Tuesday, January 19, 2010
I sit here in front of my computer starting on a paper…typing black letters onto a white page. My thoughts whirl with a myriad of questions and answers. This is my personal Theme for English B; “The instructor said, Go home and write a page tonight. And let that page come out of you--Then, it will be true.” (Hughes, 1951). Only you asked about our bias and prejudices. Years ago I was at the Ohio Reading Conference in Columbus, the guest speaker was Louanne Johnson whose book My Posse Don’t Do Homework became the movie Dangerous Minds. She shared one of her classroom truths, so profound in a simple way that I wrote it in my personal notes. When a teachable moment arose, I’d quote that petite ex-Marine who became an inner-city teacher, “Prejudice is like underpants. We all have them, but it is rude to show it.” I’m not so self-righteous to think I don’t have biases, but I’ve lived so long with mental illness—my mother, my father, my grandparents, my uncle, myself— that the generic prejudices don’t apply. You know the old joke found on refrigerator magnets, Our family puts the FUN in dysfunctional—Well, my family puts the DYS in dysfunctional. Some of these are diagnosed and treated illness, some are not.
I once heard it said that “Normal is someone you don’t know very well.” What I do know from my long dance with mental illness is that it is a painful journey, a lifelong journey. I know that there is hope to be found in medicines, in psychotherapy, in recovery, in self-acceptance—but you are never really cured. “Abnormal Behavior” can be a deep abyss. Like a compound fracture—you can take pain meds, set the cast, and declare it healed. Years down the road, the scar, limp, stiffness, and diagnosis of Arthritis reminds you that it never really is gone.
Last week I read the description of Psychodynamic Models, and thought to myself, “What a load of psychobabble!” My fear of snakes isn’t some repressed fear of penises; but rather remembering my grandmother’s warnings, “Watch out for snakes and don’t go playing in any creeks!” when we’d visit her Kentucky homestead. During Saturday’s HDV 413 class, I argued that treating a patient only using one model of psychopathy was inadequate, which follows my bias that humans are integrated earth, breath, and intelligence—to tug on one thread is to tug on the whole tapestry. After looking closer at the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and its revisions, it strives to assess the whole picture of the patient in a clear, consistent, and holistic way. I still wonder why treatment would be any different.
However, I am not advocating that one healer/doctor/therapist has to treat each part; but rather, attention must be paid to the whole DIS-ease in order for there to be healing. I am not alone in this conviction, “Everyone wants to lead a healthy, satisfying, meaningful life. But how do you do it? At Omega, we believe it has to do with integrating your body, mind, and spirit. This means paying attention to all three aspects in your life, listening to their needs and desires, and acting in ways that give you a sense of wholeness and balance” (http://eomega.org/omega/omegaliving/4). Epiphany! I have the start to my Bias paper….
Then, a funny thing happened at church on Sunday; I got a hell of a sucker-punch from Grief. I was invited to visit a long-time friend’s church. Greeted by my dear friend, I was excited to commune in worship and learning…Then, I greeted her mother who was sitting beside her. BAM! I was confronted by a vision of my mother who’d passed from cervical cancer fifteen years earlier. There has always been a bit of a physical similarity between her mother and mine. In truth, I think it was more of a spiritual similarity. They’d experienced innocence in the 50s; became rebellious teens during the revolutions of the 60s; in the 70s, they’d become wives and mothers—and divorcees and single mothers shortly thereafter; and in the 80s they discovered their true selves and spirituality…that is where there paths diverged. I stood there looking at what could have been…my mother, my ally, my best friend seated next to me at church. Just when I thought I’d entered the “acceptance phase” of grief, I was faced with the loss once again. When I left the sanctuary that day, I passed by my mom’s friend fellowshipping with friends and family, and doting on her grandchildren. As I collected my own child from Sunday school and exitied the building, I pretended not to notice. I felt that adrenalin rush of fear that I’d have an emotional breakdown in the lobby.
I wasn’t jealous of my friend; I celebrated and honored the joy mother and daughter have in one other. The opposite side of the same coin was that I lamented my loss. I embraced the words of Washington Irving, “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness but of power. They are messengers of overwhelming grief and of unspeakable love.” In the depths of my own depression years ago, I found that insanity was to get stuck in the despair and grief—the feeling that moving beyond it was to forget those who’d transitioned into the afterlife and to forget those dreams deferred. Today, I embrace grief when it comes; but I also know that honoring the memory is to move on and embrace the life I encounter today…to accept the new normal.
One of the very first things I know to be true is that humans are made for eternity. Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier with his expertise in chemistry concluded, “Nothing is born and nothing can die.” Paradoxically, French cardinal of the Catholic Church François de la Rochefoucauld reasoned, “The only thing constant in life is change.” I doubt I need a great quote from a philosopher, psychologist, or guru to tell you that change is difficult. Great change can bring us to a crossroads—it can bring us to our knees. Transaction model of stress examines how humans can healthily appraise, manage and cope with life’s hiccups (Lazarus, R.S. & Cohen, J.B. (1977). Physiologically, we feel the rush of adrenaline—we choose between the fight or flight response. Most of the time, humans are resilient. We view the conflict or change as “do-able” and we make the necessary adjustments—and magically transform.
Conversely, Freud (1910) describes the negative impacts on the psyche brought about by the change. He describes what happens when humans are overwhelmed by stress, “There had been a short conflict, and the end of this inner struggle was the repression of the idea which presented itself to consciousness as the bearer of this irreconcilable wish. This was, then, repressed from consciousness and forgotten. The incompatibility of the idea in question with the ‘ego’ of the patient was the motive of the repression, the ethical and other pretensions of the individual were the repressing forces. The presence of the incompatible wish, or the duration of the conflict, had given rise to a high degree of mental pain; this pain was avoided by the repression. This latter process is evidently in such a case a device for the protection of the personality.” Change can march into our lives as birth, puberty, marriage, divorce, job loss, moving, etc.
I believe sickness—whether physical, spiritual or emotional—is a result of us not accepting our new normal. In his poem, We Wear the Masks, Paul Laurence Dunbar described this process, “We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes--This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile.” The mask might be prescribed medication to help with the pain. I can hear my grandmother handing my mother Valumn, “Honey, just take you a little nerve pill.” We wear the mask by shopping, smoking pot, drinking, lying…anything to hide the truth. Similarly, Elizabeth Lesser explains the conflict of change in Broken Open: How difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, “When we don’t share the secret ache in our hearts the normal bewilderment of being human—it turns into something else. Our pain and fear and longing in the absence of company, become alienation and envy and competition” (p.26). As a people-pleaser, I’ve worn the mask most of my life. Eventually, we forget what’s mask and what the authentic self is. And what the true self is this, “We’re all bozos on the bus, so we might as well sit back and enjoy the ride,” spoken by clown Wavy Gravy (best known for his efforts to spread love and a helping hand in the midst of chaos at Woodstock).
In order to heal, we need to heal all of what makes us human; and what makes us human is where body, mind, and soul intersect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dualism_(philosophy_of_mind). Norman Brown wrote, “The aim of psychoanalysis—still unfulfilled, and still only half-conscious—is to return our souls to our bodies, to return ourselves to ourselves...Hence, since sublimation is the essential activity of soul divorced from body, psychoanalysis must return our sublimations to our bodies; and conversely, sublimation cannot be understood unless we understand the nature of the soul in psychoanalytic terminology, the nature of the ego.” With greying temples and a German accent, Sigmund Freud sardonically asks in my mind, “So tell me about your mother?” Shoulders shrugged, I reluctantly admit, “Ok, Ok—I can’t even eliminate your model from my diagnostic and therapeutic repertoire. I guess I’m a Jungian after all! The id is the body, the ego is the mind, and the superego is the spirit!” And so, like all great epochs the end is the beginning; and the beginning is the end. As my two year old daughter puts the Lion King in for the 200th time this week (which so happens to be the last movie I saw with my mother), these words echo in my house, my ears, my mind, and my spirit:
Rafiki: [after guiding Simba to a spot where he says will show him Mufasa]
Look down there.
Adult Simba: [looks into a pool of water]
That's not my father. That's just my reflection.
Rafiki: No, look harder.
[touches the water, as it ripples Simba's reflection changes to that of his father]
Rafiki: You see? He lives in you.
Mufasa's ghost: [from above]
Adult Simba: Father?
Mufasa's ghost: [apears among the stars]
Simba, you have forgotten me.
Adult Simba: No. How could I?
Mufasa's ghost: You have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the Circle of Life.
Adult Simba: How can I go back? I'm not who I used to be.
Mufasa's ghost: Remember who you are. You are my son, and the one true king. Remember...
On the first day of class you revealed your personal crisis of searching for a new job, feeling a bit lost. Being laid-off after 10 years of teaching, I was familiar with those dark shadows of the soul. If I wasn’t Mrs. Morelock, the teacher, then who was I? At the end of class, I told you that through the chaos, I emerged on the other side with a new pair of glasses—those glasses are how I view the world, my personal bias. And, I remember your words to me as we parted after that first class, “Keep your glasses clean!”
Honestly, I’d doing the best I can. Sometimes I forget these metaphysical life-gems and my lenses get dirty. If they get too dirty, then God sends life-lessons. He begins with a whisper. Oprah Winfrey (1997) enlightened graduates a commencement address, “Try to get the whisper before the earthquake comes because the whisper is always followed by a little louder voice, then you get a brick I say, and then sometimes a brick wall, and then the earthquake comes. Try to get it on the whisper.” Yep, I’ll try to remember to keep my glasses clean!
Dunbar, Paul Laurence. We Wear the Masks. Retrieved from http://www.poetry-archive.com
Freud, Sigmund. (1910). The Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis. American Journal of
Psychology, 21, 181-218. Retrieved from http://psychclassics.asu.edu/Freud/Origin/
Hughes, Langston. Theme for English B. Retrieved from http://www.poetry-archive.com
Lazarus, R.S. & Cohen, J.B. (1977). Environmental Stress. Human Behavior and Environment.
2.Retrieved from http://www.cw.utwente.nl/theorieenoverzicht/Theory%20clusters/Health%20Communication/transactional_model_of_stress_and_coping.doc/
Lesser, Elizabeth. (2004). Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow. New York. Villard
Norman O. Brown (1959). Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History. Middletown, CT:
Wesleyan University Press. Retrieved from http://www.psych-culture.com/docs/brown-life_against_death.pdf
Winfrey, Oprah. (May 30, 1997). Commencement Address Wellesley College. Retrieved from
Various quotes Retrieved from www.brainyquote.com