What is political?

The personal is political. When I first heard this phrase I had to stop and catch my breath. What is political? How does it fit? If you’ve clicked the link then no doubt you’ve found Carol Hanisch explaining this very idea, in 2006, discussed in a paper she published in 1969.

What this phrase means, according to Carol, is that the inequality that happens to women in their daily lives, and to oppressed minorities, is not their personal fault or blame, but a political symptom.

One of the first things we discover in these groups is that personal problems are political problems. There are no personal solutions at this time. There is only collective action for a collective solution. I went, and I continue to go to these meetings because I have gotten a political understanding which all my reading, all my “political discussions,” all my “political action,” all my four odd years in the movement never gave me. I’ve been forced to take off the rose colored glasses and face the awful truth about how grim my life really is as a woman.

We can apply this in modern day situations because sadly, these issues that affected women and minorities in 1969 continue to this day. Childcare, lower salaries, myths about our competency, insistence on behaving a certain way are still issues that are political for women. And they are still issues deemed unworthy of the title political, by men.

I say they are deemed unworthy but we see people all over the world taking the time to berate women and minorities for the impact society has on their personal lives. How dare women in America have abortions! How dare people state Black Lives Matter. How dare you think your trans existence be acknowledged and protected in our prisons. How dare you come to our country with your domestic violence conviction adding a weight to your lyrics that sinks into our lives and suggests this problem is everyone’s.

Politicians have power over education, over funding for parents, over laws that protect women and children and equity/equality, laws and procedures over ethnicity and immigration- all factors that personally affect people from a wide range of backgrounds, ages and genders. These powers are reflected in the daily struggles that women, children, minorities and diverse genders deal with every damned day.

So it is with sadness that I see the voices of women, of minorities, of diverse genders or even of indigenous people remain unacknowledged by ‘political’ blogs. They are not the ‘top’ political blogs, by way of statistics, by way of content, by way of a complete lack of knowledge of what being oppressed and demeaned really is.

It is not the sly banter of infamous men that attracts me to politics. I am not destined to lead. I am not statistically significant in the blogosphere. No. What attracts me to politics is seeing parents struggle with educational change and expectations that have been inexpertly demonised by successive governments. What attracts me is the idea that we have the capacity to change inequity, and to become more successful as a society, but men-and women, thanks Aunty Helen- in power decline to make the changes necessary to do it.

In a world where history makes light of the contributions of women, it is embarrassing to see the potential of social media and its influence on politics reduced to an ellipses- a continuation of power imbalances that have for centuries already existed. Surely a political blog is one that challenges the status quo’s idea of politics and amplifies minority voice rather than giving power continuously to those who are well used to it.

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Walking the Dog

Before, there was only an everyday struggle to be normal- a sense that I wasn’t, that others knew things about life that I didn’t. For some reason, I was doomed and they were not.

Knowing about depression is not entirely helpful. Let me explain. Knowing about it means that I was reluctant to acknowledge it, to allow it space in my life. As an enemy, it had to be avoided, and if it could not be defeated then I had failed. I did everything in my power to deny its existence. So long as I kept successful and kept moving, it could not be a space in my heart.

Somehow in this pursuit of freedom from sadness, I became a competitive athlete, an international official, got two degrees and even contributed to a book. I could not simply accept that this dissatisfaction with myself, with the world around me, was something other than ambition. To be defined as depressed, or to give it a name, would be to have to sign it on insurance forms, and to be seen as something other than me. Who I was seemed to be contained in achievements. I just had to keep achieving.

Eventually the label became anxiety, and even more eventually my requests for help soon saw me getting assistance from medical professionals in a way that actually helped. For a $5 prescription, the daily struggle became just a struggle, and not a journey of dismay as I berated myself for constantly snapping, losing patience, finding noise too much and lists too onerous even as they were necessary.

I am now walking the black dog.

I have a list of tools that give me peace.

  1. A good doctor who acknowledges I am doing enough, and keeps an eye on what medication can do for me. This is not as easy as it sounds. Ask other people for their recommendations, and do not tolerate a medical professional who behaves as if you are just weak. You are not. Believe me when I say your struggles, while not bringing out the best in the world, have given you the chance to develop skills that will make you better at resiliency and empathy and compassion than any person has the right to be. Here’s some mental health advice on medical professionals. After all that advice, I can say honestly that what helped the most was having an advocate. In NZ you are entitled to an advocate, and I was lucky enough to have a nurse intervene on my behalf.
  2. Happify. I joined this website in its beta testing phase and I get all its premium tracks for free. That said, it is easier to do when you are feeling better, and a litmus test for when you are not doing well. There is a happiness check in- if I’m dodging that, then it’s time to do the exercises. And if I’m not doing these exercises on the site, I’m in real trouble. Anyway, this site guides you on ‘tracks’ that give you daily exercises based on the science of happiness. Invest in it if you can afford it. It’s working for me and it is based on science, so there’s a great chance it will have something for you. Some of its content is free so you can try it out first.
  3. Mindfulness. At the moment I use Insight Timer. Previously I have used Smiling Mind, and before that I used UCLA’s tracks on mindfulness. I also checked out Sri Chinmoy’s free meditation course, but when I found myself in a sari being inferior to men I decided there are easier ways to gain a sense of peace than joining a cult.
  4. Yoga. At first I threw myself into Ashtanga Yoga, thinking that the power part of it was me. After various injuries (from falling down in general life, not in the studio, where instructors consistently try to stop me overdoing it) I am now discovering hatha. Yoga in itself is a moving meditation, so can really help curb anxiety. Here’s a random youtube video tutorial specifically for anxiety. Obviously you need to find what works for you..

This is not in any way an exhaustive list. I’ve had counselling for two years, group sessions, and read so many self help books I basically should’ve written one myself by now. (I threw them out because having a bonfire is not going to save the planet.) But here’s the dog now, walking with me, just because of a simple mindfulness routine and learning about what really makes a person happy.

If you think you need help with anxiety and depression (the two often go hand in hand), then please get help. If you think this post has been an epic waste of your time, please enjoy this moment where I acknowledge that sometimes, I don’t have the words to fit. And maybe take a deep breath and click for the exit.