Rules & Regulations

Let me tell you a story.

As I have mentioned here before, I spent almost a whole decade thinking my physical symptoms were all psychosomatic because that was what everyone kept telling me. Doctors soon decided that all I needed was psychotherapy, and thus I got to meet many shrinks, saw the inside of a psychosomatic clinic and a regular psych ward, was put on several anti-depressants that failed to help, and went to a therapy group for roughly five years. At one point I even ended up in a supervised home for “troubled” teenagers and young adults, which is where our story begins.

You see, they had this crazy system. Looking back at it now, I can only describe it as a bizarre mix of the Weight Watchers “points” system, a classic MMORPG and so-called “rating communities” on LiveJournal. If you happen to be familiar with all three, you should be able to see why the idea of combining them does NOT sound like something to try at home. Not that there’s anything wrong with MMORPGs, mind you, it’s just that … they’re not real.

What led to the system’s creation was that some of the people who used to live there before me were upset about the many rules and regulations that they had to follow although many seemed so unnecessary. For example, you were not allowed to bring your own computer or television just because some people might sometimes neglect their social lives if they have access to those. Never mind that other people might use a computer for great hobbies such as creative writing or web design, and even watching tv or – shock and horror – playing video games can have benefits depending on the situation.

However, the people who worked in that place – I’ll call them “supervisors” since I am not sure which English term fits best – knew that if they allowed 7 out of 9 inhabitants to do something which the remaining two could not be trusted with, hell would break loose. So they formed a discussion group with the kids who had brought up the issue and together they conjured up a … great big real life role-playing game made of utter fail. I understand that they meant well, but as far as I’m concerned they could have just as well written the ultimate manual on how to delude unsuspecting victims into thinking they are being treated equally when they clearly aren’t.

Here’s how it worked: If the supervisors thought you were suddenly better at, say, handling money than two months ago, you moved up a rank on the “money” scale. If your social skills seemed to have improved, you moved up a rank on the “social” scale. There were several other categories beside these and the highest rank for each was 6. Now, certain combinations such as 4 “money” + 5 “social” or even 4 “hygiene” + 3 “social” + 5 “money” + 4 “school/work” would grant you access to extra privileges. (Getting your own computer was a giant chain of fours, fives and sixes that was nigh impossible for any average person to achieve, by the way. They didn’t tell me that when I moved in, so I practically had to relearn HTML, CSS and how to use Photoshop from scratch after more than a year of being unable to practise. Some of the things I forgot during that time seem to be lost forever. Yes, I’m still mad. *fumes*)

You may be wondering why they didn’t just assess everyone’s capabilities on an individual basis, but I guess they didn’t want to deal with being constantly told that they were treating someone unfairly. Once the system was in place, they could simply tell you that of course you could have a tv, you’d just have to meet the requirements first like everybody else!! Ah, the joys of equality.

One of the system’s major flaws was that in order to prevent recollection bias and huge differences between one supervisor’s assessment and another’s, they were given a “helpful” chart in which they could note down, daily, what everyone was doing. This happened in the form of points. Instead of having to actually talk to us and use their brains, they could look at a predefined list of activities which they deemed likely to indicate competence in one of their categories, and mark the ones that they had seen us do. Brilliant, just brilliant. In essence, if you forgot to mention that you had exercised, you didn’t get any exercise points. Obviously you could also easily fake having exercised, but I don’t even want to go into that. The mere thought hurts.

Aside from the technical inefficacy, there were at least two other aspects of the chart that I found deeply troubling: One, it didn’t take each individual’s motivation for doing said activities into account. What if someone was in the process of developing an eating disorder accompanied by compulsive exercising? What if someone desperately hated exercise and only did it for the points? (Mind you, I am only using exercise as an example because I don’t remember many of the other activities on the list or why they were on it.)

Two, how on earth are people supposed to learn that something is good for them if you present it to them like a tool to get a computer?? They’ll move out and never do it again. Good job.

I mean, all of the abilities that they were trying to teach us were useful. Being able to handle money is useful. Being able to make friends is useful. Taking showers on a regular basis and washing your clothes is, at the very least, recommended. But shouldn’t they have asked us what made those things hard to do and, depending on the answer, either explained the benefits to us or helped us practise? Instead they were like, “Do this and we’ll give you a reward.” Lessons learned: This ability has no merits of its own, so I’ll pretend to be interested as long as I’m here and forget about it as soon as possible once I can.

Me, I was different anyway. I never had to do anything to reach rank 5 or 6 in both “money” and “hygiene” almost immediately – but I couldn’t get past 3 or 4 in “health”, “social” and “work” no matter how hard I tried. And believe me, I did try – not because I believed in their stupid system, but simply because I actually wanted to get better for no other reason than that it would have been nice. Unfortunately I had little to no interest in the rewards I got for just being myself, and I could only roll my eyes whenever I received yet another one. No, thanks, I didn’t want to stay out past curfew! What I wanted was my computer, which I needed for my hobbies. But since I didn’t have many friends and couldn’t go to work everyday due to my illness, I was doomed to infinite boredom. None of this helped me get better at all, which if you’ll remember was the whole POINT.

Then, of course, you have to consider that one can be perfectly healthy and still not excel in any of those categories. In fact I would go so far as to say that not everyone needs all of the abilities mentioned above. A disabled person doesn’t need to keep up a job. A person who is happy working in a simple profession does not need a social network to build a career (I despise the notion of using “connections” this way in the first place). A hermit doesn’t need to be good with money. Are all of those people insane? Do they need to be fixed? You can’t help anyone by telling them what they’re supposed to need and want. That awful place allowed for no individuality whatsoever.

If anyone’s still reading, thank you. Now, what’s the morale of the story? Treating everyone the same does not create equality, I suppose. I just wanted to get this out.

Bonus story (this time, a short one): Back when I was taking piano lessons, I enjoyed them a lot at first and looked forward to them every week. However, one day I couldn’t go because I wasn’t feeling well. My mother thought I was just being lazy and got angry with me because she was the one paying the fee. The same thing happened again a while later and eventually I started to dread Fridays out of fear I might feel unwell again. Then I started to associate piano lessons with that feeling. I stopped enjoying them. I still liked playing, but not necessarily on Fridays. The hobby I had taken up out of my own accord had been turned into a job that needed to be done each week no matter if I wanted to or not. Pressure reduces fun. I never became a true musician and the sad part is, I have a feeling that many people never get their dream jobs for exactly the same reason. Who knows how many brilliant inventions we’ve missed this way?


A Word On Politics

This started out as a comment on Big Liberty’s Universal Healthcare and Fat post. When I set up my “About” page a mere seven months ago, I wrote, “I know next to nothing about politics but Iā€™m willing to learn.” Much has changed since then, although I have to say I wasn’t completely clueless, either. It’s just that I tend to research any given topic extensively before I can form an opinion on it, and last fall I did not feel like I had reached that point yet.

I became interested in libertarianism as soon as it started to come up on the fatosphere feed. The general concept sounded good to me – freedom of choice for everyone, little to no government supervision et cetera. However, as I started to read more and more essays by self-proclaimed libertarians (note that I was unaware of there being a difference between American and European definitions of libertarianism at the time), I got the same sinking feeling that I get whenever I pick up a magazine or newspaper: Once again I did NOT appear to be part of the target audience. What do I care about a free market when I can’t work and have never had money of my own? How exactly am I supposed to make any choices if the only opportunity I am given is to survive on what little people like me are “generously” supplied with by either the state or a charity?

I will always be a sick person first, the daughter of a poor single mother second, and only then does Fat Acceptance come in. I am not looking at this from the same perspective as your average fat rights activist, especially since I didn’t grow up as a fat child. I only grew up poor and sick. Googling “libertarianism and disability” I actually found out that here in Europe, the general consensus seems to be that true libertarians must oppose capitalism. How exactly that got twisted around to be almost the opposite in America, I don’t know. This blog came up as one of the first search results, which I found quite amazing because I happen to agree with nearly every single word in that post.

The thing is this, I am tired. Tired of feeling worthless because I never had a chance to finish school. Tired of feeling irresponsible just because I dare to continue existing. Tired of never being part of the target audience.

I propose that we stop providing services only to those who can afford it based on a ridiculous definition of “productivity”. If I were living in America, I would be unable to afford healthcare because I’m sick, which I’m sure you’ll agree makes no sense whatsoever. I would have to be healthy in order to make money, but in order to become healthier I’d need to have money already. Whoever came up with this nonsense needs to be taught a thing or two on logic.

I have decided to officially identify as anarchist now, but I don’t care what you call yourselves – if you agree that capitalism causes harm, I’m on your side.

There are so many wonderful things that we could be doing RIGHT NOW to help each other out, improve our own quality of life, find cures for diseases and solutions for technical problems, reduce stress among the population, prevent crime, save the environment and end world hunger. We have the technology, the knowledge, the resources, the brilliant minds, the people who would be willing to work on those problems, we have everything that is necessary to make this world a better place. So why aren’t we acting already? Because the resources, technology, knowledge and time are only available to those who can pay.

I bet if there is extraterrestrial life somewhere out there, they are laughing at our stupidity right this minute. Even I, sick as I am, would surely find a way to contribute to someone else’s well-being if only I were given the opportunity, but instead I am forced to sit around and do nothing because the financial support I receive from my country helps me survive and not much else.

I don’t get how some people can NOT see this. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose. But we exist and we’re not going away anytime soon. I refuse to accept that people like me deserve no better options.

This is probably not the most eloquent post I have ever written, but … oh well. It’s better than staying quiet.

I Caught Teh Fatz!

Dear Fat Acceptance Movement,

I hereby inform you that I am no longer a mere Thin Ally. From now on you can consider me to be, for all intents and purposes, Officially Fat. What does “official” mean, you may ask, since we all know that BMI = bullshit (and I don’t even own a scale)? Well, I went clothes shopping a while ago and discovered that I could suddenly extend my search to include the plus-size department.

There you have it, fat is contageous after all. šŸ˜‰

Jokes aside, I suspect that either my meds are at fault or it’s the fact that I’ve been feeling good enough to actually eat on a regular basis for a few weeks now. Both are good things and so far the weight gain hasn’t had any negative effects on my life, either, so it doesn’t really bother me. However, I would be lying if I said it didn’t bother me at all.

I feel like anything I have to say about food and weight doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t even look all that different than before and yet I suddenly expect people to look at me and think, “Oh, she’s just making excuses.” It is ridiculous. I am reminded of volcanista’s guest post at Shapely Prose:

It makes me angry (at the world, not FJ) that because Iā€™m not one of those fat fat fatties, I can bring some cred to this whole FA thing: look, a skinny girl who cares about fat people!! hey, what was this post about, again? Yeah, I have automatic credibility on the subject of fat prejudice, despite never having experienced it firsthand, while actual fat people are just wrong/deluded/lying. THAT makes sense.

That “automatic credibility” was just taken from me. Awesome. Just because I’m a little bit healthier than before.

Body Observation

One of the better aspects of fibromyalgia is that it practically forces you to start listening to your body. There is no magical pill that makes the pain go away in all cases, no treatment that works for everyone. Of course this is mainly a bad thing, don’t get me wrong, but it also means that every single patient has to try one thing, see if it helps, then try the next thing, see if it helps … and so on. If you start doing something that makes you feel worse, you have to stop – no matter how many people are telling you that it isn’t supposed to make you feel worse. That’s just the way it is.

If I had to sum up fibromyalgia in a single sentence, it would be “When your body rarely does what one would expect.”

By listening to my body, I suddenly discovered that soda had unpleasant effects on my digestic system, and that I didn’t really like it all that much in the first place. It’s one of those strange things that are extremely hard to explain to people who don’t suffer from a chronic illness and have never heard of Intuitive Eating, either. How can you think you like something when you don’t? Ha. In my case, I started to drink a lot of Coke as soon as I realised that my mother thought I was old enough to take care of myself, and it had moved on from being a “special occasion drink” to something I could have whenever I wanted to. I liked the taste, so why not? Now I know that there are many drinks I would have preferred if I hadn’t been blinded by the “OMG can have this anytime now!” excitement, and if I had realised that it made me feel bad. Intuitive Eating is not as easy as it sounds, really.

Last week or so I noticed something interesting again. You know how people always say that you shouldn’t leave a whole bar of chocolate (or bag of sweets) lying around while you’re watching tv, or else you might accidentally eat all of it although you wanted to save some for later? Been there, done that. However, what I noticed is that this only happens to me when I’m hungry. I eat the chocolate because – shock and horror – I’m actually hungry, and NOT because it’s addictive and evil and I have no self-control. Have you ever felt like eating a whole bar of chocolate right after a satisfying meal? No? See, that’s what I mean.

So here’s some advice for anyone who occasionally ends up feeling nauseous due to an overdose of chocolate: The next time you find yourself grabbing for that bar at curiously small intervals, check if you’re hungry. If so, ask yourself what else you would like to eat. Go and get it, and by all means eat it in front of the tv if you want to. Chances are it’ll taste even better than the chocolate.

In Which I Quote Myself

I had an argument with a friend. Since we don’t see each other in person very often, it happened online. And since nothing gets my brain going like online arguments do, I thought I’d repeat some of the things I ended up telling her.

I imagine most people probably regard these as common knowledge, so I apologize if all you can say to this is, “Duh.”

As I see it, there are three perfectly fine ways to reply to something you don’t agree with:

a) I think you’re wrong, and this is why.
b) I don’t understand your position, please explain.
c) I disagree, but I respect your opinion and will keep that in mind during future discussions.

Of course there might be a fourth or even a fifth option that I haven’t thought of yet. All I was trying to say at the time is that blunt statements such as “you’re totally wrong and your opinion sucks” are generally unhelpful. Which, uhm, should really be common knowledge.

opinion = “I disagree with you.”
“What you said is bullshit.” =/= opinion
“bullshit” = [a word] that, while not being necessary to express one’s opinion itself, can be used to emphasize said opinion and to imply that the person it’s directed at is stupid.

I actually remember an old math teacher of mine trying to explain this concept to a bunch of boys who absolutely didn’t get it. In fact I got the impression that nearly the whole class didn’t get it, so I experienced a strong urge to hit the desk with my head. Repeatedly. We must have been, what, at least 16 at the time!

This is why I love people who curse like sailors and do it right. šŸ™‚

OT: Help!

I just wanted to say that my WordPress open ID doesn’t seem to work with Blogger, so I’ve been trying to comment on several blogs in vain. I don’t know what’s going on. It always tells me that I’m not logged in, then I do log in, try again and get an error message. So basically, if you don’t allow name/URL comments, I can’t comment on your blog. šŸ˜¦

Money …

A short and very simple thought has been going through my head for weeks, and no matter how hard I tried, I haven’t been able to transform it into anything bigger. So here it is, without any further exploration …

Many of the problems that sick and especially fat people face today have a single common cause: Somewhere, at some point, somebody who already had a significant amount of money wanted more money and was willing to make other people suffer for it. That’s it.

I know I’m going to sound like a total hippy now, but I believe that we need a lot more love and compassion in this world. We need more people like Sandy Szwarc, who’s been providing us with free information for so long, just because she felt that someone had to do it.

I don’t have a solution. In fact I don’t even have so much as a hint of an idea and it’s making me a little nervous.