Conditional Worth

Conditional Worth

We’re put in groups with other random people who wanted to learn, and who want to learn this. We’re expected to take time out of our weeks to join together in a room and listen. We’re expected to participate, to listen to each other and speak up. We’re expected to look at others as humans, with respect, We’re expected to grow ourselves and take chances and make choices.

I get too attached to people because I have never EVER had the loving support I do now before this point. Love was conditional; affection was withheld. In my parents’ house there was a standard that had to be met. If you didn’t reach the threshold of perceived goodness, your worth was in question. Love was a privilege in that house.
I love my professors. They trust me and believe in me. They critique me not to shut me down but because they can see potential in me. They know I can do better. They want to support me. They want me to succeed, not because it somehow benefits them—because they see what I can be, and they want me to be there. For my own sake.

It’s a kind of caring I’d never had before but was fortunate enough to receive as soon as I came to UWGB. Within the first three weeks of classes I had a professor who spotted me as someone she wanted to see succeed. Someone she could challenge.

I was terrified of this and at the same time I was thrilled.

I was learning what it felt like to actually be appreciated. To have someone in my life who believed I was capable of great and important things.

But I was terrified of failing, because I had no idea that there would be any reaction but disappointment and isolation.

I still haven’t quite convinced myself that my professors aren’t going to do that to me.
That my friends will not shun me if I say one stupid thing.

That my real family, the family that’s been built around me in my four years at school, will not isolate and abandon me if I don’t fall in line.

My worth is unconditional. It’s not the tree that falls in a forest when no one’s around.
Love should be unconditional. Affection should not be a prize for perfection.

I still get too attached sometimes. Maybe more often than not. I want people to fill the roles I wished my parents had. I crave the unconditional love and support.

Lately I have seen more of it. When I have the energy to open my eyes. I can feel it. When they ask me. When they talk to me. When they give me that moment to breathe.

I love them too much for it and I don’t know how to give that back. I want to be as good as them. I want to be as strong. I’m building a new me on an old and broken foundation. It’s almost like I have to tear down what was there just to get something solid started.

It feels like a never ending struggle. Maybe it is. But I want to be okay someday. I want to help people the same way I’ve been helped. To see in them what they don’t themselves. To show them. You are worth it. You are strong.

I Wore the Mask I Thought I’d Left Behind

I Wore the Mask I Thought I’d Left Behind

On Monday I was planning suicide. I woke up with a grim determination that it was time for my life to be over. I felt nothing. Not when my roommate said good morning. Not when my friend walked to work with me. Not when I taught Safe Ally Training to a bunch of wonderful people with one of my closest friends. Not when I tutored one of my own students, not when my boss joked around with me. I was wearing the mask my mother had taught me to use after years of her isolating me when I showed emotion.

I laughed. I smiled. I engaged in conversation. I was productive. But inside I was numb, burnt out by pain and loneliness and self-hatred. Inside I was convinced my friends had never really loved me, that my close friends would soon cease to love me. Inside, I was ready to die.

A few friends reached out. Noticed I was upset. I felt nothing. I went through the motions. I counted the hours till I could escape.

I thought of asking for help. Calling Crisis.

It never occurred to me to tell a friend. Never occurred that there were people who cared. I was convinced no one did.

I decided to go to work first. The last job of the day. My kids.

As I got ready to go, thoughts of self-preservation left in favor of writing out a will. I left my wallet, my money, and my cards on my desk. I5 gave my cat extra food, extra love. I snuggled the bunnies that didn’t like me. I conversed briefly with my roommate’s boyfriend, pretending I was invested, pretending I wasn’t about to leave and never come back.

When my ride dropped me off after work, I decided, I’d walk away and never come back. I’d find a bridge. I’d jump. It would all be over.

I wore my mask all the way there. Engaged in pleasant conversation with my ride. No one was allowed to see what was going on inside me.

I went through the motions at work. Laughed with my co-workers. Pretended everything was fine. They had no idea.

Then it was time to check in my kids.

I walked into the room where I was supposed to be to check in my 12 kindergartners. Incidentally, the teacher had let them out early today. Over half of them were already there, and they were looking for me. Under the table. Around corners.

They yelled my name when they saw me, and one ran into me for a hug. Several asked where I had been. I laughed and told them I hadn’t known they were there.

“Were you worried I wouldn’t come?” I asked one of the more vocal kids.

He tilted his head in consideration, then shook it definitively. “No, I knew you would be here,” he said.

That’s when the feeling came–for the first time–guilt. Worry. Regret.

How could I leave these kids behind?

I heard them saying my name with enthusiasm. I saw their excitement at seeing me. I saw their pure joy when they received new shoes as part of the programming for the day. I witnessed their sadness and fatigue when they encountered difficulties during the day. I listened to their needs and allowed them to skip homework. Instead, we played quiet games and colored pictures until it was time to go home.

I smiled and laughed with the parents, telling them about their child’s day, saying goodbye to the kids and hearing them chatter excitedly about what they had done and how excited they were to come back.

What was I thinking? I couldn’t leave my kids behind.

I rode back with my ride, in silence this time. I loved my kids. But I couldn’t shake what I had been feeling all day. I made a deal with myself: if she dropped me off in the parking lot, I’d run and find a bridge. If she walked back to the building with me, I’d make up some story about “forgetting” my ID and let her let both of us in.

But when she dropped me off at the parking lot, I walked back to the apartment slowly, and thought about the kids–would they miss me on Wednesday if I was not just late, but really and truly not there?

What about the class I mentored for? They were coming over on Tuesday. Maybe I could still around at least until then.

A stranger let me into my building. I knocked on my apartment door, and my roommate let me in. i bluffed it off. Pretended I’d forgotten. I was just tired. Went to bed.

Her friends came over and I went back and forth, trying to be social, trying to convince people I was fine. But I’d always retreat back into my room, feeling like crying but at the same time too numb to do anything but lie there.

No matter how many times my roommate asked me what was wrong, I couldn’t say anything. I was just sick, I lied, just tired. I didn’t know why I was so sad. There was no reason. I kept the mask on.

Tuesday morning it was the same. I skipped my 8am class. Too sick, I convinced myself, even though it was only a small cold I’d been living with.

I got up ad went to work again. Tutoring. I joked around. But inside I was seething. This time I was angry–angry at absolutely everything and everyone. I even hated being queer. I hated everything about myself and my life. I wasn’t looking forward to anything, I was just sticking around to do what I felt was necessary before I took the next step, whether that was suicide or calling crisis.

My supervisor decided for me. I stormed into the Pride Center, ranting about something or other. She asked me what was wrong. Said I didn’t look like myself.

I told her I wanted to die, but I kept waiting until my commitments were over, but they never were. I was living hour to hour with suicidal thoughts and it was only a matter of time before I did something.

She said, “You need to talk to someone.”

I said, “I know, I will, after tonight.”

She said, “No, I think you should talk to somebody right now.”

I pushed back a few more times. I needed to go to class. To see my students. To attend the club meeting for which I was co-president. Eventually she won.

“Should I see someone on campus?”

They would just tell me to go to Crisis, so I may as well just get a friend to drive me there and skip the police car.

Another friend was there and gave me a few pointers. What to look for. Where to go. I texted some friends, asking who was available to drive me. Within seconds my roommate replied, telling me to meet her outside the Union.

I gathered my things and walked outside. My numbness was wearing off as the situation became more real. Why was I doing this? Why was I so scared? Why did no one trust me to stick around?

I’d had the training. I should know.

I wanted to die.

I wanted to die, and my friends were trying to keep me safe.

Even if that meant going away . Even if that meant being processed by strangers.  Even if that meant admitting that I was a danger to myself.


“Candles for Orlando” By Tonie Bear — Burnt Pine

Candles for Orlando, June 15, 2016 Five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes. What happens in the span of a year is a blur of motion: feelings smeared across a moving train, purple sorrow, red hurt, green anger, and yellow fear. It’s a whirlwind of emotion, pain twisting around regret and spiraling into depression. But […]

via “Candles for Orlando” By Tonie Bear — Burnt Pine

Town Hall Meeting

Town Hall Meeting

So I went to the Town Hall Meeting this morning. The Chancellor was there to speak and answer to questions, and the seats were full of faculty and staff. I guess I was lucky enough to be in the area and not have work at the time; there weren’t many students there today, since a lot of them were either gone or working at the moment.

Faculty and staff asked a lot of questions about how the impending cuts and potential policy changes would affect their positions, their places in the University, how this University will cope. All great questions, and unfortunately not a lot of them got very satisfactory answers.

I finally managed to muster up enough courage to ask my question, which was how these cuts and changes are going to affect the students. It took a few minutes for the Chancellor to notice that I had my hand up,and when he did, he skipped over me in favor of hearing a faculty member before coming back to me. I asked him how he anticipated the budget cuts and policy changes were going to affect the students, reminding him that a lot of us are already seeing repercussions–classes we want and need aren’t being offered, and some student jobs are at risk just like the faculty positions are. This is what he told me.
1) He didn’t know about the potential of student jobs not being able to pay/compensate what they initially promised and so couldn’t comment on this.
2) The potential cuts and changes are going to affect the students.

Yes, I know. I know these changes will affect students. I know because they already are. Can you say anything to help me understand if and how they will continue to affect us?

Questions continued to be asked from the viewpoints of faculty and staff (which makes sense because they comprised the majority of the audience) and the Chancellor did not bring up the students’ viewpoint as much as would have been appreciated. I was getting pretty antsy because I was not getting as much out of this discussion as I had hoped. I didn’t understand a lot of what was being said because there were a lot of terms I didn’t understand and there just wasn’t much talk about how the students were factoring into all this.

I asked for the mic again. I said that I wanted everyone to keep in mind the perspective of the students in this debate, because almost everything that affected faculty and staff would then affect the students, but not everything that affected the students affected the faculty and staff.

I told him about myself and my friends. I told him I knew students who weren’t just leaving this college, they were leaving Wisconsin, because of how shitty the system is getting. I told him I knew students who had to drop minors because they were no longer being offered, and students who are afraid they’ll have to drop their majors if their programs continue to lose faculty and course offerings. I told him I knew of students who had to travel to other campuses to take classes that fulfilled major requirements. I told him I knew students who wanted to go into teaching, but who are now second-guessing this career path because of how messed up Wisconsin education is becoming.

He acknowledged me. He told me to keep saying this, because this is what needs to be heard.

Somehow though, I don’t really feel like he heard me.

After I spoke a faculty member who was seated in front of me turned around and whispered, “Well said.” As I was leaving the meeting a few more professors and staff came up to me to thank me for saying what I did, because they too sensed that the student perspective was being neglected. As I was sitting outside the town hall recuperating from my public-speaking jitters, the Chancellor walked by with some of his staff, and again thanked me for speaking, and went on his way.

I’m not writing this to toot my own horn or to shame anyone for not coming, because I know that a lot of you are elsewhere or at work and it was impossible for you to make it. And to be honest, I almost didn’t come, even though I was fully capable. I’m glad I did because otherwise what I said might not have been said. Anyone else could have said it (and a few people I know could have said it a lot better than me) but I was the one who was there who was willing to say it. It was purely circumstantial and I just want people to know that. I am more than happy to sit back and let other people do the talking, and I hate being redundant, so if what I have to say has already been said, I don’t say anything.

But sitting there for an hour and not hearing my own voice represented made me really anxious, and I knew that there are a lot of my friends who would have loved to be there where I was saying what I wanted someone to say. Finally I decided that it was more important for that voice to be heard than it was for me to spare myself some stage fright.

It was only because I have been working on this with awesome, passionate, talented people that I was able to stand up and say what needed to be said. I’m just throwing this story out there because I want people to know this. You can’t always wait for someone else to say things for you. You have to be willing to pay attention to the people you admire and respect so that when they’re not around, you can speak for them and the many voices that are unable to be heard at that moment.

Student voices need to be heard. Without students, the faculty and staff would have no one to work for. So even though it seems like the focus is on faculty keeping their jobs (and granted that is HUGELY important), we have to remember that it’s the students who are going to feel the most of what may or may not happen as these cuts and changes become more and more real. And unfortunately it’s the voice of the students that tends to be underrepresented or drowned out.

One of the faculty members who approached me after the meeting told me that it’s important for students to stand up for themselves. He said, “When policy makers hear from faculty, they tend to think we’re just whining. But when students speak, they listen.”

So, speak. I can’t say I felt a lot of love from the Chancellor today, but what I had to say was heard by some, and if we all continue to say it, we WILL be heard.