My Sister is not a Gift: An Open Letter to Christians

I love my sister, Misty. I love her dark wild hair and olive skin. I love the insatiable joy she has when we pillow fight, and the grin that plasters her face when I dance to music. I loved her when she entered the world in 1995, and I love her now. Her entire being is something invaluable to me, but she is not a gift. More specifically, her difficulties and her burdens are not gifts to me. 
Misty has Autism. The disorder that is bolded and underlined in headlines today, and presented as a scapegoat for tragedy. When we were children, I remember all the doctor’s visits, all the crying, all the screaming, and all the laughter. I remember my parents, toddlers themselves in the world of adulthood, scrambling in desperation to give Misty a good quality of life with what little information was available. As a unit, we tried to understand the complexities of Autism before Jenny McCarthy synthesized it into liquid, and stuck it in a syringe. More importantly though, I remember those telling me that Misty’s disability was gift. It was a gift that gave me strength, gave me courage, gave me patience. It was a platitude at was etched in letters written to me as a little girl, talked about in bible studies, and poured effortlessly out of people’s mouths with the coffee and donuts they had before a morning service. 
Misty lost her voice early on. It’s not a surprise to those who are in the Autistic community. It is something we understand, something we all learn to adapt to. Unfortunately, as Misty’s verbal communication waned, others’ voices became louder. A din that echoed in my thoughts, it fed the guilt that I was so lucky, and she, well, wasn’t. Christians told me God had a greater purpose for me. So I cried. I couldn’t give my sister my own voice as badly as I wanted to, and instead of saying, “it’s ok to be two different people,” or, “your sister finds happiness in her own way,” I was told her Autism was a gift to me.  They would tell me quietly, my hands sometimes folded into theirs, that these trials I was experiencing are teaching me something deeply valuable, and trading places would only keep me away from sharing the qualities I had acquired with others. 

This idea that my sister’s Autism is a gift to me is selfish. It is a reiteration of ableism, and of lack luster sympathy. Misty was not given Autism for my benefit. God did not cause her brain to change quickly so that I could learn to be virtuous. My sister is not a pawn in my life, or in anyone else’s. Misty is a human with her own thoughts and experiences. She has her own interests, her own emotions, and her own worldview. 
Christians, I beg you, please don’t put your personal beliefs on a platter, and present it to me as if my sister was a piece of God’s teaching curriculum. 
She is not a gift because she is Autistic. She is a gift because she is my sister. She is gift because she is one of my best friends. 

Depression Coping Skills: Community Post

     Depression is shitty. When you’ve been through it enough times, the putrid aroma barely wafts past your nostrils and you know you’re in it for the long haul.     Funnily enough, my brain actually likes to wade through the shittiness once it’s finally arrived. It conjures the spirits of insecurity and apathy. It dances to otherworldly percussion until there is blackness. I become a slave to its every whim, my purpose wholly intended to feed the beast. 

      I have learned to sift through this toxicity just enough to create a bubble of clarity, but it takes work. And work is exhausting. For those who have experienced depression know all too well the melody of ineffectiveness that depression whistles into our ears.  

        

“Coping skills don’t work.”

“Nothing will make me feel better.”

“No one really loves me.” 

“I don’t deserve self-love or the love from others.”
These thoughts looped through my mind this morning with no direction and no end. It’s just the way I am wired, unfortunately. My depression isn’t always precipitated by an event, although sometimes I wish it was solely situational. I have learned that the negative self-talk does not mean I have relapsed, but it is a warning. It is the demon beckoning me. It knows self-deprecation is the easiest way to lead me to its cave. So, I have created an action plan to fight the symptoms before they begin: 
1. Absorbing creativity. I’m not very crafty as much as I wish I was. My DIY Pinterest attempts are mediocre at best, and I lack precision and dexterity for the visual arts, so I take to words. I write, or I read other’s writing. I watch movies with the intent to hear the director’s voice above the story. I engage myself in learning about creativity, since I cannot always be the creator myself. It opens my mind to other thoughts besides the ones that remind me of the emotional and physical pain my masochistic brain is trying to take me through.

2. Redirection. My depression highlights my desire to capture detail. Although on the surface this is a trait that can be helpful with relationships and in the workplace, with depression it can be devastating. It is the magnifier of my flaws, and opens up the door for obsessing over the uncontrollable little details that are ultimately inconsequential (remember when you didn’t invite your cousin to your third grade birthday party? You probably broke her heart. You’re a horrible person). I direct this skill elsewhere in these moments. I people watch, or I throw myself into nature. I notice the feathers on a cardinal being ruffled by sharp wind, or the sigh of a child with flushed cheeks who is overdue for her nap. I don’t focus on the things I hate about myself or the mistakes I’ve made, but the things I love about the world. I look outwardly on these days. Introspective detail can be damaging if I let it run free. 
3. Self-care. This is the coping skill that i am most resistant too, but one of the most important. I make myself take showers and step outside. The effort is exhausting, but the long term benefit is undeniable. I reach out to friends, not always in an act of saying, “help,” but to acknowledge that part of self-care is accepting love from others. The bleakness of depression pushes me towards isolation, and forcing myself to socialize and absorb that others really do enjoy my company is profound. I spend time with my closest friends, with my boyfriend, with my family. Sometimes people are too busy, so I cuddle with my cat, burying my face into her fur while she purrs and kneads in reciprocation of comfort. 

      
There are so many other things that I do, but as I am battling the potential onset of another bout of depression, these are my outlets to staying above water. 

What skills do you use when you feel depression coming on? What things have worked and not worked? 

Clarity

Like a fog that never dissipates, you cloaked me in your damp cloth. 
Tucked away in a forest of bark and twigs. 
You couldn’t see me so you thought I couldn’t see you.
So covertly you lived. 
Yet they all knew you were the cuckoo in my nest. 
I was only a babe. Captured in your climate. 
When the clouds cleared, I padded away. 
A drum made of my feet, I found my rhythm and ran. 
Beads of dew lifted from my skin.
Their purpose lost to the wind.
Their existence futile in my freedom.

Clarity. 

The Good Sister

      At the cusp of a new season in my life I am finding myself reflecting on the existential question: what is my purpose? My destiny had been laid out carefully by family members and teachers. They gathered cobblestones and lined them neatly enough with all the necessities for me to walk the path with my sister. Never was there an intention for my path to be walked independently. I accepted this as a child, and carried that acceptance with me into adulthood. 

         

      My sister has Autism and Intellectual Disability. She can’t speak, she needs help with basic self-help skills. She needs me. This is my duty. The sentiment was stretched further by family members when the little voice inside of me grew loud enough to where people heard the whispers of my resentments. Everyone was always quick to correct my defiant thinking, “your sister had greater needs than you,” they would say. I would silence myself quickly, and reprimand myself with guilt and shame. How dare I think of myself as an individual. My needs were minimized until they were specks of dust on baseboards that no one tended to, because it was expected of me to take care of them alone. 

      Being a shadow sibling to a sister with significant disabilities meant it was a requirement for me to succumb to my role, and not falter from it, even for a second. I was the good sister, after all. As much as I love my sister, I lost myself in her identity. When I met people, and they wanted to know something about me, telling them about my sister was my go-to. I was praised for being naturally nurturing, and praised for choosing a degree in which I could further serve my sister, and those like her. 

      This became my purpose. Being the good sister was the answer to where I belonged in the world; until it wasn’t. My sister recently moved into a group home. This shook the foundation of my life. With tears of pride I watched her walk into her new life with an independence people warned my family would never occur. Never before had I experienced the bravery I had to feel when I realized she was living her new life without me, and loving it. 

     As I congratulated her on her new journey, I walked away on my cobblestoned path that others had created for me, and saw how immensely large it was. For the first time in my life I no longer had a purpose on that path. My existential crisis has swelled, throbbing in my mind until I sent myself into a panic. My identity was absorbed in being the good sister. Although a piece of me will always be the good sister, for the first time in my life I am finding out who I am as a single person. So my question remains: what is my purpose? 

Atheist American 

      Being an Atheist is difficult. We’re pushed to the outskirts of an excessively religious society hoping someone will acknowledge our existence, beliefs, and credibility. Some do, and for that we will be forever grateful, but many, particularly in the southern area of the United States, do not.

       I am apart of a minority that isn’t ostracized overtly (not often at least). It is a quieter discrimination. Like a parasitic fungal infection, you feel the judgments microscopically. The hyphae of others’ beliefs interwoven into our skin, infecting, and feasting on our organic bodies. I scratch and scratch to rid myself of these judgments only to become inflamed with humiliation.       Many religious people are well meaning. Their hands reached out in sisterhood -or brotherhood-, acutely attuned to the vulnerable hearts. I’ve learned this is the tactic the religiously involved take full advantage of. The shedding of a tear sends them into savior mode. The gospel is shared, hands are pressed in prayer, and then they move on when they realize their fair weather attempts pushed us further away. They interpret this as resistance to the inevitable, a denial that will be reckoned with at the end of life, or something we will rue so deeply and irrevocably we will stretch out our arms in their churches and cry, “you were always right, forgive me!” I push away because they send me a slew of platitudes. “Everything happens for a reason,” or my personal favorite, “god gave you a sister with special needs to teach you patience.” Apparently God uses other human beings as pawns to teach other people virtuous behavior, according to some. I push away, because where their mind is consumed of where they go when they die, I am focused on how to make the only opportunity of existence I have as fulfilling as possible. I push away because I see religion absolving selfishness. I don’t see humans helping because it’s the human thing to do, I see them helping for a ticket into heaven. Why be apart of that? 

           Atheism is not a cauldron bubbling with noxious fumes. It is not the temptation of freedom from a spiritual law. It is the simple fact that Atheists cannot will themselves to believe, and this is where the religious disagree. They claim we aren’t trying hard enough, or we are angry. They say these things with blind confidence as if Atheists haven’t found themselves hunched over divine doctrine in the middle of the night trying to understand why people keep saying they hear music of the supernatural, but we hear nothing. Most Atheists I meet know just as much as the religious do, if not more. 

      I believe the most difficult aspect of Atheism is the false preachings of endless “blessings” with religion. The religious in America, as in many countries, are the good. It is not uncommon to hear someone say, “it’s the Christian thing to do,” when referring to a good deed. I am disappointed the society I live in believes goodness comes with qualifiers. Maybe I would be content in my own world if the religious would stop saying my life is unfulfilled, that I am missing something, that I have no ultimate morality. What have my convictions done to leave me unfulfilled and have no morality, exactly? The missing opportunity to pick out the ones who don’t go to heaven because they didn’t believe in a giant spirit in the sky, and say, “at least that’s not me?” Is it the ability to commit heinous crimes, ruin people’s lives, and lift my chin to the ceiling with tears of self-pity and guilt and ask for forgiveness, with the knowledge I will be absolved of my wrongdoings because God is merciful (funny, he’ll forgive a serial killer, but not the Atheist)? Is it the ability to feel superior somehow compared to other animate beings that I live along side? Is it the knowledge to boast of historical victories, conquering indigenous tribes of people just because the religious want the world to mirror their image of their interpretation of the perfect human being? 

     I refuse to accept those injustices, and I never have. I may be apart of a quiet minority, but it’s because people have begun to listen. Our perspective has penetrated the world, and the religious are afraid of someone who doesn’t need religious law to guide them. Being an Atheist is hard, but at least we carry full responsibility of our actions, we love people because every human deserves love, and we will never point a finger at someone saying they don’t deserve something because they are different.
Love whoever is around to be loved. Love when people don’t love back. Love unconditionally. 

Psychosis

Listen. 

Do you hear the words coming from their minds? 

Pensive and deliberate. I know the signs. 
They are coming for me. They said it in a dream. 

They are coming for me. I’m dripping from their waters, this is their scheme. 

They’ll find me in the dark. 

Listen.

Do you hear them coming? 

Sleepy like a lark, they find me early morning. 

Slip me in a bag, and away I will go. 

Listen, listen to them! 

They’re coming, don’t you know? 

Hide me from their eyes, it is where they communicate the deepest. 

You say you don’t believe me, you say I’ve become sleepless. 

But I already said they talk to me in my dreams. 

Don’t you see? 

Listen. 

Listen, they’re trying to take me. 

The Shoes 

“Go get it!” I hollared at Harley, my black Labrador, as I threw her favorite stick into a field behind an abandoned house. Winter Solistice had kicked off with flurries that left the ground powdery and soft. My cheeks were splotchy and my nose a vibrant red against the sea of white. I watched Harley flounce through the field, her ears flopping against her face until she returned the stick I threw. “One more time,” I said as I threw the stick as far as it would go. I stuffed my face into my scarf breathing in the fabric to obtain some level of comfort as she fetched the stick once more. Harley never minded the snow; she lived for it.  

      I watched her as she trotted through the hills, leaping and creating clouds of white dust behind her. Harley’s curiosity got the best of her, and I groaned in annoyance as she bounded to the decrepit house. I ran for her, noticing her stick left where I had thrown it, already being buried by the falling snow.       

       I heard Harley’s nails clicking against the wood inside the home, occasionally stopping and then resuming their walk. The house moaned from the sharp wind that wrapped itself around its soggy wood, and it made me hesitant to enter. “Harley!” I shouted into the house, expecting her smiling face to reach the door, but she didn’t respond. A constant draft made it impossible for even a squatter to find shelter in the rotting edifice, and of course Harley would be drawn to the one place I didn’t want to go. I crunched my way closer to the front door with my head down low. I felt it oddly pertentinent to hide my face from the broken windows. There are some moments of loneliness that sit with us forever. It festers like a wound that never heals, like frostbite turning our fingers into black and purple worms burning until they decay right off the bone. The darkness in the windows was a looming reminder of that loneliness. Without the warm glow of light, and the building of snow around it, the windows created a desolation that leaves you long forgotten in the sea of life.

      The front door was missing. I could see straight through the ranch style home into the living room, and out the back door. Shivering with each step, I continued to call Harley, my voice shrinking into the wood, until I was silent padding my way through someone’s past like an intruder. I turned to my right where a door hung barely hung on its hinges. Harley sat there, transfixed at the wall, her black fur peppered white. “Harley!” I exclaimed, exasperated, but she did not move. As I approached her, I saw children’s shoes lined neatly along the wall with a stick at the toes of each pair. “Harley, let’s go,” the mild excitement from exploring the house was over, but Harley remained unresponsive. The shoes gave me a sense of dread and goosebumps rose on my arms. I kneeled down in front of her, desperate to get her attention, to get away from whatever put the shoes against the wall. When our faces were level, I saw a void that ripped through her. There was no Harley. She was like glass. Her eyes didn’t move, and she resembled more of a taxidermy project than the dog I had loved. She was permanently frozen, facing the wall of shoes. Tears filled my eyes freezing my eyelashes into clumps. I wanted to leave, but I didn’t want to leave Harley. I stood in front of her, unable to move as the winter pulled us deeper into the house. My back rested against the wall in defeat and contemplation. I was unsure how to carry her stiff body the entire way home. As I rised, I realized my boots lined perfectly with the others, and Harley’s stick I had sworn was left outside placed in front of the toe of my boots. We weren’t going anywhere.