Part 13 in multipartite post, The ‘Madwoman’ v. the Madness of the State.
Contrary to scuttlebutt from returning graduates of Idaho’s Skittles School, State Hospital South prohibits prisoners from working in their kitchen. Predominantly grey, gelatinous slop that I would not force on a feral mutt received awards for efficiency and cleanliness in the mid- and late-nineties. I know, because they shellacked those awards onto chunks of scalloped wood and hung them in their kitchen barren of art. And so proudly too. In belated comparison, Intermountain Hospital’s food service seemed like galloping gourmet, although their staff routinely struggled to summon up a salad that I would consider edible, picking through chunks of iceberg lettuce piled high with pickled beets, halves of boiled eggs, and forests of browning cauliflower.
But maybe the leftover dregs go to the patients on the ICU, in some sort of backwards logic severing mind from body and redefining “intensive care”?
Yes, the staff member who earns a state paycheck as a nutritionist would permit me to undergo a juice fast to cleanse my body of the airborne and pharmaceutical toxins that I endured at Intermountain Hospital, but no, she would not juice fruits or vegetables for me, and no, she would not supply me with enough fresh produce to juice my own. Contradictory logic she delivered unblinkingly one morning in the midst of my first cup of a powdery substance in a teabag over which staff meted water warmer than luke, though not quite hot, from behind their protective desk. One. Styrofoam. Cup. After. Another. As the nutritionist warmed in enthusiasm sharing her high opinions of herself and the state facility’s food service, I confess I broke my healthy communications rule about not interrupting others while they are speaking:
“If you continue on with that list of greasy meat products while I am on an empty stomach and before my morning tea, I am likely to hurl,” quietly, privately remembering a grad school vegetarian colleague’s dry-witted description of attending a funeral with her carnivorous relatives:
“You feed grief, right? Or you make it barf.”
If there is a gym at State Hospital South, I never saw its interior. Where the patients’ rooms are hard tiled instead of industrially carpeted and even more cramped than Idaho’s privately contracted facility, my hour-long daily workout became even more of a challenge, primarily due to staff’s inability to communicate patients’ healthcare needs among themselves, sometimes requiring patients to attend double-booked meetings or groups, and other times failing to provide the behavioral skills lessons listed on at least one of their oftentimes conflicting schedules: 1) an immense paper monthly calendar that dominated the wall behind the all-important television in the unit’s dayroom that may or may not conflict with 2) the daily schedule sometimes or sometimes not added to and, as the day progressed, erased from a whiteboard that filled another wall, and 3) this tightly leaded and ruled print collateral version that I did not acquire until my ninth day of incarceration there, and only learned to request from staff thanks again to patient rumor:
Challenging to follow without access to mobile phones or clocks in the individual rooms where prisoners go to escape the volatility of other patients or ubiquitous twitching fluorescent lights or the television’s persistent babbling.
Sing-songy mental health professional interviewer: “Do you ever think tv or radio voices are, like, speaking to you?”
Moi: “I have not watched television in over decade.”
“So, that’s a ‘no’?”
Daily activities were further complicated by memorizing an ever-shifting patient privilege access level from still more print collateral or yet another whiteboard designed with a complex and really quite psychologically troubled array of colors and magnets and stick-on stars and dry erase markers. Closed to hearing my initial enthusiasm for providing solutions for graphic design challenges, “Ooh, that’s a graphic design problem,” the charge nurse on duty responded by pursing her lips and narrowing her eyes.
Another problem with the facility’s privilege system is that many of the things that staff ordained a privilege did not seem like privileges to me. Sort of like buying a new car with gadgets you neither want nor need. Or downloading and installing software updates every few days. Cafeteria “privileges” meant lining up like cattle to march to a low-ceilinged, fluorescent-lit room where you were forced to shovel unappetizing “food” product down your gullet faster than healthy, civilized people eat, otherwise risk incurring the wrath of staff who might shout at you. Or threaten to remove privileges that you previously took for granted, that had indeed become privileges to you, like access to sunshine and fresh air. Or give you demerits for trying to take care of yourself in their hostile environment.
Instead of supporting healthy patient behavior, staff cited institutional policy actively discouraging physical and mental health. I could not check out a yoga mat to take care of my body more frequently than their weekly sessions, but I could score enough points playing their “motivational” game by attending those weekly sessions to win a yoga mat.
If I remained incarcerated at least 12 weeks.
I repeat, carrots before sticks? If your goal is to nurture healthy behavior, simply ker-plopping your students patients on bony chairs and lecturing at them how to behave is ineffective pedagogy. It may help to demonstrate healthy behavior for your clients/students/children.
My state-assigned, beer-gutted recreational therapist eschewed staff-supervised lengthier walks of the campus grounds in favor of making a beeline for the canteen, where our “exercise” was “rewarded” with larger Styrofoam cups of our choice of institutional black coffee or carbonated sugar water in an array of flavors. Or just water, at my request, inducing another male staff member’s sexually inappropriate comment shaming my healthy choice, “Cheap date.”
And don’t even get me started on the much-touted arts and crafts room.
Devolution: the first generation walks in search of food; the second generation walks to expand the territory; the third generation, as I observed to my brother-in-law during a family hike overlooking Governor Otter’s Simplot Mansion prior to communicating my concerns about his children acting out badly role modeled behaviors, walks for entertainment. And later I learned the fourth generation paces the prison yard patiently waiting for the opportunity to begin again. Impoverished or uneducated and docile members of that generation perform “the Thorazine shuffle,” to quote another patient describing common side effects of risperidone.
As predicted by the Papryus typeface selection and the vernacular graphic design of their trifold orientation brochure, my treatment team never managed to communicate with each other well enough to coordinate their frenetic schedules for a team meeting inclusive of “the most important member” of their team.
Kicking off that same impromptu 11 June 2014 exit interview wherein the state psychiatrist and clinician refused to hear my succinct, rational explanation for the abusive behaviors of their colleagues, Dr. Olnes first broke his promise to me to not recommend increasing the dosage of his preferred med if I suffered side effects from the pharmaceutical industry’s profit-generating products, and while he did not ramp up the state’s systemic abusive behavior by forcing me to take more meds, I notice he repeats his horse pill-scaled recommendation on his release notes, despite his treatment team and other staff members agreeing that my behavior did not meet the criteria for involuntary commitment during the two weeks that the state mental hospital kept me quarantined under their observation.
Perhaps CYA, just in case the opinions of the system’s mental health professionals prove “right” and my behavior that he and his staff observed with their own eyes proved “wrong”-?
Do I need to spell out CYA for my intended audience?
“Well, maybe you’ve been able to control the other symptoms through yoga,” the clinician pouted defensively, unwilling to consider my rational explanation for such systemic bad behaviors throughout the state’s bureaucracy, let alone respect my educated expertise in critical theories of identity, trauma, and the taboo.
More questions that I am probably not prepared to ask in a court of law, but would really like to hear answers from the leaders responsible for the taxpayer-funded violation of my civil liberties: what symptoms, other than writing and creative thinking, does the state want to suppress with its brain-damaging meds?
Does the highly competitive business world really want to silence innovation and critical thinking, or just the pill-dispensing bureaucrats defending their personal paychecks?
Does he have any children?
What meds are they taking?
Are there any American patriots still willing or able to wrest democratic ideals from our present totalitarian state?
According to the manufacturer, potential side effects of Depakote include anxiety, delusions, the swinging ups and downs or dysphoria and euphoria symptomatic of bipolar disorder, mental depression, paranoia, change in personality or patterns and rhythms of speech, what sounds to me like hallucinations or “seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there,” and problems with memory or memory loss, paradoxically the very symptoms of the “diagnoses” that many of Idaho’s mental health professionals seemed to be suffering themselves, and obediently repeated after my electrical engineering brother-in-law, escalating his violence against me for placing boundaries on his abusive behavior. Performing the role in his household that the White House describes as the “bystander” in victim/bully schoolyard conflicts, and the Department of Education relies again on victims and bystanders while higher education faculty and administrators routinely fail to better educate abusers or enforce Title IX on campuses nationwide, speaking out got me imprisoned by the State of Idaho.
Side effects I experienced included sluggishness, nosebleed, bleeding gums, dry mouth, dizziness, headaches, and, deep within my chest, “difficult or labored breathing,” the likes of which I had not experienced since 6–9 months after the incident in grad school involving toxic chemicals and a male colleague with problems with anger management and alcohol abuse rewarded by Idaho’s flagship institution of higher learning, a rasping, wheezing breath during my morning workout that startled even my roommate at the state mental hospital, a victim suffering the trauma of a childhood reared by a mother who taught her to score and snort dope even before she entered middle school, compounded with the trauma of war, literally breaking her back in Afghanistan, yet somehow still found the strength within her to walk several miles carrying her pack and all of her military gear before she could find help, a trauma patient whose obesity symptom contributed to sleep apnea and difficulties breathing without staff-supplied oxygen tank. But maybe my renewed breathing difficulties were a reaction to the chemical that housekeeping staff used to mop the tile floors rather than the psychotropic meds?
Logic for the psychiatrist’s recommendation?
“Well, you could have had a manic episode,” he repeated his caution from our first meeting, before warning ominously, “And it will only get worse.”
Perhaps I should have complimented Dr. O’s metal-studded leather belt that made him appear as if he might be open to rebelling against the status quo?
Imagine a medical physician prescribing morphine because a patient “could have had” a headache but has no memory of experiencing the pain while she can clearly articulate her memories of the period in question. And the patient has found, in her experience, that mint tea and applying pressure points better heal headache than pharmaceutical options. According to doctor knows best or don’t worry your pretty little head about your own healthcare.
Or police arriving at the scene of an automotive wreck and hauling the bruised, bloodied, or broken bodies to the hospital, but only after first handcuffing the victims – one of the ways that the United States of America paradoxically privileges body over mind when it comes to health “care.”
In what other field would business get away with such egregious disrespect of its clients?
If I understood the state mental hospital staff correctly when they were impatient and abrupt with their responses to my questions, discouraging if not outright refusing dialogue, far from the Department of Mental Health assisting me with a plan for reconnecting to ordinary life, staff required me to supply an address for release before the hospital would release me, another loop of circular or irrational logic for someone new to the area with relationships almost entirely limited by budget to abusive family and “hot dates” with job application and project submittal databases. For a graduate who exceeded four times the bare minimum requirements for completion of a degree from the state’s flagship institution, whose earlier career experiences include providing support for Jon Huntsman’s Cancer Research Institute, and in an era when Utah is supplying homes to the homeless via a program started under that former governor, you might think Idaho could cough up a vested interest in better serving its citizens. But Dr. Olnes only seemed puzzled as to why I would not look forward to a lifetime involuntarily in and out of psychiatric institutions guaranteed to be my fate if I was able to negotiate returning to my abusive family’s compound and again attempted to prioritize job and project applications ahead of household chores or refused to practice religious beliefs dictated by my brother-in-law or expressed concerns about the acting out behaviors of their children.
And then there is still the problem of basic hygiene not permitted under current food stamp rules: toilet paper, dish soap, laundry detergent, shampoo, deodorant, lotion, toothpaste, floss would be nice, and litter for my therapeutic cat, although it is looking more and more like I might also be experiencing “absent, missed, or irregular menstrual cycles,” another side effect of the State of Idaho force-feeding me its psychotropic meds, or this traumatic experience has pushed me into menopause, so I worry less and less about those $6 boxes of tampons.
“Well, you’ve done everything your brother-in-law wanted you to do, so he should be willing to take you back now,” the doctor reasoned, forgetting that rational behavior is an unreasonably high expectation for a human being with a now lengthy history, partially documented by our email correspondence, of irrational behavior in his domestic sphere however contradictory that might seem for an individual whose logic skills must surely be prized in his workplace.
Keep in mind this is an individual raging that a healthy employer has yet to offer me a living wage because I lack “motivation” – his judgment contradicted by the calibre of my work, my job networking experiences, and the sheer volume of applications I have submitted over the last six years – and that I am not providing enough hours of indentured service to his household. Simultaneously. An individual who would not himself feel motivated to even get out of bed for less than $50 grand a year.
Who withdraws financial support for cat litter as a method of “motivating” me to provide still more care to his household months before evicting me from his property; where does he suppose the strictly indoor cat is going to go?
My family are folks who prefer feline feces and urine on their circa early 1980s sculpted pile carpeting in their front parlor over simply sitting down together at a table and resolving conflict through healthy communication like emotionally mature human beings.
Highly unlikely given his experience working with severely traumatized patients at the state mental hospital, but maybe Dr. Olnes has never encountered passive aggressive communicators like my Cousin Ted? Or maybe he could offer no experience resolving conflicts between healthy and passive aggressive communicators? Maybe, with their rabid dedication to increasing profits for the pharmaceutical industry, the state’s mental health professionals have no experience helping their clients recover from trauma and learn healthy communication skills?
Even before grad school and my further readings in psychoanalytic theory, I formed a hypothesis that 1) the passive aggressive always disagrees, and 2) the passive aggressive’s disagreement always shifts.
Sure enough, as I expected from my experience closely observing a severe passive aggressive personality who, in June 2013, insisted on his “right” to abuse his children and sneered at my prior investment in psychotherapy before attempting to benefit from my poverty by attending low-cost counseling sessions, but, by October 2013, only if he could mutually disrespect everyone’s time by raging his monologues at the counselor instead of at me, and, like a small child desperately seeking his mother’s attention, alternately begging me to attend his individual or marriage counseling sessions with him, while nevertheless continuing to dismiss my educated expertise in psychoanalytic theory and my recommendations for therapists with experience resolving interfamilial conflicts, attempting to force further time away from my job search by forcing me to attend blame-his-victim solitary “counseling” sessions with an as-yet unnamed and poorly educated “counselor” of his choice, his passive aggressive behavior rewarded in January 2014 by the youthful house call from Idaho’s Department of Mental Health, and, from February to mid-May 2014, refusing appointments with any therapists recommended through my research for competent psychotherapists or contract negotiators somewhere, anywhere within relatively populous Ada County if not the entire State of Idaho, instead continued blaming me for long-running disputes in his marriage with access to capital and labor rigidly divided by gender that resulted in his adolescent and young adult children replicating their grandparents’ and parents’ bad behaviors, and by June 2014, a full year after I quite thoroughly answered my sister’s question – “Do you have any ideas?” – about what to do about her teenaged son who alternated between servile obedience to his mother’s wishes and sneering disregard of her more educated and experienced opinions, my brother-in-law disregarded the opinion of the psychiatrist employed by the state mental hospital, and insisted that I still needed to be “cleared” (in his electrical engineering lingo struggling to wrap its brain around the nomenclature of human psychology) by still more state-licensed mental health professionals, and would require me to attend weekly sessions with still not a therapist of my choosing, but still more bureaucratic clerks from the Department of Mental Health, who would, according to my brother-in-law, help me develop a “plan” for my job search curiously similar to former Microsoft engineer Gayna’s “plan” for abject poverty, never mind that the only obstacle interfering with my job and project applications was my brother-in-law’s continual demands on my time, his logic further contorted by the retinue of Department of Mental Health employees who described my actual, lived professional experiences as “delusional” while expending no effort and, in the case of Ada County Sheriff Deputy J. Roach, actually prohibiting Judge ______’s review of my cv or portfolio, a judge befuddled by what healthy communications have to do with mental health, thus likely not qualified to review my portfolio in any case, yet without whose approval he would not resume my access to toilet paper, but had shifted from blurting in lieu of welcoming me to his household in January 2013, “I’m not going to help you find a job” to dictating that my job search would disregard my education or my post-graduate dramatic gains in confidence and professional development or that lie of Title IX, my own career goals, by hiding my light under a bushel and returning to my survival job seeking efforts of 2009, that included office management positions, while hoping for a different result, yet irrationally without access to telephone or transportation, and further demanding that I restrict my job search to Boise and Ada County, an inhospitable city and county that I plan to remain as far away from as physically possible even if it means crawling on my hands and knees or hitchhiking out of this savage state, unless or until Governor Otter, Meridian Police Chief and Mayor, and the Ada County Sheriff personally apologize to me for the failures within the state’s systems of social services, education, and criminal justice publicly and in writing, making concrete policy changes so others will not suffer as I have suffered at the hands of incompetent or mentally unhealthy or sadistic taxpayer-funded employees, and if they need help rewriting those policies or better educating those employees, well, I’m available for professional work in exchange for professionally contracted remuneration, and, “WE NEED A CONTRACT,” he raged over the telephone a full year after I observed that he and my sister were not upholding their terms of our contract, but after my release from the state hospital he was still not prepared to define, let alone renegotiate, those terms: How many hours per week? In exchange for how many squares of toilet paper?
“I WANT— I WANT— I WANT— I-I-I-” most of my brother-in-law’s sentences began during that telephone conversation, the severe narcissism of passive aggressive communicators who cannot comprehend other human beings as anything other than objects to shove around their chessboard of life.
Not once did he ask, “What do you need?”
Or, “How may I help you?”
Nor even, “Are you feeling suicidal?”
At that point, where the state mental health professionals had proven unwilling to do their jobs, I even offered to meet with him with his personal “counselor” who had been allegedly advising him that our relationship was codependent, before suggesting methods his client could use to accelerate his violence against me.
“THAT’S NOT IN YOUR BEST INTEREST,” he raged instead, avoiding yet another opportunity for conflict resolution, before he spun from avoidance to the blame station of his passive aggressive volvelle, providing further evidence supporting my theories even while raging about me during another call that I was not able to intercept, “She just sees the world WRONG!”
My recommendations for counselors whose clients come to them seeking to blame the victims of their abusive behavior: first attempt to determine the structure of power in the relationship; who is in the structurally more powerful position? Is your client a white, property-owning male? Then likely he is in the position of power-over, however much he might delude himself into thinking that he is the biggest victim in his household. A few examples of healthy communication responses as alternatives to encouraging or applying your professional sanction to abusive behavior:
- I cannot help you resolve a conflict without first hearing the other perspective. But while you are here in my office, what we can do is focus this time on you and your communication skills.
- I cannot help you resolve a conflict without first hearing the other perspective. Would you like to reschedule a time when your sister-in-law [or wife or daughter or sister or significant other] can attend a conflict mediation session?
- You’ve described a conflicted situation from your perspective. Can you tell me the same story but imagining yourself in your sister-in-law’s [or wife’s or daughter’s or sister’s or significant other’s] shoes? How would she describe the same situation, do you think?
Because if you think I have not applied the same diligent work ethic that I learned from a scientist one generation removed from the Nobel prize and at least four times the effort of graduates from the state’s flagship institution of higher learning or everything in my power to rise above the oppression of familial abuse, ignorance, and poverty to regain basic human agency in our post-Great Recession era, you might be ingesting the same methamphetamine as your clients’ children or grandchildren or maybe hitting the ol’ antidepressant medicine cabinet a little too hard yourselves. And those pills are interfering with your ability to think critically, focus on your work, and listen to your clients. Because when the conflict comes down to time and basic hygiene, you are likely:
4) Aiding and abetting crimes of domestic violence or human trafficking.
Counselors, it is your job to be more emotionally mature than your clients. That’s why you’re called a “counselor.” Yes, I empathize that your job can be challenging. Personally, I prefer the term “psychotherapist” or “therapist” for short. I just think they sound more professional. Either way, isn’t “counseling” one of those jobs required to report familial abuse? But to whom? To what state authority in Idaho, where the Department of Health and Welfare is visibly committed to accelerating familial abuse into problems unsolved by public health and criminal justice generation after generation after generation?
Avoiding the problems of the abuses within the state’s system of health and welfare or assisting a healthy, albeit impoverished, client abused by that broken system, the state psychiatrist and clinician shifted their attention to their standardized bureaucratic forms and release process:
The state chauffeurs former clients, no longer shackled, via H-plated – that designates state hospital – vehicles to regional Department of Mental Health offices scattered throughout the state, where, according to the state psychiatrist, they are interviewed by yet another Designated Examiner, who will ostensibly follow up with 30 days of outpatient care.
While Dr. Olnes and his clinician were able to reassure me that the regional mental health examiner did not have the authority to immediately recommit me, in one incessant revolving door of incompetence, police officers or the state’s Designated Examiners do hold that authority if they observe “manic” or “delusional” behavior. Sooo, other than refraining from describing my biographical experiences while in the presence of taxpayer-funded, poorly educated, and inexperienced employees, what behavior would the state like me to change?
“So. Talk. Real. Slow. And don’t use multisyllabic words?” I queried.
My deadpan expression may have been seen as sarcastic, but I have no intention of wounding anyone. I genuinely do not know what behavior might result in imprisonment in this totalitarian state-? After listening to the story of my exit interview, another ward of the state sagely warned, “’Multisyllabic’ is a multisyllabic word.”
Maybe I should have followed the advice of Hailey’s town drunk, released prior to transfer to the state mental hospital thanks to the intervention of a caring, tolerant family, “Just answer their questions: yes. Yes. No. No. Yes. Yes.”
Indeed, when Dr. Olnes questioned if I was feeling suicidal, and I responded still, “No,” I privately wondered why that negation was accepted as rational response, after Mr. Stanciu rejected my repeated requests for internal department review and competent police investigation as mentally ill “perseverating” and “denial”-? At the end of my month-long incarceration, the state’s mental health professionals were still unable to communicate to me which of my behaviors would result in more violations of my constitutionally protected freedoms.
Is it writing? So then I must refrain from writing anymore cover letters in perhaps futile hopes of obtaining living wage employment sometime before I reach the age of retirement? Writing this blogpost might result in still more state abuses? I wish I could be more concise about the state’s abuses; unfortunately, this is but a mere synopsis of the systemic abuses within Idaho’s systems of education, mental health, and criminal justice. Didn’t there used to be a constitutional amendment protecting freedom of speech? Oh, yes. Just not in my brother-in-law’s dictatorship. Or the sovereign nation of Idaho. Or the Kingdom of LillyGlaxoSmithKlineMerckPfizer.
Is it my knowledge of feminist theory? If it helps, while I think I know the theory well enough to teach it to the teachers burnt out from teaching at the university level, and schools of social work or departments of psychology would be well advised to include some grounding in human sexuality and gender in their programs of curricula, I no longer self-identify as a feminist. Nice in theory, but I have yet to see it work in practice. Too many unrecovered trauma victims claiming that identity without better educating themselves in its philosophical theory, in practice every bit as abusive as the abuses I have experienced at the hands of rabid anti-feminists.
What I learned through this experience is that I am at risk for incarceration if I report crimes to the police. Calling 911 in an emergency further endangers me. Following gubernatorial elections or voting might accelerate the state’s abuses against me.
Which is a pity, because much as I anticipated the outcome of the Obama-Romney race just by comparing the Obama O against the Romney R, I also predicted long before the May primaries coinciding with my incarceration in Idaho that the U.S.S. Fulcher would never set sail, simply by visually analyzing the desperate red phallus separated from the rest of the candidate’s identity:
And look at that little duck quacking in the counterform of the R.
After my experiences in Washington working with the successfully elected Democratic candidate who was unable to communicate her wishful, idealized identity without my professionally educated, trafficked labor, and whose refusal or inability to answer my direct questions about how she intended to go about resolving problems in education in an era when adolescents are raping or killing each other or themselves prior to high school graduation, and her inarticulate response recently cost Seattle School District a $700,000 settlement to a female student raped by a male peer who, much like the highbrow art critic or lowbrow serial killers, readily described to international press his inability to identify the victim of his criminal behavior as anything other than an object, I welcome the opportunity to work with an ecologically minded Republican client who reuses his historic print collateral, solid in his identity as communicated via this beautiful hand lettering – the attention to detail! – and maybe he understands how it can take six years to identify complex, systemic communication problems, and is looking to contract with visually educated designers to deploy solutions to the communication problems throughout the state’s cross-disciplinary systems of social services, education, and criminal justice:
But will the bootstrapping, individualist, lone cowboy myth still lasso an audience of Idaho voters? If Governor Otter is genuinely committed to rewarding innovation, creativity, and what works for Idaho students – K through Career, the written content promised by his campaign web collateral, I am not seeing that creativity anywhere in the state’s badly designed site. And technology left to its own devices does not seem to be holding to its much touted promises of economic revitalization:
What tools does Mr. Otter need to add to his arsenal to overhaul Skittles School before our mental health juridical system erases too much more creativity and innovation?
And no, I cannot recommend the creative direction of the narcissistic director of Boise’s public art program who could not design her way out of a paper sack, who, like Ms. Dalrymple, apparently forgot to read the same human resources professionals I’ve read who recommend contacting potential employers by identifying problems as well as how you would go about solving them. The success of her business ventures all rely on unpaid labor, and her personal portfolio looks not as well educated as the work I was producing in high school, long before college education, let alone grad school at Idaho’s flagship institution, Governor’s award for the arts and overseas travel notwithstanding. Or maybe those HR experts worldwide assume that candidates write to an audience of healthy human beings, rather than passive aggressive martyrs who alternately complain, then boast, about their taxpayer-funded jobs to candidates better qualified, better educated, harder working, and job seeking? And this is adjunct business-as-usual labor at Nike Boise State University-??
If these look like your community’s best results from a call for public art, maybe the problem is with the artists, or maybe the problem is with the communication between public and manufacturers of art in a state’s capital city that cannot find solutions for its communications problems with its homeless women outside a court of law:
That guy on the left can’t even draw, but you’re still going to consider paying him taxpayer dollars to build in three-dimensional space-?? The other two have learned how to operate software, but does the public really need an art-object to ker-plop in the town square, or do we need to begin considering the aesthetic of our communities, the community as art, revealing both the trauma our communities are suffering and seeing public art budgets as an opportunity for repairing those internal and external communications?
If those were the results I was getting from my first-year students by semester’s end, I would rethink my approach to teaching or external communications or rewrite my assignment or creative brief, rather than blaming the students, stamping my foot, and insisting on my “rightness” by spewing monologues of how to respond to RFQs or RFPs. Maybe consider promptly answering Twitter inquiries from artists with experience managing NIH, private foundation, and construction project funding about the revised deadline for application after your first round produced such abysmal failure? A direct question via Twitter gives you an opportunity to market your project goals to not just one human being, or even the slim roomful that might attend your raging monologues, to the world beyond your local television media. Or keep doing what you’re doing. While hoping. For. A. Different. Result.
Three samples of my former students’ work from their first or second semester foundations:
“Mania”-? “Talent”-? Or effective teaching and hard work from attentive learners?
Maybe the state psychiatrist was just distracted from his time off the previous week, neglected to read my notes, neglected to refer to his own notes, and the clinician focused on her time off the upcoming week, when logistics for my release were delegated to yet another mental health professional. The new-to-me clinician seemed unfamiliar with the release process, which left state hospital staff communicating those logistics with patients as poorly as Intermountain Hospital communicated court appearances and transportation and blood draws and psychotropic side effects with their prisoners. I requested a 45-minute advance wake up call for the morning of my departure for traveling across the width of the state.
“Talk to the nurse.”
Again with the lapse in the hospital’s internal communications, delegating those communications to their patients. Or yet another teeny, tiny example of the mental health professionals holding their patients to a higher standard than they expect of themselves.
“Who is the nurse?”
“I can’t remember who’s on shift,” the new clinician responded.
State hospital staff do not communicate their job titles or responsibilities by color-coding their uniforms or via the graphic design of their identification lanyards or any other means visible to a graphic designer even more alert and searching for those signs than perhaps their usual clientele. Patients learn who does what mostly by observing staff actions. As far as I could tell, overall, but not always, the nurses were the mental health professionals who were bitchier than the overall, but not always, more pragmatic psych techs.
Asking for a print edition of a national or statewide newspaper rewarded me with a blank stare from a mental health professional in the midst of his 16-hour shift, as if I might be crazy for wanting to know what goes on in the world, followed by his illogical question, “Do we print a newspaper here?”
Asking for music other than shrieking, staticky pop or revisited rock radio tunes that were not improved since they first played in my youthful 1980s resulted in the illogical response to someone new to Blackfoot from another state-employed mental health professional, “What station do you want?”
“I am not familiar with the stations out here. Can you get any jazz or blues or classical, even NPR news?”
Followed by a revision of his first illogical question, asking if I wanted the call letters for a particular station.
Am I speaking too fast, or does the state employ a lot of folks whose synapses are not fully firing across their gaps? Maybe the mental health professionals are themselves dipping too frequently into those brain-damaging magic medicine chests?
From the new clinician, the royal, “We’ll need to check with the afternoon nurse. I think it’s Jacqueline.”
Is the afternoon nurse the same as the early morning nurse? Would the afternoon nurse manage to communicate with the morning nurse before morning? Hoteliers all over the world manage wake up calls and printed menus for their guests; maybe Idaho psychiatric facilities could stop acting as if they need to reinvent the wheel and take a cue from the hospitality industry of my misbegotten youth? Or what is the protocol for taking a shower and gulping a cup of imitation tea before being loaded onto a moving van like a piece of furniture?
Does the state hospital also privately contract with its pharmacy? On my discharge notes they billed drugs I was not prescribed, did not request, did not receive, and further, like the psychotropic meds, would not have taken without the state accelerating its threat along that spectrum of violence. Not out of Mr. Stanciu’s misuse of the psychiatric term “paranoia” but because I am better informed by my education and greater experience. Database error? Communications problem? Or more widespread corruption?
(More research needed.)
The new clinician ascertained that if I elected to be dumped into the desert at Region III instead of Region IV, my regional Designated Examiner would be neither Belinda Dalrymple nor Lawrence Stanciu, but a Deena Baldwin, then coerced my signature on a form – sign this or we will not release you – granting permission for the hospital to release updates of my mental progress to a mental health patient who has been the recipient of 13 years of state-mandated meds and 13 years of state-sanctioned “counseling” sessions provided or contracted by the Department of Health and Welfare. So the department should be well apprised of the state of that trauma victim’s mental health and well aware that she is not competent to receive updates on my status.
I revoke that permission.
Despite my repeated requests of various staff as my last afternoon and evening at the state mental hospital lagged through another shift change, my morning shower was still disrupted by staff beating on the door to tell me to hurry up, and threatening, “…or the van will leave without you.”
“I was told the arrival was 6:00 a.m.-?”
“Oh, they usually come at 5:45.”
But staff from the previous day were unfamiliar with the “usual”-?
“…and they’re here now.”
No tea before I was hustled, hair dripping, onto the waiting van. The cafeteria had so thoughtfully packed a sack breakfast and lunch for me, albeit forgetting that I opted for vegetarian diet throughout my stay, and I do not eat corporate sugar- or salt-laden food product. More firmly than ever convinced of the interrelationship between mind and body wellness as impatient state personnel managed to load three passengers and all of our belongings and still pulled away from the building while the van’s dashboard clock registered just 5:43.
No need to send male staff down the women’s hall to beat on the shower door.
No need to passive aggressively threaten patients with a week’s longer incarceration while they are coming out of the shower.
Plenty of time for humanely sipping a cup of tea before the departure time that staff communicated to their patient not 24 hours earlier.
“Oh! You. Don’t. Have. Meds,” the van navigator observed half a day later, ticking through her clipboard list while dumping me at the door to the Department of Mental Health Region III office responsible for protecting the community from my future “manic” or “delusional” episodes. As if astonished. As if she had never heard of a state hospital release without ongoing pharmaceutical experimentation. As if our dialogue during the drive had flowed in one of her ears and out the other, unchecked by grey matter.
Does she always suffer anxiety attacks when dropping down off the interstate and finding her way around an unfamiliar town to deposit another patient at another facility? Despite the sophistication of our mapping technology readily available in the 21st century? Where is the app assisting human beings with making our life decisions in love rather than in fear?
Is the State of Idaho deeply invested in canning tuna-safe dolphin?
How deeply are public interests vested in private pharmacological profits?
(More research needed.)
Inside the Region III office, no Deena Baldwin. No exit interview planning a better strategy for survival, expectations communicated by the state psychiatrist. Instead, I was greeted by Rod Scott, LSW, who impressed me as being peculiarly bright-eyed and overtly familiar with me, as if we had met somewhere before, though he looked unfamiliar to me. But maybe I was just tired after surviving a month denied my constitutionally protected freedoms, imprisoned in mentally, physically, and spiritually unhealthy environments, and force-fed brain-damaging medications-?
In lieu of the interview schedule that state hospital staff could not coordinate with the Region III office, Mr. Scott or his youthful receptionist gave me an office-wide generic business card that boasts community outreach but lacks 21st century digital media contact information. On reverse, my interview appointment with Deena Baldwin was replaced with a Kathy Curtis and delayed to the week following:
While incarcerated with me at Intermountain Hospital, Rebecca* offered a “place to stay until you get on your feet” after hearing my story of my abusive home environment. I negotiated to rescue my cat, my computer, and my journals from my family’s compound. In return, she asked for my assistance learning healthy communication skills, and mediating her interpersonal conflicts, where 13 years of state-sanctioned counseling services had proven thus far ineffective.
“Because you know about relationships,” she judged from our conversations, my portfolio, and observing my interactions in groups, with staff, and other patients.
“You understand that I situate myself somewhere between Buddhist thought and the ancient Greek pantheon?” I queried, respecting her many references to Christian scripture.
“That’s fine,” she promised, wide-eyed and indignant that my Mormon family had responded to my daily meditation and prayer with fear masked by rage after verbally promising to respect our religious differences before I agreed to return out West from Maryland, “As long you’re not worshipping Satan-?”
“Definitely not. You also understand that I have no money to contribute to your household?”
“Just until you get on your feet,” she reiterated.
Noticing that Rebecca never missed the 6–9 daily smoke breaks scheduled by Intermountain Hospital, discriminating against nonsmokers’ access to outside and fresh air, I explained that my lungs had been injured in grad school, thus I could not live in a smoking environment. How would we resolve that conflict?
“I do not like smoking in my house,” Rebecca repeated emphatically, after stating that she smokes on her porch. Not the first time I’ve met victims of traumatic childhoods who, trapped at the oral stage of psychological development, self-medicate by smoking outside so the lingering odor does not permeate their clothing, carpet, or house furnishings.
Via speaker phone conversation with Rebecca and her significant other, I briefly explained my experiences introducing at a global design conference healthy communication skills unknown to Boeing executives and obtaining from my university drawing students trauma recovery results comparable to Harvard-educated psychologists. Then I suggested their first “homework” assignment so they could begin working toward healthy relationship even before my release and the opportunity for meatspace work on healthy communication, relationship mediation, and conflict resolution:
“Separately, sit down and write what it is you want in relationship. Don’t show each other yet. Take your time. No rules. Spelling doesn’t matter. Grammar doesn’t count. Maybe just a list. Maybe more narrative writing. Maybe just stream of consciousness. Define what it is you want.”
“We’ve done this before,” Rebecca’s partner’s voice crackled through her speaker phone and down the fiber optics of Intermountain Hospital’s degrading wire, “It doesn’t stick.”
“This stuff is really hard work,” I empathized, highly aware of the psychiatric facility’s staff propping open the door to the smoking cage and pausing in the doorway to their fishbowl office to better overhear one side of our telephone conversation while I described my education in psychoanalytic theory and healthy communication skills that exceeded many of the staff’s own passive aggressive communication skills and the rudimentary education in human psychology requirements for undergraduate degrees in social work. Readily acknowledging, even embracing my own flaws or vulnerabilities, where the mental health professionals seem determined to live in denial, insisting on top-down dictatorial change of the patient rather than continual self-reflection, open to learning and growing, “It’s not just you. It’s everybody. We’re all just working on it. It can be very helpful to have a third person, a neutral party, to mediate, to listen to both of you, to help you hear each other.”
From Region III to Rebecca’s cramped shack inherited from her grandmother, I added immeasurable qualitative data evidencing my theory of the correlation between visual illiteracy and multigenerational child abuse, finding not the in-progress garden from the previous month’s promise, “Well, it’s just cheat grass now, but we’re working on it,” instead, dried stubble embroidered with goat weed and thistle, chest high in some areas, a yard littered with open boxes, their contents blowing in the breeze and disintegrating under the elements, discarded tires, weathered scraps of wood pierced with rusting nails, broken chunks of statues, splintered patio chairs, and a front walk obstructed with pieces of falling-apart particle board furniture leading to a porch so crammed with thrift store kitsch, debris, and cigarette butts that there was no longer a place for Rebecca to smoke outside. Visually, Rebecca’s home shared many commonalities with how my brother-in-law’s abusive mother chose to design her interior environment before she grew too decrepit to clean up after herself, with the major differences being not level of education or behavioral skills but overcrowding and budget shrunk from suburban middle class to severe poverty.
Aesthetically unappealing or unhealthy environments are design decisions. As well as evidence of behavioral choices.
Abused and abusive individuals will design for themselves abusive environments; ugly, cluttered, or unsanitary environments contribute to feelings of overwhelm, depression, or frustration, which is a low-grade anger. Traveling along that spectrum of violence, thinly repressed anger will occasionally – or frequently – erupt in rage. Aesthetically unappealing environments form a cause/effect feedback loop with the subject self whirling around the passive aggressive volvelle or trauma narrative, blaming the hazardous or toxic environment on any available other or some mystical outside force.
Indeed, rapid changes since the last time we’d spoken via telephone, two of Rebecca’s adolescent grandchildren had fled her adult children’s abusive home environments, seeking shelter in an uninsulated barn on her property, and one of her sons had issued a no-contact order against the other, who had returned to jail after trashing her house after his release from prison. Gone was her verbal contract to refrain from smoking inside, replaced with a martyr narrative blaming her behavior on her son’s violence and describing the clutter on her front porch as too depressing for sitting outside, without acknowledging that the visual chaos of her home is her responsibility, so similar to my mother irrationally blaming her passive aggressive communication skills on her son and my older brother.
While my cat had been rescued from whatever fate awaited her with a family that did not care whether or not she defecated in their living room, with my concerns for her well-being ignored by the same state-sanctioned animal abusers who deprived me of my constitutionally protected freedoms and, time and again, patronizingly reassured me that my strictly indoor, one-eyed cat would find food outside, fending for herself, all the while hypocritically lecturing at groups of mental health patients about the therapeutic benefits of caring for pets, I discovered my cat had lost likely several pounds through the trauma of our separate but shared experience, her coat lackluster and dull from dust and cigarette smoke, the outline of her ribs visible, and chunks of fur falling out.
“But we even rescued your cat!” my sister raged at me during one of their marital tennis matches, before she was interrupted by her husband chastising her for speaking in anger.
I wish he had held himself to that same high expectation.
A question I am fully prepared to ask in open court: may we hear the completion of that logic: so therefore my own family should be entitled to treat me like a slave?
I predict that answer, from watching my sister and brother-in-law still visibly vying for who gets to be the bigger victim in their marriage after my release from the state mental hospital and a full year after I first drew their attention to the acting out behaviors of their teenaged and young adult children, will be a litany of martyred complaint about what oh poor little victims they are of my sharing judgments that disagree with their own.
Follow up question: and who was in the structurally more powerful position in the relationship?
And may we agree that simply describing our individual experiences or differing perspectives is not abusive?
Or do abusers follow one set of rules for themselves, while dictating another set of rules for their victims, depriving their victims of the right to speech?
A month is about nine or ten times longer than I have ever been separated from my feline companion since I rescued her from certain death within the cat colony that congregates by the side of the Umatilla River coincidentally the same day that I explained to the print production manager of the regional newspaper that, if the publisher wanted my assistance with designing his paper, then maybe she could explain to her screaming sales staff that we have computers and software better able to find the center of any ad layout than their visual acuity, and if they wanted me to shift a line of type still a fourth time while still meeting her production deadline, then instead of raging at me to center the copy according to what looks good to them, perhaps they could tell me by how many picas or fractions of an em precisely would please their ad-purchasing client, then celebrated the opportunity to better focus on web development for a law firm and preparations for grad school by eating lunch al fresco coincidentally with one of my “delusions” – according to Meridian Police Department, the Ada County prosecutor, and an entire system of State of Idaho passive aggressive mental health professionals who make their diagnoses by their subjective autobiographies among other stories they tell themselves in their creative three-ring binders rather than researching data readily fact-checked in this era of 21st century digital media – or, in the real world, one of your former students, that prosecutor son of ex-FBI parents, who pointed out during lunch at the park a mother with maybe her boyfriend, maybe her pimp, maybe the father of her two young, angelic toddlers, talking so loudly and so rapidly that I privately wished I could tell her to please shut up, as I tried to protect the one-eyed, bacteria-riddled, flea-infested kitten from an abusive mother, “That’s what a meth addict looks like.”
Now I have a much more nuanced picture.
Exterior chaos spilled into the interior of Rebecca’s home. Kitsch and clutter combined with dust and ash, with the aesthetic of abuse reaching its zenith in the heavily trafficked utility rooms, a kitchen that doubled as laundry, and one bathroom for a household that ever expanded with visitors trooping in and out 24 hours day and night. Grandchildren and their associates, decorated with prison tattoos with males sporting red kerchiefs dangling from the back pockets of their pants and females in skintight apparel and generously applied liquid black eyeliner, shined flashlights across my face as regularly as the staff at Intermountain Hospital. Hoarding issues unaddressed by the state’s counselors were not limited to shoes, handbags, clothing, wigs, costume jewelry, decorative kitsch, ad infinitum, but expanded to food accumulation, where Rebecca’s fear of hunger or insatiable desire to fill a childhood deprived of nurturing exceeded the space in her cupboards and periodically blocked the vents in her freezer, resulting in cyclic loss of refrigeration and flooding in her kitchen. Rebecca exacerbated her laissez faire approach to housekeeping by designing her kitchen so overflowing garbage bins were trapped into a corner apex where a dishwasher that doubled as countertop housing a microwave oven also hid a rat’s nest of electrical cords, thus redefining portable, and met at 90° a makeshift countertop for ever-flowing coffee station. Seeping garbage and years of food stick inside and outside cupboards and flowing across the floor attracted veritable armies of ants and D. melanogaster as well as common houseflies, enemies against which the human being is poorly equipped to win the war.
With my theories on mental illness labels that obscure unrecovered trauma as well as the correlation between obesity and childhood traumatized by poverty and/or lack of nurturing confirmed by worldwide scientific research and my ever-expanding qualitative data collection, maybe our complex network of government-provided and all too often NGO-administered social services could benefit from my hypothesis of hoarding further along a spectrum of collecting, evidence of our death drives – I own all these things, so I can’t die until I sort through my thing-objects – with hoarding symptomatic outside the normal range of fear of death to indicate a childhood traumatized by poverty, and food hoarding in particular as symptomatic of both childhood poverty and lack of nurturing, fear of hunger more than actual hunger, a fear unassuaged by local food banks that enable psychological distress while providing corporate tax relief for outdated food product more than relieving 21st century American hunger?
A question not ready for open court: what prevents us from applying academic theory in a world desperate for healing, rewriting laws governing corporate tax breaks and/or social services?
Needless to say, Rebecca and her significant other had not taken that first step toward healthy relationship prior to my release from state hospital, instead had split ways, a violent pendulum swinging back and forth that repeated every several days over the next few months. Each breakup sent Rebecca into a dark spiral of self-pity wherein she barricaded herself in her bedroom, chain-smoking, sobbing, emerging only to use the bathroom but not to bathe or to refill her inexhaustible coffee cup but not to eat, and ever sharing her trauma monologue into the mobile device that seemed stapled to the side of her head whenever she was not bowed over it almost prayerfully. The hard work of engineers who developed voice recognition software is further discouraging dialogue via a medium unknown to humanity prior to Alexander Graham Bell’s invention not a mere 150 years ago, enabling a culture of post-Freudian trauma sufferers to rage their monologues without hearing the perspective of the other prior to pressing an area of their screen interface visually designed and coded to send.
Goal: colleagues who will reciprocate my respect.
First step: sit down with Rebecca and commit to our verbal agreement in writing so we could move forward to second goal: healthy communication and sanitary living conditions.
But Rebecca had already prioritized other plans.
Before she left behind the chaos of her own home in a tornado of cyclic energy to ostensibly provide care for yet another trauma patient systemically failed by the State of Idaho, education, criminal justice, social services, her church, and her family, I was able to renegotiate her smoking restricted to outside in return for my designing and executing a place of refuge on her front porch.
“Just make it look good to you,” she hollered over her shoulder on her way to her car. Not much I like better than a design challenge. Or an art commission based on the client’s respect for the calibre of my work. In this case, my design solution was limited only by zero budget and available supplies. And she would be “so grateful” for any housecleaning I might provide in her absence, she promised, wide-eyed and earnest.
Probably I should have been more dedicated in my before and after documentation of the work I provided that vastly exceeded the terms of our verbal agreement in exchange for sleeping in shifts in the same location as other human beings, toilet paper, a shower that permitted me to adjust the temperature to my comfort, albeit that began my tenancy ringed in black and its crevices begrimed with orange bacteria that had been there so long it had turned brown, shampoo, flushing indoor toilet, and electricity powering my computer for the ever-dwindling hours per day that Rebecca permitted me to work without interruption from either her smoking or her rages, but maybe that delusional son of paranoid ex-FBI parents would be willing to sign an affidavit witnessing my commitment to a clean home and limiting his legacy of clutter if my written or verbal self-descriptions are too multisyllabic for the State of Idaho?
“OCD?” a state-funded mental health professional leered at me after I patiently waited through the Skittles line at the insane asylum to also request two strips of my evening’s allotment of dental floss – one for my top teeth, one for bottom – his fist gripped at an angle that made it challenging to extract product and clamped so tightly on the container that his knuckles and the tip of his thumb gleamed whiter than the rest of the skin color he inherited from his northern European ancestry.
(Caveat: just in case you do not know already, Professor McConnell, dental floss is not permitted in individual patient rooms or communal bathrooms at psychiatric facilities. Prisoners might collect enough floss to braid together ropes strong enough for hanging ourselves from the light fixtures to escape state-sanctioned abuses. Or so goes the paranoid logic of legislators mandating the policies enforced by the mental health professionals, eschewing physical care for staff convenience and institutional CYA against lawsuits.)
“Or good hygiene,” I answered, flashing a smile that has been admired by a former Chair of the Department of Human Genetics at an institution globally renowned for its contributions to that field.
Maybe we could find some experts willing to testify that healthy genes alone do not result in a mouth free of cavities, inclusive of all of my wisdom teeth? Good for the mental health professionals to focus at least as much of their energy on the nurture side of that dichotomy, where now they privilege nature. Or the sick twisting of nature wrought by pharmaceutical greed. Healthy minds and bodies require healthy behavior; healthy behavior results in healthy bodies and minds.
And about that mental health professional’s controlling, jeering behavior?
Maybe the dentists and the psychiatrists could duke it out?
It will be fun. Like watching Iron Chef:
Above: left, overflowing garbage bins that required lifting up and over the makeshift coffee station in foreground; middle, maggots growing in the roast prepared by Rebecca’s grandson and left for three days in her crockpot that shifted from kitchen counter to top of washing machine (here) and back again, while she alternately raged at him to clean up after himself and raged at me to not create hygienic space for food prep; right, peaches hoarded in the fridge long before my arrival, placed in the sink awaiting disposal in the midst of one multi-day phase of freezer failure.
Below: left, perishables from the freezer stacked on the counter in foreground, with beef tongue simmered from 10:00 pm to midnight and left cubed on a cutting board after another overnight meat feasting frenzy, courtesy Rebecca’s grandchildren; middle, the freezer in the midst of defrosting, with fruit juices collected in the lower compartment and seeping onto the kitchen floor; right, a metal pail that I filled with SNAP-bought ice trying to salvage perishables in front of the window insert air conditioner.
Instead of gratitude, a full day of cleaning her slanting front stoop and clearing at least her front yard of garbage under the sweltering summer sun netted me a sulky, “Well, I’m just going to have to move some stuff baaack,” before Rebecca stomped into her house with her lit cigarette, and continued blaming any given day’s melodrama as an excuse for her continued smoking inside. Her logic? That my daily workouts made my body feel good, and she did not try to stop me from going to the public park to workout, and smoking made her feel good, so I was just being mean in asking for the privilege of breathing.
Bonus, all of the smokers she knows would agree with her.
Reminiscent of my earlier empathetic listening to another monologue from yet another Microsoftie suffering from early male pattern baldness, poor diet and/or daily regimen absent of exercise, and his abusive childhood with his abusive Baptist mother, a doughie white Canadian complaining about change is hard because he was faced with the difficult decision of either retiring in his late forties to buy a yacht and sail around the world or accepting any one of a number of lucrative job opportunities at various exotic cities and the only difference between him and Bill Gates is $40 billion and how he works so hard and all of the plush jobs in social services go to women and minorities, oh poor him, and would I pay my own way and accompany him to porter his luggage and oil his shoulders while lounging on a beach in Thailand?
Bonus, all of the women he knows would agree with him on his stereotypical views of women.
But that’s another story.
Or is it?
Isn’t that the same story of familial abuse with rigid dichotomy of gendered access to capital and power applied to the corporate world?
How much of our screen-to-screen communications have been designed by STEM-isolated individuals suffering trauma unrecovered from their early childhoods?
Rebecca proved equally adept at avoiding direct or healthy communication as my electrical engineering brother-in-law and my former school teacher sister. In two ways healthier than anyone in my family, Rebecca was: 1) able to report, rather than deny or repress, her feelings of anger, and, in her contrite phases, 2) readily acknowledge her raging tirades as abusive communication, sobbing that she was sorry and that her grandchildren or I must know she would never actually follow through on her pendular threats to evict them or me long before I was realistically able to “get on my feet” from ground zero. Anger soon proved to be one of the few emotions that Rebecca had learned how to report, however, and her feelings of anger provided her rationale for acting out that rage. Thirteen years of state-sanctioned counseling had failed to teach Rebecca the valuable lessons of anger. Even more bewildering, oftentimes her cycles of rage were triggered by my behavior that I would describe as doing unto others as I would have others do unto me.
One example, I discovered a 50-lb. sack of onions hoarded from the food bank and abandoned on the sunny side of her yard where they were transmogrifying into onion soup under summer’s blazing heat, attracting a seething mass of beetles. After patiently listening to Rebecca’s repeated complaints about infestations in her kitchen while avoiding my suggestions for improving communications with her family members and changing her behavior to solve those problems, how should I approach the onions? Step back and observe familial interactions until the beetles joined the flies and the ants in her kitchen? Lug the sack of soupy beetles to the curb where they could nestle with the maggots in her garbage bin overflowing days before the city’s trash removal services were due to pass through the neighborhood? Compost, picking any patch of overgrown weeds as the potential garden Rebecca envisioned so zealously walking with Jesus one day after she stopped blaming everyone in her social circle for her feelings of anger?
Composting resulted in another fit of rage first, ask questions later, when it turned out that Rebecca had never composted and did not know what composting means. Fearing the unknown or new experiences, the passive aggressive communicator masks her fear with rage.
Another example, after raging at her grandchildren to clean her house for her failed to illicit her desired changes in their behavior, she harangued her complaints about them to me while I was in the midst of cleaning her house. I first tried expressing empathy. But as I should have already known from long experience with my family, passive aggressive communicators do not hear even empathy in the midst of their tirades. Or expressions of empathy will enrage still further the traumatized subject self determined to be the biggest victim on the planet. “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ME. YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT I’VE BEEN THROUGH,” her fury prompting a philosophical meditation: how well can any one human being ever fully understand another? Much like Cousin Ted’s night of rage in Florida that resulted in the brutal deaths of five women, nothing seems to stop the rage of passive aggressive communicators until their energy burns itself out. Next, as her monologue of complaint about her grandchildren wound down, I tried role modeling healthy reporting of anger, calmly:
“I am feeling angry too.”
“You are?” as if shocked, having not previously considered that any given object of her rage might also have feelings? Or perhaps because I was not acting out that emotion like a temperamental toddler?
“Yes,” still calmly, and still washing dishes by hand while Rebecca lounged against her laundry appliances, “Complaining at me about your grandchildren instead of going to them directly to resolve your conflict means I get to both bear the brunt of your anger and clean up after everyone in this household. Can you understand how that does not seem fair to me?”
Instead of pausing to self-reflect or apologize, Rebecca turned and stomped into her bedroom for another long session of pouting, smoking, and raging into her mobile phone. Rebecca’s behavioral skills reporting anger did not stop her from expressing anger that rapidly escalated along the spectrum of violence: an unrecovered victim of trauma stuck at the martyr station of her passive aggressive volvelle, with no skills for negotiation beyond petulance or rage. Much like my brother-in-law. Or his mother. Or my mother. Or my ex-mother-in-law. Or my sisters. Or a sitting member of Seattle School Board. Or tenured faculty and taxpayer-funded administrators at the University of Idaho.
In her contrite phases, she also expressed “love,” albeit a love that does not come close to my definition of healthy, loving communication that opens a threshold connecting mere mortals with the divine.
Rebecca’s definition: a soggy, clingy, emotionally needy “love” desperate to fill the hole left by the lack of nurturing she experienced in childhood. Thirteen years of state-sanctioned medications failed to help Rebecca recover from trauma she expressed with rage that trailed like a messy umbilical cord yet to be lopped off, the ribbon of her abusive childhood twining its way into all of her adult relationships, as she chose instead to act out the raging behavior of a very young child, emotionally trapped at the age her terror began.
Beneath the label of schizo-affective disorder applied by Idaho’s mental health professionals, I was not surprised to learn, lurks trauma unrecovered from sibling and extended family incest that began as early as age three, compounded by a largely absent and thus idealized father, whose image she now projects onto her definition of God, and a mother who beat her, depriving the victim of her right to speech, forcing the toddler Rebecca to quell her sobs of fear or pain, resulting in her running away from home at age 12, followed by more traumatic events, self-medicating through drug and alcohol abuse, and turbulent adult relationships, before she found her way to licit drugs, the state’s “treatment” plan for the traumas of childhood physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and adolescent acquaintance rape. Her rages directed toward me were nearly identical in tone and subject as my brother-in-law’s rages:
Raging at me to provide still more labor for their households while simultaneously evicting me from their property. Raging at me that their disparate Christian sects are right, and I am, according to my brother-in-law, morally wrong; according to a 13-year client of the Department of Mental Health, an evil spirit surfing on her couch. Refusing to schedule a time to dialogue, instead insisting on raging monologues whenever the mood struck, or scheduling conflict resolution that rapidly devolved into Rebecca’s or my brother-in-law’s raging monologues where, under threat of rooflessness, I could contribute little more than observation. At times, in the midst of their rages, repeating my language, but in a context where terms borrowed from my vocabulary no longer held their culturally agreed-upon meaning. Raging at me about their unresolved conflicts in relation to others. The ever-present threat of petulant insistence escalating into rage if I preferred to focus my energies on my job search rather than family outings. Representatives from their chosen denominations lecturing at me the benefits of Christianity, demonstrating the inability to dialogue institutionalized within their religions. Albeit Rebecca operated on a somewhat louder volume and significantly smaller budget.
Budget differences aside, what do these behavioral commonalities say about the state of my brother-in-law’s mental health?
Psychotropic meds for an impoverished woman raped as a child; security clearance with access to the designs for nuclear weapons in the career history of a white, male property owner. And he thought that power was really cool, ho-ho-ho.
What do the different responses from local law enforcement and state mental health professionals to their common abusive behaviors say about Idaho’s system of mental juridical health and gender discrimination?
A question I am fully prepared to ask in open court: what have federal and state taxpayers purchased with their disability dollars that Dr. Abbasi recommended along with psychotropic medications as a subsistence existence for me?
Thirteen years of state-sanctioned medications and “counseling” have resulted in an individual who spends many hours out of each day struggling to focus on simple tasks like finding her keys, mobile phone, or cigarettes. Day. After. Day. After. Day. The state does not yet trust its fifty-something ward with the responsibility of establishing and maintaining her own budget, contracting with yet another private service agency that physically sent administrators to the house she inherited thanks to her grandmother’s labor to write hard copy checks to her in amounts barely enough to pay her bills: behold our great, paperless society we were promised by the digital technocrats. Until one of her abusive shit-fits resulted in even Ms. Dalrymple’s former employer declining their “counseling” and check-writing services and calling police to remove Rebecca from their place of business:
What does that say about the effectiveness of Ms. Dalrymple’s “counseling” experience?
What does that say about the effectiveness of state-mandated pharmaceutical treatment?
If a drug cocktail that includes Escitalopram, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) intended, its manufacturer claims, to relieve rather than exacerbate anxiety and depression; Abilify, an antipsychotic medication, coincidentally marketed at the outside edge of an alleged arts magnet high school in a community in Maryland where its local arts council is coincidentally directed by the visually illiterate and coincidentally severely narcissistic wife of a psychiatrist employed by the local hospital, to treat symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in adults or irritability, aggression, mood swings, temper tantrums, and self-injury in children as young as six; and Klonopin, a drug prescribed for seizure disorders or panic disorder, and that affects chemicals in the brain that may become unbalanced and cause anxiety without their miracle cure, chemists claim, though a notable quantity of celebrities communicate experiencing the exact opposite effect; plus a seemingly endless stream of prescription painkillers are together intended to result in a patient still suffering, midway through her sixth decade of life, trauma from early childhood sexual abuse, and whose mood appears ever “stabilized” on hair-trigger rage propelled from the martyr station of her passive aggressive volvelle, the state-mandated, taxpayer-funded solution has proven wildly successful.
An early conflict I successfully negotiated between Rebecca and her grandson erupted when she discovered him rummaging through her bedroom to steal her medications, allegedly habitual behavior that her raging at him failed to change. In response, he kicked my newly potted basil from off her front porch and threw his shoes into her yard. As she opened her mouth and took a deep breath in preparation for further raging, I suggested, “How about if we try resolving this conflict through healthy communication instead?”
They both paused.
“Would you like to try reporting feelings instead of acting out on them?” I continued, addressing the adolescent boy first, “How are you feeling about your grandmother yelling at you?”
“What about ME? And MY feelings?” Rebecca shrieked, “I WANT TO BE HEARD TOO.”
“Of course you do. We all do. Someone has to go first. Do you think you can listen to your grandson’s perspective, so you can teach him how to listen to yours?”
Her mouth clicked shut. I repeated my question to her grandson, then circling the yard like a caged animal.
“I understand,” I empathized, “I don’t like to be yelled at either. Beneath your anger, what else are you feeling?”
He kicked at the dirt and slammed his body into a lawn chair.
Guessing that reporting sadness or fear is an unreasonable expectation from an adolescent boy the product of at least four generations of familial abuse, I turned the question to his grandmother, “Rebecca, how are you feeling about your raging?”
“I guess I already feel regret,” she reported, her tone sliding back across that spectrum of violence toward civility.
Then we worked to negotiate a solution – though not my recommended, and not longterm – for the grandson to return to a psychiatrist to renew his prescriptions rather than stealing medications from his grandmother’s room.
A similar conflict over food supply remained unresolved as Rebecca’s commitment to healthy communication eroded as rapidly as her commitment to restrict smoking to outside her home. First I attempted direct communication with her grandchildren, resulting in denial from her granddaughter and avoidance from her grandson as he lounged on the couch in front of the television watching films rated R for their gratuitous violence, unresponsive to my question. Second I sought Rebecca’s commitment to better managing her food supply as my SNAP budget is adequate for my food needs, but not for a household of perhaps six expanding to eight or more individuals who, when they are not killing large mammals, subsist primarily on a diet of sugary commercial cereal product. Eliciting another of her wide-eyed promises, I tried replacing accumulated clutter from the front of her refrigerator with graphic design for communicating that behavioral commitment to the rest of her household:
That seemed to work for awhile. The next time communications failed, I tried editing my design with red Sharpie marker:
That resulted in feedback of my less-than-successful graphic design wadded up in a ball and left on my keyboard with a vernacular response from at least four generations of familial abuse reverting to name-calling and threats:
I probably should have selected a color more soothing than red, maybe a bit like waving a red flag in Madrid?
Rebecca’s whimsical day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-to-minute schedule changes conflicted with her offer of transportation to my 23 June 2014 appointment with Kathy Curtis at the Department of Mental Health, though she permitted me to unclamp her mobile device from the side of her head long enough to call the Region III office, where I left a voicemail requesting to reschedule as soon as possible, at a location within walking distance if possible, and reminding the department that I do not have access to telephone, could they please confirm via email or Twitter?
Instead, Department of Mental Health Region III arbitrarily rescheduled my appointment at their office to 09 July 2014 to coincide with another appointment with Rebecca’s younger son, confirming the appointment via her mobile phone, despite her long history of disrespecting her son’s individual counseling sessions and consistently forgetting to communicate with him in advance of their shared family appointments. Complex communications between various household members lasting probably longer than the anticipated appointment resulted in Rebecca riding away with other friends and leaving her car for me to drive myself and her son to our back-to-back appointments.
Only to find a gas gauge that did not rise to the red indicating empty.
“What would you like to do?” I asked her son.
“I-I-I’m not good at making decisions,” he answered, sweating profusely.
Dressed in business attire and carrying the portfolio that frightened Ada County Sheriff’s office with zero expectation but resilient hope of meeting a visually literate state worker invested in reciprocating care in return for a roof overhead within any community in Idaho, I did not relish a hike through midday July temperatures to the Region III office. State food stamp rules require bureaucrats to travel to their clients if transportation is an issue for the impoverished raison d’être supplying their paychecks, and the state can manage to transport me across its fattest breadth in shackles, but a meeting between a graduate school graduate of the state’s flagship institution and a Department of Mental Health caseworker at a city park or the public library is out of the question?
The state’s matrix for coping with feelings of anxiety I discovered another day while in the process of vacuuming and mopping Rebecca’s home:
Evident from the state’s vernacular graphic design, taxpayer-funded employees prioritize data collection, but does the system work for helping its human clients recover from the trauma of their abusive childhoods?
Another reminder for the data-collecting bureaucrats: that great, paperless society that Big Technology promised?
Personally, with no meds, healthy diet and daily exercise, meditative practice of writing, education that includes a BFA with emphasis in painting and drawing, followed by MFA research in critical theories of identity, trauma, and the taboo, I felt calm that day, calm still later watching Rebecca rage at me how WRONG I was, that she had SO put gas in her tank and she NEVER runs out of gas, calm still further as I practiced. Speak. Ing. Ver. Y. Slow. Ly. So. As. Not. To. Con. Fuse. Or. Fright. En. The. State. Em. Ploy. Ees. While walking 5.4 roundtrip miles, according to my digital device, maybe fewer after rerouting as the crow flies, setting out much more casually attired in the early morning of 11 July 2014, not expecting the department’s exit interview on my demand, but attempting to schedule an appointment in person where all other forms of communication with the Department of Health and Welfare had failed, despite the wide range of communications technologies available in the 21st century. Not unkind laughter and head-shaking calm again when, the next time Rebecca’s granddaughter tried to drive to work, she got no farther than backing Rebecca’s car out of her dirt driveway and into the dead-end street. Saved perhaps her entire property from going up in flames after I rescued the open and not-quite empty gas can where her grandchildren abandoned it beneath tinder-dry bushes in a yard where many members of the household or their guests frequently flicked lit cigarette butts.
Still no gratitude.
Conveniently located near an interstate on/off ramp, pedestrian access to the Region III office passes through small town rural and exurban landscapes and over an interstate overpass. Forget green space or bike trails designed into an urban aesthetic. Erase the romantic notion of the country pastoral. Livestock vie for real estate with petrol stations, fast “food” outlets, and asphalt. Sidewalks are inconsistent at best. Goat weed will outlast humanity. It regenerates faster.
Bushy-tailed and every bit as bright-eyed as I remembered from the day of my release from incarceration, Mr. Scott surprised me by dropping all of his other priorities to immediately meet with me in his office outfitted with not just one but two digital screens. With that kind of responsiveness, it is a marvel he is able to accomplish any of his departmental goals. Contradicting my brother-in-law’s raging insistence that the expertise or resources offered by the Department of Mental Health include no-questions-asked job placement, however, Mr. Scott expressed zero interest in my broad and deep range of skills that I bring to the first firm, institution, or community to offer me professional wages and an iron-clad contract that includes mutual respect in exchange for professional work, appeared thoroughly unprepared to help me develop a “plan” for my job search, let alone follow up on a half dozen other conflict resolution ideas that I arrived prepared to discuss.
No plan. No exit interview. No 30 days of outpatient psychotherapeutic care. Instead, Mr. Scott tried hard sell tactics preaching his personal brand of religion. Not quite connecting the dots that I am a mentally and physically healthy human being educated in psychoanalytic theory who was then fresh from nearly two months of intimate observation of the abysmal failures of his pharmaceutical god, he emphatically reiterated the chorus of the state’s mental health professionals unfamiliar with CDC and WHO advances in the field of trauma research.
“Meds are the treatment the state provides,” Mr. Scott stated, then boasted of his expertise dispensing those psychotropic medications, “I’ve been doing this for 35 years.”
Maybe that means Mr. Scott owns personal culpability for the next Idaho-related homicide/suicide or mass shooting induced by psychotropic prescriptions? Or the criminal behaviors of Rebecca and two generations of her progeny?
Although Mr. Scott seemed to have no difficulty keeping pace with the speed of my speech, he shared his colleagues’ struggles with listening and responding appropriately. Even after I reminded him of my lack of access to telephone, describing Rebecca’s low functionality, impulsivity, irrationality, her struggles connecting cause and effect, keeping appointments, or even finding her keys on any given day of the week, he jovially repeated two or three times his rote-memorized encouragement, “Well, you can always call.”
With what device?
And to accomplish what goal?
“I’m sure mental health professionals wouldn’t just repeat your brother-in-law,” he patronizingly denied the existence of email evidence supporting my perspective, and again avoided further departmental investigation while acknowledging Dr. Abbasi’s violation of physician/patient privilege, “Though they probably did check with your family.”
How sure is Mr. Scott, do you think?
So sure he is willing to stake his retirement on his arrogance?
Refusing to read mass media newspaper accounts critical of the taxpayer-funded system that has ensured his paycheck for 35 years, he abruptly dismissed increasing coverage of the hazardous side effects and systemic social harm of pharmaceutical options as “non-scientific” and whinged, “the media always gets it wrong.” And the peer-reviewed journal Nature? Do the scientists published there get it wrong too?
“I don’t think Health and Welfare is even on Twitter,” Mr. Scott sneeringly dismissed another of my “delusions” wherein I attempted to communicate with the department via social media, and he refused to even glance through my bibliography of research despite taxpayer-funded access to not one but two taxpayer-funded screens on his taxpayer-funded desk.
Hmm, to quote Metro Detective Jeff Rosgen, that’s funny. Because according to Twitter, Idaho’s Department of Health and Welfare established their social media account more than three years previous, in June 2011, as another of their followers, Idaho’s Governor Otter, should be able to confirm on the witness stand. The pixelated version of their vernacular designed identity scaled by cascading style sheets (CSS) interacting with hypertext markup language (HTML) to proportions larger than the departmentally supplied image fairly screams child abuse to a visually literate, psychologically educated, and technologically savvy global audience:
Mr. Scott’s passive aggressive responses to my direct, healthy communication also speak of the systemic failures within the department’s internal and external communications. Could those problems be resolved with technology? Or do passive aggressive state employees need to learn healthy communication skills? Improving their services by hearing the perspective of their clients, even, or most especially, when those better educated perspectives challenge their own? Potentially saving the state untold millions of dollars flushed annually?
“I’m not here to try to persuade you to my point of view,” I replied, hoping my soothing tone would calm Mr. Scott’s visibly increasing hostility, well aware that he is in a position where he could choose to abuse his state’s power to again violate my civil liberties, “My goal today is to find out if we could combine your expertise within the system with my expertise with job hunting and professional development, and together brainstorm a solution that’s best for everyone.”
“We gave you a choice,” he sneered, deriding my poverty, “Where you are, or the homeless shelter in Boise.”
(Dr. Olnes actually did not try to force me into that abusive option, though he did refuse to assist with pursuing my ideas for healthier options building healthier communities.)
Rather than pointing out the failures of Boise’s homeless shelter and its cost to taxpayers with a low-level bureaucrat so clearly committed to exacerbating rather than solving social problems, I switched tactics, tried flattering Mr. Scott’s enormously fragile ego by complimenting the efforts toward economic revitalization visibly evident in the architecture and landscape architecture of Ms. Dalrymple’s hometown’s historic district, before explaining that my design and art skills pick up where the community leaders’ skills visibly leave off, and without my skills their downtown will never attract more business.
For example, a wine shop with this poorly educated assortment of typography is likely to lure only determined lushes, or individuals self-medicating from their traumatic childhoods:
Ditto with its interior ambience.
The thing is, if my alma mater’s agricultural extension wants to produce a wine appreciating culture for their vineyard production, that culture goes hand-in-hand with art, music, theatre. Those cultural refinements that are supposed to come along after the generations walking in search of food and expanding the territory-?
The local arts and crafts store sells no supplies that real artists use, and most of the craft supplies are already cheaply crafted by Chinese slave labor, one-third of its retail space devoted in July to dusty plastic Christmas ornament that had not sold in prior seasons.
Bless her well-meaning heart, but the individual earning hopefully a living wage teaching art at the regional community college produces work not as well educated as my middle school efforts, though her students enthusiastically share her enthusiasm.
The local drugstore boasts overhead garage fluorescent lighting that flickers on rows of shelves eerily empty of over-the-counter product, or, as the cashier explained when I queried if the business was trying to go out of business, “Oh, most of our business comes from the [pharmacy in the] back. They hardly ever stock the front anymore.”
Do my readers see the correlation? Do we have readers still capable of connecting the dots? Comprehending gestalt?
Gauging from their formidable architecture, the police and the county jail are doing a booming business, but how well is that working to solve systemic problems of human psychology?
Quoting from this victim-blaming vernacular-designed brochure-speak discovered near the railroad tracks in the near vicinity of the county courthouse, one family “counseling” provider contracted with the criminal justice system claims, “Therapy may be painful and you may experience periods of unpleasant emotions; these emotions are short-lived and will pass with resolution of your problem.” (Emphasis added.)
Therapy should be a life-long process of ever-increasing self-awareness. Therapy should be the hardest and thus most rewarding work you might hope to ever accomplish in your lifetime. The more you have repressed your traumas, the more painful that process will be. Trauma follows the structure of memory and language, repeating, repeating. Best go directly to the heart of the wound, tearing away generations of scar tissue if necessary, rinsing it clean, before you are equipped to regenerate healthy psychic tissue. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not qualified to caretake your journey. You need not be swept away by fear or sadness or their masking emotion of anger as you process through your experiences. Very similar to the intercommunicative practice of teaching and learning, clients will get out of therapy whatever they and their therapists are prepared to put into therapy.
Had I realized this was the “therapy” available to the defendants or parolees within our criminal justice system, I would have been much less enthusiastic about influencing a criminal prosecutor to privilege therapy over punitive practice on every single one of his sentencing recommendations. Maybe not worse than being behind bars, but what a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. I second this parolee’s judgment of such “aftercare” from my educated knowledge of trauma recovery: not worth the price of the train tracks printed over it.
Nevertheless, Mr. Scott shared his judgment of his colleague’s abilities and experience assisting their clients with reconnecting to the community, regardless if that is here in Caldwell or Hailey or still more options, and assured me that he would leave my email address and a message for his colleague Kathy Curtiss to follow up:
Ms. Curtiss or Curtis has yet to reply to my follow up email.
After redirecting me to their badly designed website that provides no more than telephone contact for their Department of Mental Health, the Department of Health and Welfare has yet to respond to my tweet:
From my earlier experiences with Idaho’s bureaucracy, I expect no follow through. I am still waiting for a response to my 2005 letter to Boise’s Department of Motor Vehicles, asking them to encourage their Latah County employees to follow state law and issue my driver’s license in my father’s rather than my then-husband’s name. And that was after one of your former students, an Oregon Deputy District Attorney, researched Idaho law for me, which I printed out to take with me on my second trip to Idaho’s DMV, and still the taxpayer-funded Idaho clerk with a one-a-day Jesus calendar on her taxpayer-funded desk refused to follow secular law. Still no follow through from the office of the Dean of Students after a 2006 meeting ostensibly “mediating” the conflict with my department and a male colleague with anger management and alcohol abuse symptoms, and my then-Department Chair walked out of the session stating he had better things to do [than provide his students with a safe environment conducive to working, research, and scholarship]. That same Dean of Students who publicly twirled around his passive aggressive volvelle after Katy Benoit was murdered by her former professor. His state-salaried “mediator” interrupted me and talked over me at least four times in that meeting. I counted. Speaking for me. Depriving the victim of her right to speech. Dictating at me what it was she thought I was trying to say from her perspective attempting to protect the institution from lawsuits by blaming the victims of abusive behavior, very often the exact opposite of what I had just said. And breaking her own printed rules for conflict mediation. Still no academic review of my 2007 academic petitions. Still no career after graduating with flying colors in 2008 from Idaho’s flagship institution of higher learning and exhibiting my research in Chicago.
Maybe Mr. Scott’s bright-eyed, welcoming grimace reveals a subject self desperate to delineate his difference from rather than find commonalities with quote mentally ill unquote others, the objects of his condescending gaze. This is a guy who works in an office with an ever-revolving door of coworkers who do not know each other well enough to know how to spell each others’ names, yet still he unquestioningly defends their behavior? Or maybe, if Judge ______ is truly concerned about dilated eyes, she may want to order a statewide pee-in-a-cup event for her Department of Mental Health employees?
Despite the Region III office refusing to provide psychotherapy or repair the State of Idaho’s abusive treatment of a client lacking access to telephone or transportation, a stocky white woman not as blonde as she used to be managed to scrounge up transportation to personally deliver to the lopsided porch a little brown paper sack for Rebecca’s younger son. Door-to-door service for the meds. Wearing a perpetually aggrieved expression, that Department of Mental Health caseworker could not remember her client’s name. Not the first visit. Nor the second, again asking for him by his father’s name. Nor still by her third house call for door-to-curb service for pharmaceutical experiments, when she opted to stay in her taxpayer-funded H-plated vehicle and communicate through the window she inched down by degrees, shrieking at me to fetch her test subject for her.
I complied, but not until after completing a sidewalk photo session documenting some of the evidence you see here. Priorities. Boundaries. Courtesy that used to be common.
When I observed to Ms. Dalrymple that the State of Idaho provides more care – in terms of capitalist value – for drug addicts and alcoholics than for graduates of its flagship institution of higher learning – or the thin dataset outside the bell curve of those two overlapping populations – that is a teeny, tiny example of the behavior on which I based that judgment after my analysis of the state’s services. Ms. Dalrymple’s nasal, snarling, passive aggressive denial? You probably guessed already:
“That’s not true.”
While I appreciate that low-level bureaucrats may not be educated enough to be aware of systemic problems within their own departments let alone have the ability to generate innovative solutions, if Ms. Dalrymple wanted my experience to more closely match her personal truth, she needed to jump on my very generous offer in January 2014 to present my research findings to her colleagues so they could get a head start on learning healthy intersubjective communication skills before the state acted on her threat to violate my constitutionally protected freedoms in May 2014.
Interaction among Rebecca, a privately funded, publicly contracted Psycho-Social Rehabilitation (PSR) worker, and myself:
“Can you come in here for a minute?”
To Rebecca’s bedroom, stale with mountains of unwashed clothes, windows shut, a box fan pointlessly churning ash from one corner, the air brick thick with blue smoke.
Just finished kneading bread with the dough still on the kitchen counter, my hands sticky with glutinous flour, I suggested, “How about if you come in here to talk while I’m working?”
“Well, we’re in the bedroom,” Rebecca scowled, cigarette dangling.
“Yes, but I can’t breathe in your bedroom.”
“My PSR worker wants to talk to you about boundaries.”
Negotiate to convene in the living room while I transferred bread dough from counter to an oiled bowl before it could turn into a paste considered archival by bookbinding conservation standards.
Much as I had observed her bodily behavior at an earlier counseling session, Rebecca again lolled about like a truculent child awaiting a lecture, selecting a seat atop a stack of blankets and pillows on her immense L-shaped couch so her feet dangled above the floor.
The PSR worker squeezed into another section of the couch between end cushions and an oversized cardboard box crammed with second-hand children’s toys. Next she complimented my ability to set and reinforce boundaries, then explained at length that she wanted to explain to Rebecca that I make an excellent behavioral role model, “Even how you came in here instead of the bedroom, and started by explaining you’re working, so you can’t talk all day, but you would be willing to sit down for a few minutes.”
“Thank you for the compliment. That’s over 40 years of hard work,” I first basked in it, after enduring so much abuse from my family amplified throughout the state’s mental juridical health system, then asked for more specifics, “What have you noticed about my behavior – we’ve only just met and briefly talked, in passing – that tells you that I’m good at setting boundaries?”
“This is your space,” she indicated my computer on a borrowed, battered desk in the corner of the living room, also the most highly trafficked area of Rebecca’s house, an intersection between entry, kitchen, and hallway to the bedrooms, “And however much other people try to disrupt that, you stick with it.”
Maybe another state-contracted mental health professional who would be willing to testify to my healthy behavior more than a month after my 30-day exit interview and outpatient care that the Department of Mental Health has yet to accomplish?
Likewise, if Rebecca’s own children and grandchildren could be guaranteed freedom from her abusive reprisals, they may be willing to testify to her abusive behavior.
“Can you explain to Rebecca how to set boundaries?”
I hesitated, where I had previously overheard the PSR worker, as she was likely trained by a long line of Idaho school of social work-educated, taxpayer-funded mental health professionals lecturing at Rebecca that she must set boundaries, she must establish priorities. Which is about as useful as lecturing at a three-year-old about acquiring the same skills. She simply does not have that cognitive ability yet. Add 13 years of state-sanctioned psychotropic meds to however many years of methamphetamine and alcohol addiction compounding the trauma of early childhood sexual abuse, is that expectation even realistic? So I said so:
“Well, first of all, I don’t think lecturing at her is going to help. We can both lecture at her, but only she can decide to change her behavior.”
Shortly thereafter, Rebecca’s sunglasses slid off the back of her head to a crevice in the sectional, and she went diving after them, ending the impromptu meeting with the state-contracted mental health professional asking for my professional advice without offering me a contract for a professional wage assisting with her client with the attention span of an abused three-year-old distracted by spectacles that both protect her vision and shield her from the light.
Unfortunately, from my perspective in my precarious position in the household, the PSR worker’s praise resulted in a backlash of Rebecca’s jealousy rather than changes in her ability to set priorities and accomplish goals. If she played the role of the resentful and distracted toddler during that home visit, and I the “good” mother to the PSR worker’s “bad” mother, once the state-contracted social worker departed, that left me vulnerable to the whims of a toddler enraged with her all too familiar “mother’s” praise of the favored “daughter” and Rebecca the “bad” girl once again, the state replicating her childhood abuse and her mother’s lack of nurturing or shaming that resulted in state-mandated medications and counseling in the first place, a never-ending feedback loop of personal and governmental bad behaviors that increase pharmaceutical profit while causing grievous multigenerational social harm.
If that PSR worker would like to further her education in human psychology with the goal of one day helping other human beings, I recommend she either drop out of school or hurry and finish up her program of bubble sheet study, before applying to graduate programs and plan on seeking post-graduate employment somewhere outside Idaho.
More than space, I suspect that mental health professional referred to time when complimenting my ability to set priorities and accomplish goals. Both space and time boundaries were almost continually disrupted by Rebecca’s emotionally needy demands for attention. Ever existing at the martyr station of her passive aggressive volvelle, her whining rapidly escalated along the spectrum of violence into rage, as yet another conflict between Rebecca and her grandson illustrates:
This time I decided better not to intervene for my own safety.
From my vantage point, I missed the initial spark that swiftly accelerated from emotional to physical violence. Rebecca attempted to wake her grandson from likely a psychotropic med-induced afternoon slumber on the couch while she practiced her singing with karaoke backup and I sat at my computer in the corner with my back to the rest of the living room, intently focused on my work. What I overheard was Rebecca repeatedly ordering him from the couch to the bed in her room. When her demand failed to illicit immediate response from him, she insistently accelerated her rage via microphone, musician’s amp, and speakers, noise typically audible halfway down the block on the days her music sessions happened to coincide with my escape to the park for my daily workout. He lunged toward her amp, threatening to destroy her equipment. She fought him off. Their verbal and physical battle continued into the bathroom, where I overheard, spit, slap, spit, slap, spit, slap, many times repeated in addition to Rebecca’s yelling, the sounds of objects falling and breaking, and bodies tussling.
Listen as Rebecca’s grim monologue, her telling and retelling of the event, revolved over time, the initial aggressor increasingly casting herself in the role of victim:
First, in the heat of the moment, standing on her front porch raging after her departing grandson, “YOU FUCKING BASTARD! YOU SHOW ME NO RESPECT! DON’T YOU FUCKING COME BACK HERE, YOU WORTHLESS SON OF A FUCKING BITCH!”
A few minutes later, as the rage began to dissipate, “Oh my god, I can’t believe I was slapping him.”
Continuing in a tone giddy with adrenalin or the excitement of her physical power while still seeking the attention of another, “Did you hear me?”
Justifying her abusive behavior with a martyred whine, “But he was spitting at me. In my face.”
“Another lost opportunity to practice those lessons of anger that we’ve been talking about.”
During a follow up state-sanctioned “family” counseling session that Rebecca forgot to schedule with her adult son, and he refused to attend, placing a healthy boundary on his mother’s disrespect, I agreed to go mostly out of curiosity about the counselor’s PVRJ communications model that failed to communicate or effect healthy communications in her home:
Lodged within the second level of a decrepit strip mall lacking an anchor tenant, bounded by asphalt and sidewalk, a dreary warren of offices with walls half-heartedly decorated with amateur paintings I would be embarrassed to show as even beginning students’ work, business identity and graphics as unprofessional as their newly reposted web collateral, Rebecca’s counselor reintroduced his communications model halfway through the session by asking, “Do you remember the drawing that I did?”
She shook her head, rearranging the curls tumbling from the hairpiece anchored to the crown of her head.
He redrew his vernacular graphic design, prompting her memory.
“…and then you said that I was the predator,” she recalled disbelievingly.
Then she repeated, in a tone still decidedly unconvinced, and notice that she blames her action on the “feelings” – rather, judgments, or perspectives – of her son and grandson, which, much like that same tactic deployed by Meridian Police Department, helps any traumatized subject self avoid owning responsibility for her abusive behavior:
“I must be the predator then. Those boys feel like I am victimizing them.” (Emphasis mine.)
Notice also the verb “victimizing” that downplays, thus further avoids, the action, blaming the victim, whereas “abusing” would better describe and begin to own her first verbally then physically aggressive behavior as it scaled rapidly along the spectrum of violence.
The state-contracted counselor limited his recommendations for resolving the conflict by shaming his client for her role, according to his model, again judging his client to be a “predator,” as if that identity is who she is, rather than describing predatory or abusive behavior as a choice within her power to choose otherwise. To emphasize his shaming tactic, he referenced Christian scripture, while at the same time prevaricated about making a judgment of the abusive behavior as abusive:
“I can’t say if spitting or slapping are bad…”
Spitting and slapping are abusive behaviors.
Call me a prude, but I cannot envision a scenario where spitting and slapping between chronological adults could be described as loving, healthy behavior.
Later in that same session, I asked Rebecca if she recognized slapping her grandson as a repetition of her mother’s behavior toward her when she was a child. Ms. Dalrymple’s colleague disrupted me mid-sentence, his eyes widening in fear, where he had begun the session by stating what my state-assigned clinician at State Hospital South earlier described as another symptom of bipolar disorder, that he could mystically “feel” other people’s feelings, rather than simply asking his clients to report their feelings, or better yet, demonstrating for his clients healthy behavior by reporting his feelings as his own rather than projecting his feelings onto others, and that he was “feeling” some “dark emotion” coming from me, holding up a hand against me as if warding off any mention of the widespread social harm caused by multigenerational child abuse or Freud or Lacan or Julia Kristeva or the mother’s primal role in child development or childhood trauma indelibly shaping adult bad behaviors while he soapboxed Christian dogma for some considerable length at his client and she lolled against his couch, peeking longingly at her umbilical cord mobile phone after he forbid its usage during his session.
I felt so so so happy to have benefitted from the wisdom of an empathetic, emotionally mature psychotherapist recommended by my primary care physician in Salt Lake City during those years I sacrificed advancing my own career to pay tuition dollars for one of your former students.
While the youthful white male Christian counselor got at least one thing right, Rebecca’s relationships are codependent, or abusive, rather than healthy, or interdependent, he missed his own role, to borrow from his vernacular graphic design, as the predator, or as the person in the more dominant position in his office or power-over in relation to his clients, the “counselor” judging and abusing his client by replicating the dynamic of early childhood shaming she received from her mother that fused and confused with her nearly coincident introduction to fundamentalist Christianity at the tender, impressionable age of five. By the end of the session I attended, Rebecca left with no more tools for resolving conflict or healthy communication than when she first arrived, yakking on her ever-present mobile phone, prepared to multitask her way through therapy.
If the state’s licensed mental health professionals cannot identify spitting and slapping as abusive behaviors, maybe the state needs to review its licensing requirements and procedures?
Another question I am not quite prepared to ask in open court: why are state taxpayers funding Christian sermons?
(More research needed.)
“Satan is on me something fierce today,” Rebecca frequently complained, attributing her abusive behavior to a demonic force.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not God,” was the closest she came to apologizing for her abusive behavior, continuing with a petulant litany of her own wounds, “I’m not perfect. I was mad. It was hot. I was tired. [Her partner] abandoned me [as an excuse for taking out her rage on me]. I don’t know why I behave this way,” and so on.
“I know why, and I can explain what’s happening to you psychologically speaking—”
“Tell me! Tell me!”
So reminiscent of a candidate for Seattle School Board post-primaries bouncing up and down in her chair like a small child incapable of making leadership decisions, “Tell me what to do! Tell me what to do! Tell me what to do!”
While simultaneously raging that my educated expertise was WRONG. Before rocketing back to the other end of the spectrum, and benefitting from my expertise without paying me our contractually agreed amount for that expertise.
“—but that doesn’t mean you will understand it for yourself. Let alone change your behavior. Only you can do that. But I do believe you can do that.”
“Well, I hope God will make it so I behave better,” a tentative whine.
“Remember that conversation I have been asking you to have since I first arrived? When can we sit down and talk when you are ready to focus on the conversation?”
Vaguely, “Okay, I’m going to the store right now though…”
More typically, Rebecca would respond to my attempts to schedule appointments with her or negotiate a time that worked for both of us by repetitive use of a phrase that sounded to me like a small child repeating the language of an abusive adult, and certainly her continual demands for my immediate attention at her whim is childish behavior. Repetition that Dr. Rogers or Lacan would recognize as a signifier of the trauma she has suffered, always accompanied by a melodramatic roll of her head, and an exaggerated swing of her hip, her language repeated in physical form, and always sarcastic, almost as if proud of her abusive behavior, “I don’t roll that way!”
What that phrase signifies for Rebecca only Rebecca can say. And she does say. Over and over and over, the structure of language following the structure of trauma.
Another repetitive phrase common to her speech as if repeating perhaps what her mother screamed at the toddler Rebecca in the midst of her beatings, or perhaps a phrase her father raged at her mother as prelude to leaving her childhood household and the child to bear the brunt of her mother’s rage, “YOU THINK IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU.” At the height of her abuse toward me, seeing in my eye the mote in her own, or the abuser paradoxically accusing her victim of the abuses within herself, that phrase expanded to, “YOU ALWAYS WANT TO TALK WHEN IT’S GOOD FOR YOU TO TALK. YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT ME. I WANT TO TALK NOW. IT’S NOW OR NOT AT ALL,” her raging an irrational response, a narcissistic response, a childish response to me attempting to negotiate a time that worked for both of us instead of first thing in the morning before I’d finished my first cup of tea, “I really want to hear about what you have been going through the last several days. Can we talk this evening over dinner?”
The state’s current treatment plan all but guarantees multiple generations of criminal behavior as the traumatized subject self spins around the passive-aggressive volvelle or trauma narrative. Deny. Avoid. Blame. Victim of early childhood sexual abuse rationalizes her adult abusive behaviors while state-employed or -contracted workers replicate the trauma of her early childhood shaming.
Describing the results of her Lacanian analyses of victims of early childhood sexual abuse in The Unsayable, Dr. Rogers reports her successes, “…rather than a cognitive or behavioral therapy, or even psychodynamic psychotherapy. If I’d focused on her narrative as a story, or offered her a relationship with me as a corrective for her early relationships, or attempted to shore up her ego (all components of good psychodynamic psychotherapy), I would not have heard the signifiers of her unconscious. Of this I am certain. And I do not think that [the patient] would have found a lasting answer to her trauma, and to her family’s trauma.”
Offering praise for Rebecca’s singing where song brought a ray of sunshine into Intermountain Hospital’s holding tank otherwise deprived of light and praise, where mental health professionals repeatedly forbade her voice – along that spectrum of violence, shouting at her, and threatening worse, replicating her mother’s abuse – I shored up her ego. After multiple episodes where I was left roofless during her raging, I offered role playing with me as a healthy substitute for her abusive mother, in hopes of disrupting the cycle of martyred raging. As I suspected, this technique must come from a professional in a position of authority over Rebecca, but educated, compassionate, and healthy enough to know better than to abuse that power, working in tandem with a caring, astute psychiatrist willing to gradually de-escalate the state-sanctioned meds currently rocketing through her system and interfering with mind/body/spiritual wellness. Rebecca tells her trauma narrative as a grimly repetitive, nonstop story in which she responds to minute daily conflicts with rage all out of proportion to the perceived grievance, always casting herself in the role of victim. That means she is one step further along her rocky road to recovery than a trauma victim in complete denial, but her story also shows it is not enough to simply tell it, nor even to tell her story to an empathetic, listening other. Rebecca must learn how to hear the Other within her Self before she is able to heal her multigenerational traumatic suffering and stop her cycle of abuse and misery for everyone within her radius.
“Something crucial had happened in the process of treating her trauma in the symbolic space of making images,” Dr. Rogers describes another of her young clients who was already painting before their interviews began. What happens in the symbolic space of making images via the analogue media of drawing and painting are two things: 1) the human brain slows down enough to be fully present, and, if that making coincides with education in visual grammar, then 2) the traumatized subject self no longer relies on the limitation of words alone to communicate the wound experience to the other, as I witnessed time and again in the work of my students, documenting case studies in my MFA thesis research, observing powerful breakthroughs in my students’ socialization, contribution to class discussions, and engagement in their learning always coincident with their increasing mastery of visual communications skills. While infants are born into the language of their parents always already, visual language is more primal than writing or mastering spoken language, stretches further into ancestral memory and across cultures, as shown in the scribblings of preschool-aged children or ancient paintings on the walls of caves.
Rebecca began 23 August 2014 with more whining manipulation under ever-present threat of rage and rooflessness for me to join in her pursuit of mindless entertainments with a white male friend of hers visiting from out of state.
Where explaining my priorities calmly and enforcing those boundaries had failed to dissipate Rebecca’s dense fog of medications and narcissism, I switched tactics, attempting to remind her of my priorities with deliberate shouting, in hopes that she would hear in her own style of language what she could not hear in civil speech, “My brother-in-law has given me ONE MORE WEEK to accomplish what I have been trying my VERY BEST to accomplish for the last SIX YEARS, BEFORE HE PITCHES MY REMAINING POSSESSIONS AND PORTFOLIO.”
“He gave you a deadline??”
“An unreasonable deadline, one I cannot possibly make, but I am still going to do the best job I can.”
“Compassion for my brother-in-law. He grew up with abusive parents in a household with power divided by rigidly constructed gender roles. He’s just transferring much of his repressed rage with his mother onto me.”
“I didn’t know,” the martyr whined her denial of hearing any perspective outside her own, avoided owning her narcissistic behavior, and again blamed the other, her tone snarling and accusatory, “You didn’t tell me.”
“A terrific example of the challenges of communication. From my perspective, I told you that repeatedly.”
“You did not,” from blame to the ever-present martyr station, onward to denial, like a child on a merry-go-round, ready to disrupt still more work time with a stereophonic chorus of “did so” and “did not.”
“I feel so happy to hear that you have finally heard my urgency,” I instead reported my feelings, “Now how about if you go enjoy the fair with your friend, and I will get back to work on my priorities?”
Instead, Rebecca decided to dramatically reshuffle her priorities by shifting my possessions from my family’s compound into a storage unit, without communicating further with me before she was already yakking into her mobile phone.
“Rebecca, I don’t have the money for a storage unit. Could you please put your phone down, so we can talk about this before you make decisions for me?”
“A 5×10 is only $27,” she announced while pressing buttons to another number.
“I don’t have $27.”
“Well, I can manage that.”
“That’s not large enough for my furniture and my portfolio.”
“This one’s next to the Faith Apartments. You must have faith,” she insisted.
“You don’t have the money.”
“But I want to,” she pouted, “You have done so much for me and my grandchildren. And I want you to come to the fair with us today.”
“I have done a tremendous amount of work for you and your household. Thank you for finally appreciating my efforts.”
With the first truckload of my things, sure enough, the smaller storage unit was visibly inadequate for my needs, a larger unit nearly double the expense, plus prorating the last week of August that Rebecca had not calculated into her monthly bills. Still, she insisted on paying for the storage unit, again contrite and appreciative of my contributions to her household.
“I would prefer to contract with you for a project-based fee or hourly amount for work you would like me to accomplish, and you pay me directly, then I can pay the storage unit,” I suggested, after enduring my brother-in-law’s controlling abuse of my time under similar expense/labor conditions.
“I can’t afford that.”
“I know you can’t. You also do not have the money for the larger storage unit. That is why I wanted you to communicate with me before we went to the work of hauling my things over here. Could we talk about this further?”
“But you have done so much work for me. I want to do this for you.”
“I know that’s a lot of money for you. Thank you again.”
Anticipating that the storage facility would require credit card or in-state identification or class stratosphere a distant memory for me, I made the tactical error of allowing Rebecca to contract directly with the facility warehousing my remaining oeuvre, plus furniture, books, and kitchen and studio tools, merely granting me access to my property held in her storage unit via their lease agreement.
That mistake should not cost me graduate and post-graduate educated knowledge and professional work exceeding the knowledge and calibre of work produced by unrecovered trauma victims ensconced as tenured faculty within our institutions of higher learning statewide and throughout much of the nation. I would like that work valued commensurate with my level of education, skill, and time invested.
Costs to add to the State of Idaho’s debt outstanding me?
Once Rebecca had invested capital in my labor, surely then she would begin to respect my time and expertise?
To a rational mind.
Instead, much like my brother-in-law’s attempts to control my priorities, my diet, and my menses, Rebecca’s chain-smoking increased not just inside her house, but in the same room as my computer, further insisting that all of the windows in her house must remain shut through the cool refreshing air of early autumn, as if to control the very air moving into and out of my lungs, while I tried working for as long as I could physically withstand, before escaping to the city parks, her contrition continually rocketing into rage, an abusive chronological adult with the 24/7 demands of an unloved toddler.
During the last hellish week I subsisted on-again, off-again under Rebecca’s roof, her martyr narrative again scaled along that spectrum of violence to rage, arbitrarily deciding that she had paid the $80 for the storage unit fee in advance of my labor, rather than offered as a belated and nominal gratuity for the only person who cleaned her house during the nearly three months I stayed there, and demanded that I work it off in more menial labor than I already freely contributed to her otherwise unsanitary living conditions. Contrary to our initial verbal agreement that she would respect my spiritual beliefs, “I HOPE YOU GET OUT OF HERE. I’M HAVING BIBLE STUDY. I INVITED YOU, AND YOU WANTED TO KEEP WORKING AT YOUR COMPUTER, SO YOU’RE GOING TO HELL,” before rocketing back to contrition, sobbing that she hoped she had not destroyed my acceptance of Jesus and would I please pray with her, offering her a hug until her sobs subsided, after which she described feeling an unconditional, Christlike love through my comfort, or the love of a mother as she had never before experienced, but only momentarily before she was back to rage again, that I was bringing a bad spirit into her household, giving me notice to quit, first a month, then two weeks, then immediately, after my own sister’s unrecognizable martyred whine crackled through Rebecca’s speaker phone, coldly encouraging her to accelerate her martyred rage against me while they bartered about where to install my body as if I am not an intelligent, educated, hard-working human being capable of making sound decisions within the limits of communicated information and living in a democratic nation, but a slave:
“I’M TAKING HER TO THE HOMELESS SHELTER IN BOISE.”
“That sounds like a good place for her.”
“SHE HAS TWO WEEKS.”
“Why not now? What’s going to change in two weeks?”
My sister still blamed me for her husband’s abusive behaviors well over a year after I reported my feelings of sadness observing his behavior identical to my father’s failures as a parent and refused to perform more gardening chores for my family’s compound at the crack of dawn during a week when I had already clocked over 11 hours of household labor. A not atypical week times four weeks per month, that’s an entire workweek of household chores subtracted out of each month from my efforts to obtain a living wage and regain agency that you may take for granted as God-given, but I assure you is purchased in direct proportion to your collection of capitalist dollars, sometime before I reach the age of retirement.
“I WANT YOU OUT OF HERE NOW,” sharing the same tortured logic as my brother-in-law, evicting me from her household, while simultaneously offering to pay for six months on the storage unit, raging at me as she raged at her grandchildren before me to clean her house for her while simultaneously raging at them or me to leave her property, much as my brother-in-law before her dictated at me still more household chores while refusing me even basic hygiene. Our initial agreement for me to introduce healthy communication, conflict negotiation, and relationship mediation in exchange for a roof overhead “until you get on your feet” was stymied by the trauma of early childhood sexual abuse unrecovered after 13 years of state-sanctioned medications and “counseling” as long as the abused child grown into abusive adult Rebecca remained in a position of power-over me.
I was not surprised to hear Rebecca blatantly lying about my behavior to friends, pastors, my family, her extended family, police, or social workers, having previously witnessed as she boasted to me about inventing her older son’s suicidal behavior to manipulate the criminal justice system into transferring him from jail to a psychiatric facility, awarding him the punishment of brain-damaging medications instead of restriction of physical movement. Rebecca understood enough of my situation with my family to attempt to cause me harm by calling the local police to complain at them that I was falsely accusing her of human trafficking. Because in the State of Idaho, local police jail victims of human trafficking. Without comprehending, quite, that the structure of her relationship with her local police is considerably different than the structure of the relationship between a white, male property-owning electrical engineer and his local suburban police department.
What fascinated me was that she would lie about my behavior into her phone while I was in the same room, attributing to me her own behaviors, ever the petulant whine, “She would not stop shouting at me. She doesn’t do any household chores. And she’s eating all my food.” To friends who had previously described my efforts to scrub Rebecca’s kitchen to something if not as clean as I would consider habitable, at least not hazardous to the food supply as, marveling, “This is the cleanest I have ever seen Rebecca’s kitchen.” She further misattributed my contributions to her trauma recovery to her privately contracted, state-funded counselor, bragging into her phone, “I’m getting better. I had a breakthrough in my counseling with Bradley the other day that this all has to do with my mother.”
Perhaps Mr. Midgett had an eclectic breakthrough of his own during the same week that his employer banned Rebecca from their premises? During the counseling session I attended, Ms. Dalrymple’s colleague specifically, even vehemently, steered his client away from exploring the abyss of early childhood trauma or any psychotherapy remotely guided by psychoanalytic theory. Gauging from my visual analysis of his online presentation of his PVRJ model, I find that highly unlikely.
“YOUR SISTER DESERVES TO KNOW WHERE YOU ARE,” Rebecca raged in illogical defiance of my sister’s expressed lack of concern for me or my whereabouts. “YOU HAVE A FAMILY WHO LOVES YOU. I LOVE YOU. YOU JUST NEED TO ACCEPT CHRIST INTO YOUR LIFE AND BE GRATEFUL FOR YOUR BLESSINGS,” almost word-for-word identical to my family’s many verbal and written tirades shaming their children or siblings or grandchildren as substitute for loving communication.
The wound of fundamentalist Christianity: does my wound look like yours? Let’s pull off our Band-Aids and compare. I wholeheartedly accept Jesus. As I explained to Rebecca while we were still incarcerated at Intermountain Hospital, I believe in taking wisdom from wherever I find it, and one of the tenets of Christ’s teachings that I most enjoy is that bit about doing unto others as you would have others do unto you. Would Rebecca like me to force her to pray to my goddesses? Would my brother-in-law like me to imprison him and force him to take brain-damaging chemicals until he bleeds from three of his orifices? Then they should both be good to go with Jesus. If not, it sounds to me like they’ve got some repenting to do to their own definitions of god. Fortunately for them, my goddesses are much more forgiving than what they have shown me of their god. I feel very grateful for the radical contributions of Jesus, without which what would I have learned of the history of Western architecture and art? A direct line from the ancient Greeks to big box stores in their asphalt fields, rewind prior to Michelangelo’s chapel ceiling, fast forward to fluffy dogs playing cards on black velvet, do not pass go, do not collect $200?
Where’s my get-out-of-jail-free card?
Managing one advance appointment for dialogue in her household, Rebecca insisted I meet with elders in her Christian sect after her raging sales pitches failed to net her desired fish. Which denomination precisely I could not say, as she changed pastors as regularly as counselors or doctors and maybe more frequently than socks. I knew in advance the meeting she scheduled coinciding with the 13th anniversary of our North American 9/11 did not bode well for establishing safe four walls. Coincidentally two years to the date after I scheduled an appointment to meet with Sarah Sorensen at Seattle Police Department. An appointment delayed by a day after the Domestic Violence Victim Support Services Supervisor responsible for coordinating schedules for support for the crime scenes most dangerous for police officers in Seattle confused the dates and the days of the week on her calendar for a roomful of “anti-violence” initiates so I did not deduct time from my brute survival to watch her spin through her passive aggressive volvelle on Wednesday instead of Tuesday that year.
Disrespecting even representatives from her own religion, Rebecca was not home when the Christians arrived on time for their appointment. Once she finally wheeled into her dirt drive, spitting gravel and exhaling smoke, she chose the occasion to air a lengthy list of repressed grievances against me prioritized over their anticipated agenda of spreading Christ’s message. Gamely, the male half of the married couple did his best to resolve the multitude of conflicts that Rebecca built up in her mind to rationalize her decision to deny me room at her previously offered inn. Retired from a satisfying career at the Casey Family Foundation that oversees the placement of abused children into foster care where the United States of America has apparently privatized even the care of its most vulnerable citizens as if children are packages to be delivered overnight, you might think he would have quite a bit of experience with interviewing household members, assessing abuse, and resolving conflicts. But of course I am an adult. Maybe he is more experienced with listening to abused children, typically more reticent about describing their adverse family environments than an educated artist and designer who conducted her graduate research in identity, trauma, and the taboo? The retired child abuse case manager’s conflict resolution technique?
Making no effort to hear both of our perspectives, he suggested listening to Rebecca’s martyr narrative in triplicate: 1) as she told it, 2) as her Christian mediator translated her martyr narrative for me, assuming I was not already well-versed in listening to her narrative or was maybe hard of hearing, and 3) once more as he suggested I repeat her words back to her, somewhat similar to my brother-in-law’s unfulfilled commitment to go to counseling but only if he could shout at the counselor. Terrific listening technique, but in healthy relationship, remember, listening works both ways, dialogue rather than monologue:
After an hour or more of this treble monologue, the retired Casey Foundation manager glanced at his watch, and shifted the monologue to Christ’s message. Asking no questions about me or my spiritual beliefs, expressing zero interest in me as a human being, husband and wife took turns sharing at considerable length their personal biographies and conversion stories. If you are certain you are “right” and you just insist on your “rightness” long enough, then your audience will be persuaded to your point of view. Right?
Well, at least the evening was not a total waste: the placement of abused children into foster care receives no oversight beyond the Casey Foundation’s board of directors, currently headed by a former executive from Boeing. The same folks who can’t even listen to their educated design professionals to collaborate on building a plane-? And the shift in direction of the activities of the board that prompted one manager’s early retirement and still troubles his sense of Christian ethics? Seeking and acquiring federal funding to add to their private coffers. Empathetic listening of that insider’s experiences confirmed my suspicions from my visual analysis of their digital billboards installed around the luggage carousels at SEA-TAC.
No further design research necessary.
I repeat, any incongruence between image and text reveals the abuse of an organization’s actions to a visually educated human being.
Finally, the martyr narrative Rebecca told herself to rationalize her slapping abuse of her grandson devolved from blaming his sleeping on the couch for her initial aggression, the martyr position whining for either a rapt audience or privacy for the adult shamed of her voice in childhood, to disbelief (closely related to denial) immediately after the incident, which revolved into avoidance in her counselor’s office, back to blaming the conflict on her grandson, in her memory, as if he initiated her abusive behavior, “He spit at me, so he has to leave my property,” she whined piteously into her mobile device to an ever-revolving succession of friends and extended family. “IF YOU SEE THAT LITTLE BASTARD ON MY PROPERTY, YOU CALL THE POLICE,” she raged at me more than once, requiring me to place boundaries where she failed, “HE’S DOING METH. I DON’T WANT THAT JUNK ON MY PROPERTY.”
I was regularly a victim of petty thievery by members of Rebecca’s household, with her grandson situating himself not all that much further along the spectrum of violence from one of my nephews, “I LIKE TO MAKE FUN OF PEOPLE UNTIL THEY KILL THEMSELVES,” he boasted to me once, while shoveling in mouthfuls of cold cereal that bounced against his teeth and scattered across the living room carpet, before adding, “I FEEL NO REMORSE,” and perpetually threatened to steal my computer. “As a healthy communicator, I do not give you permission to make me feel,” I replied calmly to the first, and to the second, empathetically, “That is because your abusive parents failed to teach you empathy skills. But that does not mean you cannot go out and acquire more skills for yourself.”
“Empathy?” he asked, as if trying out a sound new to his tongue.
During one relationship mediation session with Rebecca and her significant other, I listened while they raged for hours, into the dark of night, without the taxpayer-funded or private therapist’s luxury of adjourning or calling a halt to the session, and neither of them would permit me to leave, always with the threat of rooflessness with Rebecca redirecting her rage at me, each desperate for me to take the side against the other in their duel that is really the same battle of that two-headed Janus coin between male/female, self/other, fear/love, each fearing the abandonment by the other, each unwilling to risk before the other risks first, each with fears stemming from early childhood that have nothing whatsoever to do with their adult relationships yet nevertheless the abuses or neglect of childhood stopping up their chronologically adult desires. So reminiscent of those scorched earth fights that I feel so so so happy that I will never have to endure again, having learned to Unplay the Shame and Blame Game, disrupted the trauma narrative, push/pulled it inside out, and reversed that damaging volvelle into the healthy, healing circle, escaping the vicious cycle of victim/abuser to that third way of being: survivor.
Neither would commit to the second rule of healthy communication or conflict resolution: no interrupting or talking over each other; with the first rule being, of course: be in the same room. Or out in the darkening of Rebecca’s porch as her partner pulled boxes packed with her possessions from the back of his vehicle and heaved them into her front yard, both shouting at each other. I would have been astonished at their level of narcissism, their presumption that I would want to sit and attend to their relationship for hours on end, or that anyone is going to care more about their relationship than they do, if I had not conducted my graduate research on trauma. Finally, a pause in their dual raging where I could say, “I cannot hear what either one of you is saying because you are both interrupting each other and talking over the top of each other, so there is no way you can hear each other, and there is no point in my sitting here. My recommendation is you back off, take some time to process your emotions, and return to sit down when both of you are ready to speak civilly.”
While I am overall much more impressed with the level of professionalism of law enforcement in the final resting place of tramp printer and Idaho’s former Governor Frank Steunenberg than Boise suburban Meridian or even mid-sized urban Seattle, there are still breakdowns in communication that I am not sure how to repair when I risk further incarceration by describing my biographical experiences to the authorities-?
Question I am still not quite prepared to ask in open court: how or why does the State of Idaho expect one of its destitute graduates of its flagship institution of higher learning to accomplish the Herculean task not completed by the local police department, county sheriff, state-contracted counseling services, Alan Miller’s psychiatric facility, state-contracted psychiatrists, state-sanctioned meds, jail, prison, or Rebecca’s own definition of god? If I was supposed to call 911 “if she gets like this again” and she is almost always “like this” or ever threatening to explode into irrational rage, and was in the midst of one such irrational rage while the police offered that instruction, why were they simultaneously preparing to leave her property? Are they any better prepared to station an officer than Moscow Police Department could have been expected to protect Katy Benoit 24/7? Or supply me with a device for calling 911?
Or to assist with returning stolen property now far beyond the description of petty?
Maybe the situation is merely a landlord/tenant dispute, as judged by the harried, impatient clerical personnel at Canyon County Sheriff’s Office during my second courageous attempt to brave that forbidding architecture. But what I also know from listening to the trauma narrative told by yet another abused and abusive mother incarcerated at Intermountain Hospital, the sheriff’s deputies in this county recommend resolving family conflict by “taking a sack of oranges to” an adolescent boy acting out behaviors role modeled by his father and his mother, a rapist and a rape victim respectively, who nevertheless married her attacker and bore two more children by him, arrived later and released sooner than the state’s violation of my own civil liberties, docilely accepted psychotropic meds, and obediently answered a mental health professional’s data collection ranking her mood, “I’m a 10 today so I can get out of here.”
From my perspective as an educated, nulliparous, homeless artist, designer, and writer, I think the situation is a little more complicated, with both criminal and civil interpretations, not readily remedied by the landlord/tenant vernacular designed print collateral guidelines published by Idaho’s Attorney General:
But my understanding of law is limited by my education and experiences. Professor McConnell, does Stanford University pay you enough of a professional salary that you might freely offer your educated professional opinion without sacrificing your efforts toward brute survival?
After shoving past me to collect his possessions from Rebecca’s bedroom the same day that Ms. Dalrymple’s former employer called police to remove her from their premises and she checked herself into a hospital, threatening suicide if they refused to reissue her prescriptions, her on/again, off/again partner of two years emailed to again narcissistically seek my professional opinion, still without offering professional wage, attributing her cycle of rage to psychotropic drug addiction:
On the morning of 12 September 2014, two years to the date after I watched the Volunteer Supervisor, Victim Support Services, Seattle Police Department, spin through her passive aggressive volvelle and sneeringly refuse my impoverished educated expertise, I awoke, fixed a cup of tea, and went out to a storage shed on Rebecca’s property to collect my flattened moving boxes for more packing, where I discovered my Swiss Army knife holder abandoned instead of where I kept the knife in my backpack. The shed had been turned into a smoking den. The closed air dense with a stench far worse than commercially manufactured cigarettes. My wallet cleared of its remaining cash.
Which means I no longer have even a dollar to offer in exchange for your legal expertise.
Braving my own reasonable fears of additional police brutality, fetching police assistance only resulted in several arrests, but not the return of my Swiss Army knife that was a gift from one of my “delusions,” according to the crack team of detectives in Meridian; in reality, one of your former students, that prosecutor son of ex-FBI parents. Not to mention a valuable tool for my current brute survival. The reddish-brown stain on the black handle is likely from oil paint leftover from my undergraduate studio courses at the University of Utah, not blood. I would like it returned or replaced with a knife of equivalent or greater tools and brand value. May we add its loss to the State of Idaho’s debt outstanding me?
Or maybe Officer Justin Root from Meridian Police Department will replace my knife out of his personal paycheck? For all his height and breadth and better armament, he seemed to be irrationally afraid of a slim, middle-aged, multiracial, destitute woman carrying in her backpack what I consider to be merely an exquisitely designed and well-machined tool, while recognizing, from my experiences in Seattle, that police might consider a knife with a blade well within the legal limit to be a potential weapon and justification for police brutality escalated along that spectrum of violence all the way to homicide.
Maybe one day we’ll shake hands again.
Happy to listen while he apologizes.
If their parents, teachers, and commanding officers neglected to teach Officer Root and Detectives Miller how to form a healthy apology, they will learn by the time they graduate from my semester-length workshop on intersubjective communication.
I doubt jail or probation or Idaho’s currently available psychiatric options will recover the trauma that Rebecca’s children, chronologically young adult grandchildren, and their peers suffered during the formative years of their adverse childhoods. They need nurturing role models, not more meds or punishment in psychologically and physically unhealthy (and coincidentally aesthetically unappealing) environments.
Not once through this entire ordeal have I wanted to harm myself or others.
Not when my own mother sent to my Seattle doorstep representatives from what is for me a child abuse, rape, and now human trafficking cult, and the subsequent behavior of my mother and everyone in my family has merely reinforced, rather than changed, that opinion formed through my life experiences. For her the one, true church, my mother probably had good intentions even though she must surely remember that her youngest daughter was raped from the University of Utah campus by a returned Mormon missionary who bragged about belonging to the Mormon Mafia and his connections with mucky-mucks within their organization, thus what brings comfort for my narcissistic mother does not bring comfort to me:
Compassion for their Elder C. Max Caldwell’s cousin, whose parents shamed her legitimacy, and taught her to repress rather than report her feelings and avoid conflict rather than resolve it, resulting in a lifetime of passive obedience to the aggressive abuse of patriarchal authority.
“Well, he should be punished,” my mother avoided owning her abuse of my agency and whined her judgment about what should happen to one of my rapists nearly 15 years after that crime.
From my better educated, hindsight perspective, I disagree with my mother’s judgment about how to solve the communications problem of rape within a patriarchal culture. Blaming and punishing one rapist for his criminal behavior will not solve the problem of rape when he is only replicating the communications role modeled by parents, church, school, and community leaders who rigidly divide the world positioning male over female, white over black, and any one religion’s “truth” over all other truths, or what I consider to be. Basic. Human. Dignity.
That means hearing, and being heard.
Or doing unto others as you would have others do unto you.
Or respecting the will of others, instead of my rapist or my mother or my brother-in-law forcing their will over me.
Still did not feel suicidal when my former mentor and University of Idaho faculty member abandoned me beside an interstate highway, accusing me of extortion after I explained I could do no further work for him in advance of a signed contract that included, bare minimum, subsistence wage. “Venture labor” I called it, so confident am I in my ability to attract an audience, regardless if that audience is registered voters or high-end stationery shops nationwide circa 2008 when Lehmann Brothers were scurrying to their limousines with their jackets hiding their faces, but yes, at some point, America’s privileged classes will have to pay a professional wage for professional work when they lack the education and skills to resolve their problems just like in the good ol’ days of early capitalism, and no, I can never subsist on less than subsistence. After listening to expert business negotiators describe scenarios where their clients do work in advance of contract signing, I felt happy to learn I am not the only graphic designer that desperate, and actually, with every job application cover letter, I give expert advice. Whether the audience is ready to hear it, or not, is another matter. Compassion for the mentor unrecovered from the trauma of his abusive childhood, in his lucid moments readily owning his passive aggressive communication tactics, though well into his sixth decade of life not quite ready to put into practice Dr. Arendt’s promising correlative to forgiving, despite teaching me the theory. Throughout my graduate school career he listened so compassionately to my visual communications while I worked my way through full trauma recovery, recognizing in my students trauma as the universal struggle, not personal to me.
Not even when the husband I put through law school refused to set aside our personal differences, where our professional efforts coincidentally pursue a common goal, his within the field of law, and mine from the perspective of art and design, to help me survive long enough to hopefully network into what proved to be yet another unhealthy community with as little as the cost of the washer and dryer I purchased before we were married and that he kept in our divorce, then urged me to check into the ER, then ignored me after I explained that emergency rooms do not triage poverty. Question that I am fully prepared to ask in a court of law, Who taught you to blame the suicide and shame the poor? Compassion for the emotional stress of what must have been for him a difficult case prosecuting an abusive mother, where my coincident contact likely triggered his fears of his biological mother stalking his professional life. It’s not legally his job to reciprocate my respect and care. Maybe the question to ask is not why am I on food stamps, but was it unreasonable, in 2006, for me to expect to be able to receive in return for my best efforts, surpassing at least four times the graduates of an entire state’s flagship institution of higher learning, with skills urgently needed to resolve global communication problems, bare minimum, a subsistence job to survive our post-Great Recession era, let alone the unfulfilled promise of Title IX?
Nor even when my brother-in-law evicted me from his housing compound after I explained that I cannot perform household labor if he was not going to provide even basic hygiene, with my sister nearly bouncing off the walls in her giddy excitement, and their gossipy Mormon neighbor gloating from around the corner. Compassion for the electrical engineer whose job requires choosing either ones or zeroes, whose executive role models stomp their feet and insist on their global monopoly on memory (PDF alert), whose patriarchal religion demands right over wrong, male over female, and whose parents role modeled passive aggressive communication for their children. Pushing his seventh decade, and still telling his trauma narrative of being abandoned at a gas station because his parents had more children than they could count, and added to their brood still further beyond their emotional abilities by colonizing tribal children before becoming overwhelmed and blaming them for their biological children’s bad behaviors desperately seeking the attention that every child needs and deserves from loving, healthy parents.
The really sad part is his life story has been leached of narrative description, reduced to no more than a handful of sentences without adjectives or metaphor, the child’s version of his own story displaced by the language of the parents or older siblings, and retold in a tone of self-mockery: if he mocks himself first, then maybe his sarcasm will provide a protective shield from the jeering that his parents and siblings taught him to expect from the world? With his observable lack of conflict resolution skills, I shudder to think of the harm likely perpetuated by his former school principal father on multiple generations of school children. Given healthier roles models, I think he’s got the potential to provide wiser management, both at home and in the workplace. He was the only member of his family to recognize my questions about Japanese character translation as my attempt to find commonality after his business trip to Japan, rather than a “problem” quickly solved by technology. Monopolies are of course bad for innovation, thus bad for business. Maybe the executives at Micron (and Microsoft and Boeing and…) could be encouraged to take life drawing lessons, if not pursue their own individual psychotherapies, setting healthier examples for their employees? Somewhere outside the State of Idaho so their therapists may have some hope of understanding what human identity and relationships have to do with human psychology?
Of course I hold no higher expectation for a sister reared by passive aggressive parents, whose birthday coincides with Bastille Day, and who rejects, while I embrace, our Native heritage, spending countless hours sewing pioneer dresses and replicating the Mormon trek across the Great Plains. Why not canoes, follow the rivers instead of the rutted tracks of wagon wheels? Or beaded necklaces? Or woven baskets commemorating those foremothers who only “married into the family,” our mother insists, defying human genetics, a woman who never learned to respect herself, disrespecting the contributions of Native women?
Legacy of multigenerational familial abuse systemically described as racism and sexism?
From listening to the neighbor’s non-stop monologues, I can hazard a guess at the early childhood traumas she has suffered and repressed. Only too happy for her HP-retired husband’s small business to benefit from my college-educated niece’s hand-holding and paper-shoveling skills for less than I was making 25 years ago, long before college, let alone grad school, with no accounting for inflation. Potential for growth? Health benefits? Employer contributions to her retirement plan? A pity Brigham Young University (BYU) cannot come up with meaningful work options for their graduates. Of course her parents do not care if she wads up and tosses away her college degree while waiting for some passive aggressive milquetoast sperm donor to provide them with grandchildren validating their life choices.
But is that really what she wants for her own life?
While her family helped her network into that bare subsistence job, my sense is that my niece also has meaningful work to accomplish in this iteration of her lifetime. Another 03 October coincidence marked her aborted return from a graduate school chosen on the basis of nothing more than the strength of its graphic designed print collateral poster advertising a fledgling program and the opportunity to again flee halfway around the world from her parents’ abusive household. For one more year. And then what? To accomplish her destiny, however, she is going to need trauma recovery and healthy communication skills that neither her parents nor either set of her grandparents are capable of teaching. Self-medicating is the not answer. The stench from whatever she was cooking up in her bedroom with a bottle of cheap vodka smelled like no “perfume” I have ever smelled, or would want to wear. Something like the stench emanating from Rebecca’s shed, with vodka substituted for isopropanol.
As I began to explain to the taxpayer-funded white males inexperienced investigating cases of homicide, vice, or incest yet nevertheless staffing Meridian Police Department, before their eyes widened in fear – perhaps defending their own familial privileges? – and they interrupted my witness account cycling through their passive aggressive volvelles of denial, avoidance, and blaming the victim of their police abuses, “I make no accusations. All I can tell you is what I know from my educated expertise and what I have observed in the household—”
The only sign of physical affection that I witnessed in more than a year in the family compound was whenever my 20-something niece hugged her father, rubbing her breasts all over his chest and back, whenever she wanted to dig a little deeper into his wallet.
No, I do not count as affection obligatory, dry-mouthed pecks somewhere near each others’ mouths each evening as my brother-in-law returned from Micron and greeted his wife and my sister, “Hey, Mom, I’m home!”
I cannot speak for my sister of course, but I can speak from personal experience and educated knowledge of human psychology: sure-fire guarantee of shutting down any remaining modicum of sexual spark after 30 years of marriage, especially when considering the dysfunctional relationship between biological mother of the husband and his wife. In retrospective comparison, the relationship I endured under the red-headed general that dictated the adverse childhood experiences of one of your former students looked almost like Thelma & Louise. And that was a woman who thought the chances of us producing the grandchild of her dreams would be increased by her proximity to our bedroom. I ask you, what red-blooded American male calls his mother while on his honeymoon? What healthy, well-adjusted mother shrieks at her son to call her again so she can complain at him some more about her other children, her husband, her siblings, her neighbors, her bosses, her coworkers, ad nauseam, while his bride goes to bed without dinner?
“You showed your father the bite mark?” my sister’s voice rose in shrill disapproval in response to my niece’s description of a neighborhood colt nipping her breast. Like a woman sexually competing with her own daughter for the favors of her capital-controlling husband.
Goes a long way to explain my niece’s hysterical sobbing because her mother had not told her she loved her during her last two years of high school. Her jeering rampages at her formerly beloved black sheep auntie might be diagnosed by the state’s mental health professionals as schizo-affective or bipolar disorder or any number of other rabbits pulled out of the psychiatric community’s magic medicine hat; I would describe her behavior as typical of a young woman taught communication skills by passive aggressive parents who rigidly divide capital and labor by gender and who sacrifice their own children at the altar of their denial, avoidance, and blame, battling for the position of bigger victim in their marriage.
Mother describes daughter as prostitute. Father controls household money. What other option does Daughter have? It’s not rocket science. It’s just educated knowledge of human sexuality and psychology and the social construction of gender.
In her long overdue for an updated republication of her 1981 clinical survey Father-Daughter Incest, Dr. Herman’s description of archetypical incestuous families reads like a checklist of the extended Bundy clan: puritanical and negative sexual attitudes in families, sex as taboo subject, sex education virtually nonexistent, parent relationship tense and cold, physical displays of affection uncommon and uncomfortable, and bodies as dirty, especially women’s bodies. After raging in June 2013 that if he wanted to abuse his children, it was his business, not mine, by January 2014 my brother-in-law dictated control over his young adult children’s relationships, stating, “…if you contact any of my children in any way I will simply change the password on the wifi router…”
Technologically irrational, when an electrical engineer must surely recognize that the web is world wide, and threatening to remove my access to the convenience of his household wifi only successfully resulted in still further slowing my job search?
Note the electrical engineer’s astonishment that psychotherapy is not something that can be forced. My undergraduate painting professors liked to say, “You get out of this class whatever you put into it.” I would say the same of psychotherapy.
Note the capital-controlling brother-in-law’s sole criteria for psychotherapy is money, still oblivious, despite his alleged earlier marriage counseling, to relationship between analyst and analysand as a relationship. No amount of money can ever solve problems created by abusive or passive aggressive communication skills; only healthy communication skills can solve communication problems. If you lack skills in our era of late capitalism, much like capitalism’s earlier eras, of course, you have to pay for them, much like Bill Gates still has not solved his problem of poverty because his consultants were not willing to pay for my imaginative problem-solving expertise. Or Boeing executives ran into $12 billion in cost overruns because they lack my healthy communication skills.
Note through this same time period, the same electrical engineer avoided my suggestions for psychotherapy or mediation.
Reminder this is the same electrical engineer who, in June 2013, sneered at my prior investment in psychotherapy a decade or more prior to arriving in his compound.
Note the undefined misuse of the term “psychotic” to describe someone who questions his iron control over his chronologically adult children.
Note the date on his email just five days prior to Ms. Dalrymple’s email that Meridian Police Department plucked from the collection of evidence that I brought into their station and they refused to review.
The remainder of his email confirms my description of freezer-burned and outdated food available for his elderly mother, before demanding more household labor and further isolating me from members of our extended family by forbidding communications between us, an abuse of patriarchal authority that no one in the extended Bundy clan would question.
“When men no longer rule their families, they may learn for the first time what it means to belong to one,” Dr. Herman writes.
Maybe the question to ask is not why am I on food stamps, but why did none of the members of Ted Bundy’s birth family seek help from outside sources when the three-year-old was surrounding his aunt’s sleeping body with shiny, sharp knives?
Or did they, and social or police services simply ignored them? Or jeered at them? Or imprisoned family witnesses asking for help?
And now that I have suffered being forcibly taken to an ER and subsequent hospital abuses thanks to Meridian Police Department’s inability to hear my educated perspective and corroborate my biography with facts from public record or even my identification in my wallet against the links in my email to Ms. Dalrymple, I can confirm, sure enough, that extended hospital incarceration neither triaged nor repaired, instead exacerbated, the problem of poverty. I feel grateful that this experience also allowed me to collect still more qualitative data supporting my initial hypothesis that the problem of “poverty” is incorrectly identified. Without naming the problem, we will never solve the problem of unhealthy community besieged with narcissistic aggression prohibiting mutually respectful dialogue.
Scientists might begin to question whether we are devolving as a species when parents value their own narcissistic fears and aggressions more than the health and survival of their offspring.
Savvy business leaders might concern themselves with the horror of a state that suppresses intellectual ideas and creativity, accomplishing the exact opposite of the business world’s goals for innovation and critical thinking. New ideas are what prompted us to stop dragging our knuckles through the sand after swinging down from the trees, and to walk upright while crossing the savannah.
Still did not feel suicidal after I was released from incarceration without arrest, access to competent counsel, or fair trial in a so-called democratic nation, and rather than expressing concern for my well-being, my mother raged at me for emails I sent six months earlier, because, as I explained to Dr. Olnes, I long ago recognized that listening to my mother is like listening to a child stopped in her emotional development at about age six or eight, certainly no older than ten. Was she angry about the content of my communications attempting to resolve family conflict by openly discussing multigenerational familial abuse? Maybe. Did my educated opinions challenge her own judgments? Likely. But instead of learning the lessons of anger, reporting her deeper feelings of sadness or fear underlying her anger, my mother yet again avoided hearing my perspective, and instead raged at me for sending emails to her gmail rather than her Yahoo account.
However did we communicate before 21st century technology?
After haranguing me for attempting to communicate at all, she reiterated still more of her judgments via one-sided email sent to my abusive family’s compound, where my mother’s communications were printed and oh so helpfully left for me to find when I returned to clear out the rest of my possessions: doing unto others as she does not like others doing unto her, my mother stomped her foot and insisted on her “rightness” still. One. More. Time:
“You seem to have made yourself a victim,” like every white plantation owner’s wife, rapist, or passive aggressive bureaucratic administrator before her, my mother repeated her judgment at me after I negotiated the return of my constitutionally guaranteed freedoms from Idaho’s broken mental health juridical system. Rather than replying to any of my direct questions over the previous six months, or asking more of her own, which would indicate her emotionally mature willingness to engage in dialogue, instead she dutifully amplified the martyr narrative of the biggest victim in my brother-in-law’s compound, like a child kowtowing to abuse of patriarchal authority seven or eight decades after she suffered the original trauma. As if I have not already heard him raging his judgments at me, top volume, like a small boy in footed pajamas, still desperate for his mother to hear his voice. Even repeating his words back to him, the listening technique deployed by the retired Casey Foundation child abuse case manager, word for word, he does not hear his own abuses, instead decides he does not like how abusive he sounds, and spins onward to denial, “I didn’t say that,” through avoidance, before blaming his behavior on the members of his household in structurally less powerful positions.
Like my Cousin Ted.
Like a mental health patient diagnosed by the State of Idaho with schizo-affective disorder, “I AM NOT ABUSIVE. YOU SHUT UP. DO YOU WANT ANOTHER TWO WEEKS, OR DO YOU WANT ME TO MAKE IT TODAY?”
In response to my, “I love you, but I do not love your abusive behavior.”
I could repeat the same statement to my mother, if I have not done so already.
Over and over and over again, and still her behavior never changes.
In addition to producing seven children, at least four of whom have relied on state assistance at one time or another over the course of their lives, with rape statistics in my relatively large sample size family of six women two or three times higher than the national average, bullet points my Republican welfare mom may add to her cv: four-plus decades of blaming the victim of adverse family behaviors, avoiding conflict resolution, and denying her own abusive behavior, while stomping firmly on the gas at the martyr station of her passive aggressive volvelle. Utterly disrespecting my educated expertise in psychoanalytic theory, my mother sounds as sure that Meridian Police Department must be trained in human psychology as Mr. Scott is sure – and follows much his same logic – that the Department of Health and Welfare is not on Twitter.
Do I feel sad? A sadness I began accepting 20 years ago. “I have a pain in my mother,” as Jacques Derrida wrote at his mother’s deathbed. I feel happy, too, to know that I am not alone. Some dead white men provide excellent company. Just to clarify for those mental health or law enforcement professionals who do not read: by that I mean in the writings they left behind, not hallucinatory late night visitations or bodies in the desert. Or they used to do. Before an Idaho mental health patient decided to steal my remaining slender selection of books faster than the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare could concern itself with the welfare and health of Idaho citizens. Happier still to recognize over a decade ago that I can mother myself, long ago stopped needing for my mother to mother me. I can nurture myself all the nurturing omitted from my childhood utterly devoid of praise.
That said, I have no words to describe the indescribable hell of becoming financially dependent on an elderly woman who talked down to me, interrupted me every half sentence or so, and dictated at me the same job-seeking advice my father recommended after moving his family of mostly girls to Las Vegas: get out there and pound the pavement, utterly oblivious that the computing technology that my technophobic, authoritarian father insisted was a passing fad that would not last past the 1970s has since evolved that asphalt into virtual pavement, while legislative and Wall Street’s financial mis-managers coincidentally enjoyed their little Great Recession. Compassion for the mother who bore children beyond her emotional capabilities and demonstrated exhausted, resentful duty but never compassion for me.
My mother has her lucid moments too.
As long as I live, I will treasure the memory of my mother visiting me in Seattle, one of the rare times in my adult life that I can remember when my mother was not snarling or whining at me, blaming her bad behavior on my father, on my other siblings, on her parents, on my high school friends, on their parents, on society, complaining about but unwilling to listen to my mature adult suggestions for resolving conflicts with her second husband, with his children who abandoned their children, with his drug-addicted grandchildren, with the American public education system that utterly failed his great-grandchildren, ad infinitum. During that visit, I shared with her a story of going to my neighborhood drugstore, where I had observed the interactions of a frazzled mother with her tyrannical toddler, who was bellowing for her to allow him to take two treats from the array of candy and gum in the checkout line.
“One, or none,” the mother snarled repeatedly at her tot, “You decide. One, or none.”
“B-b-but, Mama, I c-c-caaan’t decide,” the child wailed, grasping a candy in each of his chunky fists, before the mother rewarded her offspring’s bad behavior with her own choice of just one of the treats for him, ignoring the wisdom out of the mouths of babes that would have prevented future miserable trips to the market with her children: Mother, my developing brain is not yet capable of making decisions. I am just a toddler. You have yet to teach me how to make sound judgments.
That night, and again while my mother was visiting, I came back from the store with two cans of cat treats, and set them down on my kitchen floor, where my cat sniffed disinterestedly at one of the unopened cans before looking up at me with her one blue eye as if to say, “But, Mama, I can’t decide.”
It is a game that we used to play.
Before I ran out of plastic and decided to budget some of my SNAP funds toward tuna approved for human consumption to provide care for my therapeutic cat. Costlier for state taxpayers than cans of cat food, but that is one teeny, tiny example of what happens when laws are written in dictatorial, top-down, Boeing executive fashion, under passive aggressive leadership that refuses to hear the compassionate expertise of its educated, impoverished design professionals.
In one of her rare moments of lucidity and fine flashes of wisdom, my mother observed then, “Maybe that is your job, to help parents be better parents.”
Returning to the job-seeking wisdom of business writer Malcolm Gladwell and social scientists at Johns Hopkins, not only do I have zero role models for healthy parents, I also have no mentors helping me network into that job. And what is that job title? It seems to me that the parents most in need of learning how to be better parents are the parents who most need to learn how to Unplay the Shame and Blame Game.
B-b-but, U.S. Department of Education, we c-c-can’t decide to treat our peers with basic human dignity. Our adolescent brains are not fully developed, and we are merely replicating the behaviors of the chronological adults acting in our public and private spheres.
When I was younger and less emotionally mature, I might not have heard more of my mother’s narrative that week, much as too much of our society too often dismisses the perspective of old women; instead, as an educated artist and designer fully recovered from childhood trauma, I could recognize in her tourist complaints wisdom that my conservative, desert-dwelling mother could teach the so-called green, seaside Seattle to vastly improve recycling and sustainability in a city that prides itself on those programmatic successes. Where every problem is a communications problem, and the high-tech city’s communications in that area are visibly designed by visually uneducated bureaucrats dead-set convinced that if they cram. Still. One. More. Branded product-object onto a page using that professional design software that a whole bunch of groovy computer science engineers worked really hard to produce, then the stomp-your-foot-and-insist-on-its-rightness culture will have communicated with its intended audience, right?
My recommendations for the poor fellow crafting that poster: life drawing lessons, intensive psychotherapy, and find a psychiatrist who will work with you to gradually de-escalate your current antidepressant medication.
The pills ain’t working.
Happy to see some web dev has since updated the alpha-sorted FAQ page in the intervening years to better organize all those what, how, where questions for a predominately property-owning audience though.
Pity Seattle couldn’t afford to bring on board a professional or in-house design team to answer the who and when questions for every motel or hotel room guest or at every corporate or civic function or on every apartment-dwelling collection bin throughout the city. Maybe later. No rush. Take your time.
Humbled to share my bookbinding expertise with the mother who executed many of my high school fashion designs as well as the French seams joining the silk chiffon of my wedding gown that I wore 14 years to the date prior to my first mental health court appearance. Do you have any idea how much work it is to sew French seams? Especially into silk chiffon?? During that visit, listening to my mother taught me something about design, and listening to me taught my accounting-major-turned-seamstress mother a method for threading a needle successful even for an elderly lady with failing eyesight.
Another time, ironically in the same family’s compound, my mother finally acknowledged that she emotionally abuses me, despite my brother-in-law and my sister doing their very best to help her avoid resolving our conflicts by twice interrupting the conversation to encourage her to prioritize church attendance over rare family visits. Nearly three years later, and still no change in her behavior despite that confession. Unless she would like me to send her rapists to her doorstep or dictate her priorities to her, then she is good to go with her own definition of god, no repentance necessary. No doubt, she feels shame about her bad behavior. Lacking trauma recovery or role models for healthy communications, she rejects the shame, blames me for that uncomfortable feeling of shame, and, much like convicted criminals with higher recidivism than criminals who feel remorse and change their behavior, cycles onward from blame to martyr.
“I’m-passive-aggressive, [your brother-in-law]-is-passive-aggressive, your-whole-family-is-passive-aggressive, so what??” my mother raged at me, interrupting me, talking over me, speaking rapidly at me through Rebecca’s mobile phone during the week following my release from incarceration at the state mental hospital.
So what is passive aggressive communication is unhealthy. Mentally unhealthy. Unhealthy meaning ill. Mentally ill.
Now, when the State replicates my mother’s abusive behavior, not just toward me, but systemically, for the 10 million plus multigenerational victims of adverse family environments caught like butterflies in the net of the state’s abusive system, then that is a systemic problem, as the detectives in Meridian jeered at me for being so good at solving, or systems thinking that the Department of Health and Welfare claims to value in writing, its visual communications and behaviors of its mental health professionals speaking volumes to the contrary, then our civilization needs an authority higher than the state to hear me.
To me, healthy communication is a design problem, regardless if the communication occurs in personal or foreign affairs, though I can appreciate, from another perspective educated in another field, abusive parenting is a legal problem. A problem for public health and safety. A problem for criminal justice. A problem for education. Visually educated, I am open to hearing multiple perspectives searching for solutions to the same cross-disciplinary problem. I am not limited to stomping my foot and insisting on black-or-white rightness over any problem. I know how to use a full box of colors and range of values. My toolbox is equipped with all of the principles of design or the visual grammar that organizes our visual vocabulary inseparable from 21st century communications.
Though I suffered some hours wondering how long I could hold out while the state force-fed me its brain-damaging pharmaceuticals that encourage suicidal thoughts and warehoused me in physically, psychologically, spiritually harmful, and coincidentally aesthetically repugnant facilities, I am still not feeling suicidal because, as I explained to at least one of my mental health professional interviewers, whether you realize it or not, y’all need my help too much for me to give into that narcissistic urge.
(As if driven by some ancestral urge or multigenerational trauma narrative to reverse replicate the Trail of Tears, my father ripped our family from the Garden of California’s Eden and drove his brood out to the desert of New Mexico at the Texas border when I was just six; I can still summon up a y’all if I need to soften my speech while using pronouns inclusive of female and male human beings.)
From my experiences, I strongly urge any American citizens feeling suicidal to refrain from calling suicide hotlines, whose undereducated volunteers are likely to pop you into a mentally, physically, spiritually harmful, and coincidentally aesthetically repugnant facility similar to Intermountain Hospital. Instead, may I offer taking up painting under the guidance of a caring, empathetic instructor? Painting is something like solar panels. I was able to soak in and store up mental wellness for these traumatic experiences navigating the abuses of a totalitarian state.
Did my Mormon family hope for me to learn to deny my “delusional” genealogy?
Or did my electrical engineering brother-in-law just misuse psychiatric terms, not understanding their meaning beyond labels he could apply to manipulate the State to amplify his threat along that spectrum of violence, a passive aggressive communicator whirling through the chaos of his trauma narrative, unwilling to hear any perspective outside his own?
I was reminded of early childhood, when my older siblings used to taunt me that I had been adopted, and our parents did not really love me.
I wish I had been born into a healthy family. May I have a do-over?
And perhaps I already have, finding shelter with a woman sexually abused by her Mormon priesthood-holding father from early pubescence until her mother blamed her husband’s abuse on her own child and ordered her out of the house at age 14, a veteran also a survivor of military rape. Yet another Dora more than a century after Freud.
Thankfully, she is far enough along in her journey toward trauma recovery that we are able to resolve minor conflicts simply by asking questions and better listening to each others’ perspectives. No snarling. No raging. No threatening. Without hesitation, she reconfirmed my theory on the correlation between obesity and lack of nurturing. So far she appreciates my cooking and cleaning, has already begun losing weight from my diet of care with lots of real butter and olive oil and as many fresh vegetables and whole grains as our food bank and SNAP budgets permit, and her physician has already recommended cessation of at least one unnecessary medication. For my part, I appreciate a roof overhead, a smoke-free environment, and time to resume working toward finding colleagues who reciprocate my respect.
Of course the goal of trauma recovery is not to privilege thin over fat; through my art education, I learned to question that cultural dichotomy and values. If the global communications firms in Seattle had been prepared to listen to my expertise instead of pressing forward with their mob rule, they could have better prioritized their time and saved themselves the effort of trampling through the city streets in search of live human beings who matched their stereotypical presumptions. We first would have had a conversation about bodies, aesthetics, and shaming. The goal for recovery from a childhood traumatized by lack of nurturing is to learn to love yourself enough to nurture yourself, body, mind, and spirit, to then extend that nurturing to others.
she believes, as I believe, in doing unto others as you would have others do unto you, she welcomes my prayer to the deity of my choosing. To me, it seems morally bankrupt for her local affluent white male religious leaders to continually pressure an old lady for tithing to build their kingdom here on earth, when she is barely subsisting enough to purchase her own toilet paper, let alone the added expense of the destitute second cousin (?) once removed (?) of their deceased Elder C. Max Caldwell, but I respect her right to worship as she chooses. If more Mormons practiced healthy communication or doing unto others as you would have others do unto you, hearing and being heard, probably I would not have formed the judgment of their religion as a child abuse, rape, and human trafficking cult.
[28 November 2014 update: revising judgment. Taking a full day away from my efforts to market this research to potential employers so I could haul our combined laundry to and from the laundromat, return her stack of hard copy mass market fiction to the public library, stop by the market to max out my food card first before subtracting two items from her SNAP budget as per our joint Thanksgiving menu planning and her request, and staying in the kitchen until midnight prepping food for the following day’s holiday dinner while she played video games and/or read more fiction only resulted in a fit of petulant rage that included taking the name of her definition of god in vain after she destroyed my fresh-baked cornbread homemade entirely from scratch by dumping it into a bowl and combining it with post-dated, freezer-burned industrially processed seasoned breadcrumbs, with the intention of arriving at something akin to dressing, refusing my earlier offers to teach cooking skills she really wanted to learn after bragging about my efforts to all of her friends, a conflict I am not able to resolve without the intervention of an objective third party. Where she earlier boasted, “I don’t dust. I don’t vacuum,” and I encountered an apartment at least as filthy as my brother-in-law’s mother’s quarters, nearly bowled over with the stench of urine – canine, feline, and human – and she verbally gave me permission, even encouraged my cleaning and reorganizing of a cluttered kitchen, now I am simultaneously, irrationally, both prohibited from cleaning and ordered to clean her mess of cornbread and “food” product, and confined to a bedroom.
Conflicts earlier in the same week seemed to me to be precipitated by the recent anniversary of her father’s birth, one morning standing in the doorway to “my” room spitting raspberries at me, intended, I think, as a gesture of jocular friendship, perhaps expected in a girl of seven, unbecoming in a woman of seventy. Rave compliments at the dinner table devolved into backhanded sarcasm, but when I queried about both behaviors, she was readily able to repeat her knowledge of rote memorized learning from years of experience in Idaho’s version of psychotherapy, sarcasm as a protective device, while avoiding further self-reflection with a shrug and the comment, “I guess I’m just seven today.” She has avoided her therapy sessions for three or four weeks, despite describing a therapist she really likes, the first Mormon therapist who has not preached Mormon scripture at her in lieu of psychotherapy. I hope that “Rick” is neither Dr. Sonnenberg nor another state-licensed mental health professional by the same given name who allegedly engaged in consensual sex with another of his clients before abandoning an alcoholic allegedly suffering a more rapidly terminal illness. Or maybe her change of heart can be attributed to the sudden return, at doctor’s suggestion, to black coffee, and the caffeine might be reacting badly with one of her prescriptions? Two days and counting of raging around all of the predictable stations of the passive aggressive volvelle, adding still further evidence supporting my theories while describing them as “psychobabble” and forbidding me from speaking, not even to express empathy or offer assistance out of the trauma narrative of what another victim of childhood sexual abuse describes as her “miserable life.”
Which means those Huntsman Houses are again sounding better than anything Idaho’s got going.]
- the chocolate cat
- a roof at least temporarily overhead
- heat, lights, wifi
- toilet paper, litter
- music of my choosing
- I could on and on here, but you get the general idea?
A fascinating philosophical experience, wondering if perhaps my entire life was a dream. Oh, wait. Coincidentally, I already created that visual body of work, a series of collaged prints titled The Golden Plates, a double entendre referring to both Mormon scripture and women’s place washing dishes within Mormon households that stereotypically divide chores by gender:
This series first showed in my studio while participating in another of those community art events for which professional labor receives no salary while bureaucrats collect funds to pay their own wages from a bored public seeking idle entertainments. Another print attracted the leering attention of a decrepit Mormon patriarch who lacked knowledge of Jacques Derrida’s theories deconstructing our society’s harmful dichotomies:
When I apologized for inverting the hierarchy of letterpress printed options for males within the Mormon church, an oversight while locking up the chase on a 19th century press, which I then juxtaposed with painted stencils analyzing the virgin/whore dichotomy, the wrinkled walnut of a mouth-breathing white male priesthood holder corrected me, “Oh, no, that is the right order. Because before a virgin can become a goddess, she must become the Whore of Babylon.”
His prune-faced wife scuttled out of my studio to a quilt shop across the street, leaving me to place a boundary on her husband’s repulsive attentions.
“Are you active?” he panted, eyes glittering with the brokenness of his commitment to his religion’s tenth commandment.
“Very actively engaged in my own life, thank you,” reminding him of the seventh commandment.
Would that Mormon male abuse of their patriarchal authority died with that generation, but after listening to my niece’s descriptions of enduring sexual harassment during her work-study job at BYU, and the institutional response limited to “diversity” training that sounded very similar to the “sensitivity” training at State Hospital South, with similar results, maybe executives might be ready to acknowledge that top-down, dictatorial, shaming pedagogy continues to be ineffective in weeding out sexual abuse and gender discrimination or asking for mutual respect from any patriarchal culture that values male over female, “right” over “wrong,” and white over black, colorblind to the many shades of grey in between?
Maybe try literature and art, sharing narrative, learning empathy building and healthy intercommunication skills? Yes, I know, it’s more work than checking boxes of bureaucratic data. It requires more thinking and self reflection. Students with a willingness to engage in learning. More education, and more effective pedagogy than administrators standing at the front of a room stomping PowerPointed feet and insisting on the “rightness” of Title IX while hypocritically behaving otherwise.
If my body becomes victim to violent death or disappears under mysterious circumstances, it will not be by my own hand. While in Ohio, I pinkie-swore with Eric Mohat’s father that suicide is not an option:
As a person of integrity, I always uphold my oral or written contracts unless or until it becomes clear to me that the other party has no intention of upholding the terms of our agreement, and then I do everything I can do to resolve that conflict before graduating with flying colors or successfully identifying problems before providing visual communications solutions or accepting those conflicts are irresolvable without the emotional growth of the other party, and leaving to pursue healthier relationships. I keep my promises. I witness crimes, rather than perform criminal behavior. Suspect any of the individuals, agencies, or institutions described herein, rationalizing the acceleration of their abusive behavior along that spectrum of violence by telling themselves what oh poor little victims they are by my speaking against injustice or abuse of power.
I call that fully recovered from trauma from growing up in an adverse family environment.
Long overdue for a painting day, however.