Tag Archives: labels

Being in the Body

Last night we danced. I’m patiently and persistently attempting to root a dance group into this community. It’s taking time, but I hope in the end to have a healthy core of four or five women to share this sacred practice with.

As I danced, I remembered an old friend with whom I danced in Colorado. She used to often say, at the end, as we sat in a circle holding hands, “It’s so good to be in the body.”

Not in the head, where family and other relationships, financial and political complexities, expectations, rules, to-do lists and all our internal voices reside, but in the body, right now.

Our bodies contain a childlike innocence and a wisdom beyond words. They communicate to us the truth about how things are with us via feeling and sensation. Patiently, they carry us through our lives, our most loyal and faithful companions. Persistently, we neglect, abandon and abuse them.

Somewhere along the way, we’ve learned to reject, be ashamed of and hate our physical being and experience. Now we’re to the point where bodily functions tied to being biologically female are a matter of political incorrectness and a hate crime. Social pressure is increasing to eradicate the very words that define female physical experience.

But dance is for everybody in every body, and the spiritual practice of dance has taught me to honor, protect and care for my physical self in new ways. There are no labels in dance, no gaslighting, no power-over that seeks to diminish or limit my physical history or expression. Dance is wordless, so there are no language police. Dance is the freedom to belch, to fart, to wiggle, to jiggle, to giggle, to cry, to shout, to play and to sweat.

The deepest language I know is of the body.

Allowing my body to be and joyfully inhabiting it has been a powerful act of self-love. It means allowing my hair to grow as it will, where it will, in the color it is. It means moving with dignity and pride. It means gratitude, for my life is a journey that maps itself onto my flesh. Every mole, freckle, stretch mark, scar, lump, bump, line, wrinkle and vein holds part of my story, and I honor story.

Being in my body is a powerful act of surrender, not to what the culture says I must be or not be, not to what I think I should embody or not embody, but to what I am. Simply that. The unique, miraculous complex system of genetic material, living tissue, viruses, bacteria and chemical processes that I am.

Allowing my body to be is a peace treaty. My body is not for the pleasure or evaluation of others. It’s not for sale. My body and I owe nothing to anyone, not explanation, apology, conformity, obedience and especially not shame. I refuse to go to war over gender, sexuality or political correctness ideology. I decline to support or participate in self-hatred or hatred of other bodies. The power of my body transcends the judgements, criticisms and opinions of others.

The deepest language I know is of the body. Words are inadequate to my passion, to my love, to my creativity. Spoken and written language fails to convey the richness of my body’s capabilities.

The tick crawling high on the nape of my neck along my hairline, the feel of its tiny claws stirring each hair as it seeks a good place to fasten on, gives me a physical experience so vivid and visceral it cannot possibly be conveyed in words. My skin shrinks, telling me what the sensation is before I examine the cause with my eyes. Undisturbed hair around its path rises, quite automatically, in response to the small but ominous trespass. It feels solid and smooth as an apple-seed between my thumb and finger as I pinch it off. It hurries up and down a bookmark, chestnut colored, as I transport it down the stairs, almost as though it knows it’s been seen, recognized and a death sentence passed.

We come out of our favorite restaurant after a meal on a hot, humid day and find a snake clothed in brown and green, voluptuously twined around our right front tire. My partner stoops and grasps it and it curls and writhes as it dangles from his hand, twisting between the newly-laid black tar and the heavy sky, glaring with sun, humid as a steam bath. My partner takes it into a nearby field and as he comes back he holds out his hand with a rueful expression, showing me beads of bright red blood, dazzling as rubies, on his finger, and two parallel shallow cuts that sting, he says, like paper cuts.

I danced with the tick, the snake, the rasp on my knee from falling on the front cement steps, their uneveness hidden by the encroaching hostas, blooming now on thick, fleshy stems, their lavender flowers plundered all day by bumblebees.

I danced with the rattling air conditioner lodged into a window of the recreation center activity room. As usual, we traded the rise in heat and humidity in the room with the lower and quieter fan setting.

I danced with a dead fly on the wood floor, trying to avoid stepping on it with my bare foot. I danced with a living large black ant, bewildered, crawling across what must have seemed like acres of flat, featureless terrain, also not wishing to step on it, but too involved in the flow of the music to stop and take it outside.

I danced with my breasts and belly and thighs, with my feet and elbows and wild hair. I danced with trickles of sweat and a wet upper lip. I danced with my tattoo and swaying earrings and sliding silver bangles. I let myself go. I let myself be. I let myself sink into my body as though sinking into a lover’s arms, for I am its lover, and it is mine.

I danced, and remembered again how good it is to be in the body.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Labels

This week I’m thinking about labels.

I’m not a fan of labels. They say too much and too little at the same time, and they’re too easy to use imprecisely. Words and definitions matter to me. On the other hand, labels can be useful in that they symbolize a cluster of defining characteristics that have been well enough recognized and described to get labeled in the first place.

At the end of the day, I have a love/hate relationship with labels. I resist taking them on and I resist defining anyone else with them; however, in the course of exploring and reading about our human experience, certain labels have been enormously healing and helpful in my understanding of myself and patterns of behavior I’ve been involved in. I’m proud to carry some labels, even though I rarely talk about them, such as being highly sensitive, as defined by Elaine Aron, PhD. I’m deeply humiliated by other labels, and only reluctantly admit to them, but I know they belong to me whether I admit it or not.

PTSD is a label like that. PTSD is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. As a young woman, I associated PTSD mostly with Vietnam vets who came home from the war with deep psychic and often physical injuries. Over my lifetime, PTSD has gradually been more commonly recognized and talked about, and the label has expanded to cover all kinds of experiences outside of war. I encounter it regularly, several times each work shift as a medical transcriptionist. Some people are severely affected in their daily lives, and others function very well unless they get triggered.

I grew up actively ignoring my own pain and deeply involved with everyone else’s. I had the idea that I was the cause of the pain in those around me and it was up to me to fix it. My own experience wasn’t significant. I also believed that it was against the rules for me to have pain in the first place; pain or distress were shameful and weak and had to be concealed and denied at all costs.

This set of beliefs has made me, for most of my adult life, numb to my own distress. I often didn’t recognize pain at all, and automatically employed various coping strategies to deal with it. Sometimes it wasn’t until days or even weeks later I realized dimly I was distressed after a particular conversation or event, and then I felt shame about my distress. This is part of the dynamic that kept me with an abuser for years. I couldn’t really feel emotionally what was happening, even when I tasted blood. There was a disconnect.

At some point it dawned on me that I have PTSD.

Photo by SHTTEFAN on Unsplash

I was academically injured and emotionally abused as a child in fourth grade math, which happened to be the year I was introduced to story problems. Before and after that time I successfully navigated beginning math, high school math, fractions, geometry, algebra and even a college semester of calculus and did just fine, all the while firmly convinced by the limiting belief that I couldn’t do math. I failed chemistry and physics in college, the first classes I’d ever failed in my life. Why? Story problems. I became suicidal and severely depressed and eventually dropped out of college, never to return.

I got a job, got married, and began an adult life. I dealt with a paycheck, a bank account, a checkbook, bills, budgeting, taxes, credit cards and all the rest with no problem. But I still believed I couldn’t do math, and for years I had recurring nightmares about getting on the wrong bus at school (they were identified by numbers) or forgetting my locker combination.

For me, living with PTSD is like living with hidden landmines. I go about my business feeling competent, efficient and organized, and then—WHAM!

I’ve been two years in Maine now, with a new address and phone. Six months ago, I was making an appointment to get my hair cut and was asked for my phone number (landline, not cell phone). There was a lady behind me, waiting. Another of my triggers. Terrible things happen when you make people wait. The stylist was in front of me, pencil poised, needing to get back to work and deal with other customers. What’s more basic than your phone number, for God’s sake? A 6-year-old can recite her phone number.  These days, most 6-year-olds probably have their own phone numbers!

Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

I was blank. Utterly and completely shut down. Stopped in my tracks. There was nothing in my head but static. I was freezing cold, nailed to the floor, and I don’t think I could have counted from one to ten in that moment. Somewhere deep inside I was screaming, hysterical, panic stricken, and sobbing with shame, but that was happening in another galaxy. My numbers thing had struck again.

Fortunately, I know myself, and unfortunately, this was neither the first nor the last time something like this happened. I went into my wallet and pulled out a piece of paper with my phone number, my address, my birth date, my children’s birth dates, my partner’s phone number and, in disguise, my SS number. I said something about having a new phone number, read it off and got out of there. I sat in the car, shaking, decided I didn’t have to throw up and went home.

Sitting right here, I know my phone number as well as you know yours, but I’m not under pressure. I also have all the above information pinned onto the bulletin board in my office in the next room, because this can happen when I’m on the phone, too. Someone asks me for my birthday, and that’s it. The lights go out. Total and complete nothingness. I know the month of my birthday, because that’s a word, and I love words, but no date, no year.

I’ll write a hundred checks with no problems. Then, one day in a busy store with a line behind me and a hassled cashier, I won’t know the date, not just the numbered date, but the day of the week, the month, the year. It’s just not there. I look at what I’m wearing for clues. I look at the carbon of the last check I wrote, trying to hide that I’m looking. I ask casually what the date is and get the numbered day of the month—but not the month. Somehow, I get through it, but then I’m likely to write the check for the wrong amount because I’m so upset. It doesn’t happen every time, or even most of the time, which is part of the problem. It’s only certain situations, and often I can’t tell what triggered it, so I can’t predict, either. All I can do is be ready and try to deal with my shame and humiliation when it does happen.

It’s on my mind this week because it happened again yesterday.

I work online as a medical transcriptionist and use various software programs for timesheets, recordkeeping and all the actual transcription. I’ve been doing this for ten years. As in any job, there are irritating policies and procedures to follow, but I’m familiar with them and I’m extremely meticulous and detail-oriented (no, I did NOT say perfectionistic!), so it’s all in a day’s work.

Except yesterday I realized I somehow made a mistake in my time sheet, and my supervisor was understandably peeved and needed me to fix it. The mistake involved my time sheet, my pay check and my balance of yearly leave hours, all of which, naturally, are represented by numbers. It all conspired in a perfect storm of personal triggers, and I came undone.

Shaking, clammy hands. Hammering heart. Gasping for breath. Trembling legs. Hysterical sobbing. I looked frantically from Leave Request to Timesheet to Records and back again. None of it made sense. I couldn’t even properly recognize a single number. They might as well have been Chinese characters. Punch in, punch out, punch in, punch out—it was like an apocalyptic story problem.

I knew what was happening. I knew I was out of control. I knew I was helpless in the grip of it, and I also knew it would pass.

I got up and left the computer. With my partner, I was able to calm down enough to find language, and talk about it, which helped. Then I ate a big meal. Then I took some music into a quiet part of the house where I wouldn’t be disturbed and danced.

When I went back for my second shift, I looked again, and this time I saw. I knew what my mistake was. It all made sense. I see where I punched in, ran out of work, punched out again. It’s rational, it’s real, it’s verifiable. I’m not crazy. It’s all okay. I know what to do to fix it, but it’s 10:30 in the morning of the next day now and I still haven’t done so. I will. I know I can. But first I wanted to write this and go swimming. I feel a little like I got run over by a truck yesterday, and I still need some recovery time.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

This is an experience of PTSD behind the label. What I’m trying to do with this week’s blog is remind myself and everyone else that labels are cold, dead things that convey intellectual ideas and information. They can be useful, but they’re limited. Behind every label we use, apply or accept, there’s human experience and feelings, and they’re real, visceral, passionate, complex and sometimes painful, even though they may be invisible to an outside eye.

I know PTSD is only a small part of who I am, a mere fraction, a little hairline crack. It’s there. I’ll own it, but I don’t have to allow it to limit me.

But I still believe I can’t do math.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

 

Going On From Here

I haven’t enjoyed this week much. It reminds me of the week after 09/11, when I thought I would drown in the hate and despair around me.

I’m not on Facebook, but my partner is and I hear more than I want to about what’s going on there. I’m developing a pathological hatred of the news in any form, even as I obsessively read the internet. I think about friends, family, acquaintances and a world full of frightening strangers with the power, strength and willingness to hurt others, including me.

I work at home as a medical transcriptionist, a fact I don’t talk about much because I respect the privacy laws in this country around medical information. My book of business is presently in Illinois, but I’ve also worked extensively in New York, Ohio and Alabama. I spend twenty-four hours a week typing dictated stories about strangers, a significant number of them experiencing physical and emotional pain and suffering from the current situation.

Here in central rural Maine Native Americans in our community are victims of hate crimes. Their people have been in this place for thousands of years.

It seems to me in the last week we’ve put on the table an infinite number of ways in which to divide ourselves from one another; an infinite number of ways to express hate, intolerance and blame; an infinite number of labels to weigh ourselves and others down with. None of it feels useful

I want to find ways to support what I believe in and reach out to other people. I want to do something, no matter how small, to make a difference in this, but I’m noticing something interesting about that. As soon as I communicate about some kind of action I’ve taken, someone cuts me down. I’ve been told wearing a safety pin is patronizing and indicates privilege; I’m not welcome in America; I’m going to burn in hell; and I’ve joined a hate organization (that would be MoveOn.org).

Maybe no one out there needs support, or wants to make a contribution to unity and respect, but I don’t really believe that. At any rate, I need support and I do want to make a contribution, so here are some thoughts about what would help me.

Here’s a graphic to contemplate as we go on:

power-all-of-politicsEnough with the labels. We have to stop this. One thousand labels can’t define the complex creature a human being is. I maintain that what’s happening now is NOT about race, gender, religion, politics, immigration or socioeconomics. What’s happening now is about power—how we define it and understand it, how we use it and what we’ll do to gain it or overthrow it. I think the most important question to ask ourselves is if we support power over others or power with others. That’s really the bottom line. It’s at the heart of all the disagreements. The rest is just inflammatory and dangerous distraction.

Enough with the apocalyptic stories and predictions. The fact is nobody knows what’s going to happen now. We’re in uncharted territory politically, economically, socially and environmentally. Many people think that’s a good thing. Sure, it’s scary. The unknown always is. On the other hand, politics as usual wasn’t working very well for most of us in this country and change is an inevitable part of life. Blessing or disaster, the point is none of us know the future and we’ll all have to deal with whatever happens as best we can.  Terrifying ourselves and one another with dire predictions, threats and stories won’t help anyone. Fear is terribly contagious and terribly ineffective in decision making, but it’s a useful tool for manipulation. I encourage you not to allow anyone to use it on you.

The best defense against fear and misinformation is to do your own research. Don’t let your favorite news station, radio station, astrologist, movie star, blogger, drinking buddy or social media tell you what to think. Don’t let your lover, spouse, parent, church, tribe or fear control what you believe. You’re not a sheep! Think for yourself. All the people in the headlines right now are real people. They have lives, histories, Wiki pages, on-line organizations, quotes and podcasts. You can read all about them. Look at the news organizations in other countries and what they’re reporting for a contrast to domestic news. Don’t just blindly believe every rumor and fearful whisper! Try to discern between fact and opinion. Collect information. Educate yourself. Research. Check out opposing views. Take responsibility for your opinions and beliefs. If you need help with this, find a librarian!

Stop worrying about everyone else and clean up your own act. Sit down with yourself and figure out who you are. Think about what you say and what your actions are and notice whether they’re congruent. What do you believe, and why? What are your priorities? What kind of outcomes do you want for yourself and for your community, however you define community? What is your agenda? Do you feel you have a right to make choices for others? Are you willing for others to make choices for you? If you feel disenfranchised, are you willing to accept support from someone outside your group, or are you going to savage every hand held out to you?

Stop trying to change other people. It does nothing but divide us more deeply. No matter how right you think you are, no matter how powerful you believe your reasoning is, you’re not going to be able to change someone who’s deeply invested in a differing view. It doesn’t matter if it’s climate change, diet, politics, gay rights, reproductive rights, religion, racism or anything else. Accept that not everyone agrees with you and stop wasting their time and yours spinning your wheels. We don’t have to shoot one another in the head and throw scorn at those who disagree with us.  We can just walk away, use our energy to work for what we believe in and allow others to do the same.

You don’t have to accept an invitation to fight. You don’t have to read an ugly comment, thread, tweet, twitter or blog. You have a delete button, a trash button and an off button. Use them. If you’re upset by a news story, a meme, an image or a quote, control your media and tech exposure. Make choices about who you engage and discuss with. Block people. Don’t go there. Don’t take it in and don’t pass it on. Find communities in which respectful conversation and debate takes place if you want to discuss an issue. Many of us don’t feel safe verbalizing, revealing or defending our views, but everyone can vote with their presence. If you’re uncomfortable or scared in a conversation, leave it. Don’t come back. You can’t stop it, but you don’t have to be a part of it.

Learn to communicate. It’s a powerful tool, and most of us don’t learn how to do it well. Learn to express your thoughts, feelings and opinions in a way that allows others respect and dignity. Learn to listen. You don’t have to agree with people, but that doesn’t mean they have nothing important to say. Take a self-defense class. Don’t forget that most communication is nonverbal. Whoever you are, you have a right to be. Speak up for yourself. Protect yourself with good boundaries. Don’t allow others to make you feel ashamed. Here’s an excellent resource to start with: http://www.cnvc.org/

Root out your assumptions. All white people are not living a life of economic privilege! All patriots are not Christians! All Muslims are not terrorists! All blacks are not criminals! All Latinos are not undocumented immigrants! All men are not rapists! All gay people are not child molesters! All Christians are not militants! First graders think in these black and white ways, not adults. Grow up! We shackle each other with these assumptions.

Please, readers, help me build this list. Help me find things we can do for one another. If you feel disenfranchised for any reason, what would make you feel supported? What can I do or say to send you a message of solidarity? Does the fact that I happen to be white mean I have nothing to offer someone of another race that’s not patronizing? I feel disenfranchised, too! What can we do to help one another understand our respective stories and experiences? What can we teach each other? What does the hand of friendship look like? How can we unify and lend each other our strengths? What works to build healthy connection, and how can we do more of it?

Can any of you suggest organizations to volunteer for, join or find news on? Who is doing work you admire? How can people find candlelight vigils, protests, marches and church-based activities? Not everyone is on or has access to Facebook.

There’s a lot of talk about privilege right now. It’s a slippery term, and I think the perception of privilege is really in the eye of the beholder. Here’s a very interesting little self-test you can take. Some of the questions will help you appreciate the difficulties many people face. In case any one wonders, my score was a 44–NOT privileged, according to this tool. Certainly very privileged in comparison to some people. https://www.buzzfeed.com/regajha/how-privileged-are-you

Allow me to create a resource for positive action and individual empowerment on this blog. Add your voice and ideas to mine. Help me support you, and lend me your support.

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted