Living with the Unimaginable

This is about “the suffering that is too terrible to name…” and learning to live

with The Unimaginable.”

PART 1

For all of the elaborate treatments which western medicines have tried to co-opt and create to treat mental illness and suffering, I question whether there are any that truly address bereavement in all its spiritual, social, and emotional complexities.

How do you mediate the effects of bereavement? If you ruminate, then you are wrong; if you avoid your grief, you are wrong; if you turn to coping mechanisms unproven by empirical evidence, you are again likely wrong. So how many things might be deemed “right”? What can possibly fill the hollow void left behind in the wake of a lost body and soul? The pain and emptiness that- for some- simply never seem to go away?

Who can possibly decide the right way to live with those emotions, those sensations, those perceptual states? What is most ethical, purposeful, or correct, truly? Could there ever be a right answer beyond the individual level?

I’ve gotten into trouble for asking questions such as these since I was a twelve year-old child, following the death of my father. It was as though adults around me thought that by asking such things I would become a weapon, dangerous to myself and to others. I was told not to think too hard; that was surely the problem (Rumination). Focus on other things; get a hobby or two. The pain of losing loved ones- in whatever capacity- will go away with time. Emotions are temporary.

I froze my brain as best I could; I numbed myself quietly through the false persona of a shiny happy blonde teen who tried to please everyone. I picked up as many hobbies as I was able, while I grew increasingly ill. Finding purpose and meaning as an adolescent is hard for many young people, but still I was guided towards dreams and aspirations- which my reality crushed hard. Because doing anything while living with debilitating chronic pain and fatigue- no matter the origin- is not often all that dreamy.

P2

Today, I feel that my questions remains valid. What is the danger inherent in asking who decides what is right for my mind and my body after they were shattered in childhood? Who decides my narrative- or for that matter anyone else’s? Why do so many societies seek to hide and control those of us who grieve profoundly, those of us who feel this world with our whole being?

Does we hurt to look at? Is grief painful to look at? Is it so incomprehensible for those who don’t feel such indignation in their bones every day that there are some people living in this world who just might?

Or perhaps- does bereavement bring up a painful reminder of the human condition itself? Of life’s fragility, and of how we as humans simply cannot control everything? We are mortal- we are stories with beginnings and endings, some much longer and more acclaimed than others. How do we hold that knowledge?

While this world cries out in suffering and I am alive to witness, as I watch my friends suffer- some more loudly, some silently- as I watch more lives vanish from this world, I will not apologize for my grieving. I will not apologize for getting angry. I will not apologize for not always immediately ascribing some sort of reason to all the chaos. For not ACT-DBT-CBT-ing my way through life. That is not the therapy which I believe to be my solution to pain and suffering. And I know it’s not the answer for many others, either.

 

I believe in listening, first. I believe in witnessing, first. I believe in radical compassion. I believe in contextualizing the entirety of an individual’s experience and asking someone what they make of their time here on this earth. I believe, I believe, I believe.

And as for joy and awe- sometimes even magic- and the possibility of the great beyond, yes, I believe in them, too. With all I have in me. But it’s my choice, and I believe in my way. And as others find their paths through ethical egoism and modified behavioral therapies, I respect their ways- so long as they don’t diminish the pain and lived experiences of others. Everyone deserves to find their way.

Perhaps the connectivity I imagine and yearn for won’t ever be truly captured in textbooks, journals, or research papers, even as I fervently search to better analyze it in my own research and studies surrounding the human psyche. I’ll use the DSM as I am required; I’ll work earnestly for my diplomas; but I won’t ever stop trying to plant seeds of change, of thought, wherever I go and grow.

I will continue to ask: What do we do when there are no words, when there is suffering too terrible to name?

“They are working through The Unimaginable.”

P4

Photographs from 2015-2019

 

Stolen Flowers on Stolen Land

So often, I hear the sentiment passed around to “grow in the place you are planted”. But what happens when the soil of your home land has been poisoned? Do you leave? How do you continue to grow? And if you do somehow manage to survive, to blossom into a beautiful and precious flower, what if someone comes along and plucks you away from the home you have created- the roots you have planted?

I was born a flower thief in a society-a culture- of people who steal flowers; we tend not to think much of it. Flowers are simply pretty things, object decorations. I bought these flowers at Trader Joe’s, Rainforest Alliance-certified- and these flowers were likely grown in Latin America. They were taken from their home, a place I don’t know- and like all flowers harvested and put into vases, these flowers will soon wilt away here, in the foreign, alien land of my tiny kitchen. I don’t know what sort of flower family they left behind; I wasn’t taught to care, growing up. I was simply taught to treasure beautiful things, even to take from them- to try and be as beautiful and strong as the flowers, who continue to survive even as they are harvested and passed on from land to land.

Sitting with this bouquet, taking photographs of these beautiful little plant lives the day before the 4th of July outside my apartment home in the South of the United States, I wasn’t really thinking of flowers at all.

4th Flowers

So many of us have been taught to celebrate July the 4th in the United States as a Day of Independence, as a holiday of freedom. But who is truly free and independent on this holiday? Are we all equally free?

Right now, flagrant human rights violations are being carried out by the U.S. Immigrants and Customs Enforcement funded by American government. Children and their families are being torn apart and brought to live in abhorrent conditions simply because they have sought refuge in “the land of the free”- more often than not because their own land was so unsafe.

“This land is your land, this land is my land”- has that American value ever held true?¬†After all, where did our beautiful American land come from? It was conquered; stolen- from the ancestors of so many of the indigenous peoples who are presently being locked into cages and enclosures unfit for human habitation. Our country wishes to bar people at our borders who seek what is rightfully theirs to reclaim. Who are we to keep anyone from seeking shelter and making a life for themselves here? Where is the great, ever-elusive “American Dream” for those most in need of it?

The physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse that has and continues to be inflicted upon our migrant, immigrant, and refugee families cannot be ignored; it is nothing other than American-led terrorism. Now is a time to practice great compassion and bear witness to the human pain and suffering; we cannot look away.

There has never been a time in this country when everyone has had true independence- July the 4th serves as a reminder. Let us strive to come together as a community during these dark times and shut down these concentration camps in our own backyards, work to reunite families, and cease this cycle of trauma.

When I look at myself in my blue shirt sitting with these stolen flowers on stolen land, I see the colors associated with my country- and I see blue for Sudan’s uprising, red for the protests in Hong Kong, orange for refugee awareness, and white as a color of mourning. I’m so sorry for all this pain. Here sits my promise to work towards a global community of compassion and care.

Desert Flowers on 4th

 

Recognizing Trauma and Oppressed Voices Outside Our Intersections

For many of us striving to educate ourselves in social justice theories and branches of traumatology- especially those addressing and healing intergenerational trauma- Black History Month can exist as nothing other than the utmost call to action.Something that grows increasingly apparent to me as a learner is this: we cannot continue to look at great injustices through our own narrow lenses; we must work widen the scopes of our lenses through doing our best to examine others’. I believe we may do this through practicing empathy and compassion, through active listening, and creating real conversation- discourse is often a core component of that.
When we acknowledge that something isn’t working, we can’t be complacent; and for those of us who wish to be agents of change in this world, we can’t allow ourselves to be complicit, either. I believe those of us who hold white privilege have a moral and social duty to insist better- of one another and of today’s society as a whole.

EDIT 1

Here’s one big way I believe those of us with white privilege must start doing better RIGHT NOW: we must not call Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) problematic when they raise their voices and call out injustices they alone experience. We have no right to challenge or diminish lived experiences which we cannot ever know or begin to understand; the most we can do is educate ourselves, learn from the lived experiences to which we are privileged to bear witness, and cultivate a greater compassion.¬† This is not to subscribe to a theory of moral isolationism, but rather something more akin to radical empathy.

I wish that as a society we can begin working collectively in moving towards a more trauma-aware language, one in which we may exercise care and thought before calling other human beings- especially those living under great oppression- demoralizing terms such as “problematic” or “toxic”. It is my most sincere hope that we will strive to instead honor and uphold the dignity of every human individual, especially those who may experience daily discrimination simply because of the color of their skin. I hope that we may instead work to address people’s behaviors, actions, and language without resorting to color-blindness, erasure, or hiding behind our own unaddressed white fragility, discomfort, and bias.

EDIT 2

I believe it’s important to recognize that many of us with white privilege won’t always be perfect allies, and we may falter greatly in our social responsibilities; that doesn’t mean we get to throw in the towel, give up, and walk away when we make mistakes (I know I have made plenty!). We were reared and continue to live among colonized communities that uphold and reinforce a white ideal, both explicitly and implicitly; we have all been deeply conditioned to reinforce this status quo. Let’s work on changing that.

If there’s one thing I can advocate most strongly for this Black History Month, it’s education. Truly, no matter where you are and where you come from, the color of your skin, your identity, or your ability, educate and re-educate yourself about how systemic oppression and trauma impact your life.

Learn about intergenerational trauma. Learn about social conditioning. Learn from people different from you in whatever capacity you can (the internet counts!). Check your privilege. Use your voice while still listening to those of others. And learn to apologize, and to apologize meaningfully.

Love,

Morgan

EDIT 3