My friend, Gail, just released a new episode on her podcast, Wildscape. This 5th episode is called “Where’s Beauty.” Gail’s podcasts often speak to me in some deeply personal way, and this one is no exception. She starts with her “hospital phobia,” and those words trigger a rush of affectionate kinship. Hospital phobia? Me too!
She moves beyond that and into the rest of her story pretty quickly, but the thought lingers with me and I find myself ruminating a bit on my own hospital trauma. I have always been uncomfortable with the idea of hospitals, cringe at the thought of visiting someone there, although I do put in an appearance when needed. I used to say that I’d never been hospitalized myself, and that was true – as an adult, I never had been.
I was three when I was hospitalized. I don’t remember it at all, not consciously anyhow, and the stories I’ve heard don’t seem quite real. I had been – not really sick, but tired. My parents were worried; they took me to the doctor. I was still an only child at three, and I can imagine their worry.
The doctor explained that my iron level was low, I had anemia, they were afraid I might have leukemia. I would have to be hospitalized for more tests. Of course my parents agreed, what else would they have done in 1959?
So, the story goes, they took me out for ice cream and explained to me that I would have to go to the hospital. I don’t remember any of this. But I can imagine me enthusiastically eating my ice cream with no real idea of what they were talking about. I do love ice cream, so I guess there isn’t any lingering sense of betrayal connected with that.
Of course, in those days, parents weren’t allowed to stay with their children in the hospital. When they left me there, late that afternoon, my mother says she started to cry. I patted her cheek and told her not to cry, assured her I would be ok.
I guess I was ok. I don’t remember any of it. I was there for several days.- three or four anyhow. I can’t imagine why, when I think about it now. Why would it take that long to do tests? I don’t know. But I was there for several days. I don’t remember it at all, but when I think about being in the hospital, I feel my guts twist, my heart aches, I want to run away.
Parents were allowed to visit once a day. My mother tells me that she and my father were always the first ones in, rushing to my bed. That I was so happy to see them, and so sad when the time was up and they had to leave. I had never been away from them overnight before. She says the nurses would tell her how good I was, how brave. I wonder now what the hell that meant.
The story goes that one time, just as my parents got there, they saw one of my doctors. That was rare, and they stopped him to ask him some questions. Because they had stopped, the other parents had already arrived when mine entered the ward. They hurried to my bed, but instead of greeting them with joy, I was lying curled up on my side and didn’t even lift my head. When they tried to get me to sit up, I said, quietly, barely moving my lips, “I have to lie here.”
A nurse was passing by and saw me, saw them, and stopped. She patted me reassuringly, told me it was ok to get up. To my parents, she explained that when the other parents came in and they weren’t in that first rush, I had started to cry. Sobbing loudly. One of the doctors on his way out had stopped long enough to tell me I’d better be quiet and lie right there if I wanted my parents to come. Apparently, I had taken his words to heart.
I was three. I don’t remember any of that. I did not have leukemia, and whatever was wrong with me, I got better.
I think I had already become a therapist, immersed in trauma work, before it occurred to me that my extreme avoidance of hospitals might be connected to that experience. I could barely stand to visit family or friends, and was pretty sure that made me a terrible person. When I got pregnant, I was delighted that to be able to have a midwife and go to a birthing center, but didn’t quite realize that I was mostly relieved to avoid a hospital.
Listening to my friend Gail’s podcast was actually the first time it occurred to me that hospitals might be redeemable. That they were not necessarily places of terror, pain, and oppression. Ok, I might still think they are, but I can acknowledge that I might be wrong.
Somewhat ironically, a dear friend of mine recently invited me to join them for a meal at a hospital cafeteria, just like Gail’s grandparent. Maybe it would have been a transformative experience, but, unlike Gail, I could not be persuaded. Eat in a hospital??? Omg, no, that’s a hard no, absolutely not. Just no.
It’s interesting watching how the trauma sits with me now, or how I sit with it. My heart aches for that little girl that was me, and I can almost touch her sadness, her terror, feeling abandoned in a strange and scary place for some indefinite time. But when I think about that, I also think about children removed from their parents by Child Protective Services, immigrant children separated at the border, each individual child traumatized in so many ways. And how many of those children won’t be returned to their home, won’t be returned to their parents. Trying to hold all of that is too much, too heavy
So I back off a bit. I notice those feelings and remind myself that most of us have experienced those feelings. “Common humanity.” That’s what we call it in Mindful Self Compassion, knowing that we all have the same feelings, even if we don’t have the same experiences. I remind myself that some children are feeling this with all the intensity right now, and that I’m called – we are all called – to alleviate that suffering as best we can.
That’s at the heart of compassion – knowing that people are suffering, feeling the urge to end the suffering, and then acting on it. We recognize suffering in others because we have felt it ourselves. What each of us chooses to do with that knowing spins together like threads on a loom and creates the world.
Apparently, it’s really helpful for me to start a blog post here and then discover it belongs on my professional blog. That’s kind of cool. I think it takes the pressure off and eases my perfectionism. (Yes, I’m supposed to be a recovering perfectionist, but you know how it is.).
My trip to the beach today sparked the post. Here are a couple of pictures from that. It was lovely. Also, you can see there are no crowds of people there at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning.
In other news… we’re working on getting our pool usable again. Yes, it would have been nice if we’d done it in the spring. It would have been nice if I hadn’t neglected it in the first place. But we’re getting it done, and that’s what counts. (Yes, this is another anti-perfectionism moment.)
And finally, I stopped at the little fruit market on the way home today. They had tomatoes that look lovely. With tomatoes like these, can BLTs be far behind? No! (I only eat BLTs twice a year, once at the beginning of tomato season and once at the end, so that’s a real treat.). But aren’t they beauties? And they don’t have that greenhouse ripened feel, so they’re going to taste great too. Now all I need is some green beans and maybe little red potatoes… or corn.
Up too early this morning, but I figure I’ll go back to bed in a couple of hours. The quiet in the house at this hour is lovely.
I’ve been thinking about the protests, especially in Louisville, and how overwhelming it feels. It’s hard to imagine how we can come to terms with the police and the political systems at this point, and that worries me. At the same time, I think about how long we’ve known that our systems are inherently biased to favor white people and how little we’ve done to remedy it in systemic ways.
I think about Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary, who has been talking about Post-Traumatic Slavery Syndrome for at least 15 years. We have made some progress in some places on offering support for black people around that. Not surprisingly, that’s happening in the context of mental health, so the work of healing is on the people that our systems have oppressed.
Healing is great, but when we offer services and maintain the systems that cause harm then we’re just creating a never ending stream of people who need those services. I think those services are necessary and important. It seems that the work is often being done by black people, which is good. But “providing services” is almost never a solution.
I think about the documentary “Uncommon Causes,” which was released nationally in 2008 and explores the social determinants of health and how race and class are factors that contribute to disparities regardless of individual health choices. I remember seeing a preview of the part of it that focuses on Louisville in 2005 or 2006 and thinking this would bring about huge changes in how we do things.
Of course, that has not happened. What has happened is that we point out the disparities over and over. Headlines read, “Black Americans more likely to get cancer/ get diabetes/ have high blood pressure/ die in childbirth/ die younger.” Over and over, we trumpet that news without the context of social determinants. Without changing the systems that maintain the disparities.
We have heard and seen, over and over, data that shows how racism plays out in the world. Disparities in school suspensions, racial profiling of black drivers, differences in arrest rates and sentence length, job opportunities, and so much more. Over and over, we have seen this and haven’t responded with real change.
We don’t change things because we – white people – benefit from the system as it is. The police tend to protect us – even if we just say, “There’s a black person here and I’m scared.”
We know that our social services such as Child Protective Services treat people differently based on race. Black people are more likely to have their children removed; white people are more likely to be offered supportive services. We have data that shows us this, and have had for a long time. It can be argued that this isn’t always a benefit for white kids, but in general it benefits white families.
The school system favors us. I heard that a black educator talking about schools was saying that white parents needed to give up the idea of “choice” with our charter schools and magnet programs and allow more room for black people to define what the education system looks like to meet the needs of black children. And my first thought? “Oh, but I love the Montessori program at my grandkids school! Surely I don’t have to give that up!”
Well, maybe not. Maybe my grandkids will still get to attend the charter school we love. But we’re going to have to give up something. We can’t end a racist system that’s existed in one form or another for hundreds of years, a system that benefits us white people, without giving up something.
Let me say this again. As things stand, the systems we have generally benefit white people. No, not all the time, not every single white person in every situation. Not all cops are bastards, not all men are sexist, not all white people are evil racists. It is almost never all or nothing. But in general, it is really clear that we white folks are more likely to get benefits and accommodations, support and protection. But only as long as we go along with the program.
You can see what’s happening with the protesters. Once white people step outside of the system, once we refuse to accept the status quo, we begin to lose privilege. Not all at once and not completely. But the unspoken agreement is that in order to benefit from white privilege, we pretty much need to maintain the system. The horrible, unfair, racist system that we say we don’t want.
I don’t have a great ending for this. Don’t have the perfect call to action. I guess the challenge, if you’re white, is to ask yourself what you are willing to give up to create a more equitable society. What are we willing to do?
This is the path ahead of us. Unclear. Unmarked. What do we do?
It’s been over 2 years since I posted here. I think I’ve completely changed my life since that last post about visiting museums with my sister and brother-in-law. It’s occurred to me that I need a space where I can talk. Just talk about what’s going on with me and how I experience it. Hardly anybody reads me here, and the people who do are friends, so this seems like a good place to do it. At some point, I might make this private with invited readers only.
But for now, I’m just going to leave my thoughts here. Things I might talk about:
- Surviving the pandemic with my daughter, grandkids, and significant other, Dee.
- Getting more healthy and fit.
- Learning how to teach Mindful Self Compassion
- Building my business as a Trauma Sensitive Consultant and Coach
- The protests and the need for structural changes to move toward racial equity
- The adventures Dee and I have riding electric trikes
- Trips to the beach
- Who knows what else?
These are not going to be carefully planned and crafted, it’s more like a journal. Just talking about what’s on my mind. Probably short, cause who has time for more? Comments and discussion are welcome.
Sure, you’ve heard of the Super Bowl, and it happens on a Sunday, but it’s not nearly as exciting as Super Museum Sunday in Savannah. On this Sunday, many, many museums offer free admission. It’s a chance to visit art and history on the cheap – always a plus.
It being my first year in Savannah, I decided to take full advantage of it. Dee and I started out with the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum. The Eighth Air Force was instrumental in the Allies winning World War II, so you can imagine how much history there is to be shared. And airplanes to look at.
I discovered that I am apparently the only person in my family that didn’t already know Jimmy Stewart was in the Air Force. But I was excited about that story. Good ole Jimmy Stewart, right?
I’m not really a fan of airplanes (who knew?) but this snippet of history was fascinating. Apparently there was a comics character called Lace or “Miss Lace,” created by Milton Caniff, the same person who gave us Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon. (You would have to be old to remember them – I barely do, and wasn’t a big fan of them.) But Miss Lace was developed for GI’s in WWII and her character seems to have walked the line between sex siren and girl next door. I could write a whole essay on that, from today perspective.
We were about to leave the museum when I noticed a table with books and a woman seated behind it with a pen – yes! An author signing! Of course I had to stop. The books are an adventure, time-travel series – the main characters are in middle school, and there are four books – The Snipesville Chronicles. I only bought the first one, Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When. ($11.00, well spent.) Just reading the foreword has been delightful, and I have a feeling I’ll have to buy the other three.
After we had exhausted the pleasures of the Mighty Eight Museum, Dee dropped me off downtown to meet up with Julia and Terry to check out some other places (while he pursued other Sunday afternoon interests.) While waiting, I discovered this tasty treat.
Yes, it’s a milkshake – vanilla – with two shots of espresso Could not have been lovelier. And only $5.50!!
Having finished that quickly, I was ready to visit the home of Juliet Gordon Low, aka Daisy, founder of the Girl Scouts. I had a book about her when I was a child, so it was like visiting an old friend. I did learn some new things – or things I had forgotten.
Juliet became deaf in one ear following an incident with a piece of rice thrown at her wedding. I am not making this up. The piece of rice lodged itself in her ear and would not budge. Eventually, in the efforts to get it out, the doctor (presumably) punctured her eardrum. Her friends often commented, laughing, that if you tried to tell Juliet “no,” she just “turned her deaf ear to you so she couldn’t hear you.”
Juliet was an adventurer, and one of my childhood heroes.
(Drawing of a car about to slide backwards off a cliff. In Daisy’s handwriting, it reads, “It was a perfect miracle that I was not killed, love to Anna and to you, yours, Daisy. Below that, typed, it says, “Daisy was quite the traveler. In this 1923 letter to Mary Gale Carter, she illustrates a harrowing adventure.)
I had not realized there was actually a comic book about her, but was so delighted by it that I had to buy a copy in the book store. (I know, free museum, $16 for books, and $5.50 for the coffee milkshake, and another $8 for girl scout cookies…) I posted a page from the comic book below – they have a large one on display. But you can check out the whole comic book here.
(Picture is a page from a comic book, picturing Juliet in England as a nurse and a creator of iron gates.)
Juliet was an artist – she painted and sculpted and did iron work and many other things, but most importantly for us, she was driven to create a program for girls that would teach them how to do all the things themselves.
(My sister and I standing behind the statue of Juliet Low in the garden.)
You might think that we were worn out from all the museum-ing, and we did need a small snack to refresh our energy, but we still had a couple of good museums left in us. I will pause here and come back later to tell you about the King-Tisdel Cottage and the Beach Institute (named after Alfred Ely Beach, and not the sandy area by the ocean.)
In today’s adventure — we were starting a training. One of the participants had started a fresh pot of coffee. As we were wrapping up introductions, she got a funny look on her face and moved as if she were going to get up. My co-trainer Sarah Cannady said, “Oh, is the coffee ready?”
The participant said, “Nooooo, it’s not the coffee,” and pointed to the floor, at the edge of the room. Suddenly, people in that area were jumping up and moving away, just like in a horror movie, and all I could think was, “Omg, it’s a really big bug, or a mouse – I should run!” But nope, it was neither of those things.
It was a snake. Which was a great relief to me, but sent several people scrambling to get out of the room as quickly as they could. One brave soul trapped it with a garbage can while we waited for help. Fortunately, someone from the Environmental Protection agency was passing by and, unperturbed by the scary snakiness, she removed him from the room.
Whew! We didn’t really need coffee after all that excitement!!
In other news, the ferry I was supposed to catch in the morning has been cancelled due to mechanical repairs. I had to choose between a later ferry or driving around to a different ferry. I’m going to drive. It will take longer, but I can leave earlier and get there earlier, and I’m sure it will be interesting.
So I had gone to the grocery with the intention of having crackers and cheese and fruit for dinner. However, the B&B woman’s husband was telling me about how to get to this one restaurant with wonderful food. He was promoting the fried chicken special, which is made with lard and therefore delicious. That didn’t really appeal to me (sorry, I grew up with olive oil, not lard.) But then he showed me how to get there, which involved driving over this HUGE lake – Lake Mattamuskeet.
So I went for the lake, but stayed for dinner.
The lake went on for miles. I took a couple of pictures on the way down – notice the very cool bird in the first picture! You do literally just drive through the middle of the lake.
The restaurant had some of the most delicious grilled trout I ever had. Potatoes au gratin and baked apples on the side. One piece of cornbread and one beaten biscuit, which I had with the apples for dessert.
Driving back home, the light was lovely and the lake was even more picturesque. Stopped to walk out on a little fishing pier and noticed a couple of men fishing on the other side of the road. I considered the possibility that they were poaching or doing something illegal and would have to kill me, thereby making all of this just an intro to a terrific murder mystery.
But, as you can see, either they weren’t doing anything illegal or they realized I was too ignorant to know what they were doing, so they didn’t have to kill me (Yes, I really have these thoughts.) We chatted for a few minutes, as they came over to my side of the road and were casting their net in the water. They caught a few fish immediately that were looking pretty big to me, but they seemed disappointed. Then I was able to drive on back to my lovely B&B.
You may have heard me complaining all over the internet that I had lost my voice. Monday, the day we left Mexico and the world’s most adorable grandchildren, I could only talk in a low whisper. It didn’t bother me that much while we were traveling. I’d had a cold all week and didn’t feel great anyhow, so it was kind of relaxing to not be expected to make conversation.
Tuesday, I went to the nurse practitioner, who gave me antibiotics for a sinus infection, cough medicine, and steroids for my throat. Despite speaking only in a whisper, I was able to challenge her belief that lots of women just suddenly change their mind and decide to have an abortion at 24 weeks. But that’s a story for a different day.
As the week wore on, I didn’t feel bad, I just couldn’t talk much – or couldn’t be heard. I typed. I was grateful that my job is flexible enough to accomodate not talking. I learned some things.
I learned that sometimes people don’t actually need me to talk. Twice – not once, but two times – people reached out to me and talked about what was going on with them, and were able to resolve their own issues, without a single word from me. Just talking through what was going on with them was all they really needed.
I learned that in other conversations, where my input was needed, people were really good about stopping to give me time to think and type. It is not as easy as you might think to carry on an actual conversation via chat box. People were patient and kind.
Of course, I wondered why I had lost my voice. I can’t remember the last time this happened. Dee suggested maybe it was because of the cold medication I had been taking, but I didn’t think so. As a therapist, I wondered if it was symbolic, if there was a psychological reason.
Maybe, I pondered, I haven’t been speaking up enough. Maybe I’ve metaphorically lost my voice, and now it’s manifesting physically. Or maybe this is an experience in empathy, to increase my understanding of what it’s like to be voiceless in some way.
I wasn’t dreadfully upset about it – I could still whisper when I needed to and it was restful in an odd way. It made me listen more attentively and kept me from interrupting or completing other people’s sentences, which I’ve been known to do. And it was kind of interesting.
But Saturday morning – starting day 6 without a voice – it was getting a bit old. As I mentioned it (again) on Facebook, someone suggested a rememdy. “Th***t C**t tea,” he said, “and R***la throat drops.”
Amazingly, I already had the tea in my cabinet. I hadn’t been using it, I’d been doing all kinds of other tea instead. But there it was, just waiting for me. I fixed a cup of tea instead of a second cup of coffee and headed out.
In my car, I was looking for Kleenex under the dashboard and wondering if it would be worth stopping for the throat drops when I pulled out – a bag of R***la throat drops. Seriously. (No, I didn’t find the Kleenex. You can’t have everything.)
So I drank my tea and had a couple of throat drops – and I could talk. Not perfectly. But I could actually talk. If I’d been at 25% of my voice before, I moved up to 60 or 70%. Pretty amazing.
So amazing that of course I decided it must have been psychosomatic in the first place. I mean, really, how can a cup of tea and two throat drops be that kind of miracle? But that’s ok. There’s still a big take-away here.
Here’s what I think the lesson is. We talk about needing to have the right tools to find solutions and solve problems. But it’s not just a matter of having the right tool. We have to know that it’s the right tool. I had lots of remedies – teas and medicine and extracts and even hot toddies. And I had exactly what I needed (apparently) and just didn’t realize it until someone else suggested it.
It makes me wonder how often I have the solution lying around in my “tool kit” neglected and unused. And will I remember to look at all my tools the next time I need them?
My last day on Tybee Island started, of course, with sunrise.
After coffee and spending some time on FB and eating cereal and so on, it was time to go bike riding with Julia. Here’s what we had planned:
Yes, intrepid bike riders, pedaling around the island.
Instead, both the bike shops were closed – it was Monday. Apparently, that’s the wrong day for bike riding.
So what could we do?
We walked to the pier, got some woman to take our picture (with the sun in our eyes and my hair all over the place.) Then we went to Fannie’s on the Beach, where we had a lovely plate of steamed oysters.
Content with that, we wandered the streets of Tybee for a while, especially Chu’s Department Store. We were tempted by the hoodies and t-shirts, admired a bowl, glanced at the fishing supplies, and thought about buying some Savannah honey.
Eventually, we decided we needed a glass of wine. Back on the street, there were so many places we could have gone – and we chose Doc’s. Julia thought it looked like a bar we knew back in the day – Hikes Point Bar and Lounge, to be exact – and indeed, it did.
It was actually much darker than the pictures. Thanks, i-phone.
We enjoyed a glass of wine, and had some conversation with the bartender. Overhearing her phone call with her 11 year old daughter had me remembering my days of motherhood in all too vivid color. And it made us laugh. The bartender was glad that I could reassure her that it does get easier. Or different anyhow.
After all that, we had worked up an appetite, so we went to find our menfolk and get dinner. Stingray’s was an easy choice for dinner – Julia and I split the seafood platter. Oh. My. Goodness.
And a good time was had by all.