Sunday, April 3, 2022

PS - My Brief, Sad Dalliance With Considering a Journalism Career :)

(Edited - content added. Bear with me, if you will, as I wind through this story, which I may add to over the next few days with forgotten aspects.  Also, warning, I may go off on tangents lol - that is because as I was writing this, I realized it was a more significant series of events than I initially realized, and changed the course of my life more than I realized - so I worked it out for myself now, as I wrote it - hopefully, you can follow ;)


So I mentioned in my last post that I briefly toyed with the idea of journalism in college, right?

So this happened after receiving surprising accolade for an article that I wrote for a featured guest opinion for UK's student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel (lol, I know) which was in response to a front-page article that I found ridiculous lol.  

In fact, as a result of that article, general classroom debate, and a sociology project, all in 1992 -  I ended up getting elected to a brief stint as the College of Social Work Representative to UK's Student Government, without actually running - some fellow students wrote my name on the ballot unaware, telling me later they did it was because I had proven I was brave and could stand alone against the system, especially since it had been four years since we even had a representative on SGA lol.   

In hindsight, however - though I appreciate the gesture - did I need to "stand alone" if so many felt the same way but weren't "brave" enough to say so?"  I say this, of course, because of what happened ...

Because I ended up disappointing them, and I'm sorry - and is the reason I say a brief stint, because I quit a few months into it - as I've mentioned many times, I actually don't like public speaking or being the center of attention, I'm extremely uncomfortable with it, I couldn't handle the attention - but I also couldn't handle the backlash of being "brave" and "standing alone against the system."

Regardless, it was that article, my classroom debate reputation, and one sociology class project that become campus-famous were responsible for my somehow landing on SGA.

It was a group presentation, but as usual, only two of us actually worked on it, the other four just signed off on it, of course, as is usually the case with college class projects lol.  

Everyone had voted for my idea, I think mostly because they knew it'd be me and one other male student who did the actual work while everyone else partied and signed off on it lol.

So I went door-to-door of each of the white sororities and fraternities and handed out an anonymous survey,  asking them anonymously if they'd ever accept a person of color, someone of a different faith, someone disabled, or someone who was gay, as well as what type of person they wanted for their organization.

You would NOT believe the answers I got in 1992 lol - or maybe you would?

I couldn't believe they even bothered to actually answer the questionnaire at all, much less the way that they did.

Essentially, let's just say they all but one said "No" - with various degrees of emphasis and punctuation - with some using racial epithets to emphasize their point -  and one sorority even added the only races they'd allow other than white were "We have accepted some Jewish, as well as a few Filipino or East Indian, if they were Christian or otherwise came from a good family."

Though I didn't add what I'm about to say to the project presentation, because it's conjecture - I just presented the answers and let the room decide - allow me to interpret my personal opinion about what that last bit means - if not Christian, then they just come from a non-broken home, and most importantly, have money ;)

I must've gotten "Pretty, happy, fun" at least 20 times on the sorority questionnaires, with the second most popular answer being, "ability to pay our steep membership fees." 

The fraternities answers were similar - also including "fun" or "good-looking," but were a bit more broad, and also included "sports ability," "like-minded politics," and "smart."

However, not so for the women - interesting, yes? 

EXCEPT - as mentioned above -  there was one single exception - the oldest white sorority on campus, answered "Yes, and we have accepted all of the above" but added "however, they have to be able to afford the steep membership fees, which is often too challenging," and as for type of person they wanted was "smart, socially conscious, environmentally conscious."

(In fact, because of their answer -  had I money, I would've considered joining, if they would've had me  - but of course I didn't have the money.)

I appreciated all of them answering, though, without being paid, just to help out my project research, so I can't be too hard on them - plus I did get an A.

However, it did confirm what I already suspected - and yet still, the answers shocked even me lol.

It was like anonymous social media before there was social media - people told you what they were really thinking behind the fake smiles, which we all kind of knew already.

Now I had grown up in a wealthy suburban Cincinnati - and even though I had a lot of friends - I never fit in completely with the wealthiest cool kids, which I always blamed myself and my crazy family situation for, embarrassed.

I imagined life would be different once I left, because most communities aren't that privileged, especially in Kentucky.

So I didn't start college until two years after graduating, now working and going to school full-time, and thus, I sort of missed out on the on-campus life.   

However, I noticed that not much had changed since high school - the wealthiest white kids were still in charge of social activities and they were very exclusive about them.  They'd give formal, public invites to things, but didn't really expect you to show up lol - it was really only to inform other Greeks.

I can honestly say, they weren't mean, though, really, at least not to your face - but in Kentucky, niceness is tricky - everyone smiles in your face, but behind your back is a completely different story.  At least in Cincinnati, if someone doesn't like you, they don't fake it - you just know.

So it's not that they were mean, it's just they made it clear that there was a tiered-Greek system that ruled campus life, and if you weren't part of the system, they simply weren't interested - even though there were far more non-Greek than Greek on campus.

So when I did this survey, it confirmed what I long suspected behind those disinterested fake smiles - that if you don't fit the "pretty, happy, fun, rich" world of white, intact-family Christians with money, you didn't belong and you were never going to, no matter what you did, unless you went to Hollywood - but after a brief stint with fame as a child (after being cast in a TV movie), I wanted no part of that.

This was the exact turning point where I stopped being so embarrassed of my background and my family circumstances, and  I started to question things - that perhaps we weren't the problem after all, dragging the others down -  perhaps this socioeconomic system we've got going may be the problem instead?

So I presented the results to the class, which was about 100 kids - and they went nuts.  

The students that were non-Greek, of color, Jewish or Muslim, gay, disabled, poor, worked and lived off campus - which were actually the majority of students -  said, "WHAT?" or started laughing loudly - not at me, but like in a "HA ha" sort of way - making it clear that the white Greeks were just exposed for who they really were.

The members of white fraternity and sorority members, however, became enraged, demanding to know who wrote them - which of course I refused to identify, as a true journalist never reveals the identity of her sources who have asked to remain anonymous ;).

(EXCEPT - I did reveal the name of the single sorority that answered they'd accept all of the above, but the fees were a challenge - for the record, that sorority was Kappa Kappa Gamma - that's at least how they answered, at the time, at the University of Kentucky, though I know Greeks differ in reputation at different universities.  At the time, at UK, the Kappas were the oldest sorority, and were well respected for being the smart girls, but they also were second wealthiest/most expensive sorority on campus.)

Then they said I must've made it up, until I showed them overhead projections of the handwritten pages, which blocked out the names of the sororities and fraternities, revealing the handwriting to all be from different hands.

So then they called me a troublemaker, creating "prejudice problems" that didn't exist.

I remember looking at Dr. Hardesty, who simply rested her head on her hand, looked around the room, sighed, rolled her eyes at them,  and then smiled and mouthed, "Keep going."

I explained that I didn't create these problems, I simply was shining a light on what was already there - this was actually the reality..

However, my heart started beating fast, I started sweating, but I just ignored them - maintained my composure just enough to just continue the presentation right overtop of them. 

However, I did start to take this on internally -  "Was I a troublemaker?  Was something wrong with me for seeing the world so differently than other white people did?"

In fact, once I got on UK's SGA, considering the fact that even though we had a few black Greeks, most of SGA were rich, white college Greeks - let's just say my efforts to be more inclusive and celebrate diversity were even less welcome than they are now, at the University of Kentucky, in the early 1990s.

Now, the way SGA works is like Congress - we sponsor bills, voted on them, and then the SGA president represented the student vote at university board meetings for policy change or funding.

My first sponsored bill, after talking to disabled students, was  requesting funding to provide better access for disabled students to be able get in and out of especially older buildings on campus, and sometimes classrooms themselves - voted down.  Though some voted for it - which I like to think was the Kappas, black Greeks, and s, most didn't - I think the money went to some Greek house renovations instead?

Though I received some support, I was voted down, again and again and again, mostly in favor of Greek projects..

Thus, my decision to quit a couple of months in was likely 50% hatred of being the center of attention and 50% feeling outnumbered and thus questioning myself and whether I was the one in the wrong :(

Don't get me wrong, they were still very nice to me, despite being the only non-Greek member on SGA at the time. It's just we saw the world differently and had different life experiences, and they were very comfortable with the current system, and I wasn't, but where i was coming from simply didn't compute and thus my ideas for more inclusion and diversity in university events was consistently voted down, especially in the early 90s.

I think that affected me worse than it would most people because though I may have appeared confident, inside, I was crumbling - it seemed like confirmation that my family was right about me.

So I couldn't turn to my family support,  because I already felt the same way with them  - so I figured, why choose to put myself willingly in a systemic dysfunctional group situation that has no interest in evaluating itself and changing?

Though I had friends I'd made at work, they were part of college life and couldn't comment - and it's not like I was part of a big sorority for support, or even wanted to be, especially now, except perhaps the one I mentioned; but like they said, you still have to pay to play.

And it's not like you can turn to the people who put their faith in you  enough to write your name on a ballot and ask for support, and say, "Erm - I'm actually struggling, feeling alone in this - I could use your support?"  

So instead, I decided to discuss this at a campus group therapy thing I had joined shortly before that, run by the Department of Psychology, hoping it would help with the public speaking.  

I had been in it for six months, but we got a new facilitator who was a real B.  I shared with them what had happened, plus some family conflict going on simultaneously, and that despite how things might appear, I was getting super depressed, and began to question whether my family was right, if I belonged anywhere, and the thoughts I was having were started to scare me.

Even though my shocked fellow group members tried to tell her that this wasn't my usual, she said, "This is a bombshell on the group and too much for them to handle, let's move on."

However, my fellow group members stuck up for me, "Wait a minute - you don't know this, but she's been here six months and usually tries to help us.  This isn't her usual, can we just let her talk?"

"No, let's move on."

I agreed it was too heavy for the group, and told her after that I'd go back and see a private therapist about it, which I hadn't seen in a few years because I had been doing so well.

However, she told me that as the new facilitator of the group, she had new rules - which were that we were not allowed to contact each other outside of group and hang out anymore - AND - you couldn't see both a private therapist AND participate in group therapy.

These were very strange rules, that to this day I've never heard of, especially for a group that already had been hanging out socially together and a support for each other, and suddenly weren't allowed to.  

And the thing is, one of my fellow group therapy members, Lauren, was suffering from postpartum depression and actually was recovering from a psychotic break, where she imagined her baby was literally shrinking and would disappear. 

She had begun treatment with antidepressants and an antipsychotic and was better, but had no one else to talk to about things but us and a psychiatrist trying to treat a chemical condition, but was now disallowed, because of the new rule about not also seeing a private therapist, so she had to choose between us and her psychiatrist.

Even though this situation wasn't helpful to me, at a crucial time, I often thought  about Lauren, what happened to her, afterwards, because her situation was completely chemical/hormonal, and she was struggling to go to work, go to school, and take care of a child,  and needed both her medication and support - and not just an hour of group therapy a week  :(

Regardless, I agreed that perhaps my approach was overwhelming, (apparently, more for her than the group), but these feelings were beginning to overwhelm me, so I asked the new facilitator what I should do.

She said, "I'd see a private therapist, if I were you - but you understand, MY rules as the new facilitator are that you can no longer attend group therapy, if you do.  And again, I know what the old rules were, but my rules are no more of this hanging out together after group, and if I find out  any of you have contacted each other, you're out. If you see a private therapist, you're out"

Thus I spoke to no one about it, after that day - I stopped speaking in the group entirely after that, even to help others -  and I quit, a couple of weeks later - because every time I opened my mouth, even to try to help someone else, I'd look at her and she'd shake her head "no." 

Then Lauren - the fellow group member with postpartum depression, who'd suffered a psychotic break before returning to school - noticed my new stumbling and stammering when trying to speak to help comfort her, but unfortunately, she ended up comforting me, by saying "It's okay - despite these new rules, we're all still your friends here, you know that - speak, you always have helpful things to say."

But I couldn't - I lost my train of thought, stumbled, stammered, and just - stopped. 

Because essentially, my expressing my fear that perhaps I didn't belong anywhere, that my family was right about me, was met by a "professional," whose job it was to help me, with  "You don't belong, you're not welcome"  - in front of the entire group.

I realize it may have been shocking and a bit much for me to reveal, like that, at group therapy, after six months of trying to help the others in the group, especially with a new facilitator that didn't know me and my usual, but I still don't know why she behaved that way towards me.

Maybe she had been Greek herself?  

Maybe the fact that I was on SGA and appeared so strong and confident and usually helped counsel others, but now was the one that needed help, she thought would bring the group down? 

(However, I wasn't the only one, I'd discover later.)

Regardless, at the time, I didn't see her as being the problem, she was a "professional" - I figured the problem was me - and I now had no support at all and no options for the increasing depression and anxiety but to quietly leave and go to a private therapist.

However, I didn't - because now I was terrified that talking about these feelings with anyone would overwhelm them, be a bombshell,  again - and to just keep pretending I wasn't crumbling inside, despite how I appeared on the outside - only it was now beginning to show.

So I also quit school shortly after that, to be honest - and spiraled into a deep depression. 

Apparently, a few months later, the former facilitator caught wind of what had happened - and her new rules -  because some of the other members had contacted him - because apparently how she'd treated me wasn't the only problem after I left, and at least one member said they missed being able to hang out socially with the other group members, and they felt these rules were bizarre and she was controlling, bullying almost, and not helpful. 

So he called me, telling me that he was shocked at what he'd heard about how I'd been treated by the new facilitator, that he knew I usually spent my time trying to help others in the group, being the consummate social worker, and he would've encouraged my speaking - which he tried to explain to the new facilitator, but she wouldn't listen.  

He then said that he was sorry he couldn't run things anymore, he was semi-retired now - but that he'd put in his two cents with the department over her behavior, regardless, because it was becoming clear that her new rules and behavior were counterproductive - when just like medical doctors, their first priority is supposed to be "Do no harm" - which with therapists, is actually "Do no MORE harm."

However, at last check, maybe 10 years ago, she's actually still there, despite apparently numerous complaints from others - and had become a full professor.   

Power abuse from the strong on the weak is everywhere, ladies and gentlemen - sometimes even in fields that were designed to help others - especially in the South. 

Regardless, he said if nothing else, come back to school - I was so close to finishing and had so much potential, don't let one bad therapist, devoid of empathy for others and just wants to tell others what to do, ruin my life - but it was too late, I was in a deep depression, and now I couldn't speak because every time I tried resulted in a panic attack - but I didn't tell him that. 

I just thanked him and said not to worry about me, I'd been through much worse than that, I was fine - but the truth was, I was spinning with nowhere to land.   

I was now essentially living with my boyfriend, the next year to be my daughter's father, who was likely the worst thing for me, at the time -  essentially just working and coming home on the couch, barely moving to shower, eat, speak, or socialize with anyone at all. 

I really just stopped caring about everything - and it wasn't until I went on one of the new (at the time) SSRI antidepressants that I began to get somewhat better.

Interestingly, though, looking back, that former facilitator who called me after my fellow group members complained on the new one, after I left, was originally from New York, he'd gotten his PhD from Columbia - the best university for psychology in the country.  

I think this is interesting, because it has actually been my experience, both professionally and personally, that despite all of us being educated  in these cultural subjects and knowing better, the therapists who grew up in this area kind of softly enable the culture here because they can't see it objectively, and help keep the status quo instead of facilitating change.

It appears to be only people not originally from the South or suburban/rural Midwest who can see it - which is why I chose my current therapist from Chicago, and she totally sees it and gets it, believe me lol.

(However, she's retiring soon, but I think as a result of her excellent care, I'm ready to stop now anyway or break - she's a grandmother now and wants to spend more time helping care for her grandbaby!)

Regardless, though I already had social anxiety due to experiences growing up - the result of not only my family, but also being cast in a TV movie as a child and being completely unprepared for the social backlash of that -  that later series of events kind of sealed the deal - my social phobia now took over completely and permanently.

I never spoke in public again, and even when asked to introduce myself in a group of any kind, I will excuse myself and leave to the bathroom, before it gets to me, to this day lol.  

In fact, I even left my own baby shower, a year later, out of pure panic, all eyes on me! lol.

I can write it, but I can't speak it - at least not well lol - but those two faces do match, I assure you :)

However, as I said, things got somewhat better when I went on SSRI antidepressants, and I finally went back into private therapy - and I even went back to school when my daughter was about two.  I still white-knuckled the chairs, but I went, never speaking in class - and then again in 2005 in West Florida, when I began to have a voice again, until Hurricanes Ivan, Dennis and Katrina nd an ex-husband who was a 4th hurricane in and of himself kind of ended that journey for me,  especially after the windows were blown out of many college windows after Ivan already lol.  However, I still received straight A's in all my classes, if nothing else? lol

The point is, even though I began to question this culture and this socioeconomic system of ours, I ultimately later landed on the fact that I was just weird and different, a troublemaker if I tried to speak up about anything, and accepted that I was never going to belong anywhere - because essentially, in my mind, I had received confirmation that my family was right about me - I didn't belong anywhere and wasn't worthy of love and acceptance.

However, the good news is, later in life - not very long ago, in fact - that I realized that's not true - and this is what can happen if you insist on turning on the light in a dark room so you all can see better, but all the rats come scurrying out  - then they blame you for turning the light on, they'd rather run around with rats in darkness lol

Also, some words of advice from a therapist - not originally from this area, whom I used to see 20 years ago, whom I recently revisited with, remind me of these words she said that I'd forgotten: 

"It's always a good idea to re-evaluate our presentation, but sometimes, even when you present things with textbook good communication, with extra sugar on top, even with lightening jokes, people still get upset; they may even twist your words and intent, make themselves the victim out of a situation that doesn't require one."

"But just because they didn't react in the way you'd hoped  doesn't automatically mean that something is wrong with you - that what you said was wrong or inappropriate. It could also mean they just didn't want to hear it, likely because it contains some truth they don't want to face, and thus they have to make you the problem.  Always take a second look, but don't assist them in scapegoating you for problems that would exist without you, too, by always blaming yourself, too."

She also said that she had always she thought that when these things happened, not only was it because I was the most principled person in the room, but often the smartest, and neither attribute always sits well with people.

However, though I believe the integrity part, I don't buy the smartest part - and she knows that - so she just focused on not immediately doubting myself every single time I say speak up for something I believe in that may be unpopular - especially if I've thoughtfully considered my presentation and what I'm going to say beforehand lol.


Anyway - it was that project, plus my classroom debate reputation, plus this article I wrote, that put me on UK's SGA - but ultimately resulted in me sending me into a spinning top, with no safe place to land  ...

As for the article, it preceded the group project, and I think I titled it something like "You, Too, Can Shovel Your Way to Prosperity, In 3 Simple Steps?" or something like that, because it was a reaction to a fellow Republican's classmate's story about his grandfather "shoveling chicken seed into trucks during the depression until he created a business empire, and how if we all just worked as hard as his grandfather did, then we, too, could be rich business moguls today."


So because he was a political science major, we were in a few of the same classes as part of the social sciences, and his bow-tie, blue-blazer, khaki-wearing arrogance, clearly loving to hear himself speak, already annoyed me greatly.

So in my reply - which shocked me by being the featured guest opinion, taking up half the page - I think I pronounced his article "bombastic rhetoric" and that was he was  "shoveling something all right, but it's not a path to prosperity, just more unrealistic American fantasy, perpetuating the American myth that the harder you work, the more financially successful you will be - without taking into account that most people don't have the same opportunities that he has been afforded by his wealthy white grandfather,  particularly if they are a person of color or female (or both) - and thus they become unskilled and uneducated manual hourly-wage labor, but nevertheless end up working harder than we ever  could, at jobs we, the educated, think are beneath us, and yet still imagine we've worked harder and are more deserving."

Okay, so - "bombastic rhetoric" might have been a little harsh and antagonistic and OTT? ;)

That was my young, ignorant, "change the world days," which as you can see, turned out well, didn't it?  lol.

I've since learned to temper my opinions with humor and chill out a bit (mostly), as life teaches you,  now that I can somewhat speak again   - but in my one small defense, you should've read his ridiculous fantasy article, too, also written by a person with even less life experience than I had lol.  

Regardless, I saw him that weekend, as he came in the restaurant where I worked while in college.  Interestingly, he smirk-smiled at me, then walked over, and without saying a single word, held out his hand to shake hands, gave me this kind of emphatic, weird salute, and then left -  which I took to mean, "I don't agree, but well done?"   

I'm not sure, but despite the fact that I thought he was a pompous ass and he thought I was a bleeding-heart liberal, we somehow were able to maintain our prior level of mutual respect during debate in classes after that anyway. 

Unfortunately, the rest happened, as above - I made other life choices  (or just didn't care what happened to me, after that) - which would ultimately let know just how on point I actually was with how broken our culture and socioeconomic system actually was - so thus went my brief dalliance with the ideal of journalism lol.

Probably a good idea - I'm likely too biased and opinionated to be objective enough for journalism.

Which I think is actually a prerequisite for today's journalists, I think, and yet still, probably not a good idea for me - especially if I can't handle the backlash, right? ;) 

Because if you want to speak up, you need to be be prepared to handle the backlash - and if you can't, then don't say it, right?

But also, as a result of those experiences, I would now say it's just as important - after double-checking yourself to make sure you're not mistaken, but coming up with the same conclusion - to not take back what you said, despite it being unpopular, if you're sure it's the right thing to say or do, particularly if on behalf of others  -  even if the rats in the room scatter all over you, or people you thought were friends prefer to run with rats, just because they are more of them than you :) 

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