Self-advocacy for emotionally-abused women

selfconfidence-smallI had an unpleasant confrontation with a staff member at my college yesterday. Up to that point, absolutely everyone, including instructors and administration, have been absolutely amazing. The atmosphere on that campus is perfect for someone like me who struggles with general anxiety and chronic fatigue: calm and peaceful.

The good part about yesterday’s conflict is that I stood my ground in the presence of a much-younger student. We (the other student and I) then talked about the interaction, discussing the law, hostile educational and work environments, even the Constitution.

Over the last few years, I have had to evaluate associations, relationships, my religion and even my marriage. I had to make some really hard decisions that benefited me, many for the sake of self preservation. I began to learn self-advocacy.

When I started college in January 2013, I was suffering from many things, the worst being virtually no self-confidence. I began the financial aid process expecting denial. I entered the college program of choice expecting to do poorly. I did my work, almost killed myself to succeed, and was told several times by professors that I am worrying too much about grades. I couldn’t help it. I had something to prove . . . to myself.

I still get failing grades in a couple of areas of my personal life when it comes to self-advocacy, but those are on my list to get through in the near future. I too often allow pride to interfere with seeking the help I need to merely survive (like going off SNAP when I couldn’t afford to do so).

I learned that there are no white knights out there. As a woman, I must advocate for myself. What is delightful is when I find other men and women who support me in my journey. There have been many (sadly, none of them my family).

grant flyer screenshotI am embarking on a new adventure: applying for grants. This is difficult for me.

It requires that I sell myself, or my need, effectively. While I have always been able to sell my skills in job interviews, I feel all anxious inside at thinking about people reviewing my life and thinking that I am not worthy of assistance.

It requires that I ask people for letters of recommendation. I am very nervous any time I must ask someone I know to do something for me. I set myself up for rejection and refusal because that is mostly what I have experienced in my life (but not always).

But not always . . . there have been people there at vital times in my life, willing to give me encouragement, even assistance, when I needed it the most. This is what encourages me. That, and the fact that I have worked very hard since starting school, putting myself out there.

When I joined the college newspaper, I interviewed two of the three deans for an article on mental health. When I was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, I made a point to introduce myself and speak with the third dean that I had not met yet. These professors and administrators are there for students just like me; they are passionate about seeing individuals succeed because then the college succeeds. Whenever my instructors and professors offer assistance, office hours, and help of any kind, I make an appointment and avail myself of that. They have so much to give, so much to teach me, that I would be stupid not to take advantage of their willingness to teach and mentor me. On Tuesday, one of my English professors stayed after class to help me work through (mentally) what I want out of a 4-year university when I am ready to transfer. I feel so much more empowered.

As I have said, every single interaction on campus has been positive except for that one incident. That is life, though. Learning to deal with unpleasantness is just as important as accepting success, which I admit is not easy for me, either. In this case, this incident cannot be ignored because it involves First Amendment rights and the press. I am not alone, though. The instructor who has been teaching me journalism offered to go with me to speak with one of the deans because it is a serious issue. I am NOT alone.
I get a bit emotional thinking about this part of my new life. Denial of my experience by others has been such an integral part of my life that when people believe me and agree to stand by me I am flabbergasted. Deep down inside I know — false knowledge, by the way — that I am not worth the effort or confidence of others. That is the biggest demon that I fight. I am fighting it, though. My shield is up, my sword is out, and this shield-maiden is ready for battle (while trembling inside). Notice that my biggest battles are within myself, always.

I heard some stories yesterday from students about unethical instructor behavior and hostile educational and work environments on my college campus. Oh, I so want to help build in young women (and men) the ability to use their voices effectively and with confidence. Maybe my experiences, struggles and eventual emergence (I am still such a work in progress) can help others learn to effectively self-advocate in the future — this is the impractical part of me that wants to study law (which I will not be doing — I think I can use an English degree much more effectively).

So . . . I will be applying for grants regularly. I know that once I get through the process of applying for the first one I will have much more confidence to apply for others in the future. Applying for scholarships and grants is the epitome of self-advocacy. Yep, I can do this.

Modern Mythology and the Hero Complex

I completed my first Response Paper on The Odyssey for Mythology class this morning.  After uploading my paper to the online interface for my school, I wrote a comment stating that my next paper just might be on the Hero Complex after I spent 2 hours shoveling out my car this morning while the males in the family were attending church and enjoying a nice lunch out.  Huh?  Well, my estranged husband is in town. He had the boys overnight and called this morning mentioning that he got salt (I asked him to pick some up) that can be used after I get the driveway plowed. Not happening this time as I had to choose between getting the driveway plowed or buying food this week. He offered to pay for the plowing but will only pay for something if he can pay directly, not trusting me with the enormous sum of $40 cash. I declined and let him know that treating me like a child was not endearing him to me at all.

Fast forward to 1 p.m.  Only an hour late, here are the boys trudging up the stairs.  Oh, they have great news!  Their dad has arrived on a white horse bearing a snow blower. I am pissed. What? Why?  Now let me explain.  You all looking in just don’t understand why I am not gushing with gratefulness, right?  Oh, this takes a bit of ‘splaining and a teensy bit of psychology to figure out.  Our main marital issue is control.  There was plenty of emotional abuse, raging, breaking of my things, and offhanded physical pain, but mostly there was neglect and control.  So after he moved to Tennessee almost two years ago and not hearing from him through two hurricanes and multiple winter storms, extended power outages and quite a bit of trauma, not to mention several winters where I am on my own to deal with the driveway with pretty much no money, a body that is my enemy, and a houseful of boys that will shovel but must be motivated with creativity, showing up after one snow storm with a snow blower is an insult.  He refused to allow me the dignity of calling someone to plow my driveway because he didn’t trust me with $40. And the snow blower is a trigger for me.

Let me back up just a bit more.  Our family has relocated long distances two times since we got married.  I handled the moves.  I found the houses we would live in each time, packed, organized, hired moving companies, and set up utilities, accounts, found new grocery stores, post offices, and all of the other little stuff that goes along with moving to a new community in a new state both times with a baby or two and the last time pregnant.  He worked, so I did everything else. When we separated and he decided that he needed to take control of our finances, he canceled my credit cards, cut me off from our joint income, and would only pay bills if I gave him complete control over the accounts, allowing him to change them over to his name.  He cancelled our third son’s auto insurance without notifying either of us, he tried to get control of my cell phone account (and found out that they don’t appreciate that — I now have an additional password required for any changes to the account), and a few years ago when I tried to buy a snow blower so that I could deal with the snow we get on our very long driveway, he forbade it.  Yes, forbade. I now have my own bank accounts, new credit cards without his name on the accounts, and have maintained my dignity and independence as much as possible under the circumstances.  So when he got all patriarchal on me this morning, he really got me going.  How dare he behave that way?  I called him on it. And a snow blower?  Really?

He hasn’t cared about all of the other storms we have faced on our own.  He hasn’t been there while I was dealing with major illnesses in kids and myself.  He wasn’t there during the holidays (he doesn’t do holidays) or birthdays (he doesn’t do birthdays).  He refused me the little bit of extra cash it would have cost to get the driveway plowed.  He saw an opportunity to be the hero!  And he took it.  He has done this before.  Only when he has an audience, though (he is staying with friends with a snow blower).  Oh, man, I am so bitter, right?  I have him pegged is all.  This guy loves attention, and he loves being the hero.  But he cannot allow his family members the dignity of directing their own lives in any small way.  That makes him not so much of a hero in my book.

Oh, how does this tie in to The Odyssey?  Well, Penelope, Odysseus’ poor wife, has been sitting at home grieving for her beloved for almost 20 years.  She can’t bear to remarry because of her devotion to her one and only.  She has been told by 108 strange men that she needs to choose one of them.  It is time for her to do what she is being told, not just by these rude guys, but by her son as well.  So in swoops Odysseus who has the favor of the goddess Athene in huge buckets to save his dear Penelope from the awful, rude, insolent Suitors.  Because this is Ancient Greece we must accept that Penelope is at the mercy of the social constraints of the time: she has no rights of her own because she is a woman.  She needs to be rescued because she cannot direct her own life, run her own palace, or just go on a vacation to the Riviera whenever she likes.  She must be cared for by a husband or a father or a son.

So when I find myself in the 21st century being treated like I need to be rescued instead of allowing me the dignity of hiring my own plow truck to clear my own driveway or buy my own snow blower, it pisses me off.  I don’t need a man with a Hero Complex.  I need one who respects me as an independent person, intelligent and capable.  Yeah, that Hero Complex just doesn’t cut it with me.