Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Disturbing Lack of Compassion

A few days ago, I became aware of the story of Nathalie Blanchard, a woman whose insurance benefits were cancelled because somebody from Manulife logged on to Facebook, looked her up and saw pictures of her at a party, having a good time. Ms. Blanchard had been diagnosed with depression and had been on leave from her job, but now apparently she's fit to work.

I call bullshit. Having suffered from depression several times in my life—I'm still dealing with the fallout of the most recent episode—and because I am also trying to help my mother deal with her severe depression, I know very well that not only is attempting to have fun a part of the treatment that is often recommended for depression, but even when a sufferer is having a good time, it's possible for them to sink right back down into the stifling, terrifying and mentally-paralyzing hell that we call depression. I've been there a time or five myself. Just as it takes a long time for the condition to develop, it takes a long time for a sufferer to be able to deal with it.

But it's not the insurance company's lack of compassion I'm going to be ranting about today. That's more or less something to take for granted; if my mother's struggles with the company from which her own insurance policy comes have shown me anything, it's that such companies are only interested in keeping the money that they demand from their customers, and should any of those customers have grounds for getting any of that money back, the companies will do everything in their power to deny the coverage. If that fails, they'll do whatever is necessary to stop providing the service they're supposed to provide, whether it's hiring professionals of their own to say that the person's condition isn't as bad as any other professionals working on the case have said it is or, indeed, snooping through people's private data just to find a tiny bit of proof that the person who actually dares to use their insurance policy might actually not be as badly off as they say. Insurance companies don't exist to help people, they exist to take people's money and do whatever they can to avoid giving it back, even to the people who need it the most. I think we all know that, and while their lack of compassion (or ethics!) is notable for being the cause of the problem in this case, it's not what I actually set out to rant about.

No, the lack of compassion upon which I intend to remark today is that of the astoundingly arrogant and cruel jackasses who, in commenting on the story, not only side with the insurance company but say that Ms. Blanchard is getting her just deserts—you see, these experts on all things claim that depression is a bullshit excuse for laziness, so she should just get off her lazy butt and go back to work because clearly, the smile on her face in a few photos taken on her birthday is proof positive that she just doesn't want to work. "I work for my living," they say. "Why shouldn't she have to work for hers?! Better yet, make her pay back all the money that she bled out of the system because depression doesn't exist! It's no excuse to take time off work! She's being a lazy stupid little bum and we're all paying for it! She's partying while the rest of us have to work!" Often it's hard to tell whether these people are really upset that a woman was (until recently, at least) getting the time off that she needed to rebuild her sanity or they just want to say, "Look at me! I'm a smart and important person! I work hard! That person is trash, she deserves what she got! This proves that I am a hard-working important and smart person! By the way, my troubles are worse than hers, and I'm not complaining!" Oh, the troubles of people who claim to be martyrs. They've got problems, all right. They're just not the ones that they're talking about.

All those people who claim that depression is bullshit and that sufferers should just grin and bear it and just get over it already—I hope that someday they develop a case of depression that's so terrible that simply getting out of bed is nearly impossible and going to work is practically unthinkable. Let them see what it's like to be in such a dark place, mentally speaking, that they can't find any way out that isn't death without the help of friends, family and trained professionals. Let them feel the suffocation that severe depression makes its sufferers feel. Let them know what it's like to have a condition that's constantly belittled and denied; let them feel the utter hopelessness, that crushing despair, that's only compounded by the knowledge that sometimes even people you know, love and trust won't take you seriously if you say you're depressed because mental illness that doesn't involve a straitjacket is just "all in your head" and that means that it isn't real. Let them know the anguish of realizing that they've become something that they once condemned—a person suffering from depression who really does need help. Let them know what it's like to become depressed in a world that denies the very existence of the condition.

Let them see how utterly wrong they are. Because that's the only way they'll ever learn compassion for the sufferers of depression; they'll never understand it otherwise.

I realize that such wishes are out of line with many of my beliefs, but right now, I'm too angry to care. Sometimes the only way that some people will ever learn to have compassion for people who are suffering from anything is to suffer the same damn thing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Proselytizers Embarrass Me

They do. They really, really do. They did when I was a Catholic. They did when I was sorta-Solitary-Wiccan. They do now that I'm a Christo-Pagan. While I suppose that their devotion to their faith is admirable in a way, the fact is, the way that so many of them believe that their right to free speech trumps other people's right not to be harassed is deeply embarrassing to me. After all, most of the ones I hear about happen to have something in common with roughly half of my spiritual identity, and it embarrasses and offends me that they're trampling over other people's right to believe (or not believe, of course) as they choose and using the cross as a means of convincing themselves of their own superiority. And should anyone actually choose to stand up to them, then the accusations of persecution and silencing come out! When the encounter doesn't go well, the logic seems to go something like this:
1. God tells me that I have to Spread The Gospel.
2. You don't believe what I do.
3. Therefore, I have to Spread The Gospel to you to Save Your Damned Soul.
4. No, you don't have a choice about whether or not you listen to me. I am God's Holy Messenger.
5. Don't tell me to go away, that's persecution! (Implied: freedom of speech only applies to me, not you.)
6. I have rights! You can't tell me that I can't spread God's word to you! You have to listen to me!
7. No, really, you have to listen to me!
8. *after final rejection* Come see the disregard that this little twit has for me and my rights and My Holy God! Help! Help! I'm being repressed!
I often wonder why these people do what they do, whether it's really for God's glory or their own. What do they tell themselves about what they're doing? Do they really think that they'll be able to annoy people into becoming Christians? Do they enjoy feeling like they're being oppressed by the fact that somebody didn't want to put up with their harassment? One somehow suspects that they should experience some real persecution before they start whining because their unrequested spiritual advice hasn't fallen on friendly ears. Only I wouldn't want that for them, because nobody deserves to be persecuted or oppressed, even for being a monumental asshole.

And then there's the perspective I have as a result of the Pagan elements of my faith. I struggle enough with balancing the Pagan and Christian beliefs that my heart, if not always my head, insists are compatible with each other. What I do not need is some stranger telling me that unless I become a devout and loudly Evangelical Christian, I'm going to go to Hell. You see, my faith does not hinge on whether or not it will get me out of eternal punishment; it tells me that I must have compassion for people. It tells me that I should do what I can, no matter how small the action may be, to make the world a better place. It tells me that I must have respect for the Earth and be kind to it. It does not tell me to feel self-satisfied at the prospect of being one of the Chosen Ones, whatever one might be chosen for. It does not tell me that I should pray loudly on the street corners so that everyone around can hear me. It does not tell me that anyone who disagrees with me is my enemy. It doesn't tell me that it's my job to tell everyone else—or even anyone else—what they should be believing and how they should be living.

It does not tell me that everyone has to believe the same things that I do in order to live a happy, fulfilling and moral life.

Proselytizers embarrass me because they embody many of the worst stereotypes of the Christian believer. Most of the ones I've met over the years have been rude, tactless people who, convinced of their own moral superiority, have decided that it's their right to tell other people how they ought to live. It's not about God, it's about them. It's about their conviction that they are God's Favoured Ones, so they are better than the rest of us mere mortals.

So, my militantly evangelical Siblings-Who-Deny-Our-Siblinghood-In-Christ-Because-I-Worship-A-Goddess-As-Well, be warned: if you want to share the Good News with me, I suppose that I can't stop you. But I will be moved to share the following Bible verse with you:
Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your father in heaven.

So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

—Matthew 6:1-6

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday After Remembrance Day

Today, as I was singing in church, I realized that tomorrow it will be a full calendar year since my first Sunday service as a member of the choir there. I was simultaneously pleased and surprised, and I realized something.

That church is now as much my spiritual home as the small clearing in the trees in my two-acre backyard where I observe the days that are important to the Pagan part of my identity.

I have a lot to thank my choir director for. I can't imagine my life without those people now—at least, not without feeling a tremendous sense of loss. But for all the embarrassment I've sometimes felt, first being an outsider with only a bare-bones knowledge of Anglican ritual and then being someone who sometimes forgets important things despite having known better for months, this past year has been almost surprisingly spiritually fulfilling.

Today, it was a year in Sundays since my first Sunday there, and that makes me happy. :)