I remember reading “Reviving Ophelia” by Mary Pipher my Sophomore year of high school and then reading a similar book “Odd Girl Out” by Rachel Simmons which pretty much summed up my entire feeling of being female growing up in the public school system. It felt for the first time that I was a person sucked in to all these problems of manipulation, gossiping, and appearance. Before, I felt there was something wrong with me.
Why couldn’t I just get with the program? I didn’t want to get with the program. I wanted to express the opinions and feelings that represented myself, and not worry what the most popular girl thought while I was growing up. I was already considered a woman of size and all shots at trying to conform were already doomed. I was never able to completely sell my soul and give up my personality, which is basically how all my peers seem to make it through. The consequences of being yourself were dire and harsh. By the seventh grade I became very depressed, my almost 4.0 GPA in 6th grade became 2.0 hitting junior high, and by the end of freshman year I was medicated for depression and seeing a therapist.
My outlook changed after I received a “Why Vegan?” packet from an older peer in high school. It explained the consequences of an omnivore diet on the environment, animals, and humans. I was immediately disgusted by the pictures of a factory farm and three months later I became vegan. It’s been two years now since I’ve changed my diet. This pamphlet gave me the first insight to other atrocities besides what had always been right in front of my face, like the beauty industry’s impact on women.
Becoming vegan was the beginning of my political life. Shortly after, I got involved with Santa Ana Food Not Bombs through our Animal Rights Club on campus. Food Not Bombs serves free vegetarian meals to people and that helped me to face the issues of homelessness and poverty. Through this group I met people in other organizations, and when the war started, I got involved in the anti-war movement.
My experiences created this passion for making change. When I met someone from the Green Party at Food Not Bombs, I started focusing on electoral politics for about a year starting the summer before junior year. I have no problems working with adults, since I was an only child, and we worked on voter registration, prop initiatives, and Peter Camejo’s Campaign. I even went up to San Francisco for Matt Gonzalez’s Campaign. I almost went to the National Convention, as a delegate, to vote for Nader or David Cobb for President and make decisions about the Green Platform. I had gone many times to State Conventions and voted on the State Platform.
I became involved with this whole other community that gave me hope for an alternative, and knowing these alternatives existed, I could not stay in high school any longer.
I found out about the California High School Proficiency Exam by accident. I bumped into a person I knew from school who told me she was going to take the test. I found the application to take the test on the internet, and during my Junior year, I took the test. Some of my teachers hadn’t even heard of it and thought I was making it up. It was an amazing experience to go back to school on the first day back from winter break, return my books, say goodbye to my teachers & friends, and show them the diploma I got in the mail because I passed the test.
On the same day that I exited high school I registered at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. I ended up taking Philosophy of Religion and it exposed me to so much. It was so nice to be in a room with people that asked questions and were curious. I’m interested in Existentialism and reading Sartre now. Would I have found that on my own? I can only wonder.
So, while at school I had been involved in all these different campaigns to end hunger or end vivisection, and I met someone at an Orange County Peace Coalition meeting who calls herself an anarchist. She exposed me to anarchist theory and other people who call themselves anarchists. She got me thinking about systemic causes. For instance if eating disorders are mainly blamed on portrayals of women in the media, what causes the media to portray women in that way? I came to the conclusion, all these campaigns I’ve been working on are ultimately anti-capitalist. The need to oppress people, animals, and the environment to make profit and this monstrosity called the state cannot be reformed. So I said goodbye to the Green Party and have been involved with the Mother Earth Collective in Orange County & SCAF (Southern California Anarchist Federation).
During the summer I didn’t take any classes because I took trips with my friends. One of the events I went to in the Fresno mountains was Occupied Territory. It was an anti-authoritarian gathering that included a mix of education and socializing. The education part included many workshops to choose from, facilitated by someone who was educated on whatever particular subject the workshop focused on. My favorite workshop was “Radical Mental Health”. The facilitator gave us background information on psychology from an anti-capitalist perspective, which I had never known this existed. She spoke about Emma Goldman meeting Freud. It was brought up that therapy perpetuates capitalism because it breaks down community building, and makes someone feel that there is something wrong with them because they seek out therapy. Shame often accompanies people in therapy.
This made me think of my experiences in therapy. After I was prescribed anti-depressants, I went into therapy. I felt lucky that I didn’t talk to someone who made me feel wretched. That it wasn’t all my fault. The idea of breaking down community building hit home with me because nobody in my neighborhood talks to each other. I imagine they all go to work and come home and watch television. Not to mention, taking care of their kids. The idea of having a neighborhood community seems utopian. Why?
The “Radical Mental Health” workshop included conversation on traditional methods of solving problems such as AA for alcoholism and medicating people for various diagnoses and whether some diagnoses were even valid. The facilitator passed around a magazine created by The Icarus Project. It focused on looking at the diagnosis of Bi-Polar that included personal stories from people diagnosed with it and what that means in our society. The problem of whether to take medicine to make yourself “normal” was discussed and how that made you dependent on the system.
The subject of medication obviously hit close to home for me. I stopped taking my medication a couple months ago, after this workshop, and have been doing fine. At the time of the workshop I discussed the fact that I was lucky not to be put on a SSRI drug such as Prozac that has huge side effects. I felt the drug I was taking, Wellbutrin, had helped me not to reach such a high level of depression. Looking back now, I think my days off the medicine are much more balanced emotionally because maybe when the medicine wore off I got really depressed. I was diagnosed at a time when I had to deal with extreme situations and I cried a lot. It has made me wonder whether anti-depressants were just another numbing device, like alcohol or cutting, but acceptable to make me be less emotional. Would I have experienced severe depression without the drugs at the time?
I believe the place of drugs will always be debated. I don’t have an answer. Things like pharmaceutical companys’ ethics and the extremity of the diagnosis should be taken into consideration. The most frequent thing I hear is that people don’t want to be dependent on this corrupt system for their mental state of well-being. This is a very sound argument, in my opinion, that probably why I stopped my medication. I hear the US has the largest diagnosis of depression among teenagers right now. What does that say about our society? I remember in sophomore English we had to read Catcher in the Rye. Our teacher passed out an article from “Time Magazine” and it was about whether or not Holden Caulfield would be prescribed Prozac. Was it normal teenage behavior, or by today’s standards would that have been means for medication?
A major influence on me, what I most identify with, has been the anti-civilization and technology movement known as primitivism or green anarchy. My favorite writer about this is Chellis Glendinning, who wrote “My Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization.” She is a psychologist, political writer, and activist. Basically the bottom line behind primitivism is that industrialism and agriculture have made us lose our connection with the earth. Instead of human society being nomadic and running with the earth’s seasons, we are now using and abusing the earth’s resources and have lost harmony, creating an exploitative, hierarchical society. The earth was just the beginning. Agriculture exascerbated gender segregation, with women “inside” and men “outside.” Technology intensified the division of labor that creates hierarchy, and it also takes away people’s self-sufficiency. It’s like going to the grocery store. When we run out of oil, and food can’t be transported, we’re going to wish we had the ability to provide food for ourselves. The capitalist imperialist nations, with all the ‘isms’ including racism, classism, ageism, speciesism and sexism, are all exploiting each other and the earth, to gain a profit now.
Since I am here and part of this I want to do my best to make alternatives to the ways we live now. We can live in a decentralized community without government, jobs, or extraneous technology. Education is a way of making myself more knowledgeable and a means of creating this alternative. Growing up I was taught to see it as a way to make a living. Of course I want to be able to support myself, but why take the fun out of learning? Since they can’t even teach us that Columbus didn’t discover the Caribbean, I suppose I can’t expect too much.
Psychology seems like a good start for me because it’s about understanding people’s behavior and figuring out how problems can be fixed. I want to study psychology and eventually create a radical clinic that offers a space for people to come together while waiting for all this to be dismantled. There are better, alternative ways to deal with mental health and I will be part of that movement.