Five Common Arguments Against Watching 13 Reasons Why, and Why, as a Survivor, I Reject Them

 

Recently, the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why has created what I wish were helpful conversations on my Facebook feed.  But, more often than not, the people who are posting are educators of middle and high school students in small towns.  The reasons why I have those sorts of educators on my feed are simple—I used to live in those small towns.  But when I am looking at these posts, and reading the arguments against the series, I can’t help but become angry and frustrated with the content and the comments.

I am a survivor of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence.  I have complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and suffer from anxiety and depression.  I have a daughter who suffers from depression and anxiety, shows signs of post-traumatic stress (we don’t yet know for certain if she adopted those symptoms from being raised by me, or if she suffered some violence as a child that we have not uncovered).  Both of us have been suicidal.

Given my experience with these events and situations, I have a perspective that, I believe, needs to be expressed and heard by those small-town educators.  Because their reasons for not allowing students access to this series or the book that inspired the series are not, necessarily, informed reasons.

So, here are five common arguments against the show, and why I reject those arguments:

  1. Students are too young to see depictions of violence, assault, and suicide.

 

I can’t be certain when I started to be sexually abused, because I was a child, and I dissociated from those events.  What I can say with certainty is that I started exhibiting signs of acute trauma by age nine or ten, and I was suicidal by about the age of eleven.  My daughter first needed psychiatric care at age 9.  She was hospitalized by age 16, having struggled with major depression for over a year, and finally admitting her intention regarding suicide.

 

Students are not too young to see depictions of such violence, assault, and suicide.  Students as young as eight or nine years old are experiencing such violence, assault, and thoughts of suicide!

 

There is some sort of desire to ignore that our children are exposed to and experiencing things that we wish they were not exposed to or experiencing.  Even I, being fully aware of all the warning signs of mental illness, didn’t know that my daughter was experiencing certain symptoms until it was almost too late.

 

We don’t want our children to be suffering in this way, so we ignore the signs of that suffering—pretending that the bad things can’t be happening.

 

This does no good for our students.  This does no good for the whole of humanity.  Pretending problems don’t exist has never solved a single problem.  Wishing that our kids are too young to be harmed in this way—battered physically and psychologically, being taken advantage of, being pushed to a place where life is too hard to continue living, being abused, bullied, assaulted, raped—will not make it a reality.  It is ignorant to keep insisting that middle and high school students don’t see this violence every day.  They do.  They aren’t too young to watch a show that addresses issues that they are experiencing.  They certainly are not too young to watch a show that brings the possibility of identifying with characters that are suffering, when nobody else in their life or experience seems to understand or care about what they are going through.

 

As a child, I didn’t know where to turn with my pain.  As a teenager, I didn’t feel connected enough to anyone to admit how dark and dangerous my internal dialogue was becoming.  I pretended to be innocent and outgoing and “normal”, because nobody was talking about things like mental illness or suicide.  I felt completely divided and set apart from everyone around me.  I had nowhere to turn.

 

13 Reasons Why addresses these issues in what seems like a violent and shocking way.  But our children, our students, and the youth in our society are not protected from such violent and shocking events.  They are already experiencing this.  And the series gives them someone to identify with, and offers resources where they can receive help, should they identify with those who are being bullied, assaulted, or raped, and those who are considering death by suicide.

 

The honest address of common experience is not too dark and damaging for the young people around you.  It is an opportunity to feel heard and understood.  It is an opportunity to feel normal, in a society that wants to insist that this violence isn’t normal.

 

 

  1. “Counselors” are against youth watching the show.

 

This is an annoying argument, because there might be some truth to it, but that doesn’t necessarily make it good advice.  There have been several people who are school counselors or mental illness “experts” or social workers who have come out with statements or articles that offer their opinion of 13 Reasons Why.  Some of them say that watching these events can trigger or encourage negative behaviors.

 

This is partially true.  Watching events that you have experienced can trigger symptoms.  This doesn’t always happen, however, and it isn’t always a terrible thing.  Being in a controlled environment, knowing your own triggers, and being aware of the content ahead of time can all limit the triggering effects of viewing such events.

 

13 Reasons Why has very clear trigger warnings before each episode that will portray events that have the potential to harm those who identify closely with such events.  When we were watching the show, one such warning prompted my daughter to ask me if I wanted to watch.  She knew that it might be a difficult thing for me to see.  But I watched.  And I was very glad that I watched, even though it was a very challenging scene.

 

I later commented on a Facebook post that was basically a “counselor response” to the show.  I said that it was the most real and honest depiction of the event that I had ever witnessed.  I found watching the characters go through such events healing and validating, not triggering.

 

Some people will find these episodes and these images difficult.  Some people shouldn’t watch, if they are concerned about triggers.  But, for many who are survivors of such events, this is a show that offers an extremely honest view and allows you to connect to your own pain, your own struggle, and your own healing.  Will all teens be ready to address these issues with such realistic and graphic images?  No.  But will many of us, as survivors, finally feel heard and understood and supported by seeing such clear and unrestrained images?  Yes.

 

“Counselors”, as a blanket statement, could include school officials who haven’t had psychological training, really bad advisors (like the first “counselor” I had as an adult, who told me it wasn’t the fault of my abuser that he abused me, but that “curiosity” is normal), or excellent mental health care providers.  And these people are not knowledgeable regarding every case that might crop up.  There are numerous ways to connect with the material, and while one person might have a bad reaction to things, another might find it healing—as I did.  The point here is that there is no one appropriate or “correct” approach to content like that in 13 Reasons Why.  The best way to consider viewing is on a case by case basis, with the survivor being the one whose voice is heard and the survivor being the one who chooses to watch or not watch.

 

The most triggering movie that I ever watched was Captain Phillips.  It didn’t have any trigger warnings.  And it wasn’t about abuse or rape.  I saw (spoiler alert) Tom Hanks step onto a vessel that was rescuing him.  As he did, he—in an amazing performance—exhibited signs of trauma, because he had just suffered a significant trauma.  I began to weep and shake and shudder.  Seeing him show the shock and dissociation that PTSD sufferers go through, I was feeling all that the character was feeling.  It was awful.  And I may never watch it again, but even with the triggering and the awful feelings, that scene was an opportunity for me to acknowledge and make some sort of peace with my own suffering.

 

There is no way to know for certain what will and what will not trigger or affect a person.  But since bullying, sexual and physical assaults, and rape all have a common thread of taking away the autonomy of the victim, allowing each person to decide and be in control of what they choose to view and not view is important.

 

I’m not a “counselor”.  I’m a survivor.  So, I haven’t gotten a degree in psychology.  But what I do know is that autonomy and identification and validation are essential to healing and coping and overcoming events like those depicted in 13 Reasons Why.  A stranger who claims to have superior knowledge because of a few classes is not necessarily a help, because telling survivors what they can and cannot do, or see, or hear, or cope with can be a retraumatizing event.  We need autonomy.  We need to decide on our own.  And we need to cope with the support of others, not the demands of others.

 

  1. The show glorifies suicide.

I honestly can’t understand this argument against 13 Reasons Why.  I can’t understand how someone could watch such terrible events unfolding and think to themselves, “Wow, I think I should do that.  That is awesome!”

 

If you are suicidal, please seek help.  If you are not currently experiencing suicidal ideation, but have in the past, consider the trigger warnings and make an informed decision regarding whether or not you wish to view the show.  (Again, you deserve autonomy and get to choose the media to which you are exposed.)

 

That being said, the depiction of suicide in this show is horrible, violent, sickening, and shocking.  It is intentionally so.  The producers worked very closely with several medical professionals in their decision-making about how to best portray this event.  And it was intentionally depicted, and intentionally made very difficult to view, because it is a horrible thing.

 

I’ve heard some people say that the show could make kids think that suicide is a good way to get revenge on the people who hurt you.  I cannot comprehend how they come to that conclusion.

 

It is obvious that the main character is suffering from major depression, dissociation, flat affect, and more.  And the “suicide note” she leaves behind is deliberately affecting for those who harmed her.  However, every suicide note offers reasons why the one who died by suicide did so.   Often, those who are left behind to read that note feel guilt, remorse, and a sense that they failed the one who died.  It makes sense to feel that they failed the one who died, because after the life has been taken, you see the signs that you passed over when the person was alive.  You find the truth later.  You can’t always see the pain until the pain has become too much for the bearer of that pain to carry.

 

Hannah, the one who dies in the show, is hiding her pain as often as possible.  And there are good reasons for her to do so.  Earlier, I said that I pretended to be all sorts of things, because the admission that I was suffering from dark and dangerous suicidal thoughts was not something that I felt anyone would understand or accept.  I hid my pain.  I still do.

 

This combination of glossing over slights and hiding pain and suffering creates a perfect storm of struggle.  And the one who is struggling often feels alone in that struggle.

 

The depiction of suicide in this show is precipitated by all sorts of expressions and depictions of the pain that is being hidden and the opportunities missed for others to see that pain.  And it is the “note” recorded on 13 tapes that shows us all of that.  Suicide is an escape from pain.  Suicide is not an act of revenge.  Sometimes there may be an element of “I’ll show them” thought in the planning stages of suicidal ideation.  But that occurs largely because the one who dies by suicide has sought to express their pain on multiple occasions and has not been heard, not because there is a deliberate desire to harm those left behind.  Those left behind are completely cut off in the mind of the one who is considering suicide.  They don’t seem to be able to feel at all, because they can’t see your pain.

Suicide isn’t logical.  Suicide isn’t vengeful.  Suicide is the thing that you turn to when there is no other place to turn.  Hannah had at least 13 reasons to feel cut off from and ignored by her community.  She had at least 13 burdens to carry.  And that weight became too much to bear.

Watching her bear that pain, and watching her end her life because she could no longer carry the weight doesn’t glorify the act.  It makes the act sad and avoidable and gut-wrenchingly difficult to watch.  There is no glory in this show.  None.  There is no glory in that escape.  None.  There is no glory in her pain, or in the way she slowly but certainly breaks down completely, and loses the will to live.  None.

 

If you imagine that young people will watch this show and want to follow in the footsteps of Hannah, you should probably do a bit more research on suicide and suicide prevention.  Because it isn’t the act of death by suicide that you should be most concerned with.  You should be most concerned with the 13 reasons that brought Hannah to that point of desperation.  You should be most concerned with changing the behaviors and eliminating the threats that caused her to reach that point.  Suicide is terrible, but it isn’t really the point of the show.  The point is the reasons.  The point is that there were numerous events that should never have happened.  The point is the ways that her pain was caused and compounded and collected.  The point is not the suicide. The point is the many opportunities to care about others, instead of inflicting pain and violence, that were missed.  And focusing on those things can actually create change and reduce the incidence of suicide—not inspire more people to die by suicide.

 

  1. 13 Reasons Why is not for the vulnerable.

 

Another argument that I am confused by, as a survivor of abuses, is the idea that those who are “vulnerable” shouldn’t be exposed to the series.

 

I’m not certain what the definition of vulnerable, in the minds of others, might be.  It is defined as “susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm”.  And in my opinion, those who are most susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm are the ones who will most identify with, and find validation and acceptance in, 13 Reasons Why.

 

Hannah is susceptible.  But so is almost every other character in the book/show!  There are so many instances of bullying, abuse, rape, denial of harmful actions, misrepresentation, image ruining, slut-shaming, and more that it is amazing that they are all able to fit into one story.  There are numerous people who are suffering harm at the hands of others within the storyline.  There are numerous vulnerable people.

 

I identify with Hannah.  But I also identify with Clay, with Tony, Jessica, Alex, and Olivia.  They all have particular vulnerabilities, and they all experience suffering of some sort throughout the series.

 

I’ve already expressed how the choices about viewing triggering events should be left in the hands of the victims of abuse.  This includes those who are vulnerable.  Because if you are vulnerable, you have likely already experienced the things that are expressed in the episodes of this show.  If you are at risk, you are likely already suffering in some way.  And identifying with the characters in this show can offer much-needed validation of those sufferings and those vulnerabilities.  Connecting with a character can bring comfort and can offer perspective that isn’t always available to us as individuals within these situations.

 

One of the immense strengths of the show is that we see it unfold from the perspective of Clay, as well as from the perspective of Hannah.  And because we see it unfold from multiple perspectives, we can also gain multiple insights, alongside the characters in the tale.  When you are living in a state of vulnerability, or suffering, or abuse, it can be very difficult to see things from varying perspectives.  One perspective begins to shove out all other ways of thinking about the events.  We get tunnel vision.  This show lets those who are vulnerable, who are suffering, who are suicidal, who are being bullied, who have been assaulted or raped, look at the events unfolding from the outside, and allows us to gain perspective.  This is a good thing!

 

For those who have never experienced these events, I can see why you would want to seek to protect the vulnerable from difficult images and serious events.  But because we are vulnerable, we are likely already experiencing these things, and already feeling unprotected.  Allowing us to connect with these characters, and watch them navigate these horrors can be healing, and can offer us support.  Fictions of this type, which are so close to our own experience, can be healing and helpful, and not just damaging or dangerous.  You may not know how much the vulnerable need this connection.  You may be unaware that they need these characters to connect with and find validation.

 

  1. The show is so hopeless.

 

I’ve heard many say that this show isn’t good because it is hopeless.  It doesn’t have a happy ending.  The pain doesn’t go away, and there isn’t any resolution.

 

Exactly!!

 

If you are a person who thinks this show can’t be helpful because it doesn’t resolve the pain of the characters, then I encourage you to consider the life of a survivor of these events.

 

There is no resolution.

 

I was sexually assaulted in childhood.  I’m almost 43 years old.  Nothing has changed.  I’m still suffering from anxiety, depression, and PTSD.  I’m still in therapy.  I’m still on medication.  My abuser still sits across from me at the dinner table, on occasion.  I haven’t spoken to my ex-husband or ex-boyfriend who were violently abusive in many years, but their words still harm me at times.  I’m still aware of the ways that the neighbors and classmates and people in my community harmed me, and then blamed me for that harm.  I’m still an addict.  I’m still incapable of positive romantic relationships.  I’m still a loner, in many ways.  And I’m chronically ill in ways that will affect me for the rest of my life.

 

There is no resolution.

 

Life isn’t a story.  And if it were, it wouldn’t be a fairytale.  Fictions can resolve into nice little packages with happy endings, but life, and especially a life of vulnerability and suffering and abuse, doesn’t resolve in those ways.

 

The story is hopeless, except for Clay’s assertion near the end of the series that “this needs to change”.   The only hope is the fact that we need to begin to treat one another better, and to stop patterns of behavior that harm and break people.  The only hope is that those watching from the outside of this story, the viewers at home with their eyes glued to this drama, would understand the purpose of telling this tale—that we, the audience, need to take up that gauntlet and fight to change the way we treat one another.  We, the audience, are responsible for creating hope and affecting change and stopping these horrors from being acted out in real life.

 

My life is not filled with hope.  My life has not resolved into a neat little box of rainbow’s-end happiness.  My life is still filled with burdens that are difficult to bear.

 

A happy ending wouldn’t make 13 Reasons Why a better story.  A happy ending, filled with hope, wouldn’t inspire us toward change.  It would reinforce the idea that the pain goes away, and the effects aren’t all that bad, and we can ignore these injustices and let them resolve.

 

These injustices won’t resolve.  And the victims of this violence won’t have fairytale transformations.  The only way we get a happy ending is if we stop avoiding this pain, and stop insisting that we aren’t responsible to and for one another in our communities and in our world, and stop ignoring the ways that others are being harmed in every moment, and make the way we act and think and live better.  The only way we get a happy ending is by our own actions.

 

Because 13 Reasons Why is a critique of what we currently do and what we currently allow.  It is meant to give power to the young and vulnerable, and to affirm their circumstances are an injustice, and to demand that we do better at protecting one another.  This show is designed to teach us to stop physical and emotional attack or harm.  This show is pointing out our failures, and begging us to fix what is wrong in the way we treat one another.  This show is the truth we don’t want to see and acknowledge.

 

But refusing to see and acknowledge the truth helps none of us, so I encourage you to watch 13 Reasons Why, to cope with the horrific, graphic truth, and to acknowledge that up to this point, many of us have been a part of the problem.  Then, and only then, can we move forward and find and support effective solutions.

 

As long as some can abuse others without repercussions, we are not yet finding those solutions.  As long as some can abuse others, we are not allowed a happy ending.

 

Face the truth.  Watch Hannah Baker die.  Watch her community reel and spin out of control as they deal with the truths that her 13 reasons expose.  And then make certain that you aren’t letting this happen in your own community.

 

Stop injustice.  Validate suffering.  Heal wounds.  Listen to the victims.  Punish the perpetrators of violence.  And work toward a better world for all of us.

 

 

Sleepwalker

I once, according to my dad’s telling of the tale, came downstairs from my room, obtained a jar of jam from the refrigerator, took a spoon from the silverware drawer, and started to eat jam directly from the jar.  When Dad questioned me, and asked what I was doing, I became defensive.  Whatever was happening in my head, it was determined that jam eating in the wee hours was normal and not an offense of any kind.

And that is a fun little anecdote regarding the sleepwalking of my childhood.

There are many.

My dad also tells tales of other sorts of sleep disorder, however—sleep terrors and nightmares.

Sleepwalking is rare.  Estimates place the percentage of the population that completes complex action while asleep around 1 to 15.  The phenomenon is a sleep disorder, and it is usually associated with either sleep deprivation, stress, or both.  The combination of this disorder with those of nightmares and terrors is even more rare.  It is hard to say how many people might suffer from all three, because the one experiencing the events often has no recall of the events.

In the past few years, I started to sleepwalk again.  While I have no recall of the events, I have evidences of the events.  One morning, bread was laid out on the kitchen island, as though I were preparing to make a sandwich.  Another morning, I woke to toasted bread, still sitting in the toaster but stale and cold.  On yet another occasion, I woke to near-freezing temperatures and realized that I had turned the thermostat all the way down as I slept.

It wasn’t until I mentioned these events to my sleep specialist that I started to understand the presence of sleep disorders is directly related to stress.   And in my case, that stress is related to a loss of bodily autonomy through chronic sexual abuse and medical testing and treatment for bladder and kidney issues.  Usually adult sleepwalking is tied to and triggered by childhood stressors.  My sleepwalking (along with incontinence and suicidal thoughts) returned shortly after a visit from my brother, and repeated arguments that took place during that time.  The insistence that I do as he believed I should, and the lack of respect for me and my autonomy that such insistence belied, threw me right back into that childhood self with symptoms of extreme stress.

Getting along with my brother is an impossible task.  He wounded me in ways that can possibly (I hope) be forgiven, but can never be forgotten.  He created a vacuum in my life that sucked in all sorts of damage, abuse, and pain.  And while some would argue that the “victim card” isn’t a thing that I get to “play”, the fact is that I am a victim of horrible abuse that does not stop affecting me.  And having a perpetrator of abuses in my physical space, and having that perpetrator tell me what to do, is an impossible to ignore affront, whether it is meant to be or not.

People talk about “finding their inner child”, like it is a fun and freeing thing.  But my inner child is terrified, wounded, confused, and under mind-altering levels of stress.  I don’t want to find that—ever.  But I don’t get a choice, because that child finds me on a regular basis.  She returned in a blink of an eye after that visit with my brother.  And she didn’t leave.

I began sleepwalking again because that child started running the show while I slept—the early expression of my post-traumatic stress coming back into my experience.  This is often the case with sleepwalkers.  If we do it as adults, we likely also did it as children.

I don’t know that I eat jam from the jar in my sleep anymore.  But I am definitely exhibiting the stress that I did in childhood within the circadian patterns that I currently experience.

The nightmares I can make go away.

I didn’t know that was possible until a few years ago, when the nightmares were increasing, and the trauma of the past was leaching from me and leaving a trail of symptoms across my life.  It was at that point that I was finally properly diagnosed with C-PTSD.  And that diagnosis brought the beloved off-label use of blood pressure medication which stops the nightmares.  Or, to be more succinct, it stops me from engaging with the nightmares or remembering the nightmares.

Minipress, or prazosin, as a treatment for PTSD, was discovered incidentally by a Dr. Simon Kung at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.  The medication had been around for decades, but it was not noted as an effective treatment for nightmares due to PTSD until 2012.  Thankfully, I receive medical care at a teaching hospital that uses cutting-edge treatments, and I started on prazosin mere weeks after my diagnosis. My brain can still engage with flashbacks and nightmares, but my body is prevented from interacting with that engagement, and I remain asleep and unaffected by the subconscious terror.  It still amazes me that this is possible, after having interacted with this terror for over 30 years.  I am in awe that we can simply shut off that terror during the night.  And I am extremely grateful for Dr. Simon Kung’s work to find, study, and disseminate the knowledge that I, and many others who suffer PTSD symptoms, can experience peaceful sleep.

While the medication doesn’t prevent me from sleepwalking, it makes my sleep much more consistent and much less traumatizing.  Having sleep, the restorative and balancing action your body requires, become a source of fear is a terrible thing.  And being able to participate in and enjoy sleep is nothing short of miraculous for my beleaguered and exhausted self.

I feel like this turned into a term paper, and not a blog post.  But it is important, apparently, for me to recognize and report about the challenge of suffering symptoms of stress and trauma during the night … and to present alternatives.

Because, as someone recently told me, people need to hear my stories.  And I am committed to the telling not just because I think it might assist others, but because speaking truth is freeing.  Expressing the challenge and the need and the struggle and the fight and the overcoming of obstacles and the strength and joy and relief of that overcoming is important.  It is such because my voice is my only chance at regaining the autonomy lost as a child.  My voice is the only thing that can offer that child some peace and restoration.  That young self, and my triggered adult self, both need to know and feel and trust that there is a path to good, and that we can walk that path and find that end.

I might make sandwiches or eat jam from the jar in the night for the rest of my life.  I might, just as easily, find the release of stress that I need to stop that sleepwalking from happening any longer.  And it is necessary for others to see this hidden-by-the-dark experience, and to validate that experience.

Because while I don’t fault those in my life for not knowing that I was expressing in my quirky sleepwalking moments the grave burdens of an abused child.  The science wasn’t there.  The advocacy wasn’t there.  The skilled psychiatric specialists were not there.  The only thing that my dad could see was a girl doing weird things—expressing the inexpressible in the ways that my subconscious self could.  And it couldn’t express it well enough, or loudly enough, or clearly enough to spare me the trauma … but at least I tried to express it in some way.

I can express it now.  I’m determined to express it now.

I’m determined to give that child a voice that can be heard, understood, and validated.  I’m determined to let her speak, to cry, to scream out the things that her jam-eating, sleepwalking, nightmare-having self couldn’t quite manage to express.

That little girl experienced chronic, escalating, sexual abuse.  That little girl also had doctors and nurses poking around in her most sensitive and sacred parts without any sort of trauma-informed care.  That little girl was lost in a sea of pain, and she nearly drowned in those deep and dark waters, as the waves beat her and threw her against the rocks.  That little girl needed to say that she was dying from the weight of trauma and shame and conflict and fear and confusion laid upon her tiny chest—crushing her ribs, puncturing her lungs, and making it impossible to breathe.

That little girl also needed others to hear her and to offer validation and to acknowledge the injustice and offer hope and comfort and help.  She still needs that.

I try to offer it to her.  But it is hard to trust just one voice (especially when so many deceptions have been spoken in your experience).  It is hard to assure her that she deserved safety and autonomy and privacy and justice and good.

It is hard to assure my adult self—this grown-up version of that girl—that she deserves safety and autonomy and privacy and justice and good.  It is hard to believe that my voice can make a difference.  It is hard to believe that I am heard.  It is hard to find validation.  It is hard to find hope and peace.

But that little girl fought hard to survive.

And I am going to keep fighting her fight.

Pills

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This morning I asked the dog, “Wouldn’t my mother be proud of me, swallowing up to 11 pills at once?”

Shockingly, he responded by turning his head to one side and looking at me with cuteness and confusion, wondering if I were asking him something he wanted to hear … he hasn’t mastered English language just yet.

Why, you may wonder, would that impress my mother or be a source of pride?  Swallowing isn’t usually a thing to be praised.  (My mind hit the gutter there … and now yours did, since I mentioned it, right? Apologies.)

Swallowing pills isn’t usually a thing to be praised.  (Better?)

But for me, it was a huge challenge for years to swallow pills.  I remember vividly my mom trying every possible trick she could for me to get a tiny little tablet into my system the day before procedures.  Putting it on my tongue and then having me drink didn’t work.  Cutting it smaller than its already tiny form didn’t help.  I think that the most effective, and the most disgusting, was the buying me donuts, having me chew up a bit of the donut, and then shoving the pill into the center of the chewed food before I swallowed it.  Donut holes became a semi-regular event in my life from the point when we discovered that trick.

But the thing that struck me this morning was not that my mom spent herself to the point of exhaustion and utter frustration in order to make certain I swallowed the pill and was appropriately prepped for procedures, and not that I have accomplished the task and perfected it in ways that would offer my mother pride, and lets me take only a moment to swallow my medications, but that I remembered vividly the processes of prepping and procedures for medical purposes.

It is strange what the brain holds and what it does not hold.

My mother’s last words to me were, “I really like your hair that way.”  And that was the only full sentence I had heard from her lips in many months.  Why that sentence got through, and nothing else, I cannot explain. Nobody can explain it.  But it is a sentence I appreciate.  It was fitting, since my mother’s approval was something I always strived for and rarely received, and her disapproval was often focused on my hair and its current color or style, that the last thing she said to me was that she approved of my hairstyle.

I don’t know that it was a sign or a message, but it definitely made me smile … after the initial shock of hearing my mom form a sentence and look me in the eye wore off.

What her brain lost and what it held was always a source for surprise and question and analysis and much laughter, but there weren’t really any answers as to the “why”.

What my brain lost and what it held is similar.

I vividly remember the process of getting a pill into my stomach, and I vividly remember almost every single invasive or upsetting or stressful medical procedure I endured as a child, and I always have.  But while I was cataloging every moment of the medical trauma, I was erasing every single moment of sexual trauma.  Why did my mind hold one and erase the other?  Why was one captured and one cast into some recess of the brain and locked there for years?

And my first instinct was to say that one was cause for shame and not the other, but that isn’t accurate.  I wet myself with regularity due to my body’s defect, and I was mocked mercilessly for that.  And after surgery, when I didn’t have those ‘accidents’ anymore, I was mocked in the locker room because of my scars.  There was a lot of shame tied to my medical issues. And maybe there was more shame associated with the sexual trauma, but I don’t think that one was without shame and the other filled with it.  There were aspects of shame tied to both, yet I held one in my conscious mind with great detail, and the other I forced away.

As someone diagnosed with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I am learning that the ways the brain forgets can be really great and amazing.  My brain shut out traumas to protect me.  And since the moment those memories returned I went into several years of meltdown, I know that my little, young self could not have coped with those things.  My 19-year-old self couldn’t cope with those things.  Some days my 41-year-old self cannot cope with those things, though I’m learning more and better skills to cope now than I ever have before.

I am also learning that my brain suffered a division when the trauma happened.  Parts of my brain stopped talking to one another, and they still can’t seem to get those synapses firing all the time.  I dissociate from time to time, blocking out things that are uncomfortable or that remind me of other things, or just breaking myself in two and living in conflict with my own thoughts and ideas.  I’m a big pile of contradiction and incoherence and cognitive dissonance.  And all of that is because my young self held some thoughts and blocked others.  And I had no control of what stayed and what went.

Eventually, both combined into one larger trauma.  Not having control of your body is bad in any sense.  But the cognition of not having control over what happened to my body in the medical sense and the dissociation of not having control over what happened to my body in the sexual abuse sense became tied in ways that I didn’t understand until recently.  And the way that tie became apparent is by wetting myself like I did when I was a child when in the company of my abuser … at age 39.   My brain made my body lose control, and potentially continues to do so.  My pelvic floor dysfunction is possibly psychological and possibly physical, but more than likely a combination of the two.

So, I am back to the start, in a sense.  But this time I am remembering all, and the medical and the sexual are one trauma, melded together in some strange ball of a loss of autonomy.  And now I lose even more, with PTSD and fibromyalgia having effects on my brain and body that I cannot control.  I can only cope.

But at least I can cope, some of the time.

At least I am at a place where I can address all the things, and know when I am dissociating, and see how the disconnects are affecting me, and learn how to start putting myself together once again.  At least I am in a place where the memories of both can be acknowledged, and the path that I took to today can be better understood, and the ways I act today and the things I now believe can be explained.

It is amazing what the brain holds and what it releases.  But even more amazing is that I am learning how I can choose what my brain holds and what it releases.  Meditation and mindfulness are showing me the way to control my reactions to thoughts, and mandalas are helping me integrate my mind, and therapy is letting me voice the feelings tied to events that I was before expected to keep secret, or to accept silently.  I get to hold things.  I get to release things.  I am regaining that lost autonomy.  And I am expressing it … loudly enough to piss a bunch of people off when I won’t comply with social norms and religious expectations.

I am screaming autonomy.

I am choosing, even though I can’t choose what happened or what will happen in my life and experience.  I am choosing how I act and react in the midst of what happened and will happen. I am no longer letting my brain do the filing without my input, and I am making certain to assess what I release and what I hold.

I likely have a 50% chance of ending up like my mom, with my mind slowly deteriorating and losing thoughts and memories and faces and, eventually, life.  And if I do have the gene for Alzheimer’s and I do lose bits of my brain to disease, it will be difficult.  But I don’t worry about that the way I once did, because I currently have better knowledge and control of my thinking than I ever have, and I no longer need to worry and catastrophize and create struggle inside my head.  I can accept and release.  Even this idea that I might lose my autonomy in some ways or someday is not a source of struggle, because I know that such disease won’t define me.

I define me.

And accepting the ways I can’t control my life and my future, instead of struggling against them is what I am trying to choose.  I want that to define me—the idea that I accept myself and my life in the moment, and that I can act and react in positive ways, even in the darkest of experiences.  That is my choice.

The thoughts I hold and the thoughts I release are mine. The perspective with which I view things is mine. The ways that I act and react are mine.  The traumas that happen to me, are not mine to hold.  Those belong to the ones that harm, not to the ones harmed by them.  And no amount of victim blaming is tolerated in my space any longer.  That I am letting go.

And I don’t know that being me, in the way that I choose to be, would make my mother proud.  There is probably a lot that she would challenge and dislike, if she were here to do so.  But that doesn’t matter.  Because I am not letting other people define me any longer.  I am not letting the events that happen around me or to me define me.  And having the pride of others, or the acceptance of others, is a bonus, if it happens, but it isn’t my goal anymore.  I no longer strive for anyone’s approval but my own.

And I am very proud of who I am.

 

 

 

 

The Dread Pirate Booty

I’m a little frustrated by all the information out there in the world today concerning the evil of leggings/yoga pants/things that show the curve of a woman’s buttock.  I’m even more frustrated at the way that policing the bodies of women has become so commonplace that others would feel free to do such things as photograph and post (presumably) humiliating pictures of a stranger’s buttocks in nude colored leggings.

Granted, on the pretense of having a slight amount of fashion sense, I have not before worn, nor will I likely ever wear, leggings that resemble my skin tone as a pant.  I just don’t think there should be confusion about whether I am naked or not naked in public.  When I want to be naked in public, you will know without doubt.  So, the nude leggings are not my thing.  But some women choose to wear them out and about, as a pant.

My dictionary’s definition of pants tells me to see “trousers”.  The definition of trousers is: a usually loose-fitting outer garment for the lower part of the body, having individual leg portions that reach typically to the ankle but sometimes to any of various other points from the upper leg down.  So, “usually”, “typically”, “sometimes” and “various other” would express, in my opinion, that having stuff cover some to most of each leg separately is a pant.  We can all note that the recent trend toward the “skinny jean” demonstrates that the loose-fitting designation no longer applies to pants.  So, in effect, leggings are pants as long as you wear them as outer garments.

Whether or not you believe they should be worn as outerwear does not make them pants.  I wear see through/sheer tops rather frequently.  I usually choose to wear an under-layer of a camisole or tank top, but that does not negate the fact that the sheer item is my outerwear. It is being worn on the outside, regardless of whether I put something under it or no.

So, here is a tip for all those who feel the need to police the ways that women (or men, for that matter) choose to cover or not cover their bodies:

STOP DOING IT!!

It isn’t your right or responsibility to shame others for their clothing.  If you find it personally offensive, look away.  Maybe try looking them in the eye and saying a kind hello instead of fixating on the curvature of the buttock?

Women’s butts are not there for you to gawk at, shame, or police in any way.  Women’s butts are there to facilitate things like sitting and walking and squatting and a number of other actions that muscles and tendons and joints in that area support or make possible.  Can we all just look at a butt and see it as a thing people have, because they are useful, and not something to fear or dread or shame or assign some evil or undesirable qualities upon?

In a Facebook comment, I pointed out that I wear leggings with regularity due to a medical condition. One symptom of my syndrome is allodynia, the experience of pain from things that do not normally cause pain.  One thing that causes me pain is the traditionally acceptable buttoned pant.  Waistbands that are not elastic or drawstring can cause me great suffering.  Instead of being supportive or compassionate toward me when I expressed this suffering, I was told it is “fine” for me to wear leggings as long as I cover them with a dress or tunic, to spare children the “indecency” of seeing my butt.

Seriously?!  The issue that is most important here is not letting children be aware of the female buttock, and I receive your permission to minimize my suffering only if I am more aware of your definition of decency than I am of my comfort?  I wonder, would these same people tell a cancer patient that their bald head is fine, as long as they cover it with a wrap or scarf or hat, so their children don’t need be frightened by baldness.  Or, would these people say to a dementia sufferer, it is fine if you lose your brain function, as long as you have the decency to do it in the nursing home where I don’t need to be exposed to you voiding in your Depends and drooling in public?  Is my ass so evil that my own suffering must be subject to your sense of decency?  And maybe you need to seriously assess the development of your sense of decency, if the body of over half of the population of the earth is considered indecent in your definitions.

And, while we are speaking of definitions, “decent” is defined as “conforming with generally accepted standards”.   I find the shaming of the female form indecent.  And I intend to do all that is within my power to change standards, until those which are generally accepted are those that express equality and diversity and autonomy, and not the shaming and oppression of women (or men, or children, or persons not conforming to the gender binary, or anyone else in the universe).

Who’s with me?