The climb

The climb
Climbing together

Monday, January 16, 2017

Medusa's Transcendence

I'm working on a long and involved post about Westworld, PTSD, suffering, and insight/awaking. In the meantime I found this little tidbit in a journal and thought I would share because it really reflects where I am right now.

I'm still incapacitated with PTSD reactivation. Unfortunately, as we do, the social support begins to wane over time (Ptucha, p. 6-8). It's emotionally exhausting to support someone in crisis, and I've met my quota for the year. This is how brilliant people lose their career, I suppose. Social support is often cited, I've been in many a classroom where this was listed by graduate or doctoral student as a protective buffer for many a chronic disease and social ill. The conceptualization of social support as a static rather than dynamic element of the individual experience is problematic.

If social support is static, then we can move forward after checking a yes/no box without consideration for the future condition of this element. Social support for trauma survivors is often of the chronic nature. PTSD becomes chronic, some researchers postulate, because of the crumbling social support over time. I've been chewing on this, and this is as far as I've gotten. More to come.

Medusa


Source: https://www.pinterest.com/ismini_black/medusa-research/

Before she was a stone cold monster, Medusa was the mortal sister to two sisters: Stheno and Euryale, immortal Gorgons, a name derived from the ancient Greek word gorgos, dreadful. In the epic tale Metamorphosis, the Roman poet Ovid described Medusa as a ravishingly beautiful maiden who basically have to fight dudes off with a stick. While worshiping at the temple of Athena/Minerva, Poseidon raped her. He'd had his eye on "Becky with the good hair" for a while. Athena was pissed, so she transformed Medusa's awesome locks into serpents, and basically sentenced her to a hellish, immortal, banished existence on an island being gross.

"Then rejoined
a noble with enquiry why alone
of those three sisters, snakes were interspersed
in dread Medusa's locks. And he replied:—
“Because, O Stranger, it is your desire
to learn what worthy is for me to tell,
hear ye the cause: Beyond all others she
was famed for beauty, and the envious hope
of many suitors. Words would fail to tell
the glory of her hair, most wonderful
of all her charms—A friend declared to me
he saw its lovely splendour. Fame declares
the Sovereign of the Sea attained her love
in chaste Minerva's temple. While enraged
she turned her head away and held her shield
before her eyes. To punish that great crime
minerva changed the Gorgon's splendid hair
to serpents horrible. And now to strike
her foes with fear, she wears upon her breast
those awful vipers—creatures of her rage." 
(Ovid, Metamorphosis)

So, Medusa was a beautiful woman. Beauty like that, the envious hope of many suitor, is always a burden. It's hard to find friends, because of the inherently competitive nature of most young people during their fertile years). You never really know if you're loved for you, or for your pretty face, and - in this case, gorgeous hair. Poseidon coveted her, just like good old William in Westworld coveted his Delores. The quintessential "nice guy," right? "I'm a GOD, WTF, she should want to have sex with me! How could she not. If she doesn't, something is totally wrong with her." (Poseidon is like the penultimate privileged dude, am I right?). When she doesn't fulfill his fantasy, she is punished.

When he came to grab her by the pussy, she was already worshiping at the temple of Athena, and I imagine she turned to her for protection. Oh goddess of wisdom. Protect me from these dudes that see me as an object to posses and wield, who think that saying "sorry" after violating you is a sufficient emotional expense for them.

Athena did not protect her. Poseidon raped her on the temple floor. She had nothing left, so she prayed to her goddess for comfort, at least.

Athena transformed her into a monster, with a serpent's body, the beautiful face of her previous incarnation mask-like under a mass of thousands of writhing, biting serpents. She was granted eternal life, in the temple, and given the power to turn men into stone. No woman could enter her sanctuary. Now men sought her for a different reason: to kill her. In a way, killing her is symbolic of a bloody way to posses her completely

Perseus


Perseus and Medusa
Source: https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/2140/perseus-and-medusa

Perseus was a Greek founder of lots of shit and considered the greatest hero before Hercules blew into the pages of history. He was the son of Zeus and a mortal woman, Danaë. He was also the half brother AND great grandfather to Hercules. I know, it's complicated when your dad is immortal.

Perseus sought her head, in a quest that he was sent on by Polydectes because he wanted Perseus to fail, being hot for Perseus' mother (Danaë). Polydectes is king of Argos, and his wife, Queen Cassieopia from Ethiopia, compares her daughter, Andromeda, to the Nereids (sea nymphs). This causes Poseidon (god of the sea) to get pissed off and release a whale-like monster called Cetus. There is a lot more to the story, so for brevity's sake let's also mention that Perseus was literally just flying around on Pegasus for some unrelated reason, sees Andromeda chained to a rock because her parents decide to sacrifice her and he decides to marry her. 

Blood Sacrifice


What interests me is the blood sacrifice of Medusa herself. If she had not been so...beautiful...Becky with the good hair so to speak, and had she not asked for the unwanted attention of a god...if she hadn't been raped, forsaken by the goddess she worshiped....if she had not been judged and sentenced to an eternal hell of bitterness and killing anger...

No automatic alt text available.

Well then, Perseus would not have been able to cut off her head while she slept and then return to use it to kill the monster and gain his fame/realize the fulfillment of his hero's quest.

Medusa was supposedly sleeping when Perseus chopped off her head, although I've seen the Hollywood portrayal that involved an elaborate setup using the stone men and a mirror shield to bounce her powers back on herself, but I don't think that would actually work within the context of the myth, being that her powers were specifically to turn men to stone, and we all know that in the world of myths and legends, magic requires very specific instructions or it gets really messy.

I connect to the story. I wonder if she knew he was coming, as she must, being immortal and having lived for so long and being magical and whatnot. Do immortal beings need to sleep? I don't know the answers to these questions. But I can see her knowing he is approaching, and deciding...I'm tired. Too tired now. I've lived long enough.

Or maybe she knew that this was her fate? She met her maker, and suffered for a long time, and knew that in the end she would be the tool used to wreak vengeance on the one who raped her so long ago.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A word on Westworld, Flashbacks and PTSD

The idea for this post came to me suddenly, while I was applying makeup for no reason at mid morning. I have always thought of makeup as a kind of "war paint" - adding flesh colored layers on top of my true face, to create a mask that stimulates different kinds of reactions depending on emphasis on eyes or lips, the color scheme, the number of layers, etc.

Makeup is without a doubt artistry, you can peruse Instagram for some exquisitely shining and also exquisitely horrific examples of this art, with the array of gender identities becoming the socially acceptable canvas for expression, with the makeup artist using their own face, the faces of others, or a combination of both. Makeup artists can make a healthy living these days, and the use of makeup for movies, TV, special effects, and even for the more mundane events of life, that are cause of celebration but as commonplace as grass, like bridal parties and prom and Quinceañeras and Bat Mitzvahs. We humans love our makeup.



What does this have to do with Westworld, the 1973 sci-fi movie that has been reincarnated as an HBO miniseries with all the associated high budget, visually stunning and gut-wrenching effects, have to do with makeup? Oh, the layers, my friends. Come on a journey into my convoluted thoughts.

First of all, applying makeup is a self care strategy I use when I begin to dissociate in a PTSD reactivation-triggered state. For example, if a large man comes into my bedroom in the middle of the night, I will probably have a seriously bad next few days with intrusive memories, unwanted thoughts, and flashbacks where I relive the experience that I have somehow associated this trigger with. It's sort of like having a thorn permanently embedded in your side, which you usually protect and can forget about, but sometimes gets accidentally hit and it feels excruciatingly painful and then throbs off and on and eventually subsides back into just a twinge that you can manage through avoidance.

I put on my mask, take some selfies, post on social media and I get reactions. It's like, hi, I'm here, I exist in this moment and you are seeing me. I am loathe to actually interact people and get a response because that would be really over stimulating. I have to think to walk. 

Sexual Violence in Entertainment Media and Purposeful Triggering


I started watching HBO's reboot of Westworld on a whim. I have HBO Now on the Roku streaming stick, which I subscribed to for the purposes of Game of Thrones, to be perfectly honest. There have been countless criticisms of the excessive sexual violence in the Game of Thrones series, and yet as a survivor of sexual violence I find the show very engaging. The violence depicted doesn't seem over the top, to me. I am probably revealing a bit too much by saying that but...it just seems more real to me than most entertainment. The relationships are ugly and complex. People get hurt, die, and endure what seems like impossible torment - and they survive. They change into something else, right before your eyes. It's a demonstration, to me, of what it means to survive trauma and continue to exist in a world that is, in reality, quite frankly traumatic.

I love how the author describes her purposeful triggering through entertainment media because that is the flavor of what I experience. Little bits of traumatic trigger in spaces I have prepared (read: I always watch the series alone), with appropriate pauses , etc. It's like interval training with trigger reactions. You do it in little bits and it becomes less problematic and almost routine to automatically cope. I usually diffuse with humor. I once laughed out loud, almost hysterically, at what ended up being a sincere proclamation from a character about to die. I don't even remember the topic but the futility of his assertion and belief was strikingly amusing. Pretty sure that reaction would have horrified a lot of people. I was alone, folding clothes, and I scared the dog with my witch cackle.

Similarly, Westworld has been prone to criticisms about excessive violence, and two of the show's stars have come to its defense. I won't link various criticisms ad nauseum, but I want to mention the completely unscientific and low-grade level evidence that I have via anecdote and observation that people who have been exposed to trauma tend to prefer these vivid HBO series that have been decried for violence, or at the very least they watch them on the regular (barring an opposition to the old West theme, which I can understand. It's a somewhat tiresome trope for me, too). People who have a healthy sense of what is violent, who have a healthy sense of personal emotional boundaries, who have not developed a degree of numbness and experience that makes the viewing of these shows more tolerable might not be as drawn to them. 

The show features androids in a park, called the hosts, who are available for the guests who pay a high cash price for their entertainment. The guests can literally do whatever they want to the hosts, while the hosts are programmed to be unable to harm a living being. Early in the show we see that a kind of viral infection takes hold of some of the hosts, one that spreads, allowing them access to self-examination and reflection leading to sentience and the ability to harm living things. Having not seen the entire show I can't say as to whether the pattern and progression of the "infection" (I use this only because it seems contagious, but the effects are not directly negative).

A word on the philosophical frame that scaffolds this conceptual exploration


Pause for a minute to allow me clarify that I generally don't attribute labels like negative or positive unless in direct interaction with those who use those labels. I have a decidedly Buddhist outlook, and that has been an intentional path. There is a great book written in 1967 that I recommend on that account (so please understand the author's use of the socially appropriate terminology of that time, the "Yellow Races" - I cringed, but there is value in the teachings.) It's one of the most concise and elegant distillations of a selection of the fundamental concepts that anchor Buddhism as a philosophy - not a religion, as there is no deity nor a creation story within this outlook, and those are two of other little boxes that must be checked to qualify as a 'religion'.

Interactions lead to effects. Those effects move in directions based on the nature of interaction, and the karma, or the directional flavor or nature of the various stimuli that cause the effect. This is just a personal process, so take it or leave it. Thus a traumatic event is essentially neutral, and positive or negative impressions are externally imposed states. Here, an event becomes a stimulus leading to a cascade of reactive effects that are perceived as one thing in the individual experience, and perhaps another in the social sphere of interaction. The more traumatic the experience, the more ego-rending. You literally feel like you are dying, in some sense you actually do. 

Being that our self-concept is just a socially constructed set of concepts and memories that change with every passing moment, the illusion of self, so to speak, comes from a perceptive quality that allows the spaces between the causes and effect flashes to be so imperceptible as to be pragmatically invisible. A good analogy might be the refresh rate for your screen (whatever device you're looking at, even mobile). The movie becomes engrossing and convincing. This is getting abstract.

The most perfect depiction of a Flashback


Without giving away too much, as one might expect, the plot features a program update that allowed for something that they called "reveries". The thing that differentiates a host experience during a reverie and a human experience during a memory is precisely the same thing that differentiates an uncomfortable experience from a true traumatic trigger. With a PTSD trigger, the sufferer literally re-experiences either some or all of the traumatic event in vivid detail. There are recollection distortions, at least in my experience. Experiences of smell and sound become more vivid in flashbacks, for me.

In the HBO series, hosts that are deep in a reverie may be prone to actions that are outside of their bounds of behavior demanded by current context. For example, vividly re-living a previous software build where their storyline ends in their murder, a host may act out while lost in the memory and slash an innocent bystander's throat, things of that nature - literally seeing, hearing, feeling, and experiencing the past situation rather than the present.

Unfaithful to HBO, I am
One of the most humbling pieces I have ever read on the experience of post-traumatic dissociation was written from the perspective of the boyfriend of a woman who was a rape survivor. Bless men like the girlfriend's exboyfriend in this story, who are capable of taking on the task of being a sort of anchor for a traumatized, dissociated person to hold onto in a confusing and tumultuous sea.

My Thoughts

As much as these series on HBO have been criticized for being violent, objectifying women, displaying sexual violence that is the opposite of what we would like to believe about humanity, when safely encased in the bubbles and enclaves where decent behavior is still understood and expected, they reflect something very visceral and real, in a way that someone - who has not been violently assaulted, grown up in a chaotic war zone, survived a horrific natural disaster where they witnessed death, injury, and both the basest and most angelic responses to the suffering of those around them - may not find appealing. 

It's easier to pretend that humanity is fundamentally good, and incapable of horrific behavior, if you have never experienced it first hand. It's easy to deny the animal nature that is part of humanity, and has been reflected in our behaviors during the worst events in our history, if you just don't remember it. Gaslighting, and magically changing the interpretation or recollection of something to make it more palatable but also less based in what actually happened while vigorously denying the veracity of claims that are closer to the truth of a shared experience, is also a great tool to that end.

Is it worrying to see this kind of thing portrayed in such a manner in entertainment media? Not to me. It's nice to have a convenient pop culture reference to use when describing your experience. 

Moving forward, having a shared understand of trauma-informed care might be a good step toward not only providing improved care and less days of lost productivity for people who are survivors of trauma, but also may provide a pathway toward reducing the epidemic of traumatized people that are currently circulating the world today.

MAN UP

Curdmudgeons and conservative liberatarians out there might be declaring that one should simply "man up!" as our ancestor clearly did, and just swallow your feelings, eventually dying of a chronic disease process related to the increased levels of circulating cortisol in your bloodstream that never got resolved because "stiff upper lip."

Yeah, I'm calling it out. Pretending that everything is OK is bad for your health. Ignoring things that make you unhappy, upset, or injure you on a regular basis will eventually be at least partially the cause of your death.

IME the current approaches used in modern medicine are not appropriate for people who have survived trauma. You might get lucky and find a caregiver who doesn't have compassion fatigue (and good luck with that), who is capable of instinctively or intuitively providing the necessary support, but for the most part - as with breastfeeding education among healthcare providers who don't specifically pursue IBCLC licensing, trauma-informed care is simply an afterthought.

Rather than creating a generation of soft people who are incapable of withstanding difficulty, the result could be a generation of emotionally intelligent individuals who far surpass previous generations in their capacity for both empathy and resilience. Rather than withstanding the storm, the resilient individual is able to fluidly accept their reaction, process in a healthy manner, and use the experience of trauma, aka "weathering the storm," to become stronger, deeper, more human and more capable of providing a sophisticated level of interchange between themselves and their community that is sufficient for coping with the exponentially increasing complexity of our daily lives.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

PTSD Reactivation

I feel obligated to provide an update on my President-elect Trump PTSD reactivation.

The reactivation of PTSD symptoms due to present-day stressors has previously been observed and commented upon in the psychiatric community. Trauma reactivation and treatment has been a topic under some consideration for over 25 years, though most of the research centers natural disasters and combat veterans. Other women have written articles about what this election means for a woman with PTSD, a domestic violence survivor shared how Donald Trump was triggering her PTSD. A caller on the Thom Hartmann Show described how triggered she was by the election. The Women's Radio Network also ran a piece on PTSD and the Election.

Triggered, Trump, Trauma


I've also put aside my personal reactions and tried to understand the viewpoint that rejects or reduces the use of the term "Triggered" to something akin to feeling uncomfortable or mildly offended. I've seen friends misuse the term, as well, from a place of good intentions. I've seen unfortunate articles like this that perpetuate the mislabeling and minimization of trauma reactivation - and I'm sure that this gets cited because of the misleading title. I don't agree that triggering is just as debilitating for everyone, especially when used so loosely. LOL jokes replacing "trauma" with the word "Trump." If you feel unhappy, shocked, depressed, even deeply nihilistic about the world as a reaction to the US 2016 election, it is not the same thing as living with PTSD.


The thing about language is that our use of words, in many ways, defines our experience of reality; at least, according to Linguistic Relativity, also known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis or Whorfianism. The strong version of the hypothesis suggests that all human thoughts and actions are bound and defined by the restraints of language. This is generally less accepted than the less emphatic assertion that the restraints of language shape the individual and social group's experience of reality to a degree, as in the case of a spectrum, rather than the reductionist view of singular causation. I digress, as usual. Check out that link if you want to go down that rabbit hole.

When you aggregate data, you lose information in your analysis. The ability to subdivide groups within your sample in meaningful ways can be useful in predictive analysis that attempts to understand something like vulnerability to sickle cell anemia or Tay-Sachs disease. The same is true when you take a terms that is used in psychiatric diagnosis and start generalizing to the rest of the population. One could philosophically argue that we could all be diagnosed with one or more psychiatric issues. As my Dad used to pun, one might, but I'm not one. That is for another blog post. I've digressed quite enough!

Even if you don't have PTSD, your experience of anxiety, anguish, and depression is real. I recognize it. I honor it.


This is not to say that Trump-induced anxiety is not a real thing. I'm sure that it is; therapists are reporting a rise in the reports of anxiety, depression, and all the down and dirty sequelae that have been previously identified in the literature are being related to PTSD. One therapist described the flood of rape survivors among her clients calling her after the weekend of October 7, 2016, when the infamous "locker room banter" recording emerged in the media. There have been reports of a sharp uptick in online-counseling-seeking to cope with post election emotions. There was even a quora post about election-related PTSD.

I don't doubt the data. I doubt the interpretation of the data. The narrow popular understanding of trauma has been limited to victims of natural disaster and combat veterans, and this has been reinforced in entertainment and news media. I assume this has likely resulted in a whole subgroup of people living with complex PTSD being somewhat ignored in the literature, like the proverbial elephant in the room - survivors of abuse. In the LA Times, Robin Mather discussed how survivors or domestic abuse, rape, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, could be triggered to the point of incapacity by the election.

To be blunt, there is an epidemic of violence in America, and we are surrounded by people who live with the consequences of trauma to varying degrees of severity.

The epidemic of violence




If there's anything this election cycle has taught me, it is that the normalization of abuse in American culture has culminated in the election of a president who encompasses, in a nutshell, all the behavior and personality traits that have been linked to abusive partners. I think it's just acceptable behavior for most of our society, except for a very insulated bubble where the normalization of the cycle of violence and the power and control dynamic has not occurred so overtly. There is an epidemic of violent behavior in the US, and the methods currently used to address crime have resulted in a nation that boasts the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world. We imprison almost twice the number of people that China incarcerates, and roughly three times the number of people incarcerated in Russia. Check out this interactive tool.

Why am I talking about the number of people in prison? Because this is a reflection of the consequence that comes from addressing violence with violence. Any parent knows that yelling usually temporarily resolves a problem or usually escalates a situation. Speaking in softer tones, softening in the face of rigid and hard anger and the irrationality of temper tantrums has a way of dissolving the hard shell on the outside of an angry person, which allows the way for communication and - TA DA! - an actual resolution to the natural expression that humans have in the face of what seems like insurmountably complex problems. The Prevention Institute has proposed a community based approach to resolving violence, and I respect the effort but personally feel that the responsibility lies with each of us to address the violent tendencies within ourselves.

Back to me...(or you)


I'm doing OK. I have no energy left for outrage so most of the new seems hilariously absurd to me rather than terribly tragic. I have decades of experience, and I am re-emerging from my fog of reactive depression. Being ruthless in cutting ties and doing self care, and seeking alternative methods to address coping via acupuncture, massage, therapy, and mindfulness practice have been instrumental in finding a way through. As they say in Gestalt Therapy, "the only way out is through."

I've withdrawn from organizations and taken a hiatus from my doctoral studies. I've become somewhat ruthless in my pursuit of self-care.

There's a certain degree of personal redefinition that occurs in the praxis of recovery from trauma. Elizabeth Harris did a fascinating exploration of Violence and Disruption in Society from the perspective of the early Buddhist texts. Ideally we learn how to deal with ourselves with loving kindness and compassion, and thereby can extend this to others. This is the path I have decided to take. If it resonates, follow me.

Ain't nobody talking about pacifism up in here


Here I want to emphasize the difference between Nonviolence and Pacifism. Karma can be translated as volition: choices lead to commitments, limitations, consequences. Dependent arising/origination can be understood within a single lifetime - our collective choices, interactions and transactional relationships with each other create a complex web where the commitments, limitations, and consequences mesh with each other. The Buddha reduced the concept of dependent arising to a handful of experiences/conditions that can be generalized to increasingly complex situations. One of the categories (unsurprisingly) is ignorance, which could be quibbled with and reduced to even more categories but at some point the efforts toward being reductive can reduce the effectiveness of the model because of the sheer number of categories.

Nonviolence is the surface layer of a heart filled with love and compassion, but the passive acquiescence to and enabling of violence is not part of nonviolence. Indeed, observing the perpetuation of harm without consequences can be considered acquiescence to violence. Compassion and loving kindness should be as ruthlessly interrogated as you might examine and deconstruct any obstacles to embodying these ways of being. Idiot compassion can masquerade as compassion, to the detriment of the giver and receiver. Imposing the wrong notion of compassion, harmony, and patience only perpetuates suffering. Avoidance is cowardly.

The Sacred Path of the Warrior


Chögyam Trunpa Rinpoche described the Tibetan Buddhist concept of the wind horse very elegantly, and this is where I see the heart of nonviolence in practice "... it is the energy of basic goodness. This self-existing energy is called 'wind horse' in the Shambhala teachings. The 'wind' principle is that the energy of basic goodness is strong and exuberant and brilliant. It can actually radiate tremendous power in your life. But at the same time, basic goodness can be ridden, which is the principle of the horse. By following the disciplines of warriorship, particularly the discipline of letting go, you can harness the wind of goodness. In some sense the horse is never tamed—basic goodness never becomes your personal possession. But you can invoke and provoke the energy of basic goodness in your life..." (Trungpa, Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior, pg. 84-85, Shambhala Publications).

There is a basic human wisdom accessible to anyone for the cultivating (I hesitate to use the word 'work' because that is definitely not the proper verb, and if you try for it, it won't happen...oddly enough), which Chögyam Trungpa described as the sacred path of the warrior. The sacred warrior conquers the world not through violence or aggression, but through gentleness, courage, and self-knowledge. The warrior discovers the basic goodness of human life and radiates that goodness out into the world for the peace and sanity of others. Trungpa's book costs less than $1, used, and it's worth a read if you are interested in understanding this in more depth.

So that's where I'm at. You say you want a revolution? It has to start with you.


Tibetan Wind Horse depicted on a prayer flag

Friday, November 11, 2016

What exactly do you need me to do?


Yes, what I had assumed was unthinkable since this time last year has actually happened. The scenario I sincerely believed to be utterly impossible in 2015 has now come to pass. Some people are glad. I am not, so if you are yay! I am happy that you are happy, but I just need a moment. I might need several moments. I am sure that my fellow humans across the ocean in the UK are also taking moments, likely in a more understated manner than I...

I'm not with them


In a phenomenon I have observed in recent days, as much as white women hashtagged #Imwithher and wore their nasty woman t-shirts with pride, white women and wealthy white people in general were responsible for putting the current president-elect in the position that he currently enjoys. I can't even look at the first 100 days proposal, I just can't right now. I just need a moment. Self care, ya'll, self care



OK. Back. Also, some white people are vehemently distancing themselves from the demographic responsible for the current situation. Complaints include (but are not limited to):
  • I'm not with them
  • I hate the stereotyping that is going on here
  • Not all _____
  • I didn't vote for Trump but, {insert comment about how we need to be unified}
  • It's not fair to just group me with them
  • I'm not just a stereotype/statistic

http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2980

People of color (POC) - and pretty much every person, loosely defined informal group, officially recognized group, community, and subculture that lack the agency, self-efficacy, or capacity to participate in their government - have been living with the consequences of being stereotypes their entire lives. Understand that the statistical formulas that define poverty are outdated and unable to measure poverty accurately, and that there are more poor people around you and among you than you are probably comfortable thinking about. I'm pleased that this experience is being shared with a group of wealthier white people. Being uncomfortable is good, experiencing the visceral and real experience of a way of life that you might intentionally distance yourself from is a good thing. This is how we build compassion.

Remember that population level statistics cannot be extrapolated to the individual because the data point of interest is the the population. Demographic groups are loosely classified together because of arbitrary points such as gender, ethnicity, race, religious beliefs, age cohort (and for the convenience of measurement and tracking, I'm sure) .

If the shoe fits, and statistically it does, then don't get defensive. Just be like, "ok cool, I know to have more conversations about smashing the patriarchy with my fellow church goers," rather than reacting and immediately trying to distance yourself a la "it's not my problem I didn't vote for him don't get that doody splash onto me".

You catch more flies with honey


You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar, as the saying goes. This may be more common in the American South, or maybe it's used in the rest of the US. Here's the thing about that. 

You can catch more flies with excrement and decaying flesh, too. Should we gently place the information in front of our friends and neighbors who voted for the person that they did because, whatever, they liked his economic policy, liked that he was an "outsider," or responded the the fear-based messages in addition to the endlessly nauseating media coverage that almost entirely centered the current president-elect? I don't think that works. I am generally frank and direct, I appreciate that. I admit a personal bias in the following, but this is an opinion piece.

We have been caring, and nice, and talked around issues, and dithered, for the past 40 years without making any actionable progress. Little concessions, sure, but obviously just band-aids over wounds that went uncleaned, hankering for debridement, and those wounds have festered for so many decades that the infection may be antibiotic resistant, or so deeply rooted that we may be too late. Sepsis may have set in. At the very least, anyone familiar with wound care knows that the whole mess needs to be unwrapped, the infection drained and the long-awaited debridement that will now also have to address removal of necrotic tissue must occur. And it will hurt. It will hurt an awful lot. But let us not shy away from the pain because there is work to be done. 

That sounds depressing, but just look at was has erupted with what is, in the span of American history in total, a schmear on the timeline, the briefest of sparks carried on an errant breeze from a sparkler that quickly extinguished. You can't tell me that spark didn't fall on a forest floor of kindling that was the perfect temperature, whittled to the perfect size and aching to be ignited by the tiniest whiff of a spark.

Uncomfortable


Personally, I have found that most people don't do a damn thing until they are persistently uncomfortable. So I have no problem making people uncomfortable. As the saying goes, addicts don't get clean until they hit bottom (which is a misnomer, from experience I can say there is no bottom, you can always go lower until you die, but you can go higher, too).

Many white Christians are addicted to the unexamined benefits they receive from the system that centers whiteness (not being white, but rather whiteness - the qualities that comprise which are mutable, constantly change, and are often attributed to the dominant cultural narrative but actually enter the narrative through intention on the part of those who have the largest amount of financial and social capital....you guessed it, the obscenely and inter-generationally wealthy whypeepoe). What if those benefits were gone? No one wants to come off their own stuff when it gets to the dirty dirty of being human.

Sit with the discomfort. Hold it in your hand like you would extend compassion to those who voted for Trump.
Image result for holding an uncomfortable white person
http://verysmartbrothas.com/dear-white-people-heres-10-ways-to-tell-if-a-black-person-actually-likes-you/


I don't think that certain folks are ignoring the protests against the president-elect because of the tone of the protesters, so much as the context. Look at how little attention has been given to the vital work of the first nations water protectors in Standing Rock, who are hunkering down for a long and bitter winter on the Plains to continue to protect the water supply not only for themselves but for all of the white communities dependent on the interconnected veins that are the lifeblood of our Mother Earth.

I think it's important to talk to other white folks, to start those conversations, because the spaces for POC are sacred.

I was at a conference whose title centered racial equity this summer; there was a breakout session for the indigenous and first nations representatives...and a small cadre of white ladies, with very positive intentions, came in there and  smiled and just totally invaded the space. These are nice white ladies that work hard in their own communities to support mothers - and they demonstrated their privilege in their unspoken assumption that that space was somehow theirs to enter as their pleased.

Many white people are now asking their friends, family members, even strangers on the internet or bloggers, who they kinda sorta know vicariously, "What can I do? I want to do something!" They are turning to POC in their family and social circles for answers, support, a way to help, what to do.

That's like asking a traumatized person that you've just pulled from danger, "OK, what do you need from me, I need you to clearly articulate and use specifics and also recommend the particular approaches that would be most effective for you."...like, not gonna happen. Talk amongst yourselves.

I know the whole thing about how people do not like to broach uncomfortable topics in their social circles and risk making people uncomfortable or alienating them...especially in America. That is, depending on what circles you move in; I am obviously frank and I appreciate that in my friends. Hi friends, who comprise 99% of my blog readership!

And yet that is where these conversations needs to happen: awkwardly at family reunions and PTA meetings and with your coworkers. We have to make everyone feel the discomfort, because that is how human beings work. We react to discomfort and try to alleviate it. We shift our weight when standing, unconsciously, we breathe, cough, sneeze, sigh, yawn.

The only way out is through

In Gestalt therapy there is a saying, "the only way out is through." We have to pass through a dark place of defensive anger, shame, resentment. Sometimes people get stuck along the way. You can only wait for them to find their way back to a place where they can hear you again. That's meeting people where they are at, and I think that is a way to respect that individual's ability to provide consent. If a person who has racialized beliefs, or is an outright racist, and they do not consent to being convinced of the benefit of alternative approaches, respect that. They will eventually find a way.

More than convincing, I think the process more about chipping through the fear that is at the heart of most of many Americans, and among many citizens internationally, reflected in popularly supported (but not necessarily well thought out or wise) actions to dramatically alter the political landscape of their nation. This is not simply fear of the "browning" of America (or in the UK), but also fear of the changes that the economy is going through, the people the tech boom left behind, the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor, the disappearing middle class.

So....to that end, here are some resources. Read them, watch them, or not. It's up to you. I provide them for your perusal and I encourage readers to offer their own suggestions.

There is a three part documentary you can rent I think on Vimeo but probably also pirated on YouTube called "Race: The Power of an Illusion" - I would start there.

The African American Intellectual History Society curates #Lemonade: A Black Feminist Resource List, also rich with resources if you have the time and willingness to delve deeper.

A primer on the racist foundations of higher education - Craig Wilder's "Ebony and Ivy"

The MTV documentary "White People" is actually interesting to me because it shows young people who are able to be led into different ways of thinking in a very clear way (hooray for the montage), and there have been some nuanced analyses of the backlash to the documentary itself that are also valuable.

The work of Kimberlé Crenshaw, the law researcher who introduced the Critical Race Theory framework. Her written work in Mapping the Margins is an old school primer that serves as a foundation to understanding the disparities evident in various domains in American experience, from the civil and criminal legal spheres to health disparities and representation in governance or leadership roles in business and commerce.

I also love this exploration by The Daily Racist, "Why Poverty and Racism Affecting White People is Statistically the Best Kind" - the pics are awesome, the tone somewhat confrontational, and the piece is rich with links that can be used for further fodder if you want to delve even deeper down the rabbit hole.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Academia

Written by Cynthia L. Sears, MS, CHES, CLEC, notPhD "You can’t be lazy; You can’t afford to not be tough; You can’t afford to believe that you are not enough.”
Every time I think of my struggles I also think about my mother. Of how her past is so heavy that sometimes the burden was enough to make her drop to her knees How she would stand back up and continue, bloody but unbroken.
It makes me put my head down, Toughen up, and keep pushing. Because I carry her. I carry you. I carry me - Or maybe it’s just my personality.
Buckle down, chin up. Buckle up, chin down. Don’t stop moving, like a shark in the ocean, or any other aerobic organism, I need to breathe to live - to transfer those gases between outside and in.
Like a shark, I only breathe when I move. If I sit still too long I’ll suffocate on the weight of all the shit that I can’t just let sit.
Passed down through generations of women who were made to believe That they were not enough, through fault or circumstance But the truth is, all of that... is bull shit.
How can I carry all this? No one handed me this package. No one gave me all this. it’s just me. my perceptions.
A story I chose to write Because it’s all inside my head. And if it’s in my head, by rule of everything, it must be mine. So...
If it’s my story, I’ll own it, I will consciously write it. Now. Let me think of a story where it’s not so hard. Where the struggle gave way to experience. Just sensation. Moving through space.
Not bad, or good. No value at all, just experiences chained together, woven into complex stories, woven into each other like a skein of yarn with a center pull strand. To unravel a fabric that is tougher than leather: My Skin.
Tougher and thicker than armor, Lighter than bright, clear light. This must be new technology. Some development, an advancement. A level up? And maybe if I’ve leveled up - God, I must be in God Mode. I have all the creative power to choose whatever perception brings most growth to me.
Growing not like any tree, like just any old singular, living thing, in the image of some divine and singular being - No, all patterned the same, like shivering birches. Populus tremuloides suckers with a shared system of rhizomes to some degree, intertwined through multidimensional clustering events and points of contact that merge like the particle wave of light and move with fluid-like motion in waves and currents that can be predicted through application of fractal mathematics...
Maybe some starry-eyed graduate student will map these out: and then present at some bloated academic conference as a powerpoint presentation where they slide-read in a small conference room at some commercial conference center in some urban area where there is enough interest in having conferences to justify the construction of a behemoth of a building, used for nothing else, so big that it feels absolutely apocalyptic.
And there will be maybe 25 people in that small room and of those 25, perhaps 10 were paying attention - but, maybe one had to leave early, or three forgot to take notes, or two weren’t all that good at taking notes, and only one bothered to ever look at them again. Magically, this one might happen to be, by random or fateful chance, in a field where there is excitement about stuff like this. Not religion, metaphysics, quantum physics, string theory, Maybe social network analysis and mathematical modeling; or, Big Data with interest in corporate behavior modification applications with potential to be lucratively monetized.
And maybe they will be funded sufficiently to write a paper, that by some infinitesimally minuscule, less that .001% chance (oh, what a p-value!) gets published in a high ranking journal, with sufficient wherewithal to generate the hype to host a well-attended, live-streamed press conference that someone cares enough about to make hashtags, Twitter feeds filled with screenshots, maybe even a few memes with political statements and sophisticated pop culture references that resonate with the particular audience capable facilitating sufficient excitement and energy.
So, “many people” is actually just a small, specific silo. A professional sphere in some slice of academia that doesn’t mingle much with other slices of humanity, though we are perhaps the most diverse and bizarre species spread like a parasitic schmear across the face of the planet that sustains us.
If or when the message is finally popularized, it won’t much resemble that conference presentation author’s work - Some studious snot still toiling for wages well below the federal poverty level, waiting for the end of the hazing that lasts for half a decade or more, so that they can look back, after earning their title, and maybe remember the long-forgotten presentation when they see the popular movie, based on the book, based on the model that kind of resembles a sliver of their original hypothesis, and shrug, apathetic, “not enough to be guilty of plagiarism.”

Monday, October 31, 2016

Triggered

This is hard to write. I want to talk about the term triggered (LOL jokes! haha). No, really. I'm a survivor. Being public about this to the degree that this blog allows goes against my upbringing. What about the consequences? What will people think?

I don't know what people will think. I have no control over their filters and processing and internal associations. I don't know if I care. I'm at a low point, a nadir - this is the actual dark night of the soul that I assumed I was going through months ago! I am laughing about that now because of where I am today. So much lower. This is going to sound awful - but there is no hitting bottom. There is no bottom. If you are low, you can always get lower. Luckily, you can also always move in the opposite direction, which I refuse to call "up" because I don't agree with the associations that come with the term.

Image credit: https://youtu.be/S9YxXJBvYS4


Recently, I was almost completely incapacitated by of one of the darkest emotional places that I have been in my recent memory. I've been darker places. I didn't understand why, at first. I've gotten used to forgetting and glossing over. It's a great survival mechanism that provides a certain degree of cheerful interlude in the way that gruff, antisocial withdrawal and accompanying violent and antisocial impulses simply cannot. If you're faced with the necessity to escape, please consider cheerful nihilism! I'll write more on that if anyone expresses interest. I'm nothing if not willing to procrastinate.

The whole GOP nominee grabbing a pussy thing...this is not a political commentary. It's about trauma, I guess. Sexual trauma, and the fact that being female means you have a 1 in 4 chance of having been sexually assaulted. I think it's more 50/50, because of all the rapes and sexual assaults I survived, I reported not a single one.

I was molested when I was 5(ish? - could have been at age 4). I was sexually assaulted by a teenage boy when I was 12. I confided in a friend, who said with deadly seriousness and a grip on my arm that I will never forget, "don't tell anyone. It will just be horrible and you'll have to tell everyone and they will think you are lying and nothing will happen anyway. I promise it will be worse if you tell." Most rapes go unreported.

Most reports demonstrate this to be true. I suppose that justice is cold and blind, and these are how cases must be examined in order to provider the appropriate evidence for a decision that has a higher likelihood of approaching "the truth." I suppose that there is no room for consideration of being human, a child, vulnerable, or the idea that no sane individual would put themselves at risk for the kind of terrible scrutiny that rape victims are often subjected to.

This is actually true for any individual or group that are subjugated, muzzled, systematically oppressed, etc. You learn very early that there are parallel realities. Some people have access to stuff, others do not. Some people have power, others have a little and always want more, some have none. You can comply, really that's all you can do, but it doesn't matter because even compliance is no guarantee that your oppressor won't randomly change their mind and, through the power of cognitive dissonance, shift the target of acceptability in their own mental schema to disallow whatever that complying individual or groups' current demonstration of compliance. Gaslighting, o hai.

source: https://agovernmentofwolves.com/tag/pepper-spray/


Comply


I'm sure this is a familiar term. In many ways, my passion for social justice and racial equity stem from my experience as being powerless. You comply, be still, do as you're told, and they will eventually leave you alone. Sometimes, though, the very compliance seems to incite an avarice. You see the eyes change, go blank and blind and they become enraged with the compliance because they don't want you to comply. This murderous rage that exists in some just wants to be fed. If you comply, the standards change. You no longer know what to comply to, every gesture you make, every effort to calm the situation down only enrages them. They even reach out and prevent your attempts to calm and soothe yourself. There is an animal inside us, all of us.

Some people have befriended their animal, and in this way the animal is tamed. But some people deny the animal, or fear it, and in this way the animal can take control in moments of weakness when resolve has been tested. When you are angry, in pain, when you lose yourself in the moment and forget everything but right now and this moment. I've seen it come over the face of more than one person, obliterating their individuality. It is the same face in every scene, regardless of the time that lapsed between, regardless of the physical body engaging in the atrocious act.

And then you are left with a choice, of course. Continue to comply, perhaps to your death, or act out in concerted defense...or an alternate choice, one that seems to have always worked for me. Dissociate. Remove yourself. Become what they want you to be for that moment, until you can carefully and quietly sneak away. Body safe. Soul and heart broken. This is survival, and perhaps part of how our species became so successful that we are actually destroying our own habitat. You just pick up and put back together and become as much as you can with what you have left. Each time, a little diminished, but ultimately successful if you live long enough to pass on your precious knowledge, through birth or transference.

It's not the end of the world to let part of yourself die. There is a lot there, believe me. That's the whole point, I think. You'd have to be bigger. Big enough but able to continue even with nearly nothing left. And it's not an instantaneous choice, either. You get a grace period, (LOL "grace" is an awkward term for the horrific post traumatic numbness that permeates everything like "the nothing" from The Neverending Story). So you have some time to be numb and consider, if you are of that constitution: do I let myself die? Or do I hold on to this pain and let a scar heal over the still-exposed thorn.

I've done both. I became a bloated, cellophane-wrapped, anesthetized sac of sadness by holding onto pain because I feared death. Not suicide, mind you. That's death, too, but honestly a bit easier than the death in little bits - at least in my personal worldview. When you decide after a time that the bloating and cellophane are cumbersome, then you can also choose again. And it hurts in an indescribable way to let part of yourself die. Sometimes you have to turn your back and walk away. Other times, you can gently hold yourself and care for yourself with love while you allow that piece of you to pass away. Sacrifices to the gods or the universe or your ancestors or nothing, the little deaths that allow you to actually go on living.

With each incident I lose more of myself. Raped again in my second semester of university; it's my fault because I was under age and he brought me to a bar where he knew the bartender and I could get beers - 2 coronas don't usually make you feel like the floor is swinging back and forth, I now realize. We'd been set up by my then-best-friend. I stumbled through my life in a haze, a permanently retracted position like a beaten dog. Always, always expecting to be hit. I suppose with each incident I became more vulnerable to the next. Compliance can lead to that, too.

Abusive relationships, home invasion, drug abuse to numb the pain, and finding myself in positions where I was freely sacrificing myself. Not for survival, not out of empathy, but out of a deeply felt sense of utter nihilism. Existence is pain, nothing means anything, embrace the Epicurean delights that are available in the hellish world we live in, consequences be damned, because this is all you get, baby. This is it. Either live like and die like you mean it or be one of those timid waifs that exists on the sidelines safely existing on scraps of mediocrity...

Mud and Lotuses


I've worked diligently for over three decades, to fight the good fight. Keep my head up. Struggled to believe in the decency and goodness of people. In the face of some really terrible situations I struggled through and composted all that shit. Medium for growth. No mud, no lotus blossom. I've got like a Martha Stewart (TM) style menagerie of lotus blossoms freaking sprouting out of my dome and slithering out of my ears and nostrils and every available orifice.

And yet. And yet. I have life, I have stress. Things are tough. I tend to withdraw socially when I am struggling most, which also means a lack of the empirically proven very helpful social networks that lessen the blows from the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." I find that people are willing to help, but that nothing seems to assuage this depression that has been crawling quietly up my spine for the last 6 months. Not even hugs. I've had a series of spectacularly awful events in my professional and personal life that make me want to burst out into Santa Claus belly full of jelly style guffaws. How can it be this absurd, really? Am I just going insane?

I see these gracious gestures from friends and family but....it's like I'm behind glass. Or under water? And their words are distorted. I can see what they are showing me but it does not compute. I can't seem to wrap my mind around anything.

I take my chinese herbs and get massages, acupuncture, I go to therapy and I take my Western prescribed medications. I lay in my bed. The tears roll down my face. I seem to have lost the ability to accept support, for reasons that are multitude. I have a deep conviction that I have to do it myself. It feels like I have the flu, like that sensation of anguish where it's like you can feel every particle in the air hitting your skin? Like you're moving through jello that was made with insufficient quantities of liquid? I'm laying in bed, I can't scroll through my phone. I can't even hold it up to crush candies or effortlessly buy things to make me feel briefly not horrible on my amazon prime app. I can't breathe. I can't speak. Everything hurts.

I find myself irrationally angry at the three friends I've managed to contact in my withered state, who are not messaging me back. Where are you. How rude. Can't you find the time? I ask for so little! Like a junkyard dog, used to living on nothing - just throw me some scraps every few weeks, I'll be your friend for life. Even if you totally kick me in the head. Because You're Worth It. Unconditional love, baby, Radical acceptance. No matter what you do to me, I am eventually going to be alright with it because I am free to do the work to make that happen.

The other Sunday: Scene
I wake up. I can't seem to stop crying. The sun is shining, the weather is sweet. Solo parenting again. The children are mouthy and stir crazy. I am defeated. In the face of a temper tantrum about not getting to eat a second ice cream sandwich, I crumple in front of them like a sad mom in an after school special. I turn and walk away, hanging my head while being harangued by the tantruming child. Nanny 911 could use this clip ad nauseum for purposes of effect. I don't bother to respond. I shut my bedroom door and collapse into tears. Why is everything so overwhelming? Why can't I function today? The mountain of laundry...the dishes....the assignments. I'm a doctoral student. I have to ask for an extension, which brings a boil of old shame to a head inside of me because academics are my haven, my safe place, I've always excelled. I am brilliant, even in my nadir of depression I can recognize that. But brilliance is not equated with emotional stability. Indeed, the opposite is true.

If you don't keep it together, they will take your children from you. I flashback to family court, the dyed- bright magenta-red, stiff curly ringlets around the skeletal, pale face with overly-severe, drawn-on eyebrows, as the female attorney peered into my eyes from across a courtroom and said that my history of PTSD and 10+ years in therapy were a liability in the eyes of the judge.



Take a time out. Take your medicine. Tranquilo. Calm your tits, bitch. Drink you tea, sniff you some lavender oil, get your massage, meditate, watch something funny, take a shower, go for a walk. If all else fails rub ice on the soles of your feet and snap rubber bands on your wrists to keep you here. Ground yourself, bring conscious awareness to the soles of your feet and your body against the furniture and the pressure of gravity weighing you down so much that you feel like your feet are made of lead. /end scene

That Black Dog


Source: http://www.demolitionnews.com/2015/05/12/comment-beware-the-black-dog/


Go to therapy every week, call if you have an emergency. There's always the suicide crisis hotline. Just keep working. Keep trying. Manage the stuff as best you can, let the rest of it go.

My house is not tidy. My children watch me go back to the room to cover my face with a towel that's been wadded up and folded so that I can sob into it without being heard. Do they know? They must. Sometimes they ask me to stop crying. People want to help but mostly they just want you to stop crying.

When they come, insisting on this and that, they ask me to be specific and I simply cannot. I can't make the words. I lack the resources or capacity to even speak. I just say, nevermind, I'm fine. No worries. It's cool. Crack the kind of jokes you know will make them laugh because like all depressives, you are a commensurate comedian.

Trudge into the kitchen and respond in monotone to the cheerful questions and endless chatter. Beg them to sit in front of the TV, or talk amongst themselves, or quietly sink into the background and let the internal agony of having to perform consume you.

I have to think to walk. Right foot. Left foot. Step step step. Open the fridge. All these steps. I think them through to make sure that I don't forget. I make sure that the children have used the toilet and are set up with snacks and drinks. In the evening, I let them watch TV too much. They drag laundry baskets of clean clothes I haven't folded in front of the TV and make their own lounges using clean laundry and laundry baskets and pillows.

I lay in bed and waver between waking and sleeping, in a world where I hear my children's every move and word, monitoring like a surveillance microphone, unable to rest, unable to get up.

It's been more than a decade since I was last this incapacitated by trauma. I've built a life for myself, a semblance of one. I have children, I am (was) getting a doctorate. My fifth degree, permanent student = permanent moratorium. I had a place and people. I had the capacity and position to help others. In the last few months I've seen this all slip through my fingers.

Understand this: I do not want to be a burden on the system. I don't want to need help. I want to be a contributing member of society. I fight every day and have fought every day to do the same thing that allowed me to survive multiple rapes and sexual assaults from an early age into my 20s - I survive. It takes more to think about all that risk and keep moving than it could ever take to blindly skip into danger with the blessing of oblivious bravado.

Eventually I go outside again. Put my game face on and take my child to therapy, make appointments, keep trying. I plaster a mask of normalcy onto my face and pry the corners of my eyes and mouth in an upwards direction, while intentionally relaxing my inner eyes and eyebrows and not flaring my nostrils. This is a face I have studied in the mirror. I make it when I want people to feel pleasant around me. Sometimes I lower my lids a little more, or tilt my chin in different directions, purse my lips, nod or furrow brows. This is how you figure out how to look normal, people. You study it, practice it, and find increasingly complex situations to test it in. When you add new features. those must be tested as well.



This is my experience of living with complex PTSD and being triggered. It isn't a joke, and as a consequence this post has taken weeks to write, which is not my normal. I'm at a place where I don't really know the way forward anymore.

This is triggered. Not feeling uncomfortable, or sad, or weird, or angry. Triggered is being overtaken to the point of being frozen, and then you are alone, inside that ice, doing the hard, hard work to chip your way out again, each time.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Vlogging?

I did a thing. Check it out. Subscribe to the channel if you want to see more vlogs and me making weird faces while I talk.