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My Hysterectomy: A Renewed Sense of Power

It has been three days since I had a hysterectomy and benign tumor removal. The surgeon took out my fallopian tubes, my uterus, my cervix and one ovary. I am currently resting as much as possible and healing up, but I figured three days have given me a sense of my emotional reaction to the surgery.

It’s not uncommon for women to experience sadness and a sense of loss after a surgery such as mine. I can no longer have kids. There’s a possibility that I will now hit menopause earlier than I would have. I am missing parts of my body now. A feeling of incompleteness often accompanies such a radical surgery.

In my case, however, I knew the surgery needed to be done. The tumor I had was a kind that grows very large. It affected one entire ovary. That ovary, the doctor said after surgery, was “big and gnarly.”

Because I had diseased parts of my body inside me, I knew they needed to be taken out. Removing them, then, does not feel like a loss to me. It feels rather like getting rid of dead weight. And the loss of my fertility feels necessary for my overall health.

Many women feel a sense that they have lost a part of their feminity after a surgery like mine. On the contrary, I feel my feminity has been distilled into the one healthy ovary I have left. That ovary feels as though it burns bright inside my body, emenating a large does of feminity.

What is it to have diseased parts, after all, that cannot function and affect the rest of your health? What good is a “big, gnarly” ovary?

I place my hopes into the one healthy ovary I have left. It functions well enough to regulate the female hormones in my body for now.

I cannot say enough about the quality care I received at the hospital. I know my doctor cares and saved the healthy parts of my body so I may flourish. I know, from the feeling I’ve had since I got home from the hospital, that the diseased portions of my body were wearing me down.

I am hoping for a smooth and uneventful recovery. But, for now, I am not grieving for the parts of my body that were removed. Instead, I am joyous for the remaining parts that are healthy.

When I Was 8

Back when I was about 8 years old, I lived in Paris, Texas. I had a teacher. I don’t recall her name. But I do recall a lesson she taught the class. She looked around the room and told us how we should be nice to one another. She told us we shouldn’t be mean. She told us we should treat everyone the same and that they should be treated well.

I had a pretty foggy childhood. I don’t remember much that I was taught. I don’t remember specific lessons. I don’t remember various teachers. But I do remember this: I eagerly looked around the classroom as if to say, “Did you hear that?!” I wanted everyone–everyone–to pay attention to that lesson. My teacher varified what I had thought all along. I thought it was the most important lesson I learned in school.

I have had many teachers and professors since then. There was never another time when my eyes lit up for a lesson like they did that day.

Teachers are important. It may be true that not everyone in my class took this lesson to heart, but it does go to show that, even in little Paris, Texas, a teacher has the potential to make a difference.

Being an RA for Reading Bernard Williams

Over 10 years ago, I was a Research Assistant at the University of North Florida. The task I was assigned was to help with the book Reading Bernard Williams. At the time, I was slowly developing a mental illness. Reading Bernard Williams was the last project I was able to complete in academic philosophy. Not long after its completion, I suffered my first psychotic episode. That was the beginning of a decade of struggles with schizophrenia.

I come from a working class background. I grew up in a small town in Texas. None of my teachers, growing up, really expected much of me. I was shy and awkward. I had so much anxiety I barely ate.

At the University of North Florida, I was exposed to many things and was given tons of opprotunities. I was stunned that I got to work on a book about a brilliant philosopher and help edit a few essays by other brilliant philosophers. It was beyond my comprehension.

While working on the book, my anxiety got to me. I read and re-read the select essays I was assigned to go over. Each stroke of my keyboard was filled with so much perfectionism that I felt tense in my hands, fingers and entire body. I wanted to do a good job.

I was overwhelmed with perfectionism. Eventually, it would over take me. Soon, I would be paralyzed with it. I would end up in a psychiatric hospital.

But not before I finished working on that book.

Dr. Daniel Callcut is the editor of Reading Bernard Williams. I had taken several of his classes. He trusted me to work on some of the essays for the book. I had read the likes of Martha Nussbaum for several years. I admired her. I never thought I would get to edit one of her essays.

But that’s exactly what I did. I copy edited the essay “The Women of Trachis” by Nussbaum, carefully going over each and every footnote. I handled my work with care. Possibly too much care. I was, after all, slowly going insane.

After the book was published, Dr. Callcut sent me a copy with an inscription on the title page. I removed that page and framed it. For the next decade, I kept that framed page in my bedroom on top of my dresser. On days that I felt like a loser, which came to be quite often, I would look at it and remember that I had a history of accomplishments.

If you happen to purchase Reading Bernard Williams, now you will know some of the toil that went into it. You will know what it meant for me to work on it. You will know what it meant to me as a young person who grew up in rural Texas. Working on the book didn’t drive me insane. Nothing I did in philosophy drove me insane. I have come to recognize that I have a brain disorder and am sensitive to stress. I try to manage my care properly. There have been times–in the psych unit or walking the streets barefoot during an episode of psychosis–when I may have seemed like all was lost for me all my life. I may no longer acutally be in academic philosophy anymore, but there was a time when I truly rocked. There was a time when I did excellent work on all accounts. When you read Reading Bernard Williams, you are taking in a piece of that time; the time when I did something great.

You never know that editorial history of a book until you look deeper. And you never know the wonderful things that can come from the disheveled people walking the streets.

All Apologies

Over the past 10 years, I have had 11 or 12 episodes of psychosis. When I have a psychotic episode, I lose touch with reality and lack self knowledge. I am completely unaware that I am ill.

I have never been dangerous during an episode of psychosis (thankfully), but I have done odd and unusual things. Embarrassing things. Dangerous things, like walking barefoot in risky neighborhoods.

There are several people who have tossed me aside due to things I have said and done while suffering from psychosis. This blog post is for them. It’s an apology–even though an apology may be unwarranted.

For quite some time, I have thought that people who cast me out of their lives due to something I said during psychosis were discriminating against me. After all, the stigma of schizophrenia is often worse than the illness itself.

That may be true. Those people may lack awareness and understanding. They don’t get to see me when I’m with my doctors. They don’t know my mental health status. They don’t know what I will do next.

All these things have made people cast me aside.

Sitting here now, with over one year of recovery under my belt, made me wonder how I should respond to people who have shunned me due to my psychosis.

I’m not too needy right now. It’s not that I have a deep-seated need to have these people in my life. But, despite my having been truly and legally insane and thus not responsible for my actions, I am offering an apology.

I went to counseling for approximately two years. My counselor told me to tell people who have witnessed me psychotic that it’s not me, it’s my illness.

In a very real way, that’s true. Anyone close to me knows that I really am not myself when I am sick. I have tried several different treatments over the years and I think I finally found a medication that works. Right now, I am the healthiest I have been in 10 years.

Still, even if it really wasn’t me who said and did those things and I truly cannot be held responsible for them, they nevertheless happened. I don’t recall everything I have done, but I am sure my unwell self has made people embarrassed, uncomfortable and offended.

It wasn’t me who did it. Yet, it happened. And, since there is no one else to offer an apology for these things, I am writing this blog post to apologize to anyone disturbed by my unwell behavior.

I have tried for 10 years to bring my symptoms under control. I may have finally succeeded. If you accept my hand in friendship, just know I am doing the best I can.

Getting Used to Peace During COVID-19: Advice from a Disabled Person

With COVID-19 spreading throughout the United States, many people, rightly, are practicing social distancing. If you are staying at home for any length of time, you may get bored. Many people with disabilities, such as myself, are already shut-ins. I can tell you that, over the 10 year period that I’ve been disabled, the hardest thing to get used to is peace.

I was a workaholic previously and kept very busy. Working is ingrained in Americans. It has taken me these past 10 years to get used to not being busy all the time.

Your situation is going to be different than mine. Your situation is temporary. Mine may be lifelong. But let me tell you, the sooner you get used to peace, the happier you’ll be.

Henry David Thoreau noted that people are busy, but they are usually busy doing mundane and unimportant things. His goal was to live purposefully, with intent, and do things that were important.

We can learn from Thoreau during the COVID-19 pandemic. No doubt, Thoreau had to get used to silence and, most of all, peace.

I’m not saying it will be easy. We are, after all, dealing with a global pandemic with potential economic consequences. But the sooner you get comfortable with not doing things that are unimportant, the more relaxed and happier you’ll be.

This doesn’t mean you can’t watch Netflix or play board games. It means there may be silences in your life right now and you’ll have to get used to them.

I wish everyone well during this time. And I hope other people, disabled or otherwise, offer advice to everyone about how to get through this.

Vote for the Luckiest

Back when I was in graduate school, I was an RA for the book Reading Bernard Williams. During that time, I edited a paper by Martha Nussbaum called “The Women of Trachis.” In that paper, Nussbaum discusses political luck. She notes that there’s luck and then there’s luck. What she means by that is that there are some things out of our control and some things within our control when it comes to politics and our well-being. Some things, like (currently) whether one gets certain cancers, is out of one’s control. Other things, like how much women get paid versus how much men get paid, are within our control. Nussbaum implies that the goal of politics is to maximize good outcomes as much as we can.

Given all this, I have advice for those in the United States who have not voted yet: Vote for the luckiest.

Don’t vote based on looks, personality, or the rumored character of a candidate’s supporters. Instead, look at each candidate’s policies and make your choice based on who is more likely to get good outcomes for Americans. This, following Nussbaum, is the goal of politics.

Currently, there are many things the government can do and can do better, in all likelihood, than the market. Think about affordable housing, the minimum wage or health care.

Cast your vote based on who would produce the best outcomes for Americans.

Should We Be Mad at Elizabeth Warren?

Today, there was some news cycling in Indian Country. A group of over 200 Native Americans demanded Elizabeth Warren come out and say is not and never has been Native American.

This story keeps popping up, so I thought I’d address it. I think, if Elizabeth Warren comes out and says anything, it should be to clarify who and what a Native American is.

Unlike other so-called racial categories, being Native American–or, rather, being Cherokee or Choctaw–is a political affiliation. When you are Cherokee, you are a citizen (member) of a Cherokee tribal nation. This is different than being a racial group. Tribal nations have political sovereignty and citizens enjoy the rights and responsibilities of belonging to a particular nation.

When I queried a Native person I know about whether he was mad at Warren, he said, “No. Do you get mad when people claim to be white?” I said I didn’t, but I might think they are mistaken.

To my friend, getting mad or upset about such things seemed like a waste of time and energy.

Warren can address these issues by clearing up not only the fact that she is not a tribal citizen but also defining what it means to be Native American to a large audience. This way, she can clarify these things to people, many of whom also think, as the saying goes, that they have a Cherokee great-great-grandmother, which makes them Cherokee.

If Warren is the nominee, I will vote for her. As a white person, I know all too well the urge, especially for some and particularly in the recent past, to say one is Native American. Everyone seems to have a Cherokee great-great-grandmother. But I am not pissed off at Warren. I just think she’s mistaken. She should take this opportunity to clarify things to the masses. There’s too much misinformation about Native Americans as it is.

Politics from a Distance

This election season is the first time in a while when I have no personal contact with the people running for president.

I have seen Bill Clinton talk in Daytona Beach. When Hillary was running, I told the story of how, when she came to Tallahassee as First Lady for Children’s Week, I hiked up my ankle-length dress, climbed over rows of chairs, and shook her hand. I have also met with Jeb Bush when he was running for governor of Florida.

But this time, I have no personal relationship in any way to any of the politicians. I have not seen any of them speak in person, have not taken a selfie, or shaken their hand.

From my standpoint, this is a good thing. For me, at least, politics from a distance make me a little more sober and objective. When I’ve had a personal connection with a candidate, my views have been tainted by how I was treated by them or how they reacted to me. With politics from a distance, I have none of that.

I am enjoying this cycle much more than others, too, and am able to absorb more policy information rather than personal character impressions. This is a good thing.

The Thing About Boomers

Tonight, I got to thinking: What is it about Baby Boomers?

This is not a generational debate. I’m not anti-boomer. Instead, I wanted to think about how we ended up in the mess we are in. How did anyone ever believe in trickle down economics? How did racial injustice keep going well into 2020?

I posit that, were it not for COINTELPRO, we’d be living in a nation much like the one Bernie Sanders wants. I posted as much on Twitter:

Bernie’s America is exactly where we would be if COINTELPRO never happened. @JennieLLawson

You can’t look me straight in the eye and tell me that COINTELPRO didn’t work. It worked very well, in fact. You can’t tell me you wouldn’t be prone to the very same way of thinking if you were subjected to so much misinformation about the left.

As a former student of psychology, I know not to discount these things about myself. We are all prone to biases in our thinking. That’s a basic fact. Weeding them out, as much as possible, is another issue altogether.

If you are a boomer reading this, be gentle with yourself. But ask yourself, too, if COINTELPRO worked on you. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll probably answer in the affirmative.

For the rest of us, we can learn to be kinder to boomers, knowing we’d probably be the same way, with the same voting and policy habits, if we were subjected to mass disinformation.

On the Cusp of a Dream

I just finished watching the Democratic Debate in South Carolina and I feel like I’m on the cusp of a dream.

Think about it: What would you do if public colleges were tuition free? What would you do if we had healthcare for all Americans? What would you do if your student loan was wiped away? What would you do, in other words, if Bernie Sanders were president?

These are dreams I have been waiting for. I have grandchildren now and I think about the kind of world I want them to grow up in.

I want a world with racial justice. I want a world where governments work together on climate change.

I want to live in Bernie Sanders’ America.