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May Media Companion

The Camera My Mother Gave Me | by Susanna Kaysen

You might recognize Susanna Kaysen as the author of the fantastic story (and movie adaptation) Girl, Interrupted. In The Camera My Mother Gave Me, Kaysen shares a series of stories from the time in her life when her vagina decided to break. Her OBGYN couldn’t help her, alternative medicine doctors couldn’t help her, a surgeon couldn’t help her. She was in extreme and constant pain. She couldn’t sit down long enough to drive, she couldn’t wear pants, she couldn’t have sex. She was tired and frustrated, and she just wanted someone to tell her what was wrong with her.

Another thing that is frustrating about these stories, is her then boyfriend. He was literally the worst. He blamed her for not having sex with him and constantly told her that she just wasn’t trying. He made her feel inadequate for not having sex with him and never took her pain seriously. In the end, she still doesn’t know what exactly is wrong, and no one can diagnose her. However, she comes to terms with her pain and tries to find ways to manage it. Her advice, when she’s done telling this part of her story, is to always listen to your body. Your body talks to you, in its own way, and you need to listen so that you can stay happy and healthy. It’s important to make sure that the people you’re intimate with respect your body as well. Without that mutual respect, you can lose sight of yourself. 

Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You're Taking, the Sleep You're Missing, the Sex You're Not Having, and What's Really Making You Crazy | by Dr. Julie Holland

I have so many mixed emotions about this book, so I’ll start from the beginning. I came across this book on Goodreads or Amazon as a recommended book and it looked like something that contained the answers to all of my problems, so of course I bought it. I hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet, but I brought it on a girl’s weekend with my friend Tanna a few weeks back. She saw the cover and the title and decided that she had to read it that second. She read some passages aloud, and had to stop throughout so we could discuss ideas. At the least, the book provokes conversation. However, this is where I ran into problems.

I have a pretty defined sense of brand loyalty. If someone that I like recommends something to me, I’m most likely going to try it out. So when this book offered solutions to all of the things that I thought were wrong with my lifestyle, diet, health, body, and psyche, I got a little overwhelmed. The book covered so many topics, but there were a few in particular that stuck out. The chapter on hormones talked a lot about birth control. Dr. Holland points out the amount of estrogen in oral contraceptives (the pill, which I use). So all I heard was, “THE PILL IS BAD AND RUINING YOUR BODY. YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO HAVE BABIES. STOP TAKING THE PILL.” Yes, I acknowledge that jumping to that conclusion is a little dramatic, but I put those concerns on the backburner and continued reading. Then I got to the chapter on mood stabilizing medications. Many of the antidepressants that I have tried since I’ve been using them were mentioned. I began to rethink (for the umpteenth time) my decision to be on antidepressants, and whether or not I should take a break. Again, I put it on the backburner and continued reading. My last example is the chapter on diet. I’ll just say that after the information provided about certain foods and diets, I bought three anti-inflammatory diet books on Amazon. (I later returned them, keep reading.)

When I was about three quarters of the way through the book, I texted my cousin who’s a doctor of internal medicine, and asked her what kind of IUD she used before she had kids. She called me a little while later and asked me what was going on, so I preceded to tell her all about this book. Her first piece of advice was to slow down. She gave me some information about that topics in the book that weren’t clearly laid out in the index or glossary. She told me that there wasn’t anything wrong with the antidepressant that I’m currently taking, and that unless I didn’t like the way my birth control made me feel, it wasn’t going to kill me.

Despite everything, I do recommend that people read this book. I’m really happy that I read it because it made me confront what I have come to look at as routine. I wake up in the morning and take my medication. When my silent alarm goes off at four in the afternoon I take my birth control pill. I eat a lot of the same foods because I like them and it’s easy. And those were my problems. I gave in to the parts of my lifestyle that had become easy and in the process I may have lost sight of who I was without that routine. I appreciate Dr. Holland’s confrontational approach because I hadn’t considered that being a moody bitch may be helpful in continuing to figure out who I am and what I want. 

The Bell Jar | by Sylvia Plath

Since the theme for this month is self-esteem, mental health, and body awareness, I wanted to write a piece about one of my favorite books, The Bell Jar. This book was so transformative for me the first time I read it about a year ago. At the time (less now, but even sometimes now), I was struggling with similar problems our heroine, Esther. Throughout Esther's story, she is constantly worried about the crossroads of pursuing her dreams and living up to her potential or putting all that on the back burner and finding a husband. Esther is still a virgin and wants to lose it to keep up with the rest. As intelligent and talented as she is, a piece of happiness is always missing. At the time when Sylvia Plath wrote this book, depression was not a subject that was taken seriously. Doctors used horrifying methods, like electroshock therapy to "zap" the crazy out of people, which happens to Esther later on in the story. The character of Esther is a perfect example of someone who, on paper, seems perfect but internally is storming with confusion and doubt.

Society continues to put pressure on us, especially as Americans. More than ever, there is a fear of not being perfect, beautiful, successful, in love, or happy. We put up facades on Instagram to prove to our friends that we are ok. We post pivotal moments on Facebook to show others that we reached a step in life. Overall, the pressure continues to grow and we continue to feel unaccomplished (at least that's how I feel). Even though women are far more driven than generations before, American women still contemplate the issues of pursuing goals or settling down. For so long I put my life behind me to make my partner happy which left me feeling empty and unfulfilled. I even thought medication would help me feel better. I ended up feeling covered up and numb. I came to the realization that not all this depression was my fault and that depression can be coped with naturally. I needed a change in my environment and cut toxic people out my life. Although it is so much easier said than done, happiness can be created, hence this newsletter. This project is the perfect example of creating positivity in a world when I thought that was impossible.

Amy | directed by Asif Kapadia

When I decided to watch the Amy Winehouse documentary, Amy, I was expecting a sad film about a talented person but not much more than that. I didn't know much about her personal life, but I am a huge fan of her music. My extent of knowing about her life was sadly from the tabloids throughout the years. What was s refreshing about this film was that it focused on the person that Amy was and the realness that goes along with addiction. Amy is another example of someone who had all the talent in the world but internally was screaming for help. The film shows that several people in her life, even her own father, disregarded her problems with alcoholism and drug addiction and thought that pushing her through her musical talent would keep her mind away from her problem. In actuality, it was brushed under the rug and made her more exhausted and stressed than ever before. The pressure to make her fans, manager, family, and lover happy was too much to bear.

What is so infuriating about losing Amy was that no one close to her looked at her issues as actual medical problems. Addiction is a disease, not an act that be forgiven or a thing of a past. It becomes apart of you. You cannot push someone so fragile to a breaking point and think it will be good for them. I have dealt with close people in my life that struggle with addiction and what I know to be true is encouraging a stressful path will make that person more likely to spiral out of control. The only way to help these people is to help them find the control in their life so that they are not feeling anxious or inclined to start using again.

United States of Tara | created by Diablo Cody

For a TV junkie, the early cancellation of a truly good show is a real bummer. I waited in giddy anticipation for the series premiere of United States of Tara in 2009. The show was created by Diablo Cody (on the heels of her Juno success) and produced by Steven Spielberg (no explanation needed), and it focused on a woman with dissociative identity disorder. Toni Collette (who won an Emmy for the role) starred as Tara, as well as: Alice, T, Buck, Gimme, Shoshanna, Chicken, and Bryce. The rest of the cast was rounded out by Brie Larson, Keir Gilchrist (who went on to star in It's Kind of a Funny Story, another great book to film adaptation about mental illness), JOhn Corbett, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Patton Oswalt, a who's who of some of my favorite actors.

What I loved so much about this show was that it was heavy and it hurt. It wasn't just about Tara's struggle with her illness, but also about how it affected her family and the other people in her life. Mental illness has many effects on the people around you, and United States of Tara explored that tension. Her kids wouldn't want to have friends over to the house, her daughter didn't want to bring her boyfriend home, Tara couldn't keep a regular job or close friends because she could transition at any time. Throughout the show's three seasons, you can feel Tara's losses, but you celebrate her accomplishments as well. Living with mental illness is a constant struggle, but that doesn't mean that you can't ever win.