Henry Rollins, Rape and the End of the World

Thanks to my brother-in-law’s wild life touring with the Trews, he wasn’t able to use his fifth row tickets to see Henry Rollins‘ spoken word performance at the Music Hall. My love and I were happy to step up and take one for the team, putting the tickets to good use.

I’ll start with a confession. I am NOT punk rock. Not even a little. I don’t gel with the music and I’m not edgy. I apparently didn’t get the dress code memo that black t-shirts were the required uniform.  I wore a horned Loki sweater to the event. But my love has listened to Rollins’ spoken word albums since we met over 20 years ago and Rollins’ books of poetry and performances in works like He Never Died speak to me on a weirdly personal level.

IMG_2191.JPGStill, I had never seen him live and I’d never listened to his bands. I expected I’d be going on a night that my love really enjoyed and his joy would make the night wonderful. After some waiting, Rollins took the stage. He wrapped the mic cord around his hand, took a deep breath, and spoke like a machine gun on auto-load for two hours and twenty five minutes.

Here’s the thing about me. I’m old. I mean, I’m not Pop’s Soda Shoppe old, but I remember when plaid was king and orange and brown were considered a reasonable colour scheme for a living room. While I talk about my trauma on my blog, for the most part I go through the world like a normal human being. I smile at jokes. I read books on the bus. I watch cheesy movies. I pass for normal. Unless you speak to me and I’m open about it, nothing about me screams ABUSE AND RAPE SURVIVOR. Yes I have PTSD, but generally I’m pretty good at keeping my symptoms to myself. I camouflage. I blend.

Still, as Rollins progressed through his talk, it was like he was dancing on every one of my triggers. He talked about his friend RuPaul. Weirdly, RuPaul’s autobiography was the first book I bought when considering that I might be queer. He talked about global warming and the end of the world. He talked about how music gave him proxy parents, musicians who spoke to him in ways his own parents couldn’t, when he needed to be understood. He talked about being the weird, spazzy kid whose brain worked differently than other people’s. He even talked about misogyny, homophobia and racism, problems that hit close to my heart – an organ I don’t always protect like I should.

So yeah. I cried a few times as he raced through his anecdotes. I was watching a dude at the front of the room be honest and beautiful and real and it tore me up. Here was a guy at almost all the intersections of privilege, choosing to challenge every advantage he had and to be naked in the face of scorn. I dug it.

When he talked about his discovery of punk, I found a place where our paths diverged.He was looking for music that spoke to the anger he felt, his base emotion being rage at the world around him. When I discovered music, I didn’t go that way. Rage wasn’t a colour in my palette. Anger wasn’t an emotion I had permission to feel. So instead, I reached for sorrow. I gravitated to blues and folk, to R&B and soul. In tunes about lost loves and do-wrong partners, I found my companions. Sure, their loss was of a different flavour to mine, but it still spoke of heartache and destruction. I remember the first time I heard Joplin’s Cry Baby. Hell, I knew it was a sin, but I loved the way she wept in tune. I loved the way she bellowed pain. Here was my avatar.

As I aged, I discovered Janis Ian and Ma Rainey and Odetta and Joan Armatrading and Buffy Sainte-Marie. Damn, but those women could wail. Rather than anger, I immersed myself in sorrow and I survived.

img_2192Near the end of Rollins’ set, he told a story about a young woman who waited outside one of his shows, seeking an autograph. As a storyteller, he told her story. He talked about her rape. He talked about her experience with not being believed, about how her rapist was allowed to share space with her – to smile at her – because she was not believed. By this point, I was weeping silently. It would not do to weep loudly or burn the feeling down. He talked about her suicide attempts and her cutting. He talked about her attachment to his music, how it gave her more of a voice for her anger.

That’s when, despite it all, I felt hope. She wasn’t like me, attaching meaning to the blues. She saw her reality in a genre that felt anger and expressed it. She had found a connection to a genre that demanded that anger be seen, acknowledged and felt.

She raged.

I was shaking.

Rollins ended his set and left the stage. All my nerves were activated, all my sense peaked. I knew I couldn’t push my way through a crowd, a press of bodies, to get to an exit. Still, I sing the blues. I do not rage. I sat and waited for the crowd to pass.

Then a security guard, a uniformed man standing a good foot over me, came over and tried to hurry me up. As always, words caught in my throat and ideas stammered through my head like unruly passengers. I needed to wait until the crowd cleared. After all that exploration, I couldn’t leave through a crowd. Not yet. He raised his voice, impatient with what I’m sure he saw as my impertinence, an accusation a woman doesn’t escape until she meets soil and headstone. I managed words, as the crowd waiting for the VIP Q&A started to gawk at the scene developing by them.

“If you give me a moment, I can explain. Just come over here.”

I knew he wouldn’t understand unless I explained. Still, 100 strangers didn’t need to know my life. For me, electing to tell my story only when I wanted had helped me find my voice. Being cornered into it didn’t appeal.

The guard would have none of it. He was brisk. He had a job to do. I was in the way. Still, I waited. I took breaths. I waited and eventually I left.

I thought about what Rollins had told the woman who had come to his show. He had asked her if people had been telling her, of her rape experience, that it would pass. Of course, they had. Rollins had explained to her that this was probably not the case. It would live inside her, like an energy. It wouldn’t pass. It rarely does. But it was an energy she could harness. As I walked home, I thought about this. I thought about the energy that, after all this time, still takes up space in my body. It wearies me. It has changed the lens through which I see the world. I thought about the space it occupies and the shockwaves I still feel, decades later, when a man on stage talks about abuse and rape and falling apart.

I know he’s right. It hasn’t gone away, no matter what people promised. It’s here inside me. So I do what I can. I describe it. I examine it. I am honest with it and about it. I write even if no one reads. I write because it spreads the energy out. I write because I can.

If I Could Sleep, I Would

If I could sleep, I would. I can’t right now. That has to do with my brain and my sore back and my general inability to rest.

Today I felt uncomfortable in my own emotion. In an effort to be more connected (disconnection is common with PTSD) I have started coaxing myself to be in my body when hard things happen. My hope is that by showing my mind that I am safe, even when I leave the confines of my internal traps and even when things are hard, that I will be more…

Here.

Of course, I spent a good hunk of the last month in the ER with a virus, so it was a solid test of the new operating system.

The down side is that I haven’t quite learned how to time share between my body and my brain. It’s time for bed. My body should take over and my brain should shut up, but that’s clearly not going to happen. Not with the latest episode of Thoughts too Vague to be Useful but too Important to Ignore! playing in re-runs.

So here they are.

Thoughts too Vague to be Useful but too Important to Ignore!
(aka The Things that Keep Me Up at Night)

Why is it that we can get people to buy in to the weirdest shit, but not the important stuff? Like, how can we all agree that pieces of paper, plastic and metal have an agreed upon value, but we can’t get people to agree that no one should starve?

We are weird.

Why are we so weird?

Oh, and also, I’m afraid and angry a good deal of the time. I’m afraid that we’re so dumb that we don’t realize that we’re messing up the place we live. I mean, not a little. A whole bucket-full. A large, large bucket-full. Then, like everyone else, I brush it off because who can live their life fighting the tide of billions of humans just doing their daily shit, drinking from the same damn magic well until there’s no more. Or too much. Or something. There’s a weather metaphor in there.

I also have no idea how cell phones work and it wigs me out. When I try to figure it out, and I read up on it, I have to look up what everything means. Then in each explanation, there are more things I have to look up. I realize it’s not that I don’t know how cell phones work, it’s that I don’t know how anything works, which is why I talk about people so much, I guess.

I also shake my fist, in retrospect, at my family for spending days/years/months teaching me about a dead fictional man who was obsessed with fish when they could have been explaining what electricity was and how the stars aren’t all really close to each other, they just look that way from here.

Also, my central heating is very loud, a dragon who can circular breathe like Frank Sinatra. (In that he could circular breathe. We have no proof he was a dragon.)

Things you should not watch if you want to go to sleep: Battle Royale (バトル・ロワイアル (Batoru Rowaiaru)

Nihilism and short pants and Monty Python levels of blood explosions.

The only other thing keeping me up is the people I miss and the reasons I miss them and the reasons I know missing is better than having.

So now, I hope, on to dreams that are literal to a fault in their heavy handed symbolism and not so distressing that they wake the boy.

Happy new year.

Heather

 

ACE: In The Whole

I am fortunate to have a circle of friends that is full of teachers, both in the literal sense (they work in schools) and in the less-than-literal sense (they are smarter than me and know things they can teach me.) One of the benefits of being surrounded by smart humans who understand how we learn and develop throughout childhood, is that I am often abreast of changes to how we look at learning and growth.

A few months ago, my dear friend Laurie posted an NPR article about the Adverse Childhood Experience study (ACE.) Initially I skimmed it and found the whole thing intriguing. However I was working with a PTSD specialist, so I didn’t spend too long dwelling on new ideas.

When my work with my specialist went spectacularly south, I started to think on the ACE study again. I re-read the article. Finally, I took the quiz.

The quiz asks 10 questions, each relating to a childhood experience that has been demonstrably shown to increase chances of certain behaviours, illnesses and outcomes. The more of these questions to which you answer yes, the more likely you are to be suffering after-effects of your trauma. It should be noted that there are limitations to the questions. There are no questions that deal with witnessing acts of violence or war. There are no questions about peer bullying. There are no questions about peer rape. The focus is solely on family dynamic.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that my number was high. So high that half my score was the highest level they were noting. I wasn’t shocked. It was not news to me.

This graphic that accompanied it gave me pause:

ace_pyramid_wotext.127135420_std.gifThat’s a helluva pyramid.

Still, drastic graphics aside, the most useful moment of clarity  was not in the content. For once, it was in the comments.

Most people commenting fell into the lower numbers. A few, like my love, were zeros. A spattering were ones, twos, threes.

A very small number of commenters, like me, fell into the high numbers. Our stories, our tone, were different. There was a desperation, a falling down into ourselves, that seemed to mark us as just too far beyond what is well and normal. There was a lot of talk of addiction, job loss, prison time. We were the destroyed minority.

Still, I am a person with perpetual – I wouldn’t say hope – stubbornness? I haven’t been able to successfully stop trying. I don’t want to. I still believe I deserve to be happy.

But.

But I’m done comparing my successes and challenges to the ones and twos. Of course I’m not where they are. I didn’t start where they did. Maybe my executive functioning is poor, but I keep going. I make lists and set reminders and plan days in advance and often fall apart at the last minute, but I keep doing it. I keep making lists. I keep making plans. I keep trying.

But I’m not a two. I’m not a zero. I’m me. I’m the kind of person that the non-existent fates decided should get pummelled with most of the hammers.

With that in mind, I think I’m doing pretty damn good, just being here.

It’s Not Me, It’s You

Having a mental illness is only barely like having any other illness. Most illnesses, one is “brave” for getting through. We are brave for admitting to it. (To be braver still, one must suffer in silence and not bother folks with the fragility of our neurological make-up.) When I write about my mental illness – depending on which doctor and diagnosis from which era, it could be depression, ADD, PTSD or any combination there-of – I do so knowing that I’ve just knee-capped my own credibility. This, I am well aware of.

800px-PhrenologyPix

Here you can see the portion of my brain reserved for crazy…

So when I think about writing about today – and other experiences in the mental health system – I acknowledge that I will be seen as an unreliable narrator. I am a Ken Kesey character. I am Salinger’s boy.

Today, I broke up with my therapist. Or she broke up with me. I’m not entirely sure where the impetus lies.

I have been doing EMDR for my PTSD. In case that’s too many letters for you, EMDR is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It’s supposedly a way to recall and reprocess traumatic events in a way that lessens the psychological impact. PTSD is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a psychiatric condition that sees past events continue to create symptoms in the present. I talk about it a bit in my trigger warning post.

I have been seeing someone to do the afformentioned EMDR. It should be noted that I am a sceptic. Perhaps even a cynic. The idea that moving my eyes or being “bi-laterally stimulated” could change the way I feel about my trauma was challenging for me. I had concerns.

Being me, the queen of not keeping my mouth shut, I brought up my concerns with my therapist. What if my memories, something I value even if they are painful, are not as fully realized as they are now? What if, while “reprocessing” them, they lose some of their accuracy or clarity?

As a writer, I use those experiences. If I don’t, how can I ever begin to convince myself that I can survive them? If I can’t milk my own pain, then I’m left with the truth that it brought me all of nothing. My descriptions, even when harsh, are true. Would dealing with them in the way my therapist was suggesting make them less true?

“Yes. Possibly.” she said, being, I suppose, honest.

Fuck.

Fuck!

So I had to make a decision. As a writer and as a person, which do I value more? My well-being or the sanctity of my truth?

There wasn’t ever a choice. I cannot fathom sacrificing the truth of my lived experience for peace of mind. And there it is. The proof. I really am ill.

Trigger Warning: This Is A Post About Trigger Warnings In Education

Warning!

Warning! Ideas ahead!

I am a high school drop out. I say this because I need to start by acknowledging the limits of my knowledge. I am also a high school returnee, currently attending secondary school online. By this time next year, I will likely have the diploma I was not able to obtain exactly 20 years ago. I am also a person with PTSD. I am not an expert. What follows are my ideas. They are just ideas. They are not medical or psychological advice or a substitute for working with a professional or a support team of friends and/or family. I also don’t speak for all people with PTSD, because, despite what you’ve heard, we do not share a neural link or have secret meetings that we don’t tell you about.

As a high school student, trauma survivor and, I hope, a future post-secondary student, I’ve kept abreast of the debate surrounding trigger warnings in the classroom. There are writers and educators who are decidedly pro or anti, and those whose responses are more metered. Admittedly, the overwhelming preponderance of articles are against trigger warnings in education, citing censorship, the swaddling of young learners and political correctness as reasons not to engage in content related warnings.

Some of the comments I’ve read are dismissive of people who experience PTSD (about 8% of North Americans,) suggesting that, perhaps, they just aren’t in a place where they are ready for a classroom setting. The implication is that, with some help, survivors will make themselves well enough that the warnings will not be needed. It is a classic argument used against people living with neurological or emotional differences: Fix yourself before others have to interact with you. Be well first, THEN you can be a part of society. This attitude begins with the problematic assumption that all people with mental health challenges have access to care, that they are not already actively involved in treatment and that treatment can accomplish wellness in the short term.

Federal_Signal_Thunderbolt_1003_head

Eeeee-ooooo-eeeee-ooooo

As a sufferer of PTSD and depression who is approaching my 40s, who has been in some form of treatment or another for half my life, I have no desire to wait for wellness before pursuing an education. Still, I understand the reticence of educators to try to view every lesson plan from the perspective of every student and their potential triggers. It would, eventually, detract from the quality of their work, their ability to spontaneously follow a lesson’s organic flow and their freedom to select material that is both potentially triggering and well-suited to their lesson.

A stumbling block for educators is the broad spectrum of topics and ideas that can be triggering, and the concept that introducing potentially triggering topics is always detrimental – which, of course, it isn’t. On topics like homelessness, abuse, the mental health system or a slew of others, having a voice like mine in the conversation is valuable. I took a sociology course as part of my high school studies, and was the only person who could answer from a first person perspective the question, “Would you steal food/is it right to steal food if you were/are starving?” Almost everyone else said no. I was able to present a pretty convincing argument for yes, because I know what starving feels like. To remove the voices of the traumatized from education is to remove a trove of experiential wisdom.

In an attempt to balance the value of ideas and the safety of individuals, I suggest an approach that empowers the person with trauma, as well as the educator. On the first day of class, the educator can openly acknowledge that their class will probably cover topics and materials that may be hard for trauma survivors or those experiencing PTSD. If someone feels that they are likely to be triggered (while accepting that many PTSD sufferers want no such accommodation) they can either meet with the teacher to discuss in person what challenges they could face or they can submit the same in writing. Anyone requesting pre-class warnings when certain topics will be knowingly covered in a class or in the material, will be asked to develop a trigger plan. A trigger plan is a series of steps one can take to either work through a symptom or to exit a class safely if symptoms should arise. My trigger plan includes accessing a great app I use to work through my symptoms, sitting near doors or windows, keeping comfort foods or beverages on hand, having my medication ready and writing down my physical sensations. These work for me (sometimes) but may not work for all people experiencing PTSD symptoms. The goal is to personalize the plan to maximize classroom time for the student and minimize conflicts for the instructor.

It's a...hot topic.

It’s a…hot topic.

Trigger warnings, like all other accommodations, don’t work as a one size fits all proposal. That’s when they start to resemble censorship. The answer, though, isn’t to eliminate trigger warnings completely. Ideally, conversations around trauma allow students an opportunity to be frank and set their own safe parameters. Teachers admit that they can better help their students by treating them like individuals and students take responsibility for preparing for the inevitable times when a trauma-reaction can not be predicted.

This solution assumes that the teacher or professor is open to creating this dialogue. I understand that many educators either do not know how to start the conversation or, as is sometimes the case, have no desire to. If trauma survivors have a desire to try to create this dynamic, I’ve made a form that can be filled out to help get the ball rolling. It’s a PDF, which means it should be readable by almost any device. Feel free to print it out, share it and use it. The sooner we start a real conversation that includes people with PTSD and trauma survivors (who are often drowned out by the more widely accessible opinions of educators and columnists) the sooner we can get back to the business of learning.