Of advocacy, risk, loss and holiday anxiety

I’m damn lucky.
I’m financially stable, secure in my facts, able to convey opinions and comfortable in the loss that comes with advocacy.

But as the holidays approach, I realize this places me in a seat of privilege that our students do not have but so desperately need.

For the last four months, college students across the country have done a deep dive into serious issues of violence, sexual assault, drugs and alcohol, race, police brutality and the right to basic civil liberties. As administrators, we have encouraged the dialogue and ability to have this conversation. We have championed opinions and told students they have ideas worth sharing.

Suddenly, students face a very real decision – share these stories and risk so much loss.
-What will your student say when their aunt claims “I don’t see anyone protesting black on black crimes. Besides, it should be #AllLivesMatter, not #BlackLivesMatter.”
-What will your student say when their dad claims “Well, of course she got raped. She shouldn’t have been so drunk or wearing a short skirt.”
-What will your student say when their grandfather claims “No one in my family is a faggot.”
-What will your student say when their brother claims “Of course the US is justified in the use of torture. Don’t you remember 9/11?”
-What will your student say when their best friend from high school claims “You’ve changed. You were more fun before you left for you college.”

Being true and authentic to one’s self has many real life consequences.
-Students face the very real situation of losing support from their family or friends.
-Students face the very real situation of being cut off financially from their family.
-Students face the very real situation of being disowned from their family.
-Students face the very real situation of becoming homeless during any break – winter/holiday break, spring break, summer, Thanksgiving.

I’m damn lucky. I can get a hotel room, rent a car and go back to my home in Boston. For my students, the conversation is more difficult.

Advocacy is hard. There is real risk and real loss associated with advocacy.

When a student tells you that they’re anxious about going home for the holidays, think about why. They may be facing significant loss.

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Of advocacy, risk, loss and holiday anxiety

One year later…

I was walking through the Boston Common this morning and found myself gasping for air. I realized I hadn’t taken a breath since getting off of the train.

I took a moment by the pavilion and took a few deep breaths. For the first time in a year, I thought about breathing.

What happened April 15, 2013 took us all by surprise. No one could have known what would happen or what would come next. No one could know how we’d all react in the days, weeks and months to come.

I didn’t know while on vacation to Mackinac Island with my family I would have flashbacks due to a cannon being set off.
I didn’t know the first time I walked by the finish line that I would need to vomit.
I didn’t know six months ago I would finally break down and cry about it… at a bar, of all places.
I didn’t know that opening TimeHop this morning would be as stressful as it was.
I didn’t know when I saw one of the Boston Strong founders this morning I would fight back tears as we hugged.

But, this is what I do know –
Two days after the bombing, I blogged about it and said “People come first.” I still believe this to be true. I believe this to be true with all of my heart.  I closed that blog with a quote that has been near and dear to my heart for almost 15 years –

“See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.”

-Carl Sagan

I know we’ve come together – friends, family members and strangers.
I know we’ve united and connected in meaningful and beautiful ways.
I know we’ve laughed and we’ve cried.
I know we were there for each other, arms open.
And I know our doors, our arms and our hearts are still open.

And today, I take a breath.

One year later…

An impostor no longer

True story – I’ve been hesitant to write for the better part of two months.

Two months ago, I wrote a blog post about how I have struggled for 20 years with anorexia. The comments came pouring in over email, facebook, twitter, text message and on this very blog. While the majority were supportive and encouraging, there were a few internet trolls who snuck in with awesome comments like:

“Real men don’t have anorexia.”

“I hope you starve to death, fag.”

Its fine. Those were most likely random internet trolls who stumbled across the blog. But then came the anon trolls who clearly knew me and followed me on twitter or facebook:

“So, your status about eating an entire pint of Ben & Jerrys was a lie?”

“Just another desperate grab for retweets.”

And suddenly, my voice was gone. The positive comments didn’t matter. I couldn’t write any more. Someone who knew me was trolling me. Was it worth the message? At that point, I decided no. It wasn’t worth it.

I gave it another try on National Coming Out Day with the reasons why I don’t celebrate the “holiday.” And again, internet rolls reared their ugly heads and my decision to stop writing was cemented.

But something happened in the last week. I went to a conference and attended a session based on the book Lean In. While the lessons are geared to women, I couldn’t help but be moved by the idea of Impostor Syndrome. I couldn’t internalize my own worth or accomplishments. I couldn’t get lack of worth out of my head because of this impostor syndrome. I was hesitant to take the lead on a project at work concerning masculinity and leadership because of these internet troll voices in my head.

But by putting words to what I was feeling, I found a way to get over it. I had to get out of my head space and start being me again.

So take that, internet trolls. I’m here and I’m ready to take you on. Let’s get writing again.

An impostor no longer

I have an eating disorder

When given an opportunity to make an important statement, I typically fail.
This is just another example.

So here it is – For the past 20 years, I’ve struggled off and on with an eating disorder. Specifically, I am anorexic.

There are bad times that are very bad and there are times that are very good. Lately, they’ve been more good than bad.

It was at its worst many, many moons ago. As a young gay in his first professional job, life around New Orleans was hard. Gay people aren’t exactly accepting of each other, and I quickly discovered I was accepted by more people the skinnier I became. Luckily, a co-worker intervened and threatened to take me to the hospital. By this time I was down to 127 pounds. I’m 6’3. I couldn’t stop shivering. While the hair on my head fell out in clumps, my arms were covered in wispy downy hair. I learned how to hide my not eating – how to shift food around on a plate, cut my food into tiny pieces so it looks like I’ve eaten a lot, drop food on a napkin, make it look like I was okay.

It was a wake-up call. I was dying.

I could tell stories of why I have an unhealthy relationship with food. I could tell stories of how as a kid I was constantly told by family members to eat more because I was too skinny… and then a month later mocked by the same family member because I was too fat. I could tell stories of how the gay community encourages unhealthy appearances and behaviors.

But, I’ll spare you those. Instead, I’ll drop this.

I’m a guy who has struggled anorexia nervosa for a long time. I’m not alone. Men aren’t allowed to talk about it.

I hear people call what I have “Manorexia” as if my eating disorder should be mocked… as if my eating disorder makes me less manly.

I hear people make light of men suffering from eating disorders, as if their illness isn’t worthy of being in the same breath of other illnesses or addictions.

I’m not afraid to talk about where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. I just haven’t really publicly announced it until now. I’m not perfect. I’m not cured. I never will be cured. I have to live every day with this.

If I was a drug addict, I could just avoid drugs. I can’t avoid food. Food keeps you alive. You need it to live. For me, its a contentious relationship to be sure, but one I have to maintain and foster.

I’d tell you I was better, but its a daily struggle. I still get frustrated and skip meals, but I’m lucky to have a support system that is sympathetic. What matters is I’m ready to talk about it. I’m thankful I stumbled across an article by Jamie Kilstein. I’m thankful it sparked something in me to talk and finally share this story. Because today, I’m ready to talk about it. And today, that’s all that matters.

I have an eating disorder

The Overworked Badge of Honor

It took a long time to get here, but today I’m taking a mental health day from work.

I'm just so tired.
I’m just so tired.

I’m tired. It’s been a long month (it’s only April 8!) and I’ve been burning the candle from both ends. Today, I’m taking charge of my health and stress levels by spending today at home… drinking coffee, watching TV, playing video games and relaxing.

Five years ago, I couldn’t have done this.

In my first job out of grad school, I thought I was Superman. I could work a 12 hour day (which I did) and make it back in the office at 9am (which I did). I had no regard for my health (that’s another post) or my work performance. It was an unrealistic expectation I levied upon myself.

Too many #sapros view being overworked as a badge of honor, something to be celebrated (or at least bragged about).

What I’ve learned over the years: Working around the clock and not taking time off impresses no one. It simply robs you of your own well-being.

We all have wonky hours. We all work weekends. There’s no shame in taking some time off so you can be the best YOU possible tomorrow. You’re the best barometer for your own health. You have to be the one to say you need a day off.

I’ve got a lot of responsibilities in the weeks ahead and I want to be the best Jason I can be. So, I’m spending the day on the couch. I have no guilt.

The Overworked Badge of Honor