Moving Up and Out

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After fighting my landlords to allow me to have Itty I made the decision to move out of my current apartment to a place that will hopefully be safer for us. My landlords gave me permission to keep her right after I brought her home but I’ve been dealing with my downstairs neighbor threatening us since November. He has continued to show how scared he is of her by acting irrationally and has threatened to kill her twice since November.

While I fully expected that people would be nervous around her, since pit mixes are constructed as inherently dangerous or aggressive dogs, what I didn’t expect was him trying to get her to react every time we were around. Not only forcing us to completely avoid any place he is in the building but adding to my own anxiety while living in this building.

Getting Itty was the best thing I’ve ever done for my own wellbeing, outside of deciding last year to live on my own instead of finding a new roommate. Having her around has allowed me to work through my anxiety and be more functional on a daily basis. She’s come so far since I got her and we are almost ready for her to pass her Canine Good Citizen exam. She’s turned out to not only be a great dog but so helpful to me personally.

As she’s progressed through her training, I thought that the passive aggressive behavior would stop if I gave it time and for a bit it did but at the end of January he yet again started acting out towards us and it made me decide to start looking for a new place to live. I thought it would be really hard to find a new place to live but instead I found a great apartment that is a little bit bigger not to far from where I’m living now. I picked up the keys last Friday and will be moving all of my larger things next week.

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Not only did this landlord help me make sure the apartment was mine, he even said in the spring they may put up a fence so Itty has a place to live. It will take a bit to get everything back to normal once I move but I’ll be happy to be in a building where Itty and I don’t have to deal with violent behavior or worry about living in unsafe conditions.

I didn’t want to move and I’m doing it on almost nothing, as I am living on very little right now as a grad student, but I think this move will be the last one for a long while. At least until I know what I’m doing after I finish my masters.

As always, connect with me on tumblr and twitter.

Putting myself first – Anxiety and becoming a dog owner

My life has been a huge transition over the last year. I started and finished my first year of graduate school. I presented research at two different national conferences. I’m now working a steady job for the first time in what seems like forever. Overall, things seem to be going great but I’ve felt like something was missing. In March I started living without a roommate for the first time and it has given me a space to call my own. At the same time the anxiety I’ve dealt with since I was in my teens has become a more apparent and something I’m trying to tackle instead of just ignoring it or simply accepting it for what it is.

Social anxiety has been something that I’ve dealt with since my early teens. It came out in what would probably make people believe I was just shy or introverted when I was younger and even now, which wouldn’t accurately describe what I deal with daily. The truth is I enjoy being around people but my ability to cope with the anxiety that comes along from dealing with other people and every day interactions has been limited. Since 2010 it has meant I’ve had to be very conscious in what I do, how I spend my time and how I simply take care of myself.

I often like to joke that I retired from the service industry in 2011 but the reality was my body couldn’t take the stress, anxiety and long hours that comes along with those jobs. I wrote about having shingles during that summer but I didn’t connect it to my normal anxiety. Now I know that this wasn’t just one instance where I was sick but related to how my body copes with overwhelming levels of anxiety.

After that summer I was able to rearrange my life a bit by having a work schedule and job that gave me the ability to focus more on caring for myself during my free time. Being able to have more time for myself improved how I was able to handle my anxiety and meant I wasn’t getting physically ill on a regular basis. It wasn’t until I started applying for graduate schools that the anxiety that I had kept under control for a few years cropped up again.

Once I started graduate school last year I spent a lot of time wrapped up in anxiety not just due to the work involved for school but juggling work, activism and the increased levels of trolling I was paying attention to as I was collecting data for my thesis. While I was still able to take care of myself, it often meant only making sure I was sleeping enough and eating regularly.

I’m at the point now where I’m still trying to figure this stuff out. My anxiety feels more at the surface than ever before. Something changed since I moved out on my own. Many things have been positive and having space for myself where I’m able to completely define who I am has been fulfilling but I’ve decided I need to stop just dealing with my mental state and instead be really truthful with what I need.

I’ve realized I need structure. The fatigue I feel after being overwhelmed with anxiety doesn’t just have the possibility of making me unable to function but often leads to not eating regularly. It also means I’m simply not interacting with other people or leaving my place for days. This summer I dealt with everything by sewing clothing and while it allowed me to work through the emotions I was feeling right then it didn’t help with me getting out of my head or being more functional.

I’ve been working as a caregiver for a girl whose family is looking for a service dog for her and when I was researching about service animals, as they haven’t had luck finding an organization who wants to help them and are now looking into hiring a trainer themselves, I started to find information that related to my own issues. I soon began to realize that while I love my cats I need something different than what they can give me as pets.

After having a really casual conversation about having a dog with someone during the summer I started to seriously think about it in August. I spoke with a friend to find a trainer who could help with basic obedience training if and when I found a dog. Everything changed when I was looking at rescues to see what dogs were available and I saw a dog named Itty Bitty.

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Itty came to visit while I was being approved to adopt her.

I wasn’t looking for a specific breed just a dog that wasn’t a puppy and a dog that was about 50 lb. I ended up going to an adoption event the next day and arriving 15 minutes before they were about to leave. I kind of fell in love in those 15 minutes. This was all at the beginning of September because what I didn’t realize was that my casual approach to getting a dog would soon have to be far more formal than I thought I needed to be.

When I moved into my building in March they were dog friendly. After filling out an adoption application for Itty I called my landlord to ask for permission to get a dog. They informed me that they had recently instituted a “no dogs policy” even though there are dogs in my building and my downstairs neighbor got a dog a few weeks before I called them. The next day I gave them a letter explaining why I wanted the dog and that I would provide the doctor’s documentation needed to bring an emotional support animal (ESA) into my care as a disabled person. ESAs are covered as a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) so I thought it would be a simple process as all I needed was written permission from them to get the dog.

Since then it has turned into a month later, three letters to my landlords (one with the proper documentation from my doctor) and their only response has been to demand things that are not allowed. A few weeks ago they asked for me to sign a two year lease, pay $50 more a month in rent and a $150 pet fee. While it sounds like a reasonable request from them for a pet, ESAs are not considered pets. Itty wouldn’t just be a pet but would be helping with me being more functional and because of that the FHA clearly outlines giving conditional approval isn’t allowed.

Once I let my landlords know what they were asking me wasn’t acceptable and the documents I gave them about the FHA was clear about it they stopped speaking to me. At first I sought legal aid and let the rescue know what was happening. Itty’s foster mom agreed to keep her until it was worked out. As of me writing this my landlords have still not responded to my numerous requests so last week I filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) as they and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) investigate claims of discrimination related to the FHA.

As I have fulfilled my legal burden to give my landlord’s notice and documentation that I need a reasonable accommodation all I can do now is move forward. MDCR contacted me yesterday and I’m going in to formally sign a complaint against my landlords today. They will be giving my landlords notice at some point this week.

The best news though is Itty is coming home on Thursday. I’m ready to start focusing on living with her.

I’ve made a tumblr for Itty, because duh she needs one.

For the Love of Selfies

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The photo above was taken in 2008 when I was 22 after spending 16 years in hiding. Over those 16 years my photo had been taken by family members or other people where the way I was photographed was more about how others settled their gaze upon me and I wasn’t able to control or dictate the way I was captured. Much like what Melissa from Shakesville wrote, having my photos taken before the age of 22 meant it wasn’t for myself. I lacked the ability to move beyond how others decided to view my body and instead was forced into being visible in ways I wasn’t comfortable with.

Yesterday Jezebel posted an article declaring that people who take selfies are really “crying for help,” not only pathologizing those of us who take selfies but also completely ignoring how the dynamics behind selfies are more than just taking a photo or about vanity. Like many other people on twitter wrote, selfies can also be incredibly powerful in the way they directly challenge how marginalized people and their bodies are viewed by the world, while also challenging how mainstream imagery of marginalized people rely on stereotypes.

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As a fat woman who has been told repeatedly I don’t have the ability to be attractive, beautiful and shouldn’t be visible the use of selfies not only has allowed me to reclaim a part of myself I was told I wasn’t allowed to have, but has served to be part of a larger form of political resistance against those people who gaze upon my body. My visibility politic dares them to not look at me. Being visible as a fat person happens regardless of how you perform your visibility politic. As a fat person, much like other marginalized identities, your body is hyper-visible and are often reminded through interactions with others that they disprove of the way you present yourself. In the media, visibility is only allowed if you conform yourself to specific tropes related to the identities you possess. As a fat woman I am limited to only being visible if I am participating in a weight loss show, am attempting to no longer be fat or headless and completely dehumanized. (Edited to add link to “Headless Fatties”)

Selfies change all of that, they allow me to reclaim that part of myself I was told to never allow to be visible. They allow me to remove my body from the constraints on how others think I should be looked upon and instead let me shift their gaze elsewhere. They let me look back on past photos and be reminded how blissfully happy I was when I’m having a bad day. They also allow me to see how I have evolved as a person over the years and have found my more authentic self. Viewing the selfies other people take reminds me that I am not alone. There are other amazing, gorgeous and powerful people out there who are also reclaiming their own visibility. They are sick of letting other people dictate how they should present their bodies.

Aside from that for those of us who are still not ready to be visible, it’s ok. Being visible isn’t mandatory; it’s a process that sometimes we aren’t ready for or want to be part of. Visibility politics can still be limiting and I totally understand people who don’t feel the need to be visible, I still feel that way some days. The most important thing is living how you want to, not allowing others to attempt to change or dictate how you do it.

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For further reading,

Hashtags #FeministSelfie & #FeministSelfies <- Look at all the selfies!! (#feministselfie created by @thewayoftheid & @convergecollide)

The Radical Politics of Selfies – The Feminist Griote

Selfies – Shakesville

A Study of the Self – Fat Heffalump

As always, connect with me on tumblr and twitter.

House of Cards

When I talk to people about my interest in fat studies and the work I do with Love Your Body Detroit, they often act as though they can never get the point I am at with my body. They believe that I have all of my shit worked out, that I never have a bad day or that I don’t still deal with the same issues that they do in relation to their own body. The reality is that I just have a good game face. I tend to tough it out in rough situations and way until later until I have the emotional space to process my thoughts. This is aside from the fact that I have created a well-structured house of cards over the years that has given me the ability to have some semblance of a safe space in my own life.

One of the first things that I did when I found fat rights was remove a majority of the media that I was surrounded by on a daily basis. I tend to listen to NPR or some other form of talk radio. I don’t own a tv, read magazines, or try to not go on any website that doesn’t have a feminist or artistic slant, sometimes it happens but the amount is far less. I have my Hulu settings set up so that I barely ever get a weight loss commercial and use that as my primary source of tv. I don’t watch reality tv, except for The Voice which is mostly because I find it fascinating to watch not only for the competition but also for the way Christina Aguilera is treated by the media. While it may seem extreme, I know what is going on in the world, but removing myself from a space where my body and the bodies of other people are demonized or not represented at all was incredibly important to me. As well as removing myself from the negative head space that goes along with most forms of media where bodies are routinely met with harsh negative criticism.

One of the most drastic things I have done over the years is limit the time I spend with certain people. Since last October when I stopped being friends with a person for the toxic way their friendship was affecting my life. I have decided that I want the people who surround me to make me feel better not worse about myself. This has also meant limiting my time with family, friends or even the places that I work at. I’m at the point in my life where working at a job that makes me feel insecure about myself is no longer worth it to me. This comes from a place of privilege for me to even make that choice, but it also means that I am living off financial aid and grants for the most part.

Even with all of these precautions it doesn’t mean that I don’t have a bad day. It doesn’t mean that I don’t ever have to reevaluate the situation I am in or process my own life. This safety net is one that I have created to make the space I take up easier to deal with but it is something that I have created over 8 years of practice. Also the space I take up online is filled with people who have a similar mindset as myself, so when I go out in the world I know I am not alone.

Explaining Away Difference

For much of my life there has always been a major thread that I have felt links the way we feel about difference. We always want to understand it, to know why it exists but also to place it in a box that we can put it as far away from ourselves as possible. When we come across someone that is different from ourselves we have this irrational need to put labels on it. Often times this leads people into a pretty harmful discussion where we don’t accept that difference but we rationalize it away as the cause of something else, even when that isn’t the case.

I don’t talk about my sexuality often on this blog, over the past 6 years I have written about my virginity and what it means to me as well as a post about being socially acceptable. What I haven’t written about is why my sexuality is the way it is. This is something I have been thinking about in different a context this past week because of some discussions that hit a little too close to home in a class I am taking. The discussion itself centered on a certain form of sexuality and developed into a discussion about the reasons why people identify that way. What came out of it was language that has been used against me in my own life.

The last date I went on ended when the guy I was out with was told about my lack of intimate partners. His response is one that I have gotten often when people are told, “But you’re so normal.” Later via text he told me that I am ‘hyper-functional’ which were probably the harshest comments that I have ever received. Over the years people have told me how sorry they are, have tried to find a root cause for why I’m ‘damaged,’ etc. Most of the comments have centered on the idea that I should be pitied, I am mentally ill or the trauma in my past has caused it. At no point has there ever been a rational thought that maybe it just happened.  That it isn’t the cause of some strange sad horrible thing but that it just is.

Some of the most harmful discussions we can have about people who are different from us are ones where we try to pathologize or imply mental illness as the root cause. We place our own beliefs and judgments on those that are different than us because they have a different set of standards for how they live their lives. We imply that they are somehow defective, unhappy or not functional without taking the time to understand that they are people.

Some simple ground rules, don’t tell me you are sorry, don’t assume I am missing out on life, don’t act like my sexuality doesn’t exist, don’t reinforce normative standards of sexuality, and don’t assume that I have something wrong with me or that there is a cause for my sexuality. Above all else, don’t try to cure me or tell me why you think I am the way I am.

Staying Silent

This past year my personal life has made me reevaluate so many relationships in my life that I am finally at a place that just feels right. It feels good to finally be in a situation where I no longer feel it is necessary to continue on friendships that are one sided, or have to surround myself with people who are emotionally draining. If you follow me on twitter or by chance we are facebook friends you might already be aware of the train wreck that was my living situation for most of 2011. So many issues came up while living with my former roommate and friend that it would take a whole book to sum up all of the events that took place.

I learned so much from them, so much about how the silence I felt by trying to be kind and give her the benefit of the doubt while she walked all over me wasn’t worth it. I learned that staying silent while someone is ignorant or uncaring about major parts of your life isn’t someone you want to be around. I learned that someone who doesn’t expect the same behaviors from themselves as they do for others is one of the worst kinds of people to have in your life.

During the summer I came down with shingles. Something that I have always associated with being old, but apparently happen to people who are under extreme stress as well. The difference between my own symptoms and the way it normally appears is that the virus attacked my sensory nerves on the right side of my face. In the middle of May four blisters showed up under my chin and cleared before my face started going numb from my gums over my right top teeth then slowly over a week traveled up over my nose, eye and forehead. My migraines went away but I was left with a feeling of having an invisible helmet over my eye and forehead, as well as a really strange form of numbness where I could feel pressure but nothing else.

To say that I was scared doesn’t touch on my emotions during that time. I learned last summer that the internet is not your friend when you have facial numbness. I didn’t connect the blisters to the numbness because I’m not a doctor so typing in facial numbness is frightening. Combine that with a neurologist that is incompetent (I will write about that in another post) and getting answers takes another neurologist, three MRIs and every blood test available. The only outlets that I was able to take my fears to were a handful of friends and my mom. I didn’t even tell my Dad because I had no clue what was wrong with me for almost 3 months.

The month of June and July I spent sleeping most days because I was so physically exhausted as my body was trying to heal itself. It was during this time that people closest to you would be sympathetic or caring to the fact that you have a mysterious illness, instead the treatment during this time solidified everything that I had been feeling since we had moved in together.

By August my symptoms began to disappear slowly and finally went away in September completely. It was also during this time that I started looking for a new roommate since returning the same treatment my old roommate gave me meant she didn’t enjoy living with me anymore, though I would argue that she probably never did.

Looking back on everything that happened I’m happy it did. I was finally able to find a really fantastic roommate and remove a toxic person from my life. It also made me reconsider all of the other relationships in my life, including my family and made me realize that I don’t need to surround myself by negativity or people who don’t understand the parts of me that are the most important. At this point in my life you can either accept all of me or none of me, there is no space for the middle.

-Amanda-

If you haven’t figure it out, this is the former home of Communications of Fat Waitress. I’m still fat, no longer a waitress.