Accessability

What We Can Learn From The ‘Don’t Let Me Die In Phoenix’ Series About Post-Traumatic Stress:

In today’s article John Davis draws out lessons from his near death experience regarding Post-Traumatic Stress and seeks to ‘normalise’ our ideas concerning mental health by explaining that mental well being is not a static thing and therefore, that episodes where we express ‘madness’ should not, necessarily, be thought of as problematic.

Previously in this blog we have utilised Hume’s notion that there is no such thing as total freedom to demonstrate that there is always a hidden structure – even if you can’t see it – and that our lives always involve a tension and interplay between our ideas of self and the structures around us. Today’s article seeks to explain those tensions in terms of the pros and cons of the concept of ‘trauma.  In so doing, today’s article critiques fixed ideas e.g. concerning stages of grief, in order to demonstrate that grief and pain are natural processes which should not be approached in overly negative ways.

Once I was able to drive, one of my favourite things to do was to go for a walk in the Lomond Hills and then go for coffee at The Pillars of Hercules Café in Strathmiglo – the staff were so kind there.   Pillars of Hercules also have an organic shop next to the café and I would usually buy too much stuff to carry easily but the staff would always offer to help and bring boxes to ensure I was able to get my purchases to the car.  The staff’s ways of working meant that there was a hidden structure that moved into action when disabled shoppers needed help.

On one occasion the staff in the Café got my order wrong.  I had ordered a salad with quiche (real men do eat quiche after all), to go with my coffee.  The salad came with some kind of tartlet.   It was testimony to how bad my memory was that I stared at the dish for quite a while before working out that this tartlet was not a quiche.  The experience was quite debilitating – how could I not know the difference between a quiche and a tartlet.

A senior staff member who was working in the kitchen looked through the kitchen window and noticed I was upset and came out to ask if I was ok (I had a pained expression of my face and as she spoke to me I noticed my hands were slightly shaking).  I found myself saying, ‘I am really sorry, I am not complaining, this might seem strange, but this is not a quiche is it?’.  She said, ‘You right it is a spinach and ricotta tartlet’.

She was so lovely about it, not judgemental at all and insisted on changing the tartlet to a quiche – even though I said it was fine I would eat it any way.  She even brought me 75p change as they had charged me more for the tartlet than the quiche would have cost.

Article 2 in this series highlighted the importance of the social model of disability which seeks to identify and remove attitudinal, organisational and physical discriminatory barriers that prevent disabled people from being fully included in society.  The non-judgemental approach of the staff at Pillars of Hercules demonstrated that they did not hold discriminatory attitudes about my inability to remember what a quiche was. And, for example, when helping me get my purchases to my car, that they were prepared to make physical adjustments to ensure my impairments were catered for.

They treated me differently when I needed help but they did not treat me as if I were damaged.  They treated me as a fellow human being with feelings.  I so hope that they are surviving the shut down and that they will reopen when things are safe to do so.  I noticed, whilst writing this article, that they have been supplying groceries in the local area to those who are shielding – which is another example of their core values being about supporting infirm and disabled folk.

 

Weakness v strengths/abilities

If you operate a hierarchy of impairment, you might make fun of someone who has forgotten what a quiche is.  The staff at the Café welcomed my unusual question in a warm and generous way.  I realised, sitting there eating the quiche, that my voice was still very weak and that my tiredness from the walk I had just completed had probably resulted in me mumbling my request to the young man who was taking the orders.

Dyslexia is an auditory processing impairment which means that you can often think you have said something but you have not – the brain sort of mixes up the words and letters on the way in (when you hear or read them) and on the way out (when you speak or write them).  I have notice that my dyslexic mistakes are always worse when I am tired. So, even though I thought I had said the correct words (e.g. because I had not noticed the tartlet on the menu board) , I could not be absolutely certain that I had actually said the correct words.

I had some tricky moments at school mixing up words that resulted in teasing from fellow pupils.  Such as mixing up the words vulva and aorta in a biology class about the body – you can guess which word I said incorrectly when the teacher asked what the main artery was that carries blood away from your heart.  The teacher was a right comedian and laughed back, ‘your gonny have to get those two sorted out if your thinking of having a family – my advice is start at the aorta and see where things take the both of you.’

I made sure to apologise to the guy taking the orders on my way out – he was fine about it.  In the main, the health professionals that I encountered during my saga also adopted a, ‘no problem’ approach towards me and my sometimes quite confused ways of being in the world.

That is the kind of service we need in our NHS and other public services – no judgement, no blame, no fuss, just an attitude of, ‘there is a person (in my case a disabled person) in front of me who looks like he is struggling, what can I do to support him’.

But, some professionals in the Scottish hospital were not able to be kind spirited and they were unable to give of their best and tended to attack rather than nurture, the patients.  We need to sort out the culture in some parts of the NHS.  In simple terms, there is no point fixing a medical thing in a person’s body if, at the same time, you attack their identity, diminish their sense of self and put at jeopardy their mental well-being.

Through out the summer of 2019 and towards September, I continued my walking and continued to visit The Pillars of Hercules Café.  I went walking even through the worst of the torrential summer rain – trying to find some kind of solace and healing from the hills and natural environment.

This song Summer Rain by The Brother Brothers, stopped me in my tracks one day:

When it came

It was late in the month of September

The leaves were changing

Such a sight as I can hardly remember

Anyway

I’ve been loved a time or two

Anyway

I’ve loved more than a few

Anyway

My bed is just a stranger without you

The song captured the time-less wound licking solitude and melancholy of my walking regime – which involved a healing process where I mourned for my lost self amongst the hills of my childhood.

 

Perfection v Acceptance:

Since my operations, it is life’s lack of uniformity that fascinate me.   I have always been ready to accept my own strengths and limitations but there is something about having surgery and scars that now focuses me even more on the way that our environment involves so many contrasting shapes.  Nothing much is uniform in nature and post-operations nothing much was uniform about my body.

In term of my mental health, I preferred the outdoors because nature did not require me to ‘fake it’ nor put on a ‘brave face’.  Indeed, I noticed a tensions in my life. I had a strong need for solitude, yet the support of friends meant so much to me.

For a most of the last 13 months, I would meet friends on a one to one but I shied away from social gatherings because they involved too much bluffing that I was OK and gave me too much of a detached ‘hiding in clear site’ feeling.  Social gathering were also very tiring and this meant I tended to survive them rather than enjoyed  them.

Recently, a friend pointed out to me that the words perfect and imperfect are troublesome as they suggest that there is one correct way to be.  Working in the disability field I have always been aware that the words ‘normal’ and ‘perfect’ are problematic. I have also noticed that so many people who are perfectionists are actually very contradictory people who can rarely live up to their own standards (I would sometimes include myself in that group).

Since my time in hospital, I am even more aware of how much energy we invest in trying to be ‘normal’ at social gatherings, rather than accepting our different ways of being. I have always had very little patience for formality and that patience is now non existent.

Hence, I love the countryside and nature because there is nothing perfect in nature and the multitude of shapes, colours and sights in nature support and ‘nurture’ your well-being.  Moving to a rural setting has aided my recovery, the hill’s around me roll on and on and on and everyday something new happens.

There are quite a few deer that inhabit a copse of wood near where I live.  One day a heavily pregnant deer came very close to the house and looked like she was looking for a place to give birth.  A day or two later I came across  whilst out walking and she was lying down hiding in a meadow of barley.  I walked on so as not to disturb her as it looked like she might be about to give birth and on my way back I noticed an extra head amongst the tall barley.

It was such a lovely thing to see the cycle of nature starting again. But, so few people have time to be in nature because our work patterns have so stretched into our homes and our ‘free time’.  The internet has enabled our employers to reach into the pocket of our private lives and steal our wallet.

Being in the environment, being able to move and do things like taking photographs has been very healing.  Hence, I am concerned for people staying safe in the city during this crisis who have not had access to the beauty that surrounds us.  The easing of the lock down rules should start to help but through out my articles I have sought to demonstrate that I am very lucky to live in such a beautiful area.

Nature, leisure, music etc, heals so much more than any quack ideas about how to resolve trauma that involve completing checklists and self-labelling about what happened in the past.  Such approaches prey on the vulnerability of people who have experienced traumatic events.  The check list, by asking you to freeze yourself in time and space, takes power away from you and places it in the hand of an ‘expert’ who, more than likely, expects you to ‘fix’ your ‘behaviours’.

Many approaches to ‘trauma’ require you to self-identify as victim  before you can receive support and then teach you ‘coping mechanism’ or ‘cognitive’ approaches that simply aim to mask your symptoms rather than help you process, work from and move beyond your experiences. Alternatively GP medical model approaches seek to push drugs as the solutions – drugs that have lots of other side effects and simply attempt to mask what you are going through.

When I went to university we had a psychology lecturer who had a ‘break down’ he was given Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and tried to develop ‘coping’ strategies.  He would use the same routine every time he came into the class.  He would take is jumper off, fold it and place it on the table; then he would get out this huge book and open it at a specific page (we each had a copy of the same book).  Then he would lift a chair onto the table in front of the book (between himself and the class).  Then he would write the page number on the chalk board.  Then he would read from the book from behind the chair for an hour and at the end of the class, having brokered no questions, he would pack up and leave.

That approach was not teaching, that was surviving in a stuck turntable type way.  We could have skipped the class and read the book for ourselves.  I almost failed that course (having gone out and got drunk the night before each of the three class exams as a sort of protest).  I learnt nothing from that process of teaching and just could not invest any energy in the subject. I also had a concern that there was something not right about us just sitting there.

Not one of us approached the lecturer, questioned him, nor, sought to reach out and help him – indeed some students mocked him.  One day I saw him outside of the University and thought to speak to him to try to connect, maybe I could help in some way.  He ignored me and dashed off.  He was kind of surviving but not living and engaging .  These days, I have a lot more sympathy for his ways of being.

I have used psychological approaches, such as ‘visualisation; whilst playing sport  and Article 9 indicated that I used a distraction method (a drink) when going through the process of getting up using a tilt table.  But, CBT appears to me to be very problematic when dealing with serious life issues because it appears to be focused too much on control rather than living.

I have had several experiences over the years of people who have been out through CBT.  Some friends have come out the other side completely obnoxious and argumentative control freaks (having previously been very  considerate people).

In Article 5 of the Don’t Let Me Die In Phoenix series I explained the benefits of surrendering and going with the flow.  So, it was important to me that I did not try too hard to ‘control’ every aspect of my recovery. The key thing I felt about the stress I was experiencing was that I had to find a way to move through it, understanding its meaning and transition to a new existence, without being too obnoxious to friends and loved ones.  But, occasionally, there is no denying, I was a complete pain in the arse.

Setting those times aside, my approach was a bit like when I have back problems – I keep moving so that I ease myself beyond the seizures. My exercise regime was important because it kept me going physically but, also, through my engagement with nature, supported my mental well being.

I found it very difficult to go back to work.  Most of my courses involve issues of disability, inclusion, family support, and service planning/delivery.  So, whilst working, I am constantly forced to engage with my own experience.  This means that I drift off into flash back and miss parts of the meeting and then make mistakes that my colleagues have to point out to me.

In Article 4 I used Peter Beresford’s ideas to suggest that we need to celebrate our madness but academia is such a conservative space and so many of our colleagues refuse to engage in empathetic ways that celebrating madness is very difficult to do.

Just as I was finishing this article a friend sent this link to me (see link here) ‘An Empath’s Guide to Surviving Academe’ by Rose Ernst.  Amongst a list of tips that include avoiding meaningless events,  time vampires and answering all emails; one of Rose’s key pieces of advice is to save time and energy for those people who energise you.  Its such a simple tip.

Rose Ernst’s tips tend to focus on ‘avoidance’ and her advice tends involve and individual, psychological type casting of specific colleagues and attitudes.  A more social model approach would seek to also change the culture and structure of the organisation. For example, when I was head of Educational Studies at a previous employer I introduced a workload  committee that included members of the different factions in the institute.

The committees’ job was to change the over work culture and any member of staff that felt under work stress could take their workload to that committee who would instruct me on what changes needed to be made.  Such a committee changed the power relations in the department.  The committee was done away with  as soon as I stepped down, hence I did not, myself, get to experience the longer term benefit of that structural change.

Unlike some of Rose’s colleagues, my new colleagues have been extremely supportive during my ‘recovery’.  But, up until now, in the public and work realms, I have mainly been surviving, not living.  The exception to this, survival mode, occurs when my close friends find ways to bring me out of my shell. So I do not want to be overly negative about what I have gone through and in the main, I see the ‘recovery’ process as ‘normal’ and something that will take its own time. I am lucky that, my knowledge of disability helps me to be positive about what happened to me and to avoid the feelings shame that some people experience.

 

Shame v Pride., Nothingness v Happiness, Sadness v Gladness.

I am glad and proud that I endured and survived my ordeal.  In a previous blog post, that I co-wrote with my pal Christina Milarvie Quarrell, we discussed the idea that to become a hero a fictional character has to go through a rite of passage, stave off death in far flung lands and return to his home land with great riches to bestow on his country folk.  Again, as with so many of our articles, we could have no idea how prophetic this article would be.

I have no riches to bestow (other than my story) but I did go through hell and survive to return to my home land.  I see myself as an everyday guy who used all his life experience and the support of others to get himself through an extraordinary and catastrophic experience.  I don’t feel heroic, I feel sad, in my bones, for that guy I once knew.  As this song by Ever More Nest explains:

No one can break your heart quite like the place that you call home.

Isn’t it funny and strange?

When the rain pours through the bright green leaves of these old trees,

I often think this is a magical place.

But there’s a sadness.

There’s a sadness.

There’s a sadness in these bones.

The Corona Virus has not helped my feelings of sadness.  I feel a great sadness that people close to me and people I work with are having to deal with so much tragedy.

Some of those people are left feeling responsible because they have been unable to support families who, before the crisis struck, were only just keeping their head above water.  The root causes of illnesses of distress are complex and we must ensure that notions of shame are not attached to those who were unable to shoulder the burden of this crisis.  Nor should we be judgemental of their families and the professionals who sought/seek to support them.

We can feel sadness.  We can feel anger (e.g. for the totally inadequate political response).  But we must not feel shame – the phrase, ‘don’t let the bastards get you down’ has meaning here.  My experience tells me that we must come together, support each other, endure, survive and then take action to confront the oppressive systems that so impact on our sense of well-being.

During these Corona Virus times, people will be feeling hopeless and we need to avoid piling pressure onto them.  My advice to those who are experiencing sadness or depression is: find whatever way you can to keep going, know that you are not alone, talk to other people and look for creative ways to express your feelings.

As I said previously, in my experience it is OK to avoid your feelings but if you hide your feelings for too long they can find their way out very negatively.  You may also wish to take the advice of Cousin Dimitri, provided in an Article 4, to slow down, let stuff go, make promises to yourself (e.g. about what you will do on the other side),  and find enjoyment in the smallest of things.

Similarly, be aware that when you see a person struggling, like the staff member in the Pillars of Hercules Café who helped me recollect what a quiche was, remember (as article 6 pointed out), that even the smallest act of kindness can make a huge difference to a person’s sense of self.  The smallest act of kindness tells you that you are not alone, that you are visible in the world, that other people understand and that, there might just be, something worth staying alive for.

Since the turn of the year and during the crisis I have really struggled to cope with work and personal issues but their have been some key moments where very kind people have reached out to me just when I was beginning to think I could not cope with the weight of expectations.  I can’t tell you how important those moments have been and how important my regularly phone calls and social media interactions with friends have been to building my sense of well being.

I tend to find the stages of grief literature very limited (e.g. denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) .  I don’t know what it is about those who practice psychology, counselling and psychiatry but they love to use a straight line, chronological, life stages of development approach to label people.

In this blog, we have regularly critiqued ‘developmental’ approaches that suggest that e.g. children learn in a straight lines and through stages. So you will not be surprised to see us critique such approaches when they are applied to adults.

A colleague, who is involved with the Common Weal, commented on one of the articles that some life events you never get over and I think the ‘stages’ of grief approach places too  much pressure on people to analyse where they are in their journey, as if their is a ‘normal’ end point to be achieved. Some things you don;t get over – you simply endure and survive. Where ever I can, I try to take pride in that fact of live – that some things change you irreparably.

As I have mentioned many times in this blog, I have always been sensitive to other people’s feelings but something about my near death experience has accentuated the sadness I feel at other people’s loss.

Whilst writing this article I was gutted to read that the father had died of a colleague who used to work at the Common Weal.  We are surrounded by loss that is heart breaking and this series of articles has been about how to work through loss and grief.

My approach to loss of a loved one has generally been to try to remember with pride those dear souls who have died and Article 13 highlighted the dignity of that process in the Song Come Home.  Though our loved ones have died, we still have our memories to hang onto and I try to cherish and nurture those memories.

For example, when trying to make a difficult life decision I will think about how that person would have approached the decision, what advice they would have given me and whether they would have looked at the decision from a different angle.

That is the problem with straight line approaches to grief – it proposes that there are a series of steps to go through and then your ‘cured’.  Simplistic, is the nicest thing I can say about such psychobabble. The reality is that your grief ebbs and flows and you have high days and low days.

We never know when we will be drawn back to our loved ones memory.  When the phone rings, when a door opens (and you expect them to come in) or when you think you have recognise them in a crowd.   Your mind makes the connection when ever it chooses.

There is no ‘end’ point to your grief, it has to be endured and survived.  Grief has to be lived, loved, welcomed and celebrated, in the sense that we can cherish what our loved one brought to our life and commemorate what they gave to others.  Grieving people are capable of so much more than the simplistic’ stages of grief’ jargon gives them credit for.

When coping with stress, grief and loss, all people will experience issues such as denial, depressing and anger, but, we should not reduce a person’s identity to such a list. Nor should we use this list to make people feel ‘bad’ or shameful about their experience.  So, my first conclusion is that it is not helpful to think of grief as ‘phases’ with a certain ‘order’ .

When I found out I had gangrene I tried to avoid the bargaining approach and accept what was happening to me – the only major example I can think of bargaining occurred when my wife convinced me that I did not want to have a colostomy.  I sort of bargained with myself, for a brief moment, that, If I do not have to have a colostomy, I’ll be able to get through this’.

I dismissed the thought as quickly as it came because I knew there could be no bargaining, there could only be survival and endurance.  Having said that, I was pleased that my wife’s wish, that I should not have a colostomy, was honoured by the surgical team.

Some might see Cousin Dimitri’s advice as bargaining when he suggest that you promise yourself that, when the crisis is over, you will do something positive with your life.  This is not bargaining in some self-centred way – this is surviving, planning, hoping and aspiring.

Quack ‘trauma’ experts can’t make a quick buck out of hope – they need you to feel hopeless, so that they can exploit your vulnerability.  They need you to ignore the Cousin Dimitris of this world.  As I mentioned, I have a number of friends who I chat to as informal counsellors, so when calling some approaches ‘quack’ I am making a distinction between the need for dialogue with people who understand you and the need for dialogue with traffic cop type ‘quacks’ who simply direct you to put  your emotions into pre-prepared boxes.

My second conclusion is that Cousin Dimitri teaches us to rephrase the negative words of the ‘trauma’ industry – so phase one ‘denial’ could be thought of more positively if we called it ‘coping’ and/or ‘postponing’ and thought of it as an ongoing process.  We have a right to take our time to define what an event means to us – that process does not necessarily have to be called denial, it could be called patience or ‘space and time’.

Some of the mental health literature associates depression with anger.  But I find this connection very unhelpful.  My experience is that anger is an appropriate red flag that tells you that a person needs help.  It is an indication for professionals that a person may feel injured by their colleagues approach and it is an obvious reaction to being discriminated against or excluded from discussions that impact on your well being.

Depressions, as a clinical illness, may affect your sleep, your body (in terms of aches and pains), appetite and energy.  All these things can make us irritable, frustrated and grumpy.  Anger is not the same thing as irritation or frustration and we should not conflate these words.

I was angered when I read the report that 98% of disabled people in Scotland experiences barriers regarding hospital transport – I was right to be angry – it is an injustice.  Here, anger is an active thing that can bring us together to work collectively to change our life circumstances.  We can see this with the Black Lives Matter movement.  Our anger at racist injustice is important and we should not settle for the status quo.

Mostly, I would say, I have appropriate moments when I am annoyed about stuff e.g. Article 11 discussed the transport issues that I experienced when discharged from hospital.  That issue still winds me up because the research shows that it happens to other patients and it will still be an issue as we go forward.

I get irritable when I drop things or can’t do things e.g. because the left side of my body was more effect by the operations than my right and I have lost a lot of my fine motor and coordination skills.  But the feeling quickly goes and is understandable.

My third conclusion, drawing from my comments above about the importance of ‘anger’, is that some of these terms are very healthy forms of expression and not things we should avoid and it is also understandable that when you can’t do things you used to do, you may experience feelings of irritation.  Whilst saying that, we also have to watch out that our frustrations do not get the better of us.  For example, Article 5 argued that we had to get beyond our frustrations and show compassion for self and other – least we unfairly lash out:

‘Whilst enduring my experience, I learnt that individual frustrations are pointless, we have to be very careful when we take our frustrations out on our loved ones and we have to show more compassion.  Compassion and empathy can enable us to close the gaps between us and find ways to act collectively.  Compassion and empathy can enable us to value the duality of knowing, find the warmth with in the cold,  and understand the importance of the partial with in the whole.  Compassion and empathy  enable us to support others when they seek to calm the imperfections of their sorrows, losses and fears.  For we can say, do not think of these things (sorrow, loss and fear) as imperfections, think of them as  the foundations upon which we place stepping stones that enable our journey to a better place….

….. So if you are presently at home huffing with your partner, learn a lesson from me. Surrender to what’s happening, communicate your feelings, avoid sentences that pick on each other or that are confusing.  Remember that a small act of kindness can be the first step to closing the gap between you and can also begin to express your love.  So, be generous, approach your conversations with compassion, find a basis for mutual understanding (if not acceptance, forgiveness and resolution) and search for the warmth in the cold.  It is the only way to avoid the nothingness.’

 

The worst case I ever saw of sadness and injustice miss-diagnosed as depression and anger occurred in Newcastle where a disabled man who was being chronically bullied was referred, by social work, for counselling for depression and for anger management classes to manage his frustrations.  What the social worker who made the referral should have done, was got of their arse and got out into the local community and worked with that disabled person to see how the bulling could be challenged and stopped.

Which is exactly what a local disability rights groups finally did, some months later, when they supported the disabled person to become a disability equality trainer and engage with the bullies.  This approach, which confronted local power imbalances and ignorance, changed the bullies’ perception of impairment and disability and helped to build a more cohesive local community.

My wife and I’s approaches to sadness and depression have been different and so it is important to note that two people can go through the same experience and have different outcomes and want/require different types of support. My wife has not enjoyed reading these articles, but, as a person experienced at counselling patients, she has understood how these article, as a creative form of self-expression, act as a positive way for me to come to terms with what I have gone through.

 

Trauma v Survival

Article 5 explained that, in spite of fighting so hard to put forward my best self, I realised that I had lost my sense of self in the hospital. I just couldn’t trust who I was anymore because of the manifestations of the drugs, the pain and the sadness.  Article 5 utilised a picture I had taken of some standing stones entangled in barbwire to symbolise my predicament – proud but confused – calm but unable to grieve properly.  Writing these articles has been difficult because I have had to confront issues and memories that I had been avoiding.  But, it has been worth it.

I started the process over 6 months ago and during that time, I have been able to begin to grieve and express my frustrations. Article 5 employed Alan Cummings ideas to argue that ‘not talking’ was a kind of abuse – but over the piece I have sought to also suggest that time and space is everything in the talking process.  I needed time, which my friends gave me, to begin to process my experience. I needed time to surrender to the flow and work from my fate rather than seek to fight and control what had happened to me.

My writing here in these articles has enabled me to begin to answer the question, ‘What do I do with the hand I have been dealt?’  And, I have concluded that I need to endure, survive, learn from, embrace and celebrate my horrific experience.

This series of articles, and previous articles on this blog site, have critiqued approaches to trauma, emotions and resilience – that blame folk for the life experiences they encounter and expect folk to ‘fix’ themselves or be fixed by other people.  I have sought to build my strength, but you can’t fix flesh and muscle that is cut out.  I have sought to understand the man I have become, but you can’t ‘fix’ the experience that is now part of my life story.  The events can’t be undone.

In 2015 we posted an article on this web site about toughness and forgiveness (see link here).  This article told the story about a bag of nails:

As anyone who has read Jack Kerouac’s ‘Dharma Bums’ or the book ‘Surfing the Himalayas’, the ironies within Buddhism can be very funny at the same time as being informative.  The Buddhist web site viewonbuddhism.org has a great story about a bag of nails:

‘Once upon a time there was a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he should hammer a nail in the fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. But gradually, the number of daily nails dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the first day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He proudly told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.

The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out, it won’t matter how many times you say ‘I’m sorry’, the wound is still there.”

An apology goes a long way in an everyday sense but when wounds are involved – it would be wiser to think before you react – or you leave holes in places and people.

Trauma literature tends see terms like angry, abused, alcoholic, unloved, aggressive, depressed, victim and flash-backs as wholly negative things. The Buddhist example teaches us to learn from the anger.  It teaches us empathy for self and other, even when the other is a fence.

My experience has taught me that these terms can have meaning but I have concluded that there is a tendency for these term to be used in deficit ways.  Ways that judges you and label you by your worst moment on your worst day, rather than focusing on supporting you to work through the solutions to what you are feeling and experiencing and, as article 7 discussed, building from and nurturing the best of your identity.

The bag of nails story involves wisdom and we discussed the word wisdom in 2017 when citing an article written, by Karl E. Weick (in the Administrative Science Quarterly Volume 38 (1993): 628-652) entitled: ‘The Collapse of Sense-making in Organizations’ (see link here), which drew on Norman Maclean’s work on the Mann Gulch disaster to explain a phenomena where a shattering collapse of the rational order makes sense-making impossible.  Weick argued:

 

A cosmology episode occurs when people suddenly and deeply feel that the universe is no longer a rational, orderly system. What makes such an episode so shattering is that both the sense of what is occurring and the means to rebuild that sense collapse together. Stated more informally, a cosmology episode feels like vu jàdé-the opposite of déjà vu: I’ve never been here before, l have no idea where I am, and I have no idea who can help me. The disaster at Mann Gulch was produced by the interrelated collapse of sense-making and structure. If we can understand this collapse, we may be able to forestall similar disasters in other organizations…. …..To put it a different way, “Each new domain of knowledge appears simple from the distance of ignorance. The more we learn about a particular domain, the greater the number of uncertainties, doubts, questions and complexities. Each bit of knowledge serves as the thesis from which additional questions or antithesis arise” (Meacham, 1983: 120). The role system best able to accept the reality that ignorance and knowledge grow together may be one in which the organizational culture values wisdom. Meacham (1983: 187) argued that wisdom is an attitude rather than a skill or a body of information: To be wise is not to know particular facts but to know without excessive confidence or excessive cautiousness. Wisdom is thus not a belief, a value, a set of facts, a corpus of knowledge or information in some specialized area, or a set of special abilities or skills. Wisdom is an attitude taken by persons toward the beliefs, values, knowledge, information, abilities, and skills that are held, a tendency to doubt that these are necessarily true or valid and to doubt that they are an exhaustive set of those things that could be known. In a fluid world, wise people know that they don’t fully understand what is happening right now, because they have never seen precisely this event before. Extreme confidence and extreme caution both can destroy what organizations most need in changing times, namely, curiosity, openness, and complex sensing. The overconfident shun curiosity because they feel they know most of what there is to know. The overcautious shun curiosity for fear it will only deepen their uncertainties. Both the cautious and the confident are closed- minded, which means neither makes good judgments. It is this sense in which wisdom, which avoids extremes, improves adaptability.

The problem with some approaches to resilience and post-traumatic stress is that they lack wisdom e.g when seeking to characterise people as broken and when seeking to reap profit from offer in quick fixes to other people’s misery.  There is no quick fix when you experience something as life shattering as I experienced.  There is no quick fix to ‘A cosmology episode’ that leaves you universe irrational and disorderly.

Having said that, a close friend Stephen Farrier, sent me some very helpful information on Post Traumatic Stress that included advice on how to spot the symptoms such as reliving repetitive/distressing images, experiences and/or sensations.  Stephen, having been in the armed forces, had a very keen eye for some of the signs I was exhibiting.

Stephen counselled me that I might exhibit signs of constant alertness; hyper arousal (feeling on edge); anger; avoidance; ‘difficult’/’paranoid’ feelings; a need to be reckless; loss of memory; sleeplessness; etc.  Since returning home, I have experienced some of these symptoms. For example, regular readers of this series of articles will be able to conclude that I have experienced sleeplessness, forgetfulness, loss of memory, lack of feeling, a wish to escape, a need to be reckless and an overwhelming feeling of sadness.

Then again, at other times I have exhibited the opposite symptoms e.g. I need to sleep all the time because my body is healing; my memory comes back when I encounter happy moments; and I feel more located when I spend time with kind friends who connect me with and bring out my former sense of self.

I am ambivalent about the need to cut yourself off from your feelings.  Avoidance tactics can stop you dwelling on negative thoughts. Being able to cut your-self off from your feelings is a useful strategy when you use that ability to protect yourself and others.

Recently, when speaking to an occupational health specialist, I was asked to describe my general approach to things.  He sounded quite young.  So I asked him if he had heard of the song the great pretender, he said that he had.  I said, ‘well that’s me, I get up each morning, go to work and fake to my colleagues that I am OK’.  I have always loved that song the great pretender – which, on a Karaoke night out, I might try to sing with an Elvis accent 😊.

Oh-oh, yes I’m the great pretender

Pretending that I’m doing well

My need is such I pretend too much

I’m lonely but no one can tell

Oh-oh, yes I’m the great pretender

Adrift in a world of my own…..

Every now and then, when I have come across a colleague that demonstrates empathy and a non-judgemental approach, I have told them, as best I can, the truth of my experience.  But, my experience research disability discriminating has also told me to watch who I trust with my feelings.  I was always aware that at some point the emotions of what I had been through would start to come out and I was also aware that, when that occurred, I needed to be careful that the emotions did not over whelm me.

Context is everything – I can express my feelings in these articles, in poems and through music – because it is what I do.  Face to face, I cannot express my feelings to people that I do not trust.  So friendships have meant everything to me – especially when trying to work out what I had been through and what  I am still going through. I was trouble by my vu jàdé experience.  Vu jàdé, (I’ve never been here before) the opposite of déjà vu.

Article 5 described my difficulties with being able to cry about what I had gone through.  It wasn’t until I saw a program about a rugby player I used to play rugby against called Doddie Wier, that I was able to start to cry (even that first time was remarkably short).  The second time I cried it was also a short thing – when I met an old rugby friend and his wife who have gone through their own issues and their kindness speaking to me – set me off – as has the close support of a friend whose wife is living with cancer.

On this blog site I usually challenged male stereotypes, but in this series of articles we have found that even the most visceral of male stereotypes has its uses when you are trying to survive a nightmare level of pain.

There is a type of Scots guy who goes out in his t-shirt when it is well below zero and challenges the elements to do their worst.  Occasionally, some of those guys don’t make it home and their loved ones suffer the consequences. I have occasionally been that type of guy who ends up sleeping in the snow.

Indeed, I may have written in this blog previously about a time in my twenties when I woke up dressed in a kilt but ‘bare arsed’ in the freezing cold on someone’s lawn in Portstewart Northern Ireland.  It wasn’t clever, but that guy was helpful when the dressings were coming off. At other times my hard stoic abilities (like that of my wife) have not been helpful.

Another time – I was on a rugby tour of New England and we had played a game at Middletown Connecticut and I ended up sleeping on a  bench at a Canoe Club.  The problem with getting drunk and putting yourself at risk is that it does not really allow the emotions to flow.

When I was writing this post there was a programme on about Scottish maleness that contrasted hard men, men that cry, men that hug, men of the Scottish enlightenment, educated lads o pairts, men with t-shirts and the idea that Scots men are now more humorous, thoughtful, LGBT+ friendly and  caring than they used to be.

The programme tried to say Scots men were now different.  But, they missed the crucial bit – that in any man all these different forms of ‘performance’ are possible depending on time and space. But, for some men, their social and work lives do not enable space for tears.

All men have complex and variable identities depending on context.  I have been all those men.  So, a more interesting question involves considering the contexts in which our emotional, sides flourish and, a la the social model of disability, what structures, cultures and attitudes create barriers to us being at our best.  What is it that prevents Scottishmen flourishing, speaking about their feelings and feeling positive about our futures?

The Glasgow Effect Report tells us that decades of dis-empowerment, a union that seeks to deny our abilities and top down political mismanagement have broken the spirit of many Scottishmen. In particular, stiff upper lip unionist cultures have prevented Scottishmen from expressing their feelings about crisis and ‘trauma’.  We see this in the stories of men who have returned from war and been given little support when dealing with the aftermath of that experience.

It is only in recent weeks that I have finally understood what my non-crying approach was about – I only seem to be able to show my deeper emotions to people I think have been through something similar to me.  And, I think, this is why the songs in each of the articles have been so important.  The song lyrics, and/or the singer’s voice, connect with and release feelings deep within me.  in so doing, the songs begin to heal the soul.  But, that healing experience is fleeting and in time, my feeling is that  I will need to work out how to enable a more sustained way of connecting with people who understand and are able to help me work through what I experienced.

Prior to the Corona Virus, my major symptom of post-traumatic stress was the need to be reckless. Recklessness is a coping mechanism that I have used at different times in my life to alleviate stress.  I was starting to take more and more risks on the hills when I was walking so it is probably a good thing that the virus has kept my hill walking in check.

I have also had an overwhelming feeling to just go off to the other side of the world listen to music, smoke, dance, party and do crazy things.  So, again, the travel ban has come at a good time because it has enabled me to think more seriously about what i want to do when I go back to the USA.

The weird thing about that recklessness feeling is that it is also a bit like hiding your feelings in plain site – it is escapism from facing reality and often you end up sitting in a bar, drowning your sorrows as this cover of, Misery and Gin, sung by Jamie Wyatt explains:

Memories and drinks don’t mix too well.
Jukebox records don’t play those wedding bells.
Lookin’ at the world through the bottom of a glass,
All I see is a man who’s fading fast.
Tonight I need that woman again.
What I’d give for my baby to just walk in.
Sit down beside me and say: “It’s alright.
“Take me home and make sweet love to me tonight.”

But here I am again, mixin’ misery and gin.
Sittin’ with all my friends and talkin’ to myself.
I look like I’m havin’ a good time but any fool can tell,
That this honky tonk Heaven really makes ya’ feel like hell.

 

Indeed, there was an incident one of the first times I went out drinking where I felt I was being overprotected and I had to, in a very male way, show folk I was OK by refusing a lift and walking home (I was rescued from a service station at around 03.00 in the morning).  I am pictured below with two Rugby friends earlier in the night prior to when things turned pear shaped:

sneds and gordon

I had forgotten my stick and had to eventually give up on the idea of proving how improved I was, when it dawned on me I was going to end up in a ditch.  It was very stupid to try, when drunk, to walk 3 miles home on a rural farm road that has no pavement, nor, street lighting.

It wasn’t big and it wasn’t clever, but for a few moments I did at least feel very independent and very alive.  This incident occurred in September 2019, It was the first time I had been outside, on my own, after dark, since the March of 2019.

Between July and December I occasionally had brief anxiety attacks (mostly to do with the pressure of returning to work).  Apparently, it is usual for folk who have been in intensive care to suffer anxiety attacks once they are back into the real world.  No one thought to mention that to me in the hospital.  Apparently, this is especially so for patients who have been in intensive care for a long time.  So spare a thought for the folks that have been intensive care for 8 weeks plus because of the Corona Virus.

Every time I see a news piece about one of those folks returning home, I think to myself, do they know that returning home is only the start of things, not the end. The first time I noticed some symptoms of PTS  I had walked into Kinross with my ‘middle’ daughter and we decided to see if I was capable of sitting down for any length of time to have a pub meal.

It turned out that as long as I got up every so often I could get through the meal.  The biggest obstacle that I faced was walking into a place I hadn’t been in before.  I felt quite anxious about the unknown.  Wondering if there were stairs and whether I would be able to get to the table or go to the toilet without falling over.

Outside the pub I had to have a quiet word with myself – that actually turned into a good talking to.  Something along the lines of, ‘what are you worried about there is nothing too it – just believe in yourself.’  Hence, it is not just the physical limitations you have to work with when trying to integrated yourself back into the world, you have to also overcome emotional and psychological barriers.

When the most severe anxiety attacks occurred, it was as if I heard the sound of a steam train smashing into something and as the sensation progressed it was like a scene from the movie ghost where the train passes through the guy. I haven’t had a real experience of a train smashing into me.  But, at the turn of the millennium on my way back from working at Alderhay Hospital, the Friday night passenger train used to have to wait at Carstairs for a freight train to go buy before we proceeded on our way to Edinburgh.  In the old days they used to uncouple the Glasgow train from the Edinburgh train at Carstairs so there was a gap in the timetable.

It was the days when I used to smoke and you felt every bit of the passing freight train’s weight shuddering through you, as you stood puffing away on the platform.  A heavy freight train running through me is a very appropriate a way to express what I experienced.  The four operations reduced my very being to nothingness.  the freight train noise makes sense in terms of how my mind is using a previous memory from working in hospitals to try to understanding my recent experience of having my body irreparably changed in a hospital.

During the winter, I had vivid flash backs to lot of different moments in the hospital and I put a lot of the anxiety and flash backs down to the drug withdrawal process .  During the withdrawal distasteful hospital smells and tastes came back to me.  The most prevalent being the smell and taste of the disgusting laxatives and the burnt lentil smell of antiseptic cleaning fluid.  Why do hospitals have to use such stuff, surely they could use something different?

I don’t see anything I have experienced as being a mental health issue –  I see it as normal that my brain, my heart and my soul are fighting with each other to make sense of what I went through.  I worked out a strategy for managing the withdrawal feelings which included lots of exercise, eating anything and everything and drinking slightly more alcohol than usual. During lock down, I have been trying to wean myself off the food and booze and lose the 20 pounds I put on through the period of drug withdrawal.

So trauma involves avoidance and trauma can involve not being in touch with the painful feelings in your body because there is a benefit to not engaging with reality.  Especially when you are in total agony.  Most of the list of post-traumatic stress symptoms are perfectly understandable.  Hence, we have to be very careful about constructing them as ‘abnormal’ and telling people they have a mental health ‘problem’.

We have to be careful pathologising our ways of being that we adopt to protect ourselves (e.g. depicting our avoidance strategies as ‘denial’ is pointless – avoidance is an essential self-protective tool).  We also have to understand that trauma symptoms will have both positive and negative impacts on our lives.

 

Lies v Truthes

Throughout the articles I have sought to highlight the idea that our lives involve multiple truths and the stories we tell about them are, therefore, constructions of truths that have different meanings for different readers.  I have sought to provide an in-depth and as accurate portrayal of my experience as possible but I have left things out.  As such, my story is a partial truth of a much more complex process.

In terms of truthfulness, I should say that before I came out of hospital my wife told a few people in the new area where we had moved to that I had had a back operation. This, at first, really pissed me off because I teach the students and professionals I work with that its better to be truthful about yourself than cover things up.  I think the need to keep a public face is very gendered, so, I understood why she felt the need to change my story.   I voiced my concerns in a somewhat humorous way that accepted her need to construct her own reality and that understood that she felt a need to avoid talking about my arse the first time she met new people.

But, half-truths have consequences.  My feeling was, what was the point in being a disability expert if you could not be honest about your impairments?  So, whenever I now meet someone who motions to or mentions my back problem, I correct them by saying they must have misheard my wife and that it was an infection in my backside.

This example, is not employed here to be critical of my wife, whose support in terms of health care has been exceptional.  It is employed to demonstrate that, inevitably, ‘the truth’ is a tricky concept; and sometimes it takes a while to get a story out and to come to terms with what has happened to us.

As I said above, some things you never ‘recover’ from; you just endure, survive and/or out last. Indeed, I am very interested in the notion that trauma is always there in our lives and it is passed down through generations and that it is both a positive and negative thing, and therefore, you can’t live without experiencing trauma.

Life always finds a way to kick us where it hurts.  Hence, I don’t think of myself as having been through trauma, I think of myself as being through a test of endurance.  We all have to ‘endure’ difficult, tragic and catastrophic life events, we all have different ‘endurance’ abilities, and therefore, we all have assets, strengths and experiences that we can employ to ensure we survive the worst life throws at us. Sometimes those resources are depleted and some people cannot stomach nor endure what they have experienced – there is no crime in that.

Similarly, the assumption that difficult life experience should lead to depression and or PTSD is miss-placed. Yes, I have flash backs and constantly struggle to stay on the sadness side of depression.  But, over-all, the experience for me was uplifting – learning to walk, toilet, shower, feed and dress myself again has been an incredibly frustrating process, but, I am extremely proud of my achievements and the teams of people that helped me endure, survive and begin to recover what little sense of my old self I could.

Article 5 employed a concept of duality/wholeness to express the fact that when times get tough we require other people’s care, love and affection to get us through but it also put forward an idea that we have to come to terms with who we are, including showing compassion for our inner child (building from the best of your inner child and understanding the barriers that child has faced) – if we are to connect with and love other people.

I have long term impairments, but I am trying to value those impairments for the way that they have enabled me to change my perspective on life.   As the articles in this series have demonstrated, one of the nicest aspects of my own experience is the love and deep respect I have for the majority of health care staff that I encountered and the lessons I have learned to carry that love with me where ever my life now takes me.

Unlike some people who experience PTS, my endurance test never inhibited my ability to love other people, never prevented me from empathising with their plight (even when they were doing bad things to me), nor did it stop me trying to see the best in other people.  Indeed, on the contrary, I have always valued the small beautiful things in life and now, I can see something to love in just about everything around us.

 

Pain v Hugs

I recently spotted a post on Facebook, from a friend, that argued that the average hug is three seconds long but a hug of 20 seconds, or more, really improves your health and sense of well being.  Articles 4 and 5 asked you to imagine what it was like to, for ages, get no hugs at all. It asked you to imagine what it is like for those who have lost loved ones, due to the Corona Virus, not to be physically present at the end.  Not to be able to hug other mourners at the funeral.  And, not to be able to say goodbye in a traditional way, such as with a wake, a large walk or a  memorial service.

If you are a friend of mine reading this, next time we meet just hold me for as long as you can or want – it will have been too long.  There was a time I didn’t know if I would ever be able to hug my friends and loved ones again. I resented the not being able to hug because hugging is one of the best solutions to pain.

It is why I encourage the early years workers I work with to hug children who hurt themselves and ignore overzealous child protection ideas about not hugging children.  If you give a child a hug in appropriate way in public – you have nothing to be scared of and it helps them learn about empathy.  It shows them the importance of understanding each other’s hurts.

I bet you didn’t know that most people who experience post-traumatic stress recover without medical or psychotherapeutic interventions.  In particular, music, exercise, creativity and ‘living through’ your experiences helps to heal.  It gives you hope and some kind of peace when you release your creative self to express what you have gone through.

Similarly, Article 6 argued that we had to be understanding to adults, like nurses, who experience trauma in their work lives and questioned whether the NHS provides enough counselling support to staff. It highlighted my wife’ stoic approaches to trauma with my more creative approach.  But, in doing so I  set up a false dichotomy.

Sometimes, we were similarly stoic, sometimes we employed a similar gallows humour to get us through and at other times we were quite different to each other.  Our sometimes similar, sometimes different approaches demonstrates the ambiguous nature of stress, the variability of our human reactions and the fluidity of our senses of well being.

In terms of my near death experience., a friend asked me if I had seen the white lights or if I felt different having survived such a near death experience and /or had I experienced a new lease of life.  At no point did I feel I could ‘see the other side’.  On this occasion, my near death feeling was more like a slow, very calm and gradual ebbing away of my life – just like sleep walking towards death.

From my memory of a near drowning experience when I was young, the lights are blue and you get a feeling that people you know are on the other side ready to welcome you.  But, this experience was much different to the drowning experience, much less fearful.

My friends comment set me back on my heels.  The comment made me realise that if we have nine lives, I have used up far too many of mine.  The comment made me stop and value the fact that I am still alive and helped me to relish the fact that, somehow, I am still here and hopefully, as I go forward, I can make something meaningful our of still being alive (this series of articles is the start of that more meaningful process).

It is too early to tell about leases of life.  At the moment, just getting up in the morning and putting my own socks on is a marker of success.  I am, ‘strung out but hopeful’, as this song Die With Your Boots On by Signe Marie Rustad – states:

My Canadian friend and colleague Richard Mitchell writes about collective restorative justice where different actors are brought together to discuss the injustices they have experienced and seek consensual resolution.

Richard’s work is the antithesis to quack ‘trauma’ and ‘resilience’ approaches that seek to ‘fix’ and offer ‘cures’ for broken individuals.  Richard, hopefully wont mind me saying that he has had plenty of personal experience of trauma and a few years back he went on a retreats to try to work through some of those issues and to challenge the idea that trauma has to be passed in intergenerational ways (see links to his work here).

On his return to Canada, his life was turned upside down and on hearing of his experience, and with great respect, I wrote this poem to try to capture a sense of his perspective of what had happened:

eyes

Atop A Hillock 3km West of Kathmandu:

Amongst a sublime variety of worshipped shrines,

Sceptred Vajras, And, self-sprung trees,

Resting on a hillock 3km west of Kathmandu,

You’ll find a series of giant eyebrows,

A top the divinest of dark eyed runes.

 

That look up, upon and through

The farthest flung pinnacles of this ancient diocese;

Watching out over the ageless statues,

Golden Buddhas,

Pentagonal openings and sacred painted frieze.

 

On the rocks that hold the hotels, restaurants and tourists’ shops upright,

That fill so many hopeful tourists with escapist delight,

Lies, Swayambhunath Stupa; ‘The Monkey Temple’;

The dome that shines so bright On ‘Phags.pa Shing kun’ monastery site;

 

 

This well-named knowe of a thousand sensations, sighs, and rites.

And, on an open-hearted May day In the year Two Thousand and Eighteen,

At a point exactly 252 feet and 7.49 inches,

High above the valley of my self-esteem,

Having stepped expectantly up each precisely hewn block,

Made with such reverence, by hard working folk, of the most honest stock,

 

I stood beside this stone tiered scene

With upholding eyes that perpetually gleam,

Clear of mind and hindrance unseen

Without rush, or sense of distrust,

Surveying the horizon of my dreams.

 

I stood tall in this place that daily keeps the expectant visitor so enthralled,

In this space of constant replenishing insights and, magnificent, radiant, enchanting light,

In this holiest Buddhist Chaityas ever to have trembled the soul of Nepal,

In these surrounds graced with a conscious confirming breeze,

That gently encircles those that seek to be set free

 

 

To scale such heights would leave most travellers hot and breathless.

And many an unsure leg had stumbled over that final step

With mind shot and aimless.

But not I.

I came with a purpose;

 

I came with intent

To draw a line

Make my mark, symbol and sine

Resolute

Upon this redoubt of the conscious, astute and the kind;

 

Sweep slate clean;

Inside and out.

At this place

So divine

And devout.

 

 

In a wee quiet corner

Not very far from the Sleeping Buddha statue,

That rests with contemplative face

And inner converse,

In that calm consumed place,

 

My destination having arrived above the everyday strife,

I put up an arm,

Mine by right,

And opened my hand

Into the Universe.

 

Communicating directly to our patriarchal ancestry;

Which I survived and out grew,

I said these fine words – to those who knew:

‘I hereby interrupt the intergenerational transmission of trauma,

into my life & my children’s lives’.

 

 

A moment’s triumph,

Over past generations’ attempts,

To throw us to the lions and to script our cries;

No relief, No surprise, No thunderbolt let fly

From large golden sceptre or unsuspecting eyes.

 

Instead,

The sleeping statue silently admired the symbolism,

With its Buddhist air,

Of lyrical mantras,

And enlightened mystic flare.

 

As if the depth and substance of its eyes so quiet and empty,

Could fuse entirety and nothingness;

As antidotes to disdain and enmity

And understand everything with infinite compassion and grace

And, un-proclaimed empathy.

 

 

This hard won calmness came not without epilogue:

During his journey homeward and inbound,

The ancestors had taken their time to prepare their retort.

Revenge being a dish best eaten from the coldest pot.

Their rebuke, when it came, made the sound of:

‘Stitch that son!’

 

Foundations were to be rattled, shoogled and shocked.

Clouds formed to shade the figure so recently enlightened,

By what he had done, and, sought,

Atop Tibetan inspired monastery;

Nepalese pilgrim stop.

 

Its aye been this way;

Moments of clarity followed by pain;

Plans made,

Undone,

Again and again and again.

 

 

But, be sure,

He will always have that moment,

That fine spring day,

On a hillock 3km west of Kathmandu,

Where he raised his arm to the universe and had his say;

 

Where, near the sleeping golden statue,

He called for the right

Of his and future generations,

To live without dismay,

Opening a gateway,

 

He will always have this day

That can never be forgotten,

given up,

Or, undone.

An epiphany;

 

 

He will always have his revelations,

Enshrined by Bhuddist prayers

Of Fire, Earth, Water, Air,

And, let us not forget, Wisdom;

Spoken by survivors, not victims

 

Prayers, mouthed together with his fellow Bodhisattvas,

In the most sincerest of ways.

A timeless, graceful, recurring, and, wave like rhythm;

That collectively soothes

The past away,

 

And away,

And away,

And away.

Collectively soothes,

The past away

We have to be very careful when communicating with our ancestors, Gods and Goddesses.  Myself and Richard have shared a joke or two about my experience and whether my poem taunted the Gods too much, when I should have been learning from his experience.

The poem seeks to remind us that we cannot wipe out or undo our culture and history.  That love of self – requires us to come to terms with, rather than deny, our own stories.  That social justice requires people to engage with those stories when they seek to build relationships.  Particularly, our and their history of oppression.  And, that, as many of the articles in the Don’t Let Me Die in Phoenix series point out, we can only build relationships of respect when we show empathy, understanding and concern for what our fellow human beings have gone through.

The best thing about my time travelling in the USA is how often I have met people who have nurtured my sense of self, engaged with my complex identities and sought to understand where my perspectives on life come from.  This happens because of there is a history of ‘struggle’ in the USA that connects Women’s Rights, Civil Rights, LGBT Rights and Disability Rights.

Black lives always matter and my experience of the USA is that black human rights activists set the ground for improvements in the rights of all of us.  For example, the rights of disabled people where enshrined in law because black activists supported the sit ins that were staged by disabled people and those sit ins forced the hand of politicians.  When we work together as equals, when we nurture each other’s sense of identity and when we value each other’s abilities – we overcome:

We shall overcome because our human spirits cane endure, can survive and can learn from that experience to ensure no one else goes through what we have gone through.  That is the lesson of my horrendous life experience and it is the lesson that must be drawn out from the Corona Virus crisis. Never again, should a country be so unprepared for a pandemic.

Many thanks for reading these articles, today’s article has sought to critique notions of post traumatic stress and trauma and to demonstrate that such ways of being are ‘normal’. It has concluded by stating that when we come together as equals, who engage with each others histories and nurture each others identities we can overcome all sorts of life events.

In the final article on this topic, entitled ‘What We Can Learn From The ‘Don’t Let Me Die In Phoenix’ Series About The Current Scottish Political Situation’ I will discuss the political implications that can be drawn out from my series of articles, whilst critiquing Westminster’s miserly and shame based approaches.  In particular, I will argue that we will only achieve independence when we no longer view it as an impossible dream but as a necessity that celebrates and nurtures our abilities, our aspirations and our sense of self.