Just before arriving in New York as a graduate student, I was consumed by Harry Potter novels, which describe a boy seizing his chance at a life in an alternate universe with its own realities and its own customs and history. What is valued in the old world is not necessarily appreciated in the new world, and vice versa. Novels such as The Hobbit, His Dark Materials, Chronicles of Narnia, and Coraline, in which characters travel to imaginary worlds where time and reality flow differently, resonate with me, perhaps because moving to another country involves bold changes in every aspect of life—geography, climate, architecture, customs, language, and even time.
The physician is becoming increasingly frustrated and, now, nervous. Fearing a negative outcome, the physician presents my mother with a waiver stating she is declining the C-section. My mother apprehensively, yet confidently, signs it. This is my signal. Amid the screams of my mother, my head decides to finally make an appearance. I am welcomed into the world with a blue body and noose around my neck. My mother declares her victory over “modern” medicine. Within minutes, she is holding me in her arms, and our brown eyes meet for the first time.
I am in the not-unique position of coming from mixed heritage. Like many of us who hail from the Kentucky and Tennessee Appalachians (we pronounce it apple-ate-cha, not apple-atsha), my family is a mix of African, Native, and Scottish. Except for the white boy who raped my fifteen-year-old Cree/Cherokee grandmother to make my mother. We don’t really know what he was, other than the obvious. In old photos of my family, we look like a checkerboard. The young ones are towheaded and fair-skinned, the grandparents wonderfully burnished, the between generation coffee and cream.
The title of the last Venice Biennale Art exhibition was “May You Live in Interesting Times,” and the title of the next Architectural Biennale exhibition is “How Will We Live Together?” I found these two topics not only extremely interesting and provocative but also particularly pertinent to the reality we are experiencing right now. Let’s start with the first. What times are we living now?
Bion said that when two people meet, an emotional storm is created. What are the possible cytokine-emotional storms when two people cannot meet? Can they be felt in mutuality still without an individual breakdown?
At first, I did not know why I was weeping inconsolably upon seeing the image of George Floyd’s naked face as his neck was crushed by the knee of a man fully armed with police gear and, more strikingly, a look of total nonchalance. I did not know why I could not bear watching the video of one human, so unmoved, with such ease, squeezing the life out of another human being who was squirming, pleading, begging, calling for his momma.
What if our patients who “feel too much” aren’t just poorly regulated but are sensing something more that needs to be told? What if our patients who have been called “too sensitive” really are resonating with a more collective grief than their own? What if they have capacities and sensitivities that overwhelm them because no one has believed them and trained them how to use them? What if they feel “different” from others, not just because of trauma, or neuropsychological differences, but because they are carriers of old truths, of memories from before their time?
We can all—or most of us—agree on the existence of a thing called structural racism. But can structures have a life of their own, independent of the people inside them?
It had been an unseasonably hot day in July. The news said—improbably, I felt—that it didn’t break a record. The fifteen chickens in the coop next to me panted through their open beaks, spread their wings to create shade, or moved within the stingy shadows, one pecking the neck of another to get a place to scratch down to cooler earth.
Early in January 2020, while anxiously speaking to a colleague, I was thinking about how I have become dysfunctional. I obsessively read everything. My panic-stricken and recurring thoughts about the state of my country, my home, were haunting me like a waking nightmare. My colleague at the time responded and said, “That’s how everyone is. Panic and dysfunction are not a pathology of the individual anymore. You are not alone.”