Stars in the Shadows of September

A part of me is always frozen in September. Time slows down and it hurts. My heart feels numb but it also aches; it beats strong and yet it is so fragile. It is both and neither, and so am I. For many years that is also often how I have felt about this life- and I stay and I sit with that sense of duality. And I think about the reasons and I make meaning in every way I know how because I stay.

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Many renowned academics have spent their lives agonizing over the solution to a profound problem: Living hurts. A lot. It is hard to contest that. Almost without exception, if you are a living being on this earth then you will come to know physical, emotional, and spiritual pain and suffering. This suffering is often a part of what connects all of us in our time together on earth- along with our moments of reprieve from it, however short or long. The meaning we make throughout all of it, the joy we find, the community we share, the novelty we seek- all of it held together can make experiencing life so tremendous. It is a tremendous thing to be a part of existence as we know it.

I see the good and the bad; I hear the joy and the despair; I feel the sting and sorrow. It’s constant and I’m still here. The “and” is important. Yet so are the buts, the dissonance of it all. Can you hear it? Can you see it? Do you feel the warmth and the cold when they come together? It’s all and nothing at once. If there are miracles, surely this must be one.

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The past may grow hazy, like the sunset turning to twilight. We can usually still remember all of its colors, though some might become harder to make over others as the sun sets into the night. Sometimes we never see the same colors strike the fading sky in the same way again. We miss them, even griever them. Some of us hold tighter to our memories so we might never lose them- but is this even truly possible? How do we know what we know? And how much does that matter?

I know I am here now. “Time” keeps me here. My memories hold me tight. Love endures here in spite of all the hurt or so I must allow myself to believe. And I will not apologize. I do not apologize I do not apologize I do not apologize; and I am here I am here I am here- and I am staying. And if I am to keep staying- to be so audacious in taking such space- I want to help make this world a safer, kinder place for everyone else to stay, too.

Because it has been so many years, now. And the pain still isn’t gone. So often it barely feels bearable- or even any better. I hate admitting that- I wish so badly I could say pain always gets better over time, but that is not my truth. I often wonder if perhaps a more accurate reality for others like me is that we might simply learn how to better carry the weight of it all- as our muscles and minds grow accustomed to it always being there. And we grow stronger the longer we carry it. Or rather, we simply grow. And that growing process is indeed ever-mysterious.

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I believe that for many of us, if we are so lucky, sometimes special souls come along and help carry the weight- they lighten the load for a bit and they travel lonely, winding paths with us as we make our way through time and space. They listen; they receive. They are present; they understand the healing power of simply being and bearing witness. Because yes, emotional states may very well be temporary- but for some of us, certain perceptual states and bodily sensations- deep embodied memories and somatizations- are infinitely more complex than mere feelings that fade into the background over time. We need one another’s support as we travel lonely paths drained of color and shrouded in shadow. Support helps us find our guiding lights.

There are things that may make pain and suffering easier to hold, to examine up close. Sometimes those fractals of faded colors are illuminated by guideposts in an inky sky, and all the light obscured from view shines again even as shadows seem to creep in at every corner. Once, I looked deep into the shadows; inside them I I saw stars- I came back here for the light they promised. This is still a reality I know; I understand it’s not always an easy one to contemplate for long. But please don’t look away; please just stay- and help to make this world a little brighter and a little kinder instead.

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There is joy and warmth that will demand to be felt if we allow ourselves to find it, that will demand for us put down our shields and be vulnerable in sparingly precious moments if we just listen. But truly listening requires a gentle strength- a true willingness to let go, authentically.  Being soft after trauma is a tremendous and lonely undertaking- but with all my heart, if I am to stay too, I cannot believe that any of us are truly alone or incapable of taking steps towards trust and reparation. The sunlight and the shadows and the blinking stars- the nothings and the somethings and everything in between- they can all hold meaning if we let them.

You are not alone, you are not alone, you are not alone. I don’t always know who I’m writing to or for-often I just write for all the fragments inside of me and that’s enough. But to anyone who may take meaning from the words I write, please- if nothing else- know that you are not alone, and even still, it’s okay to feel lonely. I hope you stay and fight longer, too. It is okay to be here.

I know there are so many other people who are caught in their own frozen September. Or perhaps instead it might be a January or a July, or maybe there are years stuck together in time filled with painful memories that might become warped, hazy and confusing. We might feel trapped in these constructed timelines that seem stuck at a stand-still while everyone else is passing us by at a different speeds; sometimes maybe it’s more like time is always running out and there is no way to hold on. We fight and fight to keep track of it, because where does it all go? And we can’t lose more, but it’s so hard to stay- and what would happen if we just floated away? Staying hurts. Leaving is all but impossible. The past hurts; the present seems impossible. Staying hurts but we keep fighting and finding reason. We search and find, search and find- that life is not but an empty dream.

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I am here, and I will no longer let apologies slip from my lips even in the times when I want to cry them out and curl into a ball on the floor and fade from this existence. I am a dissonance defined and I am here, and as I write this I promise to keep trying. It hurts all the time; I’m still staying. And I want everyone else to stay- and to grow and to heal. I want us all to heal because the pain in this world is too much- it’s an injustice and I believe there must be better. So I’m done being quiet; I will be loud and I will be fierce and I will learn to forgive and let go as I’m ready. I am searching and I am finding.

Sometimes it’s okay to hold on to whatever makes up the past. And sometimes we will let go of it. We can cherish the dissonance. I’m learning every day- and I can do so imperfectly, while holding space and leaving a footprint and a memory behind in time and for the world surrounding me.

To everyone who has been lost, I miss you every day. To everyone who finds me over and over again, you are my eternal reasons. Thank you.

Lots of Love,

Morgan

Healing the Heart of Healthcare

Perhaps one of the most important components of cultivating caring communities is providing accessible, culturally competent, trauma-aware healthcare.

What might this look like? Do we have any existing models for such communities? What would be important structures to avoid in designing or organizing communities free of oppression and discriminatory practices? This is a topic enormous in scale that deserves to be addressed methodically, but for now I want to call attention to community-driven efforts to treat, prevent, and reduce social and socioeconomic crises.

We see many relief efforts organized independently, growing at the grassroots-level which sometimes transform into larger non-profits, carrying out formidable endeavors on a regular basis; it is so important to recognize the individuals within our own communities who are serving our most marginalized, at-risk members of our society. How can we all participate in helping communities founded in compassion- and how can we begin to break down the borders surrounding access to care?

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I believe the heart of a compassionate healthcare system is mental healthcare. There are many different ideas of what mental healthcare should like, who can and should provide it, and who can and cannot. Yet is there only one form of mental health? One kind of wellness practice? Certainly not. So why are there so many barriers to accessible mental health care and coverage? I research these questions.

Speaking with folks, I find that a lot of them don’t know how to begin looking for mental healthcare- specifically psychotherapy. They don’t know where to begin, or what to ask for- how to advocate for their needs and wants. I feel I hear the same questions and concerns reiterated: “who am I to advocate for myself? To determine how I should be treated? I am no expert. ”

There is a fine line between understanding a need for outside help and feeling a lack of autonomy created through oppressive structures. Stigma itself surrounding these systems exists as an oppressive force. It’s as though a kind of collective learned helplessness develops; folks find themselves either afraid to seek help even when they know they need it, or they find themselves stuck in toxic healthcare environments that are hurting more than helping; they grow afraid to try and leave or to speak out against discriminatory practices.

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Creating better wellness systems will consequently necessitate boundary work, advocacy work, deconstruction, reconstruction, and openness to new thought in these thoroughly westernized, colonized fields of science. If mental healthcare serves as a cornerstone to the healthcare field, can it also serve as a good access of entry in a collective effort to liberate healing work?

Medicine and healing don’t have to be delivered so exclusively by white men in white coats who enforce western philosophy and theory. Have you personally reflected upon what has provided healing to your mind, body, and spirit on your journey thus far? Do you know what best serves you and your boundaries?

Morgan

Living with the Unimaginable

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

with The Unimaginable.”

PART 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“They are working through The Unimaginable.”

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Photographs from 2015-2019

 

Finding My Voice: Reflections

Last year, at the end of July, I made the choice to rejoin social media after spending nearly four years away from sharing myself with others online. I created a public Instagram profile and I created this blog- both with slightly altered titles. I had hidden from the commotion of online groupthink and validation for so long; I was anxious to rejoin it. Yet I reintegrated with more ease than I would like to admit.

Most of us know this cyberspace well; we often use it to seek out some sort of solace between the gaps in time during our waking hours. To sift through photographs of faraway places, delight in pictures of petals sprinkled across prosy poetry, or muse over a fleeting thought captured on a post-it note displayed for the masses. And that’s just a fragment of what floats atop these mainstream platforms’ shiny surfaces.

Down in their depths are the battle cries of warriors; a growing collective of whispers from voices told to hush, hush. The prayers of beautiful emboldened bodies who have found spaces to shine; the prayers of souls who just want to be found.

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And then sometimes, there is just noise. Chaos and noise.

I never quite know how to hold that– and I wonder where my voice fits into such an overwhelming array of textured sound. I worry whether I will get lost in the fray.

I question: How do I gracefully carve out a space for myself to use my voice and make meaningful impact in a way that makes sense of my identity and of my own intersectionality? How do I consciously and carefully reclaim, create, and foster new ideas… and what about doing these things in the scarier world outside of this space in between?

Somewhere along the way, I chose to follow a path that stretches deep into the darkness of unknowns in my search for deeper introspection, and a complex understanding of the world which we inhabit. I want to look at my imperfect pieces and face them unabashedly. I strive to reduce the cognitive dissonance within me that at times makes me doubt whether it truly is okay for me to be here- because I do believe it is.

But then- what is here? I hold “here” as my present. I don’t have to have all the answers; yet I have to keep searching for answers. I take up too much space; I’m still allowed to inhabit my own space on this earth. It feels too hard to show up; it’s important for myself and for others that I keep showing up each day, in whatever capacity I can.I do my best to accept each of my conflicting, contradicting thoughts as they come, and I like to believe that I’m still blooming into tomorrow.

And I’m not alone.

Love,

Morgan

Holding My Matter Together

Atoms in Nature

Sometimes when bearing witness to great suffering, whether up close or from a great distance, I feel an intense desire to atomize myself. If only I could send pieces of myself to people who are all alone or experiencing great pain. I could support others with whatever capacity lives inside me.

But to address the great amount of suffering in this world equally, I would need to disintegrate into mere atomic particles that could float across the atmosphere- there are simply so many people hurting. Even then, I don’t know how my energy, pieces of me, could ever be enough. I would eventually just have to split apart those tiniest of pieces. I would have to split, and split, and split.

And what happens when you split tiny atoms?

I keep myself whole, all my matter together, so long as I am able to believe that I too matter. That my pain, my joy, my experience matters. And I hold a place on this planet and can flicker a light, however small, for others who come across my path.

I’m so grateful for all the guideposts who keep me from becoming a nuclear fission of fragmentations. I am whole.

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Stolen Flowers on Stolen Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Desert Flowers on 4th

 

Recognizing Trauma and Oppressed Voices Outside Our Intersections

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

EDIT 1

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

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

EDIT 2

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

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

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

Love,

Morgan

EDIT 3

During the Darkest Nights

Recently, I have found myself drawn back to the literary works of Victor Hugo. One passage from Les Miserables stood out to me particular, as 2018 came to an end:

“Teach the ignorant as much as you can; society is culpable in not providing a free education for all and it must answer for the night which it produces.”

I cling to this passage, for I must keep believing that even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.

Do you hear what I hear? Do you hear the people sing? 

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In 2018, I was overwhelmed by chorusing cries of injustice, of pain and suffering. My voice  added to the choir. As another year begins, I find myself overwhelmed by it all, and I find myself trying to find a new resolve to carry on in a world that often feels lost to darkness. I often find myself in tears, losing hope.

But Hugo says: “Those who do not weep, do not see.” And I believe there is a great deal of truth in this sentiment. I have learned that it is okay to be sad- to hold grief and sorrow close as we act witness to human suffering and suffer our own trials and tribulations in turn.

Yet still, Hugo also reminds: “Laughter is sunshine, it chases winter from the human face.” During the dark nights, I believe we must find some laughter, some joy, to sustain ourselves, whenever possible! And I find my laughter and joy in love: “To love or have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.” Oh, how love fills me up! In my friendships, and most of all in my marriage. I’m slowly learning that it’s okay to love imperfectly.

morgan on new year 2018

This time of year is often a time during which I personally have to work my hardest to exercise holding space for dissonant and confusing thoughts- About life, about faith, about people, and about myself.

And so I’m trying. To make space, to remember “and”s over “but”s, to be patient with myself and with those I love, and to remember joy even as I’m sad. To be many things at once and accept what comes; to remember people can only learn when they are ready, myself included.

Happy New Year. May peace and goodwill find you, whoever may encounter these words.

Morgan

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