimes that still pains me.

Being an emotional person in a thinking person's world is very difficult.  In clinical terms I come out as INFP on the Myers-Briggs personality tests. That is Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceptive.  My husband is an INTP... T for thinking.  One letter off, but it can create a huge chasm. Most T types dismiss my intuition and my  insights and all that I have to offer because from their standpoint I am lacking in logic.  I am not lacking in logic. Nor am I lacking in critical thinking. What I am lacking in is ways to explain my intuitive feelings to others.

I cannot always provide reasons for what I know.  I just know.  I am perceptive enough to know that "just trust me, OK?" neither gives me credibility nor gains me allies. The tragedy for me is that a lot of times I am right, and, months later, when it turns out I am right, it is too late to do anything differently. I do not say "hate to say I told you so," because I derive little pleasure from it.  Asking me to provide reasons behind my feelings is like asking me to change my personality.  It would be like me saying to a math genius,stop solving math problems or to tell my husband, stop thinking of new ways to improve the world.

There are very few people like me.  We maybe make up four to five percent of the world's population. Makes it hard for people like me to find mentors. Makes it harder still to figure out how to fit into a thinking person's world. I have had many years of therapy.  As a result, I have a more balanced personality. I don't conform emotionally, but I have learned to hold my reactions in check. When I  have an over the top emotional reaction, it feels like a huge personal failure.  I realize that I run the risk of alienating others.

Immature emotional types are perceived in our society is as either drama queens or as too intense.  I joke that I am a drama queen in recovery. I never really was a drama queen in the sense that I was never really that self absorbed.  One can be a drama queen yet, paradoxically, have compassion for others. Emotional maturity is hard fought, all the same.

People like me literally take things to heart.  We take criticism personally. It's taken me many years to figure out that criticism doesn't mean someone dislikes me.  I realize that a person dislikes a flaw, not all of me. Hate the sin, love the sinner. It is out of that realization that I strive towards change and personal growth.  I am very introspective.  Imagine a Princess Hamlet.

I find it objectionable that people prefer to categorize emotional types like me as emotionally unstable.  Too many people try to marginalize heart centered people  like me by saying, "adjust your meds." I don't know statistics of how many heart centered people are mistaken for mentally ill.  Feeling things intensely is neither a crime nor an illness.

Because we are heart centered, people like me feel everything.  And I do mean everything.  When I call myself an empath, I don't do so to brag. I am an emotional receiver. What I've discovered is that this can lead me to a kind of arrogance and suffering.  If I think or feel that someone is blocking their feelings, I can choose to feel their feelings for them.  Years ago I decided to let people feel their own feelings, even if they, by my estimation, do it badly. Because I am a receiver, I sometimes cannot tell if I am feeling my own feelings or those of others in the room.  That may seem very strange to many of you, and no, I cannot explain it in logical or scientific terms.  Being an introvert compounds the problem.  I have found that clearing my second chakra helps a lot.  Allows me to return feelings to their rightful owners.

On our first date, my husband and I went to an animation film festival.  There was one cartoon about zoo animals being interviewed.  The large cat being interviewed ( cheetah perhaps) was saying to the interviewer, "I need space!"  By the time our third date rolled around, my husband was saying that back to me.  He found it amusing that I needed so much space, but he loved me despite what I am sure he perceived as prima donna tendencies.

When I was pregnant with Kid O, we went to a Purim service because we wanted to meet this rabbi.  When we approached him afterwards, this warm, wonderful soul kept stepping closer to me.  I kept moving back.  My husband could hardly keep from laughing.  He understood that this man was unintentionally invading my personal space.

I need more personal space than the average person because I am more sensitive to energy than many others. While I have developed coping strategies over the years, I sometimes feel like energy just about knocks me down. As with anyone, I adapt. The shape of a room affects me.  The furniture affects me. If I am in a room with a TV on, I will sit as far from it as possible even if I find the people engaging.  If I leave a room, it is not because I am disinterested. It may be that I am experiencing informational overload.

Why did I choose to call myself  Miss Shuganah?  Afterall I could have called myself Miss Understood or a number of other jokey handles with considerably less stigma attached to it.  After years of being reacted to as if I were crazy, I decided to celebrate it.  Calling myself Miss Shuganah is my very public way of liberating myself from the stigma that  I have struggled with for the vast majority of my life.  I am proof that talk
therapy can work. I am proof that one can choose compassion over being mean.  I am proof that sometimes sanity prevails in an insane world where events sometimes seem a little too random.  

I understand why society chooses to block out heart centered people like me.  Sometimes I mirror a sick society. Sometimes I insist people honestly address their feelings instead of  burying them. Much as a bird needs a right wing as well as a  left wing to fly, a person needs a heart as well as a brain to be a truly integrated human being.  Perhaps I express my feelings in a more authentic way than most.  Society needs to spend less time trying to force people like me to feel less and more time learning from people like me about what I do best:  living a feeling full life.    

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

An Open Letter To Thirty-Nine Conscience Free Individuals

Note:  I've been since informed that Senator Mark Kirk has not yet officially returned to work, and if so I apologize for casting any aspersions. I am not changing the blog post title because it's already been retweeted etc.  I edited accordingly.

To the Republican Senators who voted against the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities:

All thirty-eight of you who voted no are morally bankrupt.

Allow me to refresh your memory about the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The ADA was signed into law
by President George H. W. Bush, a Republican. The amendment to this law, the ADA Amendments Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush, another Republican.  The original law was passed by overwhelming majorities in both the House and the Senate.  That means, ladies and gentlemen, that Republicans joined Democrats in passing the ADA.  While this law is far from perfect, they are steps in the right direction in ending discrimination against disabled people.

The ADA and the CRPD, senators, are both meant to protect disabled people, and give them opportunities they otherwise wouldn't have. Some of you bandied about terms like sovereignty, homeschooling and religious freedom to shore up your flimsy excuses.You use these terms to rile up your base to whom you feed misinformation in order to control them.

Never has any outside body interfered with parents choosing to homeschool their disabled children.  Many of those who voted for you believe you when you tell them this will affect their freedom of religion. You can hide behind your fearmongering, but the fact is this treaty would not impact these parents at all.  This treaty is to ensure that the rest of the world would come up to the standard we in the US have practiced since 1990.

In explaining his no vote, Senator Inhofe said,  “However, I do not support the cumbersome regulations and potentially overzealous international organizations with anti-American biases that infringe upon American society.”

I am uncertain, senators, whether your no votes reflect hypocrisy or mere cluelessness.  Certainly Anderson Cooper's interview with Senator Mike Lee makes him look foolish.

Bruinkid, a diarist at Daily Kos, provides a transcript and video of Jon Stewart's reaction to the treaty vote:

Oh my God.  It's official, Republicans hate the United Nations more than they like helping people in wheelchairs.

I would like to ask Senators Inhofe and Lee and  all the other Republicans who voted no, since when are values such as equality, fairness and dignity anti-American biases? Since when did laws providing protection for disabled people become an infringement on American society?    

In March 2011 I wrote  Landscaper! There's a Weed in My Sod: Why We Need Inclusion in Classrooms and Community  In this blog post I included the video, In My Language made by autism advocate, Amanda Baggs.  At the end of the video she states:

"Only when the many shapes of personhood are recognized will justice and human rights be possible."

What that means, senators, is that unless we recognize and celebrate the many subtle and varied hues  of humanity, we cannot move forward as a civil society. When we place self interests above the rights of all others, we end up the more impoverished for it.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is what your no vote does:

Your no vote denies equality, fairness and dignity to my daughter and all other disabled individuals.  
Your no vote diminishes disabled people like my wheelchair bound daughter. Your no vote negates 
not just the disabled among us but our collective humanity.   

What your no vote does not do is break her spirit.  What your no vote does not do is make her less determined to live a full life as independently as possible.  What your no vote does not do is kick my daughter's wheelchair out from underneath her. 

My daughter speaks through her eyes. If you could look into her eyes there would be no denying her humanity. My daughter does not suffer fools gladly. Her smoldering auburn eyes speak volumes, senators.  They would speak of her disapproval.  They would express her outrage.  Then she would take a deep breath.  And then she would laugh.  She would laugh as she always does at the absurdity of people like you thinking you have any real power over her or anyone else.  Even as you place obstacles in her
way, my daughter, the unsinkable Kid O,will day truly speak for herself some day.  And when she does, I assure you, senators, she will very elegantly put you in your place.