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A Furry Mental Health Podcast?

Fandom 150So last week I made a series of posts about depression and recent comments and ideas being batted around within the fandom. The response has been pretty amazing, and I’m so happy to hear from so many people who are dealing with mental health issues themselves or have been touched by people who are. I sincerely believe that the more we talk about these things openly, the less stigma they’ll carry and the more understanding there will be about what these issues are exactly. Coming out of last week, I’ve resolved to be more open about my own experience with depression and other issues and encourage other people who are going through their own challenges. (Sorry, I’ve adopted corporate-speak so hard here.)

I’d like to find a more formal approach in continuing the discussion. There are so many people in the furry fandom and other geek spaces who have dealt with severe depression, conditions on the autism spectrum, traumatic events and their fallout, personality disorders and other issues of brain chemistry; I think it would be really helpful to promote information and discussion about all of these things, and gather resources that might help people manage these conditions a little better or help others get the treatment and advice they deserve.

This blog will continue to be a space where I talk about my experience with my own issues, and insights I’ve learned about coping with them on a day-to-day basis. But I’m only one data point. There’s a whole community of us out there with our own specific relationships with our minds; we’ve learned how to cope in different ways and through different situations, and have made different choices based on our own ideas of what’s tolerable and what’s not. I’d like to find a way to explore all of that, to bring in other voices and discuss not just what professional advice there is out there but how that advice has been enacted through experience.

What’s the best way to do this? My instinctive idea is to work on a podcast or YouTube series that focuses on mental health in furry/geek spaces, the specific histories each of us has with our issues, how we’ve learned to cope with them and the challenges we still face in our personal lives and in our communities at large. I would hope to discuss commonly-accepted definitions of various mental health issues, the different ways they manifest in people, how those issues are treated through medication or therapy and how symptoms of those issues can be managed through daily techniques, diet, exercise and the like.

I already know there are a couple of issues with this. First and foremost, just because I have the potential platform to speak about these issues doesn’t mean I have the authority. I’m not a medical doctor, a psychiatrist or a counselor. I’ve taken a Psych 101 course in community college and that’s it. The podcast, or YouTube series, or blog would only be one facet of dealing with mental health issues and not at all a replacement for professional treatment and care. It would really suck to put something out there that turned out to be not all that useful — or worse, inaccurate and damaging. I’d want to be very careful about the content of such a thing.

There might also be an issue with offering up lessons from other people’s experiences and extrapolating that out to more general recommendations. What works for one person may not work for others, and it would be important to note that. By saying “This is one person’s experience with depression,” it could be interpreted as “This is what depression is” — and if someone doesn’t share many similarities with that experience then the whole affair could be alienating and discouraging instead of connecting and hope-inspiring.

I would almost certainly make mistakes with this, at least at first. It would take a little while for me to find my way through the presentation and work on a format that is helpful. But it’s something I really do believe *could* be helpful.

So, I turn the discussion over to you, dear readers. Would a podcast, YouTube series or website about mental health issues in the fandom interest you? What sort of topics would you like to be discussed? What kind of information would be most useful? What form would you like the presentation to take? What pitfalls should I look out for? I’m really interested in your feedback; it will help me to know how to move forward on this, or if I should move forward at all.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2015 in Furries, Self-Reflection

 

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My Story, My Government

I didn’t fully understand the power of marriage until I married Ryan. I was there, in a rented tuxedo with him, declaring a lifelong commitment to this one amazing man in front of the people I have come to consider my family over the last several years. After spending most of my life thinking of myself as an outsider, it’s the most vivid memory I have of ever belonging somewhere. Ryan and I had come together as a stable unit, something solid and long-lasting in our community. We were there, not just to celebrate our union, but to celebrate the fellowship we had cultivated with so many people, and to celebrate our small contribution towards making it stronger.

Since then, I’ve become increasingly grateful for my community of friends and I’ve come to recognize the value of making and maintaining bonds with the people around me. I believe that being in a relationship — with friends, lovers, neighbors and coworkers — is one of the best ways to get your head out of your own ass. It forces you to see, even for a brief moment, that you are not the center of the universe. You may be the star of your own story, but there are countless stories being told all around you, each with their own stars. And they all have narratives that intersect with one another, that bind and tie each story to a different one. If you pull back, away from your own story, to see the tapestry that’s being woven of the world around you, it’s amazing and humbling. True, it’s your thread, and you want to make it as good as possible, but you’re just one thread of countless others.

Maybe this is a sign of me getting older, but I think the greatest values you can cultivate as an individual are the ones that help you get along with other people. Yes, it’s important to have principles and stick to them. Yes, it’s important to stand up for what you believe is right. But ultimately, you have to convince other people about the worth of your principles. You can’t do that if you don’t know how to communicate your beliefs in a way that affect other people. Being right doesn’t count for much if you’re a dick about it.

But we live in a society where the exact opposite seems true. We’re encouraged to be dismissive to opposing points of view, and to shut out anyone who doesn’t agree with us. The template for our stories are the only ones that matter, and someone with a different experience, a different set of morals and values, or different beliefs are to be ignored at best, persecuted at worst. We’re the stars of our own stories, and everyone else is either an ally, an enemy or irrelevant. There is no tapestry; there’s only the single thread of our lives running over and over again. We live in a world, it seems, that rewards us for making our lives as small as possible.

I…can’t say how much this disappoints me. I think our society is at its strongest and greatest when we expand our lives to hold as many experiences as we can, when we encourage and reward opposing viewpoints coming together to find commonalities and compromises as much as possible. Whether we like it or not, whether we agree with it or not, we share this world with other people. And these other people have lives that are just as important as ours, full of just as many wonders and miseries, contradictions, mistakes and victories. The people we see around us have ideals that they fall short of, too. If they’re lucky, they have friends who remind them of all they could be, just like I do. If they’re lucky, they have people who take them out of their own stories and show them a number of others.

I believe that our government is meant to make sure that each and every one of us has the best possible shot at making our lives the best it can be. Because if our lives are made better, then we can help make the lives of our friends and neighbors better. And that makes our community better. I think that government should give us the power to do that, to help us when we fall short, to make sure we can achieve our limitless potential if we try. I believe in that. I do.

I can’t tolerate anyone who seeks to use the government’s power to treat me as an ‘other’, to tell me that I cannot participate fully in my community. I believe that’s what Mitt Romney is telling me and countless others like me with his policy. If you’re gay, poor, an immigrant (undocumented or otherwise), a woman, uninsured, not Christian, or anyone other than someone who thinks and behaves like he does, you have no place in this country. Romney only wants the system to help those who can take most advantage of it. He represents the thinking of a distressingly large part of our society — that if your story isn’t just like his, then it should be ignored at best, written out at worst.

I’m not saying that Obama is perfect, or the second coming — he has his problems too. But the bottom line is that Obama still represents the world I want to live in. He is inclusive, encouraging, and continually stresses the power of community and the responsibility we have as individuals to forge a strong one. He doesn’t tell me that I don’t deserve equal say because I don’t believe the things he does. He doesn’t tell my sister that he knows what’s best for her body better than she does. He doesn’t tell my mother — who doesn’t pay taxes because she’s on Social Security — that she believes she’s a victim and he can’t worry about her.

To be honest, I don’t think there will ever be a perfect candidate or a perfect President. Try as we might, we’re only human. We fall short of our ideals. The bottom line, however, is clear. Romney is part of the movement to make our lives — and our communities — smaller and less vibrant. His party wants us to isolate ourselves from each other, and be poorer for it. I can’t agree with that way of thinking. It’s against everything I’ve come to stand for. And it’s against everything I believe government should be.

For those people voting for Romney tomorrow, I hope that I haven’t made you feel unwelcome, or lesser. A disagreement of ideals is not a condemnation of character. But at the same time, how will Romney’s policies help those of us who aren’t like him? How will they strengthen our communities and those around us? How will they help us live together more ably, even when we disagree? I don’t believe they will. If you don’t think that these questions are important for choosing a candidate, that’s fine. But being right doesn’t mean much if you can’t convince those around you that you are. Sometimes, that means meeting them where they are, seeing the world from their point of view, and determining how your idea best suits their needs. It’s something that we have to do, if we expect to be part of a community.

Anyway, that’s who I’m voting for and why. I’d love to hear from you, especially if you’re pro-Romney. No matter who you vote for, please be sure you do. We should all do at least that, in order to help make the society we want to see.

 

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My Love Affair with Parks and Recreation

I gave Parks and Recreation a miss when it premiered on April 9th, 2009, because I made the mistake of thinking that it was just trying to capture lightning in a bottle twice. The mockumentary-style comedy was becoming a thing after the success of The Office, and it just felt like NBC wanted something that worked just as well without understanding what made it so good in the first place. I didn’t know that much about Amy Poehler beyond the fact that she was partners with Tina Fey and the wife of Will Arnett, both very funny people.

Then I started watching it. Ryan and I were looking for something new and relatively quick to watch, and we’d heard enough good things about it to give it a shot. What attracted me to it at first was its good-natured silliness. Poehler’s Leslie Knope was a little ditzy (like boss Michael Scott in The Office), but she was so naively optimistic it was hard not to fall in love with her. The rest of the staff of Pawnee’s Parks and Recreation Department were doofy in their own way, but most of them didn’t have that same bite you find in The Office. It made the show a brighter, fluffier companion to the folks in Scranton, PA, and right away it showed itself as a good complement.

The first six-episode season focused around the filling of a pit behind the house of Ann Perkins, a registered nurse. The plot served as a great introduction to the process of getting anything done in local government, as well as establishing the personalities and relationships of its main characters. There are a number of roadblocks that make Leslie’s goal of filling the pit and turning it into a park difficult, but the sheer tirelessness of her optimism and her surprising resourcefulness win out — she manages to pull it off, earning a small win for herself and her band of broken people.

From there, the stakes raise throughout the season and Leslie and co. have to pull off increasingly difficult projects while navigating professional and romantic entanglements. In order to stave off a government shutdown, Leslie has to put together a Harvest Festival to prove the worth of the department. Out of that success comes the chance to run for City Council, fulfilling one of Leslie’s lifelong dreams — running for public office. The campaign and election takes up the entirety of season four, and it’s here where Parks and Recreation becomes one of my favorite comedies of all-time.

The first three seasons are all great, don’t get me wrong. The ensemble cast clicks in almost no time at all, and as Leslie’s character goes from being optimistic ditz to hard-working, unbelievably good person her transition elevates the entire show. Leslie’s beliefs and her commitment to being true to them through her actions form the backbone of the show, and the supporting characters rally around that. Through the first three seasons, you see these people become inspired by Leslie to raise their own personal standards and learn to not only tolerate, but support one another despite their differences.

Season four’s campaign storyline is the culmination of that. You see these people — the stupid but earnest Andy Dwyer, the apathetic goth-girl April Ludgate, the man’s-man Libertarian Ron Swanson, the excessively happy health-nut Chris Traeger — form a tight-knit community that completes them in some way, and forces them to see the world beyond their small bubble in it. Helping Leslie achieve her dream leads them to finding and chasing their own, and they get a better sense of themselves through it. That secureness in their own character enables them to interact with people who would normally be their antithesis. In so many ways, Parks and Recreation illustrates the best of what government can do: help us find a way to live together despite our different ideas.

It’s a beautiful thing to watch. In so many ways, it’s more a liberal, escapist fantasy than The West Wing. That show featured incredibly intelligent people circling the wagons against a hostile world that wants to take them down. Everyone’s on the same team, and it’s just a matter of watching them engineer defenses against attacks. It’s great to watch, if you’re on the same team as well. But what makes Parks and Rec greater than that is having people coming from so many bizarre directions forced to work together. Not only that, but they have to learn how to do it well. Through hard work and constant effort, they manage it. They overcome every obstacle thrown at them by building a better community that accommodates everyone.

This is the kind of story we need right now. Our political process has become fundamentally broken because the national conversation has devolved into shouting matches between two teams who cannot see the value in learning to be civil with one another. Parks and Recreation shows us just what we can do when we come together for the good of our neighbors, and how much doing so enriches our lives. Leslie Knope is a model citizen to that end, and a model politician. She believes in the power of government and bureaucracy to make the places we live better, and she’s not content to simply hope for that to happen. She goes out to make it happen, and she encourages the people she works with to make it happen, too. And it’s a genuine joy watching her.

 
 

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