Empathy, leadership, and “I don’t want to hear it”

[tw: suicidality]

My first truly positive experience with therapy was in the summer of 2018. It was long overdue; the summer had been absolutely hellish, and I was beginning to flirt with suicidality. My partner knew. My parents probably suspected. I’d talked about finding a therapist for a long time—years—but the thing that got me through the door into an office was when my fear that I might at some point actively want to die eclipsed my anxiety about making the appointment, being in therapy, and paying for it. (While my parents have always been of the Healthcare Concerns First, Money Concerns Later mindset, it’s still anxiety-inducing to be incurring major expenses even when they’re paid for.)

My first session was in August sometime. I’d just moved in with my partner, cut all ties with an intensely toxic person, and was trying to start approaching normality again before school got started. My therapist was attentive as I broke down the extensive stress that had accumulated over the previous six to eight months, and when I came up for air, she had one observation: “it sounds like you’re a very empathetic person.”

I can still remember my brow furrowing; for as long as I could remember, that descriptor had been flung as far away from me as possible. “My brother was always the one who got called that,” I told her. But she continued on, and I realized she was right—that empathy wasn’t just the surface-level definition of being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It was the echoes of others’ emotions that would frequently parade through my body and life.

I spent the next four months with her learning how to control the trait enough that I’d stop self-destructing every time it took the reins.

Continue reading Empathy, leadership, and “I don’t want to hear it”

“Lead the Change,” Emotional Labor, and Research

Once upon a time, as an undergrad, I accidentally opened up a Title IX investigation. (Yes, that is absolutely a ridiculous sentence, but it’s true.) I didn’t mean to, but no one had ever told me that “I can’t tell if they’re being sexist assholes or just assholes” was enough to accelerate an issue. So the contents of that conversation went up to Title IX, but the office never followed up. The effort I’d made to highlight the issues at hand completely evaporated, caught between higher admin who evidently decided it wasn’t a priority and faculty who never checked back to hear if anything came of it.

In the aftermath of those moments, though, I remember a comment from a faculty member that’s continually drilled itself into my brain: “You could lead the change.” It was said in earnest, with the feeling like this marked a door opening, a path forward through all the bullshit. And twenty-year-old me probably wanted to believe it was. Lord knows I spend entirely too much time contemplating where, or if, I fit within the greater Phoenix musical community. The thing is, even though I know all the way down to the bottom of my heart the idea was presented with wholly good intentions, it’s become a bit of an unwanted pest.

Continue reading “Lead the Change,” Emotional Labor, and Research

An Open Letter to Mayim Bialik

Dear Ms. Bialik,

Most of the time, I am a fan of your work. The Big Bang Theory is one of my parents’ favorite shows (and given their degrees are in electrical engineering and computer science, it’s not a huge stretch to see why), and I follow your online presence with some regularity, particularly enjoying your insights on Jewish culture, heritage, and tradition. You are generally an eloquent, ardent supporter of women’s rights, and that’s great.

I began reading your opinion piece in The New York Times with high hopes,
and your anecdotes about being the gawky, awkward teenager in a sea of beautiful people were both poignant and relatable. Even before your piece was published, I knew you made (and frequently continue to make) what you refer to as “conservative choices as [an] actress.” That’s totally cool. I applaud your decision to represent yourself in a way that makes you comfortable and allows you to pursue the professional life you wish to have. But then you started talking about policies you set for yourself that “might feel oppressive to many young feminists,” and as a young feminist, I’m here to tell you that the words you followed that up with aren’t just oppressive; they’re enabling to predators of all ages.

Continue reading An Open Letter to Mayim Bialik

Remain in Your Seats: When Sexual Respect Training Goes Wrong

Dear CalArts,

This is not how I wanted to start my journey with you. You championed yourself as a bastion of diversity, a place where the disenfranchised can be heard, an environment in which people look out for each other.

Your staff didn’t look out for us tonight.

Continue reading Remain in Your Seats: When Sexual Respect Training Goes Wrong