The rain here is astounding. I can see it through my bedroom window, falling like heavy, heaven’s tears. Like, a gentle waterfall I am standing behind, glimpsing the world beyond the water. In the mornings sunlight blesses my room. I can see cracks of blue sky in the distance, and I am sure I could see rainbows were I on the otherside of the apartment. And I watch it bounce off the cement like jovial children jumping in puddles. The sound on the roof like amplified nothing. The nothing noise that a dead channel makes. I grew up in Alaska, where it rains more than the sun shines. I call myself a water baby. But the rain did not fall with such poetry as it does here. Coming on gently, and then falling with the authority of a symphonic peak. It does not let you ignore its presence.
I love beef, and I particularly love beef stew. I had really only known of the bigger known stews from Ireland, and France. I began to think, surely there are delicious stews from other countries as well. I did some research and this is what I found.
Irish Beef Stew
Special ingredient: Guinness
French Beef Stew
Special Ingredient: Red Wine
Belgian Beef Stew
Carbonnade a la Flamande
Special Ingredients: Belgian Beer, Brown Sugar, Dijon Mustard
Chinese Beef Stew
Special Ingredients: Soy Sauce, Chinese Cooking Wine, Star Anise, Cinnamon, Ginger
Vietnamese Beef Stew
Special Ingredients: Lemongrass, Chinese 5 Spice, Soy Sauce, Fish Sauce, Star Anise, Cinnamon, Coconut Water
Argentine Beef Stew
Special Ingredients: Sweet Potato, Acorn Squash, Frozen Corn, Apricots
Moroccan Beef Stew
Special Ingredients: Cinnamon, Cumin, Ginger, Apricots
Jamaican Beef Stew
Special Ingredients: Soy Sauce, Allspice, Scotch Bonnet
Puerto Rican Beef Stew
Special Ingredients: Sofrito, Light Beer, Adobo Seasoning, Sazon, Green Olives
Ethiopian Beef Stew
Special Ingredients: Ghee, Ginger, Berbere
Then I decided to take it full circle.
Special Ingredients: Beef Sausage, Dark Beer, Bacon
I think a lot about prison, and our prison systems. This documentary series brings a lot of warmth to my heart. Presented by the renown Ken Burns, this is a look at college opportunities for inmates. It is an idea that a lot of people are against. One such mother expresses her feelings bluntly, these inmates commit crimes and go to prison and are getting a free education, while she is working and paying for her other children to get their education. She states they might as well commit crimes too. But how can you call it a “correctional facility” if you deny the opportunity to correct themselves. As well, not all inmates are cold-blooded killers. A teenager can be sent to prison via the three-strikes law for mere possession of marijuana. Battered women can be sent to prison for defending themselves from the battery. And once they enter those facilities, they are immediately shackled with the identity of “criminal” which will hold them back for the rest of their lives. Believe it or not, education is what decreases recidivism. Without this sort of opportunity, a prisoner merely serves their time, returns to the world, they face all the doors that are closed to them due to the label of “criminal,” job opportunities, housing assistance, etc, and they are forced back into a life of crime. What this documentary highlighted was the mere act of giving these inmates something to live for, a goal, a reason to work to be better. And I am so astounded by how determined they were. You hear their stories and feel the hopelessness, and admire their will to keep going.
Da 5 Bloods. Not Chadwick Boseman’s most astounding performance, but it was his second to last film. A film about black Americans fighting in the Vietnam war. The film had deep messages, and seemed to emulate Muhammad Ali’s argument for refusing the draft, “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam after so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” It was a movie about the intense brotherhood that war creates between its soldiers. And it paid a great amount of respect to the Vietnam people, and what they suffered, and are still suffering today. Although, it then becomes slightly less deep, political message, and more international treasure hunt, crime boss double cross, intense shoot out… with a dash of strained romance, and an emphasis on the importance of assistance for veterans and PTSD… It was an action film with a political message about our nation, made after the election of our 45th president.
I read a lot of books like this, and in truth, I do start to get them all mixed up. Because it is always the same story. Always the same justice system failing. And I especially hate it when the added factor of mental health is brought into the mix. While the City Slept, by Eli Sanders, is uncomfortably detailed. Thorough detail into the victim’s histories. And just as thorough detail into the crime. And you feel scared, and angry, and heartbroken. And at the heart of this story, is just how preventable this horrendous crime could have been. One of the horrible truths about this nation is its fear of mental health. How people just don’t want to look at it or think about it. If we don’t acknowledge it, it’s not there, right? When the truth is, nobody, NOBODY is immune to mental health problems. But when nobody wants to acknowledge that it is a problem, money begins to get pulled from the mental health systems, rather than go into it. Without resources, our most severely sick are not getting treatment, or the same chance at a stable life that the rest of us get. Without resources, our most severely sick end up in prisons, rather than treatment facilities. And that is an absolutely unjust place for them. This book is still haunting me a little bit, because I absolutely get it. I feel it, and I am just as upset.
I watch alot of documentaries on this subject, and L.G.B.T.Q, and all of the mental trauma involved. L.G.B.T.Q individuals are born at a mental and emotional disadvantage. When Oliver Sacks, renown neurologist, admitted to his mother that he was homosexual, all she said was, “I wish you had never been born.” This film, while following less severe forms of conversion therapy, were still appalling. Non-licensed individuals providing therapy, suggesting that homosexuals are the products of childhood sexual trauma. When it was said that there was no sexual trauma, they were manipulated into thinking they had merely suppressed the memory of it. To assume that this “behavior” is the result of past trauma, that you are PLANTING there is sick. The documentaries on trans individuals emphasize the self harm and suicide attempts resulting from the internal confusion and lack of acceptance. Conversion therapy was exactly the same. “Why can’t you just obey?” “Don’t you want to be normal?” One woman talks about going home and burning herself. And how she felt a catharsis by doing it. They could change their behavior and smile and act the right way, but it was all a lie. Inside, nothing had changed. And they couldn’t understand why they felt so empty. A poignant moment was when survivors of conversion therapy sit down and speak to the presidents and founders of one of the largest conversion therapy networks, and express the damage they suffered going through the therapy. And a moment when one founder is watching the news after Proposition 8 passed, and saw the masses of people protesting against Proposition 8, and his heart broke because he realized he had helped pass a motion that was hurting his own people. You can’t deny who you are. You can’t change who you are. It doesn’t make sense to say that an all-loving God created you, yet can’t love you. And the most tragic part, is that these networks still exist.
I have always worked with the idea of giving my patients the benefit of the doubt. I will not automatically assume that what they are telling me is false just because they are Psych patients. And at the very least, I will acknowledge that it is the reality that they are experiencing. But perhaps sometimes that idea can go too far. How much benefit of the doubt is too much? And certainly, when does it stand between innocent and guilty, in terms of crime? I had heard of Billy Milligan before, and have always found Dissociative Identity Disorder to be interesting. While it is important to me to be as fully empathetic as I can, there are a few situations in which I can’t even begin to make sense of mentally. I cannot understand DID, except to relate it to being blackout drunk. Losing time. And there are certainly skeptics of the disorder. Made famous in the late 50s and early 70s, DID began to gain attention. Conveniently, in the mid to late 70s, a serial rapist claimed he did not commit the crimes because he had multiple personalities. What draws me to it is its deep trauma based development. When describing his childhood, it isn’t any stretch of the mind to see a person fracture themselves into the perfect defense mechanism. But as we begin to see more of Billy’s life, it isn’t any further a stretch of the mind to see how he may have simply developed into the perfect Sociopath. The question is then posed, might this have been a perfect crime?
Individuals who believe they have the souls of animals inside them are sent to a small camp to undergo therapy to fully rehumanize them. An interesting sort of modernized conversion therapy film. With all the outlandish and cruel methods used to achieve their goal. Without the religious ideologies pulling for one side or the other. The animals chosen by the two main characters symbolic for each character. The girl, a cat, because she longed to just leap out her window and land, safe and sound, and to just run. The boy, a wolf, because no greater animal emulates the very meaning of freedom. The symbolism is clear as you watch the doctor cruelly try to beat the freedom out of him, cursing him to conform. A very psychology/mental health film. Ironic timing, as I am as of late, uniquely interested in the idea of trauma and development on an individual. It was clear that these patients had experienced some form of trauma in their past and somehow found a safe space in being these animals.
I know a lot about my birth situation, which is surprising. I know the circumstances and the situation. I know that they weren’t married, and that my birth father really didn’t want me. I know that that was not the case for my mother. I know that she wanted to keep me. She just wasn’t able to.
Sometimes, I think that while growing up, even though this was my truth, I also saw it as a story. A fable about a poor woman who was forced to let her child fly away into the sky. I think I kept the strong emotions tucked away in the darkened half of my heart. But I always felt something was missing.
When I turned 30, I had a major life crisis. I suddenly felt like I didn’t know who I was, or what I was supposed to be doing. I adopted a kitten who made my life more miserable than it already was. I needed to figure out who I was. I began very seriously thinking about my Birth Mother search.
I struggled with the application. The letter to be written to her. Stuck on its first line; for years. Afraid. All of the possible outcomes rolling around within me. What if she doesn’t want to know me. What if she hasn’t been searching for me too. What if she is dead… I didn’t know if I was ready for the answer. I didn’t know if I’d ever be ready.
I don’t know if it was a woman I once worked with. She was extremely depressed and nobody could really get much out of her. I remember being in her room with her one day. I don’t usually talk about myself at work to my patients, but this time I somehow told her it was my birthday. People are always surprised when they realize I am working on my birthday. I can’t remember how, but I ended up telling her I was adopted, and telling her the whole story, and my fears about beginning the search for my birth mother. I remember that she then confided in me that when she was young, she had given up a child for adoption. And then she told me that she could guarantee that my birth mother wanted to find me.
I don’t know if it was the grey-haired Korean woman who hugged me on the day of her discharge, and told me how proud she was of me.
Or if it was the young, lost and confused Korean adoptee who wrote me a letter about how important I had been for her while she was in the hospital.
Or maybe it was all me.
But I finally finished the letter to my birth mother, and sent the application off to the adoption agency.
I don’t even know if I can fully express how close to home this film hit. Especially right now. Granted, I was not adopted from China, under the cruel and intense circumstances that many children, young girls, were adopted under. These girls were adopted during the One-Child period in China. Having surprisingly found each other through 23&Me, three adopted cousins made contact. They were all adopted to white families who loved and adored them. But, obviously these girls were raised around alot of ignorance and racism. A lot of the things that they quoted as having been told, might at one time make me laugh, because laughter is deflection. But the stuff said to them, while innocent at times, still reminded them of just how different they were, and always would be. And so a journey to find their birth families was begun. The circumstances alone brought tears to my eyes. From one side, it is easy for an adopted child to think their birth parents didnt want them, or that something was wrong with them. In this film, we see parents who are absolutely crushed at remembering the child who was forcibly taken away from them, because it was against the law to have two children. And at the sheer difficulty of trying to locate their families when they had been left in boxes on the side of the street, wrapped in blankets and left on the steps of the government building. It opened my eyes more to the circumstances of my own Chinese cousins and their adoptions. But the thing that resonated with me the most was the fear, because i also had that. The anticipation and the hope, but also the astounding fear. When asked if she wanted to see a picture of the people thought to be her birth family, one of the cousins sits for a while, and then just covers her face and starts crying. This film ended up being so much more than a success story. It was a story of perspectives, and circumstances, and hopes and fears, and heartbreaks, and discovery, and growth… This film found me at the exact moment I needed it.
I had never heard this podcast before, but in this episode of The Man Enough Podcast, the three hosts are interviewing Alok Vaid-Menon, an incredibly smart and well spoken individual. They proudly identify as non-binary and talks about what that means in society in terms of how they are treated in public. They talk about the trauma of identity issue as a child, the inability to feel as anything but themself. They also talk about the stigma of the identity and how easy it is to be pushed into the corner of ‘weird.’ While I have a lot of thoughts and feelings on race discrimination, and have done a lot of reading about it, as someone who is not white, and treated as not white, I can identify with a lot of what Alok is saying.
It is an extremely heavy episode, as well as emotional for the hosts. Alok is an incredibly passionate speaker, and it might slap some people in the face to hear what they are saying. But for a lot of people, I think it will also open their eyes to more acceptance and compassion.