This text complements chapters 7 and 8 of the book Hospicing Modernity: Facing humanity’s wrongs and the implications for social activism. It was read in the fifth session of the Hospicing Modernity zoom series.
Chapter 8 was the chapter where both physical and psychological pain showed up as teachers in ways that made me naked and vulnerable. Too many stories were activated and many were edited out, especially those that exposed other members of my family without their consent. I come from a neuroatypical family where we have struggled together with responses that are considered “dysfunctional” within modernity, including responses that really added to the racial, colonial and gendered violence of modernity itself. As a young kid I had to learn quickly to “read the room”, not because I was interested in what other people were doing, but because I had to protect my safety.
The story that is mine to tell relates to a familiar “ditch” that my bus can easily fall in, especially when certain passengers “spin” and hijack the bus. With time, I have learned techniques to spot the “spinners” early and prevent a full fall in the ditch before it happens, but sometimes they take the bus driver by surprise. Those around me have had to learn this dynamic on my bus so that they know what to do and how to help. I also had to learn how to ask for help.
Today another difficult story came up and asked to be told. I am not sure why, but I will trust that it needs to be out there, regardless of the risks. I will share with you a story about the last time my bus was on the brink of a dangerous ditch, which happened just over 2 months ago, during the holiday season.
S.A.D. (what modernity calls seasonal affective disorder, or what I call the “sadness, anger and distrust” ditch) is a dis-ease that feeds the spinners on my bus. I am not sure if it is the pandemic, but I see it getting stronger in its grip (in myself and others) every year. I am quite privileged: I have a secure job that enables me to do the work I want to do and support those who need my support, I live in a collective house surrounded by people I love, I have unrestricted access to both Western and Indigenous medicines, I have elders praying for my health and wellbeing, I have the knowledge and training to identify the symptoms and to do something about it… and yet, it gets me every year. The Christmas “spirit”, coupled with traumatic stories of this “overjoyed” season (around other people in the family with S.A.D.), and the lack of light in the Northern hemisphere, only makes it worse.
At the beginning of last December, I thought I was holding it together pretty well – I felt exhausted and a bit down, but nothing major. I was holding on to the idea that this trip to Brazil we had planned for January could help me avoid the spinners this winter. When the trip got cancelled due to Omicron, I heard a bus passenger-spinner laughing: anger got stacked upon sadness, which is the second stage of the dis-ease. The world became way more irritating: the focus turned to the shadows of and in everything. First, I turned on my own body and as I was going down that rabbit hole, I found help and support to stop the toxic progression in that direction (Thank you!). But this gave a false impression that I was fine and I let my guard down. I saw it building up on the days before Christmas. I tried to repress it: to go along and get along. And then there was a spark and it exploded in the afternoon of the Xmas eve, precisely when I was trying to make it not ruin everything.
For a few hours I saw my distrust in the metabolic intelligence in full bloom:
- I saw my ego stomping its feet to have the world as I wanted it to be, rather than facing what was presenting itself before me
- I played the record of narratives of angels and demons, where I wanted songs sung in praise of those and what I romanticized and idealized and I wanted punishment for those I vilified and pathologized
- I made self-righteous “work” plans to tell the world the truth about its toxicity and expose those who let it fester
- I also planned to eliminate from my life anything and anyone who did not contribute to the elevation of my ego or validate its entitlements for choice, comfort, certainty, control and convenience
And even as I saw the trick of it all with the corner of my eye, I had no chance of stopping it on its tracks: the spinner used my glance over its own deceit to turn my distrust towards the source. As soon as I realized that my ego was spinning and tripping, the last weapon of SAD was to activate and amplify resentment towards being alive – towards the whole metabolic shabahang and its brutality. That is when S.A.D. hits me the hardest: the sense of entanglement is actually amplified and I feel horrendous pain – it feels like the pain of everything: every injustice, every sorrow, every atrocity. And, at the same time that I feel the oneness of the universe, including the pain itself, I feel abhorred and disgusted towards whoever or whatever created it. This is a familiar ditch and life is not precious in that ditch – the whole thing feels like an extremely cruel and degrading joke. In that hole, for me, the only thing that can show the universe a finger (be it a God, a Goddess or a “higher self”) is to put an end to the shitshow. That is when the entitlement to end my own life is felt the strongest.
The compelling invitation is to let this entitlement overtake you. You don’t have to do anything really, just surrender. You can also run away from it and wait for it to catch up with you, when you feel exhausted, when the spinner is stronger with the opportunity for physical exercise you have provided. As I contemplated the invitation, I remembered every time I saw this spinner in my family, over the years. I remembered that, as a contrary teacher, a trickster if you will, it won’t give up until it teaches its lesson: until someone in the family finds the beginning of an antidote, and others help to refine it. I pondered what would happen if this antidote was not found – how the weight of that responsibility would have to be passed down to the next generations in my family. I thought about everything I had tried before that had not worked. I thought about running, to buy me some time, but I knew that the more I run and repress, as I get older, the less stamina I have to resist its advances.
I had to outsmart it. I honestly did not think I could: that a**hole is canny and strong! To add to the difficulty, by this time, I had locked myself in a room, and I had someone trying to talk to me at the door, asking to come in. He had been reckless and wrong in sparking the explosion. I was mad at him, there was zero chance I could forgive him immediately. At the door, he was saying that the explosion happened for a reason, which infuriated me even more! How dare he weaponize the “fate” narrative to justify betrayal?
In the midst of all this, I did something that I had not tried before: I looked the spinner in the eye, something it was not expecting to happen. That gave me less than a second to conjure a counter-spell-narrative to buy some more time in this stand-off. “You are a family curse” I said, “that needs to be turned into a blessing”. I don’t know how to do that, I thought to myself, but I remembered that I don’t have to “know” to start the process.
I opened the door. I regained strength. I went downstairs and summoned my family. I asked them for help. We created a ritual that could send the signal that enough was enough. We used salt, we burned a chilly pepper, and we made an offering. We told the trickster teacher that we see its trickery, that it can’t live with us anymore in that way. We promised to learn to integrate its lessons (even if it was not clear exactly how that would happen). Luckily, I was only on the brink of the ditch for a few hours. We will need to repeat the ritual every year.
After that, we started going on long walks in the forest, again, always on the same tracks, so that the trees know our scent and can be asked to protect us from our own spinners.
Invitation: Check your bus. Look for the passengers who might be hiding. Observe the dynamics of the bus:
- How do different passengers relate to death, dying and pain?
- How do different passengers respond to the invitation for eldering?
- What are your spinners up to?
- What are the ditches you normally fall into?
- Do you know your ditches and have you named your spinners? Why would this be important for you to do?