Nov 15

Joan Baez: “I Am a Noise”–Anxiety, Trauma/Dissociation

As Kenneth Womack, Salon, has stated, the new documentary Joan Baez: I Am a Noise is “…one of the most intimate and revealing documentaries of its kind. In one sense, it chronicles Baez’s preparations for her final tour; yet at the same time, the film underscores the singer-songwriter’s lifelong search for the truth about the overarching depression that has marked her life.”

But depression is just one aspect of her mental health issues. Her anxiety and panic attacks began in childhood, leading to therapy in her teens. These conditions, moreover, continued to plague her throughout her career.

And that’s not all. Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian: “(T)his intimate and painful documentary… brings us to the brink of a terribly traumatic revelation that it can’t quite bear to spell out.” We get just enough, though, to understand that she has disturbing childhood memories–“though she says she cannot recall definitively whether her father sexually abused her” (Deadline).

What Baez can be clearer about, though, are her experiences of dissociation. Matthew Carey, Deadline: “For the first time, Baez speaks in detail about experiencing multiple personalities, among them someone she describes as ‘Diamond Joan.’ The condition, known clinically as dissociative identity disorder, typically results from long-term trauma in childhood featuring abuse or neglect.”

The following are revealing quotes from recent interviews conducted with Joan Baez.

I. Scott Simon, NPR

“And my sister Mimi just called one day and said, you know, I think something terrible happened in our childhood. Do you want to look into it the way I will in therapy? And eventually I said yes. And we both discovered some very deep trauma from childhood. And we were – our bodies and brains were reacting to that our whole lives without our knowing it because it was all unconscious, subconscious.”

“And I believe with all my heart that he and my mom have no memory of it at all. The mind is an extraordinary thing to have blocking something out if you really don’t want to deal with it. I mean, I had blocked it out for 50 years. And then the journey was really quite something.”

II. Walter Scott, Parade

Regarding her dissociation, or DID: “[Mine] was many splits and each one had a reason for being there—each little entity that’s born is there for a reason—when I was trying to grow up. By recognizing these little entities and then nurturing them, that nurtured a part of me that needed that. I loved all the little people in there and they’ve held me together and taught me a lot.”

Regarding her son, musician Gabriel Harris, age 53: “That’s where this terrible sadness comes in that I wasn’t there for him. I didn’t realize the extent of it until I saw the film and I hear him talking. I salute him for being honest and loving and caring but saying what his truth was about growing up with a mom who basically wasn’t there. A lot of times I was there, but I wasn’t there.”

III. Bobbi Dempsey, AARP  

“First of all, I don’t think the ending in the film really, really shows the amount of peace that I came to. I’m not sure why. But all of that came through deep therapy. I put off deep therapy for half a lifetime. And clearly figured out why: It was too scary to deal with. But no, I don’t have those demons now. Occasionally there’s a little pop-up, but basically, no. Therapy is hard work and it’s a lot of emotional excavation.”

“If somebody [asked] what am I proudest of, I would say getting through that tunnel. It was pretty dark when I entered it, and I entered it on faith. And then by the end I was really back in the light — or in the light, in a way, for the first time.”

Aug 05

“Blind to Betrayal”: Betrayal Blindness and Trauma

A must-read for everyone who has experienced betrayal and betrayal blindness — and that means almost all of us. Laura S. Brown, Ph.D., regarding Blind to Betrayal

Blind to Betrayal: Why We Fool Ourselves We Aren’t Being Fooled by Jennifer Freyd and Pamela Birrell addresses the important topic of betrayal trauma and its effects.

Freyd, who’s the editor of the Journal of Trauma & Dissociation and who has done extensive research for years regarding the phenomenon of betrayal blindness, defines it as follows: “the unawareness, not-knowing, and forgetting exhibited by people towards betrayal.”

Betrayal trauma, she notes, “occurs when the people or institutions on which a person depends for survival significantly violate that person’s trust or well-being: Childhood physical, emotional, or sexual abuse perpetrated by a caregiver are examples of betrayal trauma.”

More quotes by Freyd about the impact of betrayal, as cited in Medical Xpress:

  • “On discovery of betrayal, a key response is to reorganize one’s perceptions of what has happened—to rewrite history. Betrayal therefore has a fundamental impact on one’s perceptions of reality.”
  • “…(I)t usually is safer for children to be blind to betrayal when it comes from the hands of a caregiver or someone the child trusts. In that situation, seeing the betrayal would likely only make matters worse – because a natural response to seeing betrayal is to confront it in some way. If a child confronts a betraying caregiver his or her situation is likely to become worse, even threatening survival.”
  • The survival response of betrayal blindness “keeps us from being fully strong, alive or healthy. It makes us vulnerable to more betrayal and makes it difficult to have truly intimate relationships.”

Wendy J. Murphy, JD, New England Law/Boston, Author of And Justice For Some: “Fear of experiencing the overwhelming pain of knowing that people to whom we render ourselves vulnerable have exploited rather than cherished our trust makes us ‘blind’ to betrayal even when it’s right there in front of us. Drs. Freyd and Birrell have built a critical bridge of knowledge that allows us to take the blinders off and become comfortable in our discomfort. This book is a gift to all who suffer with or support those who feel stuck in the reluctance to know the ugly truth about the people and institutions we entrust with our minds and bodies.”

Feb 09

“Solutions and Other Problems” by Allie Brosh

Solutions and Other Problems includes humorous stories from Allie Brosh’s childhood; the adventures of her very bad animals; merciless dissection of her own character flaws; incisive essays on grief, loneliness, and powerlessness; as well as reflections on the absurdity of modern life. Publisher of Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

A frequent point being made about comic artist Allie Brosh‘s follow-up to her last best-selling book, Hyperbole and a Half, is that it took seven years—for her fans, seven agonizingly long years during which she’d unexplainedly withdrawn from the internet. As it happens, Brosh was going through some things, including a major health scare, her divorce, and the suicide of her younger sister.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened featured her usual openness regarding her emotional struggles. Amy GoldschlagerKirkus Reviews:

…(H)er vivid depiction of her struggle with depression is extraordinarily frank, describing a deadening descent into apathy, the frustration engendered by torrents of unhelpful advice and a bout of hysterical laughter inspired by discovering a piece of dried-up corn underneath her refrigerator. It was very important to Brosh to communicate what being clinically depressed really feels like. ‘I was really pushing myself,’ she says. ‘I had a two-part motivation: to shine a light on the serious thing that’s really scary and bring out the more absurd aspects of it.’ Her intention was to ‘walk the line between levity and respect for the subject,’ she says. ‘I wanted to make it easier to talk about.’

Solutions and Other Problems (2020) is described as “a new collection of comedic, autobiographical, and illustrated essays.” As Publishers Weekly states, “Brosh’s spidery and demented digital portraits, a visual expression of fun-house mirror anxiety, fits her material perfectly.”

Selected quotes are representative of her style and attitude:

For the sake of trust building, the third chapter will follow the second. But then we will jump directly to chapter five, do you understand? No chapter four. Why? Because sometimes things don’t go like they should.

When you can explain things to people who are willing to listen to you explain them, it is extremely difficult to resist fully and brutally explaining them. It feels good to explain them—like maybe you’re getting somewhere. Like maybe, if you can just…really explain them, the experiences will realize you’re catching on and stop bothering you.

I don’t believe in karma, but I believe there are things that can happen that very specifically force you to understand what an asshole you were.

The title? She tells Susanna Schrobsdorff, Time, “So, you know that thing where you have a problem, and in trying to solve the problem you generate a brand new type of problem? It’s sort of about that. How the solutions themselves become the next generation of problems. Because no solution is perfect.”

Additional quotes from her Time interview:

I think self-improvement itself is a good thing, but sometimes the message gets a little muddled. Like, it sort of feels like self-help books are designed more to sell books than to offer practical help. There’s not a lot of realism in there. A realistic self-help book wouldnt sound like “Easily banish your anxiety with these simple tricks!” It would sound like “Moderately improve your anxiety over a span of many years by continuously choosing to do the hard thing instead of the easy thing, and there’s no real end point—you have to keep going indefinitely if you want to keep improving.” And I think that really holds self-help back—the promise of easy results.

Sometimes I feel scared to be vulnerable, but I don’t think I’ve ever regretted it. I think it’s good to be vulnerable; it shows people that it’s safe to be vulnerable too. And, for the most part, I think people appreciate that. Actually, one of the comments I have saved in my special folder is somebody who said, “Thank you for going first.” I’ve probably read that one a hundred times. It helps me remember that I don’t need to feel scared.

As always, there’s the caveat that different people experience depression slightly differently, and what works for one person might not work for the next, but for me what has been most helpful is when somebody shows a willingness to understand, and also a willingness to just quietly be there if that’s what I need. Sometimes it feels good to talk about it; sometimes it’s too overwhelming, and it feels helpful when somebody lets me know that it’s O.K. to not feel O.K. right away.

Feb 03

“Wintering” by Katherine May: Selected Quotes

A recent book that’s perfect for today’s world is Katherine Mays Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. Although we’re currently in the actual season known as winter, wintering in May’s book is not necessarily what you readily imagine it to be—but it often involves such feelings as rejection, loneliness, loss, humiliation, and/or pain:

Wintering is a season in the cold. It is a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of an outsider. Perhaps it results from an illness or a life event such as a bereavement or the birth of a child; perhaps it comes from a humiliation or failure. Perhaps you’re in a period of transition and have temporarily fallen between two worlds. Some wintering creep upon us more slowly, accompanying the protracted death of a relationship, the gradual ratcheting up of caring responsibilities as our parents age, the drip-drip-drip of lost confidence. Some are appallingly sudden, like discovering one day that your skills are considered obsolete, the company you worked for has gone bankrupt, or your partner is in love with someone new. However, it arrives, wintering is usually involuntary, lonely, and deeply painful.

Selected Quotes from Wintering

Wintering brings about some of the most profound and insightful moments of our human experience, and wisdom resides in those who have wintered.

Life meanders like a path through the woods. We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.

If happiness is a skill, then sadness is, too. Perhaps through all those years at school, or perhaps through other terrors, we are taught to ignore sadness, to stuff it down into our satchels and pretend it isn’t there. As adults, we often have to learn to hear the clarity of its call. That is wintering. It is the active acceptance of sadness. It is the practice of allowing ourselves to feel it as a need. It is the courage to stare down the worst parts of our experience and to commit to healing them the best we can. Wintering is a moment of intuition, our true needs felt keenly as a knife.

We seem to be living in an age when we’re bombarded with entreaties to be happy, but we’re suffering from an avalanche of depression. We’re urged to stop sweating the small stuff, yet we’re chronically anxious. I often wonder if these are just normal feelings that become monstrous when they’re denied. A great deal of life will always suck. There will be moments when we’re riding high and moments when we can’t bear to get out of bed. Both are normal. Both in fact require a little perspective.

There are times when everything seems easy, and times when it all seems impossibly hard. To make that manageable, we only have to remember that our present will one day become a past, and our future will be our present. We know that, because it’s happened before. The things we put behind us will often come around again. The things that trouble us now will one day be past history. Each time we endure the cycle, we ratchet up a notch. We learn from the last time around, and we do a few things better this time; we develop tricks of the mind to see us through. This is how progress is made. But one thing is certain: we will simply have different things to worry about. We will have to clench our teeth and carry on surviving again. In the meantime, we can only deal with what’s in front of us at this moment in time. We take the next necessary action, and the next. At some point along the line, that next action will feel joyful again.

Feb 05

“Notes on a Nervous Planet” by Matt Haig

…“I wanted to write a book about how you can look at the world as a singular psychiatric patient, as a case study,” [Haig] explains. “How so many of the problems that the world faces are parallel to what a depressed or suicidal or scared person would do if they were seeking rash solutions.” The Guardian, regarding Matt Haig’s Notes on a Nervous Planet 

According to Lisa Allardice, The Guardian, Matt Haig‘s newest book’s “overriding message is that in a world of ever-accelerating change and technological overload we need to slow down and ‘SWITCH OFF’ (Haig’s capitals).”

A pertinent quote from Notes on a Nervous Planet:

I sometimes feel like my head is a computer with too many windows open. Too much clutter on the desktop. There is a metaphorical spinning rainbow wheel inside me. Disabling me. And if only I could find a way to switch off some of the frames, if only I could drag some of the clutter into the trash, then I would be fine. But which frame would I choose, when they all seem so essential? How can I stop my mind being overloaded when the world is overloaded? We can think about anything. And so it makes sense that we end up thinking about everything. We might have to, sometimes, be brave enough to switch the screens off in order to switch ourselves back on. To disconnect in order to reconnect.

Additional description of Nervous Planet from Claire Hennessy, Head Stuff: “…(A)s Haig puts it, ‘we live in a 24-hour society but not in 24-hour bodies’ – and to not keep up with it is shameful; none of us get enough sleep but despite medical advice to the contrary, we wear this as a badge of pride. Our smartphones make us constantly available, which means we never switch off – and we know this already, but we need to hear it over and over before it properly sinks in.”

Whereas his first nonfiction book, Reasons to Stay Alive (2001)see my previous postwas about Haig’s depression, this one, you may have already deduced, is about his anxiety. Nicole Karlis, Salon:

Readers who have experienced anxiety without a tangible cause will find comfort in Haig’s words and vulnerability. Haig articulates much of what isn’t working for humans in today’s world while refraining from being too cynical. Climate change, the news, technology, and the human desire to always want more are taking a toll on our mental health, Haig explains. ‘The paradox of modern life is this: we have never been more connected and we have never been more alone,’ he writes. Haig’s book is not a ‘how-to’ guide on how to navigate the chaos; rather, Haig believes the mere act of identifying the problem can help one find the solution itself.

Kirkus Reviews, regarding Haig’s recommendations: “Haig’s solutions align with the current trend of mindfulness exercises—conscious breathing techniques, meditation, walks in nature, etc.—but he also expounds on the deeper benefits derived from reading good books and other activities. His prescription is to embrace the best of what modern culture has to offer and attempt to find balance rather than allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the increasing demands of so much social and technological stimuli. As he notes, ‘a completely connected world has the potential to go mad, all at once.'”