I Am Lucky To Be Autistic. You Shouldn’t Have To Be.

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Three years ago I knew almost nothing about autism. I didn’t know what sensory sensitivities were, what a meltdown was, or why a weighted blanket might be someone’s lifeline. I had been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, anorexia, and subclinical borderline personality disorder. I had been in therapy for almost seven years, including two intensive programs, multiple groups, individual therapy, and family therapy.

Three years ago I would have laughed if you told me I was autistic. No therapist had ever suggested the diagnosis to me. I’m highly emotional, not analytical. I’m overly sensitive, not someone with flat affect. I’m highly successful in school, I don’t struggle at all.

Here I am three years later with an autism diagnosis that makes sense of my life in a way that no prior diagnosis ever has. And I have to be honest; it was luck and privilege that got me this diagnosis. Not only that, it was luck and privilege combined with my own determination, curiosity, and NEED to understand myself that got me the diagnosis.

That is entirely unacceptable.

Why are autistic women slipping through the cracks? Why are verbal autistics getting missed? Why are “high functioning” individuals going untreated, even when they’re suicidal or showing oodles of other symptoms?

Let’s chat about the brokenness of autism diagnoses.

When it comes to mental health care I am lucky. I have been insured my whole life, I have had access to therapy, and I have had support from my family in getting therapy. So how is it that someone who has been interacting with the mental health system for years and who is definitely autistic never received a diagnosis?

There are many, many reasons that I did not receive a diagnosis until I began to work at an autism organization, recognized the traits in myself, and sought out a diagnosis. The first is that I am a woman. Women are chronically underdiagnosed with autism, in large part because most of the research of autism happens with men and boys. The second is that I am highly verbal…most of the time. If you’ve seen me during a meltdown you understand that my verbal abilities rest entirely on my emotional state. People assume that autistics are either incapable of speech, only speak in echolalia, or have very limited speech. The third is that I was being seen in an eating disorder clinic for most of my therapy. There are certain diagnoses that are seen a classic overlaps with autism (ADHD, anxiety, etc.). There are some that are seen as diametrically opposed: eating disorder, BPD, or other diagnoses that are woman dominated.

These are all horrible misconceptions, and they’re all misconceptions that I have heard from therapists and providers. I have had to teach my therapists what autism looks like. That is a huge fucking problem, and autistics (as well as specialists who have a better understanding of the spectrum) have a LOT of educating to do.

I’ve heard psychologists say that if someone can make eye contact then they can’t be autistic.

I’ve heard people say that you grow out of autism.

I’ve searched for a place to receive adult diagnosis and found only one or two instead of the dozens that diagnose children. This means that the wait time at most of these locations was 6+ months for a diagnostic assessment.

There is so much stigma and misunderstanding that leaves autistic adults struggling to receive services. What’s particularly awful about this is that if you are an undiagnosed autistic with no supports in place, trying to battle with healthcare providers is nearly impossible. Researching, self-advocating, creating appointments, following up on appointments months later…this is a gauntlet of executive functioning that would challenge anyone. It is entirely inappropriate that an entire population of people are expected to fight their own neurology as well as mental health providers in order to receive services.

I know that many providers out there are struggling to help their clients and to obtain services for their clients, but there is so much stigma and misinformation that continues to leave vulnerable folks in the lurch.

What happens when someone gets missed during school? What happens when the mental health system doesn’t recognize autism and keeps misdiagnosing? HOW MANY AUTISTIC PEOPLE have to go through two or three or four or seven misdiagnoses before finding the one that helps?

Why is so my research focused exclusively on boys? Why do so few clinicians who aren’t specifically trained in autism have any understanding of the breadth of the spectrum? Why aren’t more women and girls and nonbinary individuals encouraged to seek treatment? Why haven’t we researched the fact that there is a much higher than average trans population in the autistic community?

I don’t have easy solutions. It takes money and resources to better educate our service providers, to create more clinicians who can diagnose and who specialize in autism, teachers who recognize autism in a variety of presentations, parents who encourage neurodiversity.

But what I do know is that no one should have to be lucky to find the diagnosis that will change their life. We can do better. The diagnostic system is broken if nearly every autistic woman has to go through multiple diagnoses before getting the right one. And we need to fix it.

The Real Violence of Mental Illness

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One year ago Niki died. You may not know Niki. I wish you had. She was loud, smart, thoughtful, funny, and very, very ill.

She was physically ill and mentally ill. She was the kind of mentally ill that makes people look away, or say “Oh, THAT kind?” She was the kind of mentally ill that people sweep under the rug. She was the kind of mentally ill that doesn’t get services and doesn’t get PSAs and doesn’t get sympathy. She was the kind of mentally ill that makes service providers label you “resistant to treatment” or even avoid giving you a diagnosis because there’s too much stigma.

She was the kind of mentally ill that people bring up after shootings. In fact she was the kind of mentally ill that people are starting to talk about right now, after this very shooting, to explain how someone could be so violent.

And one year ago Niki died.

Niki died because she was the kind of ill that doesn’t get noticed, that doesn’t get services, that doesn’t get support. She died because she could not access disability services. She died because no one wanted to recognize that the people most likely to be hurt by someone who is mentally ill is the person themself.

All of you want to talk about mental illness. Let’s talk about the real violence that is associated with mental illness. Let’s talk about how this society is saturated with ableist cruelty that enacts violence, pain, and suffering on the mentally ill every day and ends in deaths like Niki’s every day.

I see you all talking about how we need better mental health care now that your comfortable neurotypical lives have been disrupted. I see your silence when people die of suicide. I see the way you blame us. I see your silence when funding for our services is on the table, and I see your silence when we want to talk openly about our lives and our struggles. I see you calling us dramatic, mocking us for asking for trigger warnings, ignoring our calls for help and support. I see you ignoring mental health parity in health care legislation.

And I SEE YOU only bringing up mental health care now. Now, when you can blame us. Now, when you need a way to understand violence that says “it’s over there. it doesn’t belong to me. It’s people like them. I am not responsible”

You want to say that it’s people like Niki. People like me. People with personality disorders, or “severe mental illness.” We are the violent ones.

Well guess the fuck what? You have done so much violence to us. How dare you, how fucking dare you point your finger at one of the most vulnerable communities when there is no evidence to suggest that mass shootings are more likely to be perpetrated by the mentally ill? How fucking dare you continue the stigma that literally kills people like Niki, and go on to say that we are the violent ones?

I know that there will be some of you out there saying “wait, but I support mental healthcare!” Fucking great. What are you doing about it? What are you doing about it all of the days that our media is not exploding with news of a mass shooting? Are you calling and writing your legislator? Are you openly talking about mental illness, therapy, and services to break down the stigma? Are you talking about the fact that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, and looking for solutions?

Are you protecting people like Niki? Are you actively fighting the violence that happens to mentally ill people each and every day?

Or do you only care when it’s people like you, “normal” people, neurotypical people, the ones that you deem worth it?

I see you, and I have no more patience.

I Don’t Care If Our Attention Spans Are Shorter

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The other day I heard a statistic that caused the people around me to gasp in horror: people now have attention spans shorter than a goldfish, only 6 seconds. Shock! Amazement! Terror! Technology will destroy us and we won’t be able to have meaningful lives or relationships anymore and we’ll never learn things or grow as people because we can’t focus for more than 6 seconds.

Fun fact, it took me more than 6 seconds to write that paragraph, uninterrupted. All I did was write that paragraph, for more than 6 seconds. I wonder if attention span science isn’t as great as it’s cracked up to be? Or perhaps our attention spans change based on context. Huh.

But if I’m honest, I actually don’t give a rat’s ass if our attention spans have grown shorter. We’ve been hearing this same kind of complaint about new technologies for literally thousands of years. Our dear pal Socrates was opposed to writing because “[Writing] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.” (From the Phaedrus).

People have complained about technologies ranging from the printing press, to the telephone, to television and beyond, convinced that each of these technological improvements will make us less intelligent, or maybe just destroy society. Amazingly, here we all still are, capable of functioning, making new discoveries, improving technology even further, and maybe still remotely intelligent.

Because here’s the deal: our minds change in reaction to the world around us. We are adaptable and flexible beings. We change to fit the environment that we live in. Perhaps we do have worse memories than the ancient Greeks did. But you know what? I don’t care. There is nothing inherently better about being able to remember more things. The world that we have today is one in which we don’t need to remember things as much as we used to. It’s incredibly rare that we won’t be around a computer, phone, or other device that allows us to look things up. Being able to remember vast stores of information is no longer actually very helpful.

Instead, what is helpful is being able to sort through huge amounts of information, cope in a setting where there are many competing distractions, and suss out what is important or useful or true at any given point. No one seems to be asking whether the changes that are happening in human brains (if they are in fact happening) are USEFUL. Are we losing memory to make space for quick shifts in focus that allow us to notice the hundreds of distractions but still move back to what we were doing before? Are our brains beginning to pick up more of an ability to focus on multiple things at once? Why do we always assume change is bad?

Nowhere are we taking the time to ask what we get out of the change. Amazingly, things like this tend to happen for a reason other than “kids these days.”

Racism Is NOT A Mental Illness and It’s Damaging To Say It Is

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Fuck this this is shit in all the ways it is shit.

Ok, now that I’ve got that out of my system I still make no promises that I will not continue to call it shit over and over again. Because this is a steaming pile of garbage filth feces, and I am not about to censor myself on the way that mental illness gets thrown under the bus time and again to make other people feel good, safe, and normal. The lives of the mentally ill are always seen as less than, wrong, and bad. This kind of bullshit is why even liberals are willing to discriminate against disabled and mentally ill people. I apologize in advance if this is ranty and angry but it has every right to be because this video is senseless drivel, but it’s exactly the kind of senseless drivel that I see coming out of the mouths of people I expect better of.

DEFINITIONS

Let’s start with facts. The video posits that racism is a PTSD like mental health problem because racists exhibit irritability, aggression, and hostility. Let’s talk about what it takes for something to be a diagnosis in the DSM, and why we have diagnoses. First and foremost we have diagnoses so that people can receive treatment. A diagnosis is supposed to help providers understand how they can help someone. Now right off the bat, this video’s suggestion that racism is a mental health problem or that we should treat it as a mental health problem makes very little sense because hey guess what it turns out a. almost everyone has some racist tendencies and b. racists respond to different types of treatment. Some people just need to meet a black person they like, some people need to confront their own traumas and history, some people appear not to be open to any kind of change. There’s no one reason that people are racist or a best practice for interacting with them. These traits vary wildly among racists, and there doesn’t seem to be a higher rate or intensity of them in racists than in the general population (or even associated with instances of racism. People can be racist with a smile on their faces while thinking they’re being kind). So strike one on why we should approach it like a mental health issue.

“Irritability, aggression, hostility,” those are not enough to make up a mental health diagnosis, and NOT EVERY RACIST shows those traits. They would have to be exaggerated beyond all the rest of the population, impact a person’s day to day functioning, and be unique to racists in some way in order to quality as a mental health diagnosis

The other major problem with suggesting that racism is a mental health issue is that in order to be considered a diagnosis, the symptoms have to impair functioning in some major area of life (work, relationships, education, etc.). Now there are some extreme cases in which this happens, but overall racists are pretty functional in our society. In fact, it turns out that you can be openly, disgustingly racist and still get elected president. Our society is one embedded in racism, so the idea that being racist or doing racist things or having racist thoughts will make it hard for you to function is laughable. This is what we’ve been taught all our lives. It only makes sense. In my experience, actively fighting racism is far less functional in our society than accepting the basic racist premises that we grow up with.

There are some other smaller problems, like the fact that not all racist people show irritability, aggression, or hostility (have you seen a sweet racist Minnesotan mom? I have), so if those are supposedly the defining characteristics of “racism”, why aren’t they associated with all instances of racism?

WHY DO PEOPLE DO IT

So factually it doesn’t make tons of sense to assert that racism is a mental health issue because the traits are not out of line with the rest of the population, seen in all racist instances, and don’t impair day to day functioning. What could be motivating this impulse that so many (mostly white) people have to say that racism is a mental illness? What are the larger impacts of this assertion?

The video seems to assert that this label helps us address racism better, because we can use “exposure therapy” a la the therapy for phobias. I personally think it’s a REALLY BAD IDEA to suggest that. First, there’s already a lot of gross misunderstandings about how therapy works, and how exposure therapy in particular works, to the extent that random people will just expose someone to their triggers and call it therapy. Saying that on a society wide level we can engage in exposure therapy by protesting and talking about our past traumas propagates these misunderstandings and suggests that any rando can do therapy. Additionally I don’t see why we need to label racism a mental health problem in order to be willing to talk about it openly and face it head on. We can do that anyway.

The video also seems to suggest that viewing racism as a mental health problem will push people to be more accountable. It says “don’t let your racist friend or uncle off the hook. You wouldn’t abandon them if they had a mental illness.” Now I have to laugh at this because mentally ill people get abandoned all the fucking time so that’s a fucking shitty appeal to people’s decency. But this also implies that people are racist through no fault of their own and we should address racism to help the poor innocent racists. WHAT. THE. FUCK.

STOP CENTERING WHITE PEOPLE DEAR LORD JESUS. The reason not to let racists off the hook is because they are actively hurting people of color. If that’s not a good enough reason for you, then you might be a racist. That’s it. We don’t need to save racists, they’re doing perfectly fucking fine. The more we cater to their fee fees, the worse off we’ll be.

Racism doesn’t HAPPEN to white people. White people CAUSE racism because it benefits us. The end.

SPLASH DAMAGE

Ok ok, so beyond being wrong, what’s so bad about saying that racism is a mental illness? Maybe it can help us understand the phenomenon better or give us ways to approach and change the problem, even if it’s not wholly accurate.

Well in addition to not actually being super helpful, calling racism a mental health problem is seriously hurting a whole lot of people. You know, those people who are ACTUALLY mentally ill. If you label things you disagree with or find offensive “crazy” or “mental illness”, you are part of the stigmatization of mental illness. You’re part of ableism.

Cruelty and dehumanization are not the same as mental illness. People with every diagnosis out there are capable of fighting racism and being good people. When you say that something you find immoral is a mental illness, you are implying that mental illness means violence, means treating people poorly, mean violence, means anger, means hostility. Sure, there are people who are mentally ill who do all these things, but this is the kind of rhetoric that suggests every school shooter has autism or every murderer was just crazy. It takes away people’s responsibility (the video gets it completely wrong on that front. Racism is not a behavior like drunk driving, it’s a belief system and it’s one for which you are responsible), while also opening up the door to mistreat mentally ill people because they are violent and dangerous.

Stop blaming bad actions on mental illness. I don’t appreciate being thrown under the bus so that you can feel like you understand your shitty friends better. It’s complete shit to equate these learned, chosen behaviors with the different way my brain was born.

tldr: it’s not crazy to be racist in our society. It’s not a fluke that so many people in positions of power are racist, it’s part of the system. Calling it crazy only hurts the mentally ill. STOP IT.

 

Labels Are Not Always Negatives

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So I’m noticing that a lot of people are seeing categorizing as inherently bad because it either a. oversimplifies reality or b. means that you treat people in a category differently. I disagree with both of these criticisms, both on the level that I don’t think they’re always true, and on the level that I don’t think either of them is always negative. There are of course circumstances where labeling things and people is not the most appropriate or helpful thing to do, but there are ABSOLUTELY times that it makes communication and understanding easier. Let’s talk about that.

In both of these cases I want to look at mental illness/neurodiversity/different brains as an example.

Let’s start with the first issue, oversimplification. Are labels an oversimplification? In some ways, all categories must necessarily be an oversimplification. Of course in some ways all individual words are an oversimplification. What a useful label is, is taking a complex idea and shorthanding, giving it a one word name that allows us to refer back to the larger, more complex idea. Let’s take the label “anorexic” as an example. My lived experience of anorexia is far more complex than the word “anorexic” can communicate, but if I tell a stranger “I was anorexic for 5 years,” I have communicated a fairly complex idea to them relatively quickly. I don’t have to explain all the individuals symptoms of anorexia, or the fact that it was a mental illness. I can sum it all up with one tidy word.

Yes, it is possible that you don’t have a good understanding of what anorexia is. Maybe you assume that all people with anorexia are teenage girls, or you really don’t know what anorexia is. That can be a problem and lead to misunderstandings, and when we have a lot of people who are not educated about a particular label, it becomes less and less helpful to use that label. There is some push and pull between brevity and explanation, and in any given conversation it’s good to weigh whether you’d rather explain more to ensure you’re truly understood or be more brief and risk misunderstanding.

Additionally, most words run the risk of misunderstanding. “Smart” is not a label in the traditional sense, but many people have differing understandings of the word smart. It is a natural quirk of language that we don’t all hold the exact same definition of a given word, and to ensure clarity we may need to double check with people. It still seems to me to be easier and faster to use a label like “anorexic” and then check in about specifics rather than starting from the ground up and educating where necessary. It’s useful to have a word that summarizes a complex idea.

As to whether labels push people to treat others differently, I’m going to question that primarily on the basis that sometimes the point of a label IS to receive different treatment. Also we should note that some labels don’t result in people treating others differently, like blue eyed vs. green eyed. Labels don’t ALWAYS change our behavior. But sometimes they do, and let’s talk about that.

In this case let’s take autism. I’m autistic. Many people think that it shows kindness and respect to look someone else in the eye, give them a hug when they’re feeling down, invite them to a party if they’re friends etc. Those are things that make me incredibly uncomfortable, and if I can communicate “please respect my lack of eye contact, please give me more physical space, please don’t take me places that are loud and overstimulating” by telling you that I’m autistic that’s fucking fantastic for me. I WANT people to treat me differently because I have different needs. Many people do. Sometimes labels are important because they help us understand what someone prefers or needs to get by in life (see: introvert/extrovert divide and why we’re so into telling people if introverts or extroverts). It’s why I prefer “Treat others the way they would like to be treated” over “treat others the way you would like to be treated.”

Sometimes that “summing up” usage of a label makes it easier to understand a person’s needs or wants. It turns out that it’s why we use labels in the first place (not just on people either. If something is labelled “hot” we understand more clearly how to behave around it). Yes, it is possible to go overboard on this one. Not every autistic person is the same. You shouldn’t treat all autistic people exactly like each other. We’re all individuals. But until you get to know me, having a particular label can help you get a handle on likely behaviors that will be good for me.

Essentially labels cannot be the ONLY way that we understand people, but that doesn’t mean that they’re NEVER helpful to understanding people, and I think that many people who resist labels ignore the fact that without them it’s harder to communicate, harder to find like minded people, and harder to understand yourself.

Tell Your Therapist They’re Wrong

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This article is giving me life today, and not just because gratitudes lists make me throw up in my mouth every time I think about them.

It also is giving me life because it reminds me that sometimes mental health professionals are just wrong. Wrongwrongwrong. And it reminds me that it’s rare for us to teach people who are receiving mental health services how to advocate for themselves or determine if their therapist is wrong.

Now before anyone gets huffy, the usual disclaimers: I am PRO mental health professionals. I know these folks work their butts off, and that they can and do save lives. I know that we should encourage folks to see mental health professionals, and to reduce the stigma attached to seeking treatment. Yes to all of that.

But all of that being said, mental health professionals are human. And humans don’t really understand brains all that well just yet. Brains are widely varied, and every technique that we have for treating mental illness will only work on some people. Beyond that, mental health professionals work with hundreds if not thousands of people over the course of their career. Unless you’ve been with them for a hecking long time, you are going to have a MUCH better understanding of your personal quirks and preferences than they are. Sometimes they’re just tired or distracted, or they forget your personal preferences.

Which is all to say that sometimes mental health professionals make mistakes. Or they make a good suggestion but it turns out it doesn’t work for you. Sometimes you need to tell your therapist “No. That doesn’t work for me.” It can be completely mind blowing the first time you realize it’s ok to say no to your therapist sometimes. It’s empowering to realize that you are an individual and sometimes the struggle you’re facing (especially if your mental illness is proving especially difficult to shake) might not be because there’s something inherently wrong with you, it might be because the techniques that have been suggested aren’t right for you. I just want to remind people who are struggling or feeling like therapy isn’t working; you can tell your therapist. You can ask for something different. You deserve strategies that will work for you.

Of course it’s also incredibly hard to say no to your therapist.

The first reason it’s hard is because sometimes things feel uncomfortable or difficult or like they’re not working because growth and change are hard, slow, and difficult. There are times you may WANT to tell your therapist “nope, I’m not going to do that, I don’t like it,” but once you try the suggestion it ends up being helpful. It’s really challenging to suss out when you just don’t WANT to do something, versus when you’re really on target that it won’t be helpful or that it will be actively discouraging and a waste of time or energy.

Part of the work of therapy is tuning up your inner compass so that you can trust it to send you in the right direction. I know after many years of hearing mantras and positive thinking slogans in therapy, that those just make me angry. I’ve tried it, it wasn’t effective. I’ve learned to trust that when people suggest something that sounds saccharine or something that ignores how hard life actually is, it will not be for me. On the other hand, I was very skeptical of mindfulness when I first heard about it, but when it was presented to me in a scientific way it made a lot more sense and has been quite helpful. I’ve become more open to things that have mixed evidence for them.

A big part of doing this is simply trying a lot of different stuff and seeing what works. But once you’ve done that, you start to have evidence of what is effective for you and what isn’t, and you can start to trust your instincts about what types of treatment you want to put your time, energy, and money into.

Which means that you can start advocating for yourself.

Here’s where I want to get practical, and it’s the second element of why saying no to your therapist is hard. It’s because self advocacy is a skill. There are absolutely things that everyone can do to advocate for themselves in therapy from the very beginning, but there are also skills you need to practice and things to learn about yourself before you’ll be really effective.

Telling your therapist that they’re wrong is one of the more challenging pieces of self advocacy, because it can often feel like the therapist has the power in any given situation, or like you need to respect their position. It can be helpful to remember that you are paying them for a service, and beyond that that BOTH parties are integral for the success of that service. The trust you feel for your therapist is one of the highest predictors of success in therapy, and if you can’t let them know you disagree, that trust is breaking down somehow.

But there are things you can do to make it a little bit easier. There are lots of ways to advocate for yourself in therapy, and I may touch on those in future posts, but for now I’m going to focus on speaking up when you think something isn’t working or you disagree with your therapist.

A good way to start is by simply disagreeing about small things. I don’t mean be argumentative, but if your therapist says something that you normally might have let slide, practice just saying “I don’t agree with that, but here’s what I think.” I’ve started to do this a lot in therapy, and I find that it’s far more productive than trying to argue with the therapist. It actually has made me feel a lot more comfortable when I say that and the session goes on without any kind of major repercussions. Those smaller, less important disagreements are a way to practice and to teach yourself that the world won’t end if you tell your therapist no, or let them know something isn’t working for you.

Another helpful thing to do if you’re worried that the strategies you’re getting aren’t helpful is to gather some data. I like to track things, which is why I use a daily mood tracker, a sleep tracker, a habit tracker…I like data. But it can be really helpful to note your mood or a target behavior before your therapist suggests something (e.g. a gratitude log), and then note if your mood improves or your self harm decreases over time after you’ve started using the technique. If not, you can bring that in to the therapist and say “hey, this isn’t working for me.” Having hard numbers to back you up can feel a lot more empowering than just a vague “I don’t feel better.”

Sometimes I like to try to think like a therapist to be a good self advocate. In that, I mean setting goals for myself, thinking of the steps that I can try to reach those goals, and checking in periodically to see if I’m making progress. Most therapists are required to have a treatment plan, but not all therapists share that with their clients. If my therapist is suggesting a new technique or skill, I want to know what it’s supposed to accomplish, what goal it’s bringing me closer to. You can ask to see your treatment plan, or just ask what the outcome is supposed to be for a given technique. That helps you evaluate if it’s working.

All of these are concrete actions, but for me the biggest shift was one in mindset, and it’s a mindset that the article I started with shows off well. Therapy isn’t about doing what’s “right”. It’s about doing what works for you. There are thousands of different therapeutic techniques, skills, and practices. If one doesn’t make you feel better, then STOP DOING IT. Tell your therapist. You deserve something that helps. Realizing that therapy wasn’t a class I needed to ace, but rather a service FOR ME was revolutionary. If it’s not working for you, you’re not broken. It is.

Woman

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This is the final post in a series about Kesha’s album Rainbow. You can find the rest of the series here: 1, 2, 3, 4.

I have not addressed every song on Rainbow, but I think that this post is going to be the final post of the series, because I feel I’ve addressed most of the elements that are important to me. I’m going to wrap up with my favorite song, as well as a short discussion of why Kesha’s choice to release essays in conjunction with the album was, I think, absolutely brilliant.

So let’s talk about Woman.

Just take a moment with that.

Take a moment with Kesha’s fucking gold motherfucking outfit.

Take a moment with every single bird that Kesha flips.

Take a moment with backup singer Saundra Williams and how utterly glorious her side eye is.

Just take a moment.

I’m going to quote a big old chunk from Kesha’s essay about this song, because this essay is one of my favorites.

“I realized that for most of my life I was intimidated to even try and run in the leagues of the people I look up to. With “Woman,” I hope my fans will hear that wild spirit still strong inside me but this time it was created more raw, spontaneously and with all live instrumentation, which I found was a huge reason I loved the records I did love. There were one or two or 12 different people playing real instruments together, and all that real human energy is exciting and very fun to listen to. I wanted this song to capture that organic, raw, soulful sound and keep the imperfect moments in the recordings because I find the magic in the imperfections.”

This song is all about those organic moments, and I think that’s why I love it so much. I love the horns. I love the syncopation in the chorus. I love how many times she says motherfuckin’. This is a song that came straight from someone’s heart, with so much joy that she couldn’t seem to contain it. I LOVE that it is a song about being independent, adult, and responsible without being boring or stodgy, and without feeling a need to put down men (it just says she doesn’t need a man to hold her too tight. You can still have a relationship and be independent).

Perhaps my favorite thing about this song is that it’s tacky. I mean that in a totally loving way. Kesha is wearing an entirely gold, sparkly outfit. It’s ridiculous and my absolute favorite thing. She swears. She is unabashed. But that’s the thing: she doesn’t have to be some kind of put together lady to be an adult who is confident, beautiful, self sufficient, and AMAZING. This song sends the message that independence doesn’t mean one thing. It can mean what feels right and empowering to YOU.

To complement that message, in her essay Kesha writes “I really have to thank Stephen Wrabel and Drew Pearson for helping me through the past few years and making writing songs a beautiful thing again. Both of those men made my art/work safe and fun, and every session with the two of them was so healing.” First, way to give a huge middle finger to Dr. Doucheface without actually ever having to mention him, second, thank you for making me cry at the fact that you had to do art and work in a place that didn’t make you feel safe, and third, kudos for recognizing that THIS was what felt safe and healing for you, then putting that out there. It doesn’t look the same to everyone, but working with these two men was empowering for her, and I so appreciate her speaking openly about her process. Her use of the word “safe” feels incredibly important when we have folks freaking out about phrases like “safe space”.

The final thing I’d like to touch on in regards to Rainbow is Kesha’s choice(s) of media.

Assault and trauma are both incredibly complex things. Many people express their experiences of them through art. That art is often incredibly helpful to other people and can start a dialogue around trauma and assault. What’s interesting about that process is that more often than not the artist does not really join in the conversation ABOUT their art. Kesha has taken control of the dialogue from the start by writing essays that give more depth to her art.

Each of the essays allows readers to see how Kesha herself views the song, the stories behind the songs, and the history of her depression and eating disorder. Songs are not the best medium for a narrative or explanation, which is why I think Kesha’s choice to include essays is really useful to the overall understanding of this album as a process of healing. Combined with the visual elements of four music videos (which is a lot for an album that’s only 14 songs long), Kesha has created something that is truly multimedia. Especially since she released four songs early, each accompanied by a video and an essay, we got a tone for the album that said “this is bigger than the individual songs.”

Not only that, but there is play between the songs. Kesha repeatedly references herself as a kitty or cat (classic jazz language that plays into her change in genre in this album), in Rainbow she sings “You gotta learn to let go, put the past behind you”, a clear reference to Learn to Let Go (which helps us see the relationship between the two: Rainbow is your motivation for Learn to Let G0), and generally creates an album in which you know that the songs do not stand alone but are meant to be taken as a whole.

When Kesha writes in her essay on Hymn: “This song is dedicated to all the idealistic people around the world who refuse to turn their backs on progress, love and equality whenever they are challenged. It’s dedicated to the people who went out into the streets all over the world to protest against racism, hate and division of any kind. It’s also dedicated to anyone who feels like they are not understood by the world or respected for exactly who they are. It’s a hopeful song about all of these people — which I consider myself one of — and the power that we all have when we all come together,” you know that she’s paying attention. She knows that her album is about more than herself, and she is inviting a conversation. She says that she is creating a space for others. It makes the song bigger than a simple squad anthem and into an anthem for the oppressed.

These essays have turned a simple piece of art into a powerhouse of social justice work in my opinion. I am so impressed with everything Kesha has done to make this album not simply musically powerful, but also powerful in its message. I love you Kesha. This album is so important.