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Posts Tagged ‘pain’

The Medicalization of Grief

Posted by E on August 29, 2015

sadness heart tree

We like to think we live in a diverse, tolerant, understanding society, when nothing could be further from the truth. The Cult of Positive Thinking has made it socially-acceptable to be shunned for expressing real emotions: sadness, grief, any manifestation of loss that isn’t perfectly encapsulated by a prescribed set time, after which you are supposed to “move on.” There are craploads of online articles that purport to answer the question “What is normal grief?” (emphasis mine), “What is the difference between grief and clinical depression”, “Grief – What’s Normal and What’s Not?” and “A Helpful Guide to Coping with Grief and Loss” – as though something like this can be easily slotted into a How-To guide. As if, you can grief for a certain period of time, dependant on the degree of closeness to the deceased, and afterwards you’re clinically abnormal if you do.

So what is “normal”? Three to six months for an elderly parent? Nine months for a spouse? One week for a pet?

Leo Dec2011 smallWhen my beloved cat Leo, who was like a child to me, had to be put down in 2012, I could tell that my grief wasn’t socially acceptable. Of course, no one actually came out to say, “It’s just a cat,” but I know that’s what they were thinking. His death affected me viscerally for two years, well past socially-acceptable norms. I didn’t think of Leo’s soul and spirit as a “cat.” He was a family member. But in our world, there is an unspoken denigration of any species other than Homo Sapiens. And in this society, nobody wants to talk about grief. After all, how long are you supposed to grieve a “pet”? A week? Is the loss even considered “serious enough” to take time off work?

What if it was a child? How long are you supposed to grieve, before you are expected to put your best face on and be a “role model” for the world? Years ago, I read about the tragic, violent death of two New York City children murdered by their live-in nanny. Stabbed to death in their bathtub, during bath time, to be precise – a violent and brutal end to lives that never had a chance to bloom. Their mother had kept a meticulous blog of their life, full of wonderful, creative activities – picnics, playdates, the best Manhattan kindergartens money could buy – and when they were murdered, social media swarmed upon those photos. There was a kind of disturbed glee at the fact that someone in an upper-class, $10,000 per month rental apartment, could suffer loss.

But loss always feels the same. Whether you’re in the lowest or highest income brackets, to lose a child – indeed, anyone you love deeply, with all your heart and soul – is the worst ache you can ever experience. And yet the expectation was that, after a certain period of grief (say, a year), the family would move on with their surviving middle child and life would go on. Indeed, they did – they established a foundation and art scholarships in the names of their dead children and nowadays are all about being positive and carrying on the dead kids’ “legacy”.

PROZAC SAMPLE ADI wonder how much of that “positivity” is the result of social expectation. If you “get over” such a tragedy, you’re a role model for “moving forward.” You get to go on talk shows and get applauded for being “strong.” If you don’t, you’re a loser who must be mentally ill. Personally, I couldn’t recover from such a loss. I’d want to die. We all die anyway, right? So why live with pain for another 40+ years (statistically speaking, based on my current age)? How does one recover from such a loss and get to be a poster child for Positive Thinking?

ritalinWe live in a fucked-up world where the DSM-5 (Psychiatry’s Holy Bible) classifies grief as a potentially-abnormal phenomenon, a mental illness to be medicalized and treated with psychotropic drugs (a billion-dollar annual industry) if need be: Prozac, Paxil, Lithium, Ridalin, and everything in between. The meds are only supposed to mask the grief that you’re not supposed to manifest in polite society, to mask the unacceptable pain we all feel but aren’t allowed to speak about.

Don’t make any assumptions about me and my stance on this field, by the way, particularly as my BA was a double major in Criminology and Psychology – essentially both being fields of study focused on classifying human beings as criminals or abnormal – but these days I wonder all sorts of things. I guess it’s understandable, especially since I’m grieving the loss of my own mother.

My mother isn’t dead – not physically, anyway. But for all intents and purposes, she is gone. Taken by a disease worse than cancer and stroke and traffic accidents and all things combined: Alzheimer’s. You see, when a person gets cancer, there is time to grieve and say goodbye. Preparations for departure get made. When it’s a car accident, the initial shock is brutal – but at least you don’t see your loved one in a vegetative state for years, trapped between here and there.

But this horrible, awful thing – nobody gets it. How could we evolve as a society in terms of human rights and technology, yet at the cost of burying our true feelings deeper and deeper?

Sadness is NORMAL. Grief doesn’t have an expiry date – it lasts as long as you feel it in your body. I experienced severe trauma in my first, formative ten years of life. It still affects me today. And it’s certainly not for a lack of counselling or Prozac. But sometimes trauma, grief and sadness can take decades to resolve. And sometimes, a part of it remains with you for life.

And that is perfectly fucking NORMAL.

Iablanita bridge 2

One of my favourite photos with my mother – one of the very few

I feel like my mother is dead already, but it’s not politically-correct to mourn her yet. People don’t understand when I say that she’s gone, because technically she’s still alive. And I recognise that for as long as she’s alive, it’s socially unacceptable to grieve as though she’s dead.

And yet, she is.

My mother was an awful, abusive, neglecting parent – mostly because her own “mother” didn’t care to raise her and her father had died in her infancy. She grew up wild and feral, with no maternal instincts, and I wasn’t a planned pregnancy. And therefore I too, skinny and alone, raised my own self.

And yet today I feel something I’ve never thought I could ever wish for – that the abusive, unkind person she used to be still existed.

Iablanita bridge

One of my favourite photos with my mother – one of the very few

Because I could be angry. I could hate her. Because I could try – as ineffectually as it might be – to lash out, and at least attempt to explain how her behaviour affected my life.

But all there is now is a shell – a person with the same DNA, but a body vacant of its spirit. She’s only 70 years old, but early onset Alzheimer’s has taken whatever had remained of her. I’m only grateful that, even though I had a 50-50% chance of inheriting the APOE gene from her (which she tested positive for) as well as from my maternal grandmother who also died of Alzheimer’s, my 23andme results show that I did NOT get the Alzheimer’s gene. Although it’s something that still terrifies me each time I forget someone’s name, each time I have to search my brain for a particular word.

And so yesterday, while visiting her at Mount Sinai hospital, I hand-fed her dinner and couldn’t stop the tears from flowing down my face. Because she is a child now – a child who harmed me in so many ways and will never understand how she has scarred me. But now there is nobody to stand on trial, nobody to hold accountable.

So while I spooned rice, turkey mash and gravy into her shaky mouth, it dawned on me that the person who wounded me is gone. Dead. There is only a small, vulnerable child left in her place. But nobody around me understands this because, for all intents and purposes, this woman is still alive.

So perhaps I’m not supposed to grieve and mourn the death of her. After all, we’re not allowed to mourn the non-dead. To mourn longer than usual. To express any sorts of feelings of raw pain and anguish, of depression and loneliness, because there is no motive. The pain of my childhood is long behind me, right? And my “mother” is not dead. Not clinically, anyway.

And yet, I am.

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Posted in death, grief, personal, psychology, sadness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Parasitic Twin – a Poem about Mermaids

Posted by E on March 3, 2015

 

pearlsisters

Note on this poem: when I was a teenager, I belonged to an extremist group. By age 18 I turned against the group, gathered information on them, testified against its leaders and went underground because of threats to my life. In the meanwhile, another girl from the same white supremacist, neo-Nazi organization (who had done nothing to shut down the group) capitalized on speaking engagements, film and media opportunities. This poem is inspired by that situation.

 

On my knees for a thousand years at the bottom of the ocean,

I have finally began to reclaim myself – one fragment at a time:

innocence, loss, shame, guilt, anger, hate, redemption, LOVE

And now, a face takes shape within the mosaic

of a thousand pieces of shattered glass

 

My knees are bloody, glass is embedded in my barbed-wire hair

– my only gift from my Jewish father, who inherited the wire

and passed its thread of hate within my veins –

and yet (I don’t know how, or when, or even why)

I have begun to unspin the lies, at last;

I’m taking back my identity

Reclaiming what is rightfully mine:

 

The exploited, worthless little girl who was cast aside

In favour of the middle-class Canadian girl with the pretty pink bedspread

whose mother hand-sewn a mermaid costume and paid for university

(my mother left me in the numb hands of an unfeeling monster)

 

The “university student”, the “normal”, Christian girl loved by the media

who did absolutely nothing to stop the terror

– assaults, rapes, fire-bombings, stalking, wounding, destruction and more –

but who looked better on the news, precisely because

she was a “normal” child of the suburbs who had done nothing

except swim and lay with those who helped her get ahead,

 

The “normal”, middle-class girl who volunteered to impersonate

the girl with the scarred soul and the foreigner accent, who had nothing at all

and yet, the one who did everything.

Mermaid sisters

 

The scared, scarred girl who ate from dumpsters, rummaged for scraps in garbage,

looked into the eyes of evil men and put them in prison, and yet

had no profiteers and managers to barter for favours, for media gigs

and so the other, “better”, new-and-improved version

 

– the parasitic twin –

 

Reaped all the benefits with none of the dangers

and the world continued just as before,

ignoring, as usual,

the exploitation of the weak, the unconnected and marginalized

by those who capitalize on the bravery of others,

while the scarred-faced, barefoot girl with no pink bedspreads, no mermaid tails

and no well-connected managers to groom her for the spotlight

who never got something for free

became me.

 

But I am still broken, a mosaic of a thousand fragments of shattered glass

glued flimsily back together, at a crossroads

where nothing matters, except

falling from a great height into the greenery of the ravine – to see

nothing but vastness, the blueness of above and below.

I hate the world I was born in, a world where the unworthy

thread on the broken backs of those considered worthless.

 

The little girl who always stood on the outer side of the window

has run out of matches. The fire has been extinguished.

The breath inside my mouth has turned to ice

And I have nothing to lose but the truth

mermaid

In life, there are battles where you swallow your pride

and then there are those which – if you back down – can swallow your soul;

battles which, if not fought with all your strength and might,

will render you just as complicit as the conspirators of the initial injustice.

 

Years after the wreckage, I struggle to free myself from the boats and rudders

that weighed down my ribs and kept me at the bottom of the ocean.

I disentangle myself from the underwater reeds that had encircled my wrists,

spit out the dirty water that filled my lungs, swim up to the surface

and, peering at my reflection in a pearly cochlear shell, realize with wonder

 

that maybe I was the mermaid all along.

mermaid The_Mermaid

Posted in personal, poetry, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Ojala pudiera olvidar

Posted by E on October 10, 2008

Here is a song that sums up the desire to purge someone or something out of your system, what it feels like to long for death rather than be haunted by the image of someone who ripped your heart out of your chest. A song about someone who made you feel that you could never write another verse, or live to see another dawn without thinking of her. It is a song about purging yourself from a deep wrenching, unrequited and undeserved loyalty and adoration to a person, to a place, to a feeling that only serves to bring you pain.

When I first heard it this year, it brought back all the bittersweet emotions of my early twenties, when all I thought about was this:
Ojalá pudiera olvidar tu nombre
Ojalá pudiera olvidar cuando yo quisiera
Ojalá pudiera olvidar todas tus promesas
Ojalá pudiera olvidar todo el dolor que tu dejaste

Silvio Rodriguez’s hauntingly beautiful, sad song is all about leaving behind the tragedy and agony of what could have been; it is about letting go of the ghosts, and saying goodbye. It is about reclaiming your soul.

This is pure emotion in poetry. It is stunning and visceral. Listen to it.

Ojalá can be translated either as “I hope” or “hopefully.”)

Ojalá que las hojas no te toquen el cuerpo cuando caigan–
Hopefully the leaves won’t touch your body as they fall
Para que no las puedas convertir en cristal.– so you won’t be able to turn them into crystal

Ojalá que la lluvia deje de ser milagro que baja por tu cuerpo.–
hopefully the rain will cease to be a miracle sliding down your body
Ojalá que la luna pueda salir sin ti.– hopefully the moon will be able to rise without you
Ojalá que la tierra no te bese los pasos.– hopefully the earth won’t kiss your footsteps

Ojalá se te acabe la mirada constante,– hopefully your constant (piercing) gaze will end
La palabra precisa, la sonrisa perfecta.– the precise word, the perfect smile
Ojalá pase algo que te borre de pronto:– hopefully something will happen that will erase you soon
Una luz cegadora, un disparo de nieve.– a blinding light, a shot of snow
Ojalá por lo menos que me lleve la muerte,– hopefully, at least death will take me
Para no verte tanto, para no verte siempre– so I won’t see you so much, so I won’t see you forever
En todos los segundos, en todas las visiones:– in every second, in every vision
Ojalá que no pueda tocarte ni en canciones– hopefully I won’t even be able to touch you even in songs
Ojalá que la aurora no de gritos que caigan en mi espalda.– hopefully the dawn’s screams won’t fall upon my back
Ojalá que tu nombre se le olvide a esa voz.– hopefully that voice (the dawn’s) will forget your name
Ojalá las paredes no retengan tu ruido de camino cansado.–
hopefully the walls won’t echo the sound of your tired footsteps
Ojalá que el deseo se vaya tras de ti,– hopefully my desire will follow you
A tu viejo gobierno de difuntos y flores.– to your old rule of the dead and flowers

Ojalá se te acabe la mirada constante,– Rep.
La palabra precisa, la sonrisa perfecta.
Ojalá pase algo que te borre de pronto:
Una luz cegadora, un disparo de nieve.
Ojalá por lo menos que me lleve la muerte,
Para no verte tanto, para no verte siempre
En todos los segundos, en todas las visiones:
Ojalá que no pueda tocarte ni en canciones

Ojalá pase algo que te borre de pronto:– Rep.
Una luz cegadora, un disparo de nieve.
Ojalá por lo menos que me lleve la muerte,
Para no verte tanto, para no verte siempre
En todos los segundos, en todas las visiones:
Ojalá que no pueda tocarte ni en canciones.

Posted in music, poetry | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »