you’ve probably heard of fight or flight

(a conversation sometimes had in hospitals.)

your brain wants to protect you.

this is good, and we mostly try to encourage brains when they do that

but sometimes.

sometimes brains get it wrong.

see, because when something bad happens, the world can feel like a scary, unpredictable place

and thats okay, it’s pretty normal to feel like that for a bit

but brains don’t like feeling that way

they want to know that they can be safe.

and one way to start feeling safe is to start feeling in control.

and one way to feel in control is to feel like it’s your fault.

because if it were your fault, then the world would be predictable.

you could figure out the thing you did, that made you to blame, and then you could stop doing that.

and then you would know you were safe.


title is a reference to common conversation about blame in sexual assault and the role of freezing and submitting as life-saving self-preservation.

‘Grounding’ and Other Complicated Words

This is a personal reference list for me, but perhaps it will help others. Overall I find quieting my mind or paying attention to my body (common suggestions for self-soothing) to be very unpleasant. At some point I would like to increase my tolerance for things on the second list, but exposure therapy is not how you relax.

Grounding:

1. weighted blanket
2. back breathing
3. fidgets, especially cold or heavy ones
4. hard hugs
5. hot showers/baths
6. square breathing

Triggering:

1. ‘body scan’ meditations
2. okay, really any meditation billed as ‘grounding’ [Example]
3. diaphragmatic breathing
4. mindful movement

Pennies

[Content note: rape, sexual assault exams, almost nothing else. ]
The organization I volunteer for is excellent and highly recommended. However, statements below should be taken as from me, not from them.

To the best of my knowledge, I’ve specified where I know that there is state-to-state variation and I’m speaking for Massachusetts

On the good days it looks like this:

I get a call from the woman supervising my shift. She’s on the same line as the SANE nurses who administer the rape kits. When they get paged to go to a hospital, we do too.
I pick up my bag (pamphlets, a binder of resources, phone chargers, fidgets, notebook, pen), head to whichever hospital called in.
The SANE and I arrive at nearly the same time—she isn’t tied up on another case.
The client is in a private room with a door that closes.
The nurses have been kind to the survivor.
Someone has told them what’s going on, who will be arriving.
We spend four hours or less going through the kit.
The client is alone or with someone who cares for them, who thinks this is worth doing and they are brave for doing it.
They have a place to go home to afterwards.
They have eaten that day.

Not all days are good days.

In Massachusetts, you do not need to have reported your rape/assault to the police to have evidence collected. This is not the case in all states, and not the case in adjoining states, necessitating that we ask survivors where their residence is located.

Some reasons I think the MA model is superior: it allows people in abusive situations to go into the hospital, document evidence of a rape, and then after leaving the abusive situation, involve the police. If you’re in fear for your life, or the lives of loved ones, this can be safer.

Rape kits, which are technically known as sexual assault evidence collection kits, are identical for everyone 12 and up—that is, they contain the same (in MA) sixteen steps of evidence collection.

Importantly, (in MA) anyone of any age can decline any step. A twelve year old can say they would prefer not to have any oral swabs taken and that’s that. Informed consent is gathered from the survivor, not the parent, in all cases over the age of 12. (I’m specifying there because I don’t interact with under-12s, and don’t know how it works).

I expected to find the children the hardest, but this has been surprisingly untrue. People—nurses, doctors, technicians have been around children. They often have children at home, or in their extended family. There are very few* circumstances in which these people can be persuaded that children deserved to be assaulted or aren’t interested in being helped.

This is not usually how people—nurses, doctors, technicians—feel about people who are homeless, or people who have abused drugs, especially if those people have been in the emergency room before.

The last time I walked home from a hospital after a case, I got catcalled. This happens maybe a third of the time—it’s usually late, I’m usually dressed up, the hospitals are downtown. This doesn’t make me feel better about the state of the world.

Home. I smell of hospital. All my clothes—no exceptions—go in the wash. Hot shower. Scrub. Soft clothes. I call in to the woman who sent my out, my supervisor. I talk her through the case—where I was, where the assault took place, how many assailants, what kind of assault, was the client safe, how did I feel, what staff were involved, how did they treat the client. I say the things, the details I don’t want my partner, my friends to have in their head. Sometimes I tell the same story twice, three times, repeating ’til the initial horror and revulsion has bled out.

I am pretty sure if you can’t forget the stories, you can’t live with this job. I do not remember the names, and this is a conscious choice. I call in the referrals (counseling, legal, case assistance) and put a penny in a jar and go back to my life: a party, a book, sleep, people who have never left bruises on my wrists, face, legs.

There are too many pennies.


This is a good summary of the steps of a rape kit.

*Sadly, exceptions in the case of teens who went to parties.

Insane in Sane Places

I live in a tiny wonderful bubble where it’s (1) pretty unusual not to have a mental illness (2) public knowledge that I have an eating disorder. It’s a bubble where I am left out of conversations about diets and nutrition, where my figure goes unremarked upon, and I’m not the only one.

Work is not in that bubble.

It’s the first job since I started treatment where I kept an eating disorder from everybody, and I’ve fiercely protected that independence. (Independence? That’s what it felt like, and what I promised myself it would be.)

It was teaching a class on nutrition. How to eat healthily.
I’ve never followed any of the advice I gave—I am, after all, a cautionary tale in eating—but I will be endlessly proud of my rules for the lecture.

I will not discuss ‘bad’ foods and ‘good’ foods.

I will not shame.

I will not discuss weight loss as the sole goal for food consumption.

It was walking into a conversation about anorexia and how strange it was that teen girls do that. The crawling duality of being expected to theorize dispassionately for curious strangers about what makes crazy people do that. I walked back out again. I had forgotten…something in the other room.

It was five-thousand discussions about weight loss I stepped out of. A handful of ones I didn’t (that was a bad decision).

It was exclamations of how ‘good’ I was each time I refused offers of baked treats. The stupid bubble of happy feelings that rose up each time I heard it.

I’ve just almost done it—I’m talking with clients about what it means as my term at the agency ends, saying goodbyes, counting time in weeks.

But it was also eating my lunch in peace each day. Nobody policed whether or not I was eating ‘enough’. I wasn’t making people worried each time I refused food. People accepted ‘no thank you, I’m not hungry’.

I declined an offer for a going-away party this week (it means cake, see?).

It wasn’t appropriate to share, and this I know. Little practical gain for me, lots of guilt and uncertainty and worry for them.

But I miss my bubble.

Things I Learned This Year: Social Work

[Thus begins the end of year posts]

1. I actually don’t like doing the long-term therapy that I’ve been writing about for years. It’s hard to see any obvious progress with individual sessions, and it turns out I tend to experience the fifty-minute-hour as being more like five thousand years long.

2. Crisis-intervention is fantastic for me. Previous aspects of jobs I’ve enjoyed: managing conferences/customer service/stage managing related things, schizophrenia/general mental health assessment, secretarial/personal assistant work. Crisis work involves the underlying themes: you must solve the problem now! collect all the information! coordinate everything in a high-pressure environment!

…okay nope, I’m confused about why I initially thought long-term therapy was the career for me.

3. Phone anxiety goes away quickly with Exposure To People Yelling At You By Phone Therapy (aka flooding). Somehow I hadn’t connected the dots between “I have phone anxiety” and “Making appointments means calling people.” Wow did I notice the problem quickly once I started work.

4. I now have a vivid mental picture of what it looks like when bureaucracy kills people.

5. I spent a lot of my blogging career emphasizing that just because someone tells you about their problems doesn’t mean they are requesting solutions or advice, that sometimes all they need is someone to join them in the problem and agree, yeah, that’s horrible.

I’m not nearly as good at following this as I would like to be…or as I thought I was. Seeing a client always has this overarching sense of “this time is valuable! I can solve it, and I have to do it now! Offer solutions! That one won’t work? Offer another solution!”

6. I have always known that you can’t solve everything, that scarcity exists, and that sometimes you can only help the most desperate. I hadn’t really thought about what it would be like to be the person who says “I am sorry, you can’t have this thing that will let you improve your dire situation.” Or to say it repeatedly.

7. When I’m tired, it’s hard to remember to answer the phone using my actual name (as opposed to ‘Kate Donovan’) and, in one memorable occasion, I answered not as EITHER name I use, but instead a hodgepodge of names of two people I’d recently seen. Welp.

8. The good stories are hard to explain, the bad stories are easy to talk about.

9. Death is bad.

10. You do not always get to see good people. There is no ‘moral human’ requirement for seeking social services.

Recovery Mutterings

1. I actually really just want that salad, without the large GUILT FREE sticker on it (see also: guilt free brownies, guilt free fruit cups (?!?!), guilt free kale chips, guilt free hummus). Remembering and then retroactively feeling bad for all the apparently GUILT CONTAINING salad is not a good road.

2. Find me a major holiday that does not involve food. I dare you. The trifecta of conversations about sweets, overeating, and diets that is Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas? Oof.

3. “I would like to go on a date with you. One that does not involve planning or eating food together.”

4. That thing which is memorizing the location of mirrors in every new location so that you can avoid them. My college has an unavoidable mirror in the women’s bathroom on the third floor, an avoidable mirror in the bathroom on the fourth. There is one path through the gym locker room that avoids all three (three!) mirrors.

5. Doctors offices. About a year and a half ago I sliced up my hand, deeply enough that I was concerned about the nerves for my left pointer and middle fingers. I also have a fairly strong phobia of injury and injection. In between passing out and attempting to find my insurance information for the doctor (I’d moved that day, everything was in a mess of boxes) I remember one continuous thought: what if they need to know my weight? What if they have to weigh me? I alternately promised myself that I wouldn’t beg them to avoid putting me on a scale and swore that I would just tell them: I had an eating disorder. Please don’t weigh me. I fought for that past tense.

6. I have met all but one of my partners during periods of anorexia or flirting with it. Someday I will believe this is not what caused the initial attraction.

7. Someday I will wear pants again/stop avoiding jobs that have a dress code including pants/stop giving up activities that can’t be done in skirts/sprawl/lounge with abandon

8. Someday I will be okay with the things are not going to happen someday.

9. Someday.


“The wounded woman gets called a stereotype, and sometimes she is. But sometimes she’s just true. I think the possibility of fetishizing pain is no reason to stop representing it. Pain that gets performed is still pain. Pain turned trite is still pain. I think the charges of cliché and performance offer our closed hearts too many alibis, and I want our hearts to be open. I just wrote that. I want our hearts to be open. I mean it.” -Leslie Jamison, A Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain

On Losing Skills

There’s this trope: the hero has agonized over their journey, kept going by the knowledge that someday, they’ll go home to their friends, the simple life, their family, their time. But each decision has pulled and pushed and torn them away from the happy ending. A moment of truth, a decision that forces their hand, and they know they can’t have it. Even if you can go home, you’ll be bringing those memories, the hair-trigger emotions and learned sensitivities.

Continuum. The Pendragon books.

Doctor Who takes this as the underlying design: one man so wracked by the choices he made that he’ll run across time and space and forms.

And it’s a story we tell and have in recovery too. I spent–spend–so much time trying to find resemblance to what ‘used to be’. And slowly, I’ve realized there isn’t a used to be for this. I’ve never been a non-eating-disordered adult. I’m slowly learning that I can’t time travel my way back out of patterns of thinking and depriving and flinching at scales and calorie counts.

When I was younger, I loved to bake. I remember the adventurers of trying complicated recipes. Croissants, the perfect buttermilk biscuits (it took five different recipes, each claiming to have solved solved what the others got wrong), trifle, with the ladyfingers base made from scratch. Gingerbread sweet enough to eat, sturdy enough build houses.

In college, the game was trying to make versions of the foods my friends could eat: vegan peanut butter cookies, playing with different bread flours, finding finding an acceptable Nutella substitute.

I don’t know how to do this anymore.

I don’t know how to enjoy it, how to look, at recipes without floods of stress. Don’t know how to avoid spiraling for weeks if I push myself to make a batch for cookies. I can do it with help; having another person there means the panic is background noise. But…I don’t want to need that. I can bake!

Could.

It isn’t just reaching for a tool that’s no longer there. It’s rummaging about on the shelf because you’re sure it can’t have gone anywhere. It’s returning again and again because it’s just like learning to ride a bicycle, isn’t it?

And I’ll work my way back to baking someday, I’m sure. Reclaiming floury hands and hot-off-the-pan crumbly cookies. But it will be a newly acquired ability. I’ll read recipes a little differently, looking for the first edges of panic. I’ll check in, make sure I’m in a good place before I start.

And then I’ll learn the next skill.