awareness

Quaking up

A week of *shaking

Fear, shock and anger

Fault lines drawn and blame jolting and dislodging people from places

Disbelief – people never saw it coming

The quiet tension building, opposing forces strain

Rumbling, grumbling, giving way, a landslide

Staring in disbelief as the numbers come in grief and shock wondering when it will stop

Ground giving way seeking safety and shelter

Isolation communities divided

Assessing the damage and strengthening supports but still the aftershocks

Salvaging hope in the ruins of familiar structures

Some may need to go, be torn down, too unstable and uncertain

But the doubt creeps in, what is deep underground hidden and unknown

As the pieces are picked up and the rebuilding begins

Analysis, understanding, awareness, this no comfort for many

Shattered lives and lives still on edge a daily call to know more, to understand to do it better to survive and thrive together

(*The political world wide quake of the US elections and Culverton-Kaikoura earthquake this week)

 

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Time out! What century is it?

A couple of days ago I blogged about Mental Health Awareness week and schools. I vowed to stop reading the Herald online on account of the atrocious grammar, like someone had their cat walk on their keyboard and randomly cut and paste things half the time, but I risk it now and again. The article I read had my head in a spin, a surge of adrenaline as the fury rose in my body indicated I should not read on, but I did.

This time the grammar held up, it was the content. Children being locked in a small, dark time out room for behaviour management, put into isolation. Now that had me burning for a start, then to find out some of those put into that space were on the Autistic spectrum just turned my anger into a form of transcendent hysteria. To finish me off the dismissive minimising language and rhetoric claiming it was not illegal just ‘outmoded’ and the Ministry of Educations response was about as strong as Donald Trumps credibility as a feminist.

Honestly I have absolutely no hesitation is stating this is nothing but abuse disguised as behaviour management. There is nothing about this practice that is about reducing distress, learning, care or compassion. It speaks to the gross lack of training, understanding and resourcing of education for complex needs. I’m sure some of those teachers thought there was nothing wrong with what they were doing, that is what worries me. There are students who will have challenges regulating emotions and behaviour because of abusive backgrounds or unique neurocognitive functioning, that’s called diversity. Being locked in dark spaces as punishment to experience more distress, fear and isolation is barbaric and totally deplorable. The MOE needed to say that, rather than its ‘monitoring the situation’. WTF is that? We’ll, pay someone, to interview some people to hire a consultant to write a report…

Meanwhile what about that room? I say, it needs to be turned into the only thing it is good for at this point, given its size is fish tank and Lego room. Students might happily go there to find some peace and quiet away from the crazy chaotic over stimulating real world. They might even paint a ‘do not disturb’ sign. I need that room now.

 

Spotlight on Mental Health

Next week is mental health awareness week and I’m already anxious. It’s also the first week back of the term and part of me is bracing for the inevitable leap onto the treadmill at full pace, desperately grabbing for the handrails of coffee and the sturdy support of my colleagues. Being a counsellor in a large secondary school is complex and next week puts the spotlight firmly on our area of work, but it’s one that I think is too directional and follows only certain players on the mental health stage.

I’m anticipating the light to fall on anxiety, depression, suicide, as well as debates around diagnosis, medication and looking for warning signs. There might be some promotion of strategies for coping with stress, mindfulness, and lots of other positive psychology techniques. It’s a life-coaches smorgasbord and while I respect there are a lot of good people doing great things to support people to live happy fulfilled lives there are some things that bother me greatly about the intense focus on western concepts of mental health and the mind as well as the emphasis on individual responsibility for managing your own wellness. The effect of the spotlight is to reduce mental health down to brain chemistry, managing emotional states (where some emotions are deemed not healthy) and a checklist of tasks.

So I want to scatter the light, diffract it if you will through some uncomfortable contexts that in my line of work are all too frequent yet avoided in public conversations. It’s a little like poverty – people prefer to see something about the lack of personal management of money or make it about some failure in individual people. There is the pervasive believe everyone can be well off if they just tried hard enough. Mental health is similar.

Some themes I’ve encountered in my 20 years working in schools that I think need to be considered as much as discussions about depression etc:

  • Family violence is traumatic – whether it be physical, verbal, psychological, sexual and it happens!
  • Sexual abuse is traumatic for all people and it happens across cultures and genders
  • Adults rarely think about how the ways they speak to their children and about them impacts on their well-being – we’ve had generations of values that suggest put-downs, harsh language, smacking and basically denigrating children and young people is good for their character. The other end of the spectrum is also unhelpful both are harmful for developing balance
  • Few adults say ‘I’m sorry’ to their children and take responsibility for their actions
  • Bullying happens in families first and in other community settings, not just schools – young queer people of all cultures are often more exposed to this
  • Trauma impacts on the brain – especially a developing brain, but also adult brains (see my blog on the limbic system). Young people can experience post traumatic stress (PTS) just like adults.
  • Young people are resilient but they need adults to listen and BELIEVE THEM when they talk about abuse and support for who they are as people
  • There is an expectation to be happy 24/7 these days – normal responses to grief, loss, stress are being lost to medicalisation – thanks google
  • The future is uncertain rather than bright for many young people – schools are also very stressful places. NCEA requires them to be on their game for 3 years! Good grief people of my generation came out of hibernation for about 3 weeks for exams. That level of sustained pressure is not good for anyone (including teachers).

Finally we need to critique the separation of mind and body and recognise that this is simply one way of viewing people and might not be the most useful in the 21st Century. Bringing in the range of spectrums of perspectives from other cultures could enable new conversations that move beyond the single white spot that is white western health concepts that leave many in the dark, isolated and invisible.

Shoe in

It’s an oft used analogy to indicate perspective taking or developing empathy ‘to walk in someone else’s shoes’. I’ve been thinking more and more about why slipping into someone’s experience would be as simple or whether the familiarity of the idea is both why it works and fails miserably. Because I would go even further to say that excludes a wide range of people and other beings who either do not walk or don’t wear shoes.

So perhaps this way of helping short cut understanding has set up a rather unhelpful set of assumptions. We are all conceptually limited although at times we’d rather pretend to ‘know’ than deal with the uncomfortable realisation that we might just not ‘get it’. To ask the question ‘how do we know what we don’t know’ or ‘why did this form of knowing become accepted’ invites an alternative, agnotological approach to the shoe idea.

What got me thinking about this again was my experience of starting bare foot running, not exactly, but the ‘shoes’ I wear are simply a piece of rubber and some rope (the silver toe nail polish is optional but I reckon it makes me run better). Peoples responses were intriguing, no-one believed they were running shoes. The model of the shoe did not fit, a preconceived idea had already defined how my feet should be covered for the purposes of training. My shoes were wrong according to the dominant knowledge available from the various scientifically based truths about human physiology and biomechanics. Therefore the idea of trying to run in my shoes was so against popular knowledge my decision seemed incomprehensible, illogical and irrational. Judging from some of the condescending comments and Spock like eyebrow raises, I was deemed a little bit cray cray, a sort of ‘these aren’t the shoes you’re looking for’ Jedi mind trick was even tried.

It’s taken my body a while to adjust to a different style of running, but I love it. All the concern about what harm I might do running in a more natural way seem a little cray cray to me. Some lives are like my new running ‘shoes’. They are incomprehensible because of the ideas used to construct them. When people imagine wearing them they have already decided how it might feel, how painful and uncomfortable and awkward they’d be. It might not cross their mind that they could feel light, free, sensitive and liberating. I suspect people who identify as transgender or are seen as ‘disabled’ have their lives miss-imagined or only framed in pejorative ways.

But I think if we can become open to the idea that we might be wrong, to be curious and prepared to recognise the ways our own vulnerability shapes our perception, that is, to understand our own shoes, why they feel comfortable, where they fit best, what terrain they give traction on and where they become unstuck could be more useful. But again, from the outside our ideas simply reflect our own fears, doubts and insecurities and not necessarily the lived experience of others.

And as for seeing through the eyes of another? Well that is no mean feet.

Head On Viral Challenge

Ok so I am never fond of viral challenges or viral anything for that matter. Whether it be for charity or not you can keep your ice in your bucket. If you want me to play along put some beers in it. But what to make of the latest round of the latest ‘have you done it yet’ annoying memes on facebook and other social media – the condom challenge.

It consists of filling a condom with water and dropping it on someones head. Some suggest it’s about raising awareness of condom use. I find that a stretch. On a more serious note, how many people will be aware that December 1st is World AIDS Day. Now that should go viral on so many levels. If you are intending to do the condom challenge how about making that statement and making a donation if you want to make a real difference to the awareness around the actual function of condoms. The real challenge is to get people to use condoms. Yes they are supposed to go on someones head but it’s just located a little further south. Time for a bit of anatomical orientation for some I think.

On the upside it’s never been a better time to rock up to a supermarket and casually buy a packet or 4 and simply smile and wink and say hashtag condomchallenge. Great opportunity to stock up without parents suspecting anything, just show them, they might even join in! Bit of family bonding, lubricate the conversations about safe sex?

If you are a sucker for a viral challenge, good on you – go hard, I wouldn’t want to burst your bubble.

Class Act

I remember a time when the message to young teachers about how to establish authority in the class boiled down to some simple instructions about remaining distant and aloof. Many of us will recall the doctrine of ‘no smiling before Easter’. While most new to the profession these days will be encouraged to develop more positive connections with students before Easter there is still some of this authoritarian hangover lurking for teachers who’s own default settings remain in the reactive negative affect range of basic emotional responses. In spite of having fully developed frontal lobes, yelling, humiliating, mocking and shaming young people is still a preferred tactic for some.

And I can speak from experience. When I started teaching I was still understanding my own reactive limbic system defaults and wish my teacher education had spent more time to help me work through how to become more aware of how my behaviour impacted on the learning and well-being of young people. I was a bit reckless at times – and had social media been around I’d probably have had a few hash tags of the not so salubrious kind.

Given as a nation we don’t have such great statistics with violence and abuse toward children it seems highly undesirable to have our learning institutions endorsing abuse tactics with so much understanding these days about the effects on developing brains. Yet as adults we tend to hide behind our privileged position as the ‘older species’ assuming this chronological difference entitles us to respect regardless of our own behaviour. Sometimes I wonder who really needs to grow up?

The artificial structures of respect and authority in 21st century schools that linger from post industrial revolution ideologies and practices taint modern learning environments. In a postmodern landscape with technology blurring the accessibility of personal boundaries growing, the very idea of calling teachers Mr or Miss is crazy if teachers profiles can be seen online.

Perhaps the best litmus test for a readiness to change is the openness to restorative practices as these really do challenge assumptions about power, authority and how to do respect. The most confronting aspect however is not so much in the kinds of conversations that are had but the need to acknowledge the recognition that we are all human beings in process. Developing empathy and caring is not done by the time you are 18. Every conversation changes a person therefore the quality of those conversations and interactions matter.

For those still unsure about the power of restorative practice watch Daniel Reisels TED talk. Emotions are there to connect with understanding and I think there is more to empathy than what happens in the brain. Genuine learning engages uncomfortable feelings of vulnerability. We need to ditch the idea of negating or ‘managing’ these emotions or seeing them as primitive and a mark of weakness. Thinking and being reason-able is over rated sometimes or at the very least over emphasised as a mark of maturity.

I hope we can start creating modern learning environments that expect smiling on the first day and compulsory facials by Easter due to face ache.

Broken sleep open mind

I haven’t had a lot of sleep the last few nights and it’s having a curious effect on my body and awareness. My senses seem dulled and strangely sensitive and I’m not sure why I am finding my piles of washing amusing. Noises and smells seem to move through me triggering cascading thoughts memories and ideas that seem impossible to guide or shape into anything coherent. I’m out of it but what is it that I am out of?

Had I taken something to get into this state I might be judged as irresponsible or reckless and warned against the dangers of messing with brain chemistry. We sanction the body and its uses in so many ways including what we are allowed to perceive through our physical and non-physical selves. The policing of consciousness, pleasure and desire is not always obvious and although we might know instinctively that there could be more to experience or want to learn more through experience, the fear of being ostracised, ridiculed, judged or excluded by others pulls us into line and so we publically agree ‘drugs are bad’ or if we want to take up a resisting position we must do it within the acceptable discourses available – such as legitimisation via scientific research or medicine.

I don’t know if I would recommend sleep deprivation, it’s pretty hard to sell. Maybe it could be a gateway phenomenon that leads to other natural highs like laughing lots or taking in a concert or potentially the most dangerous of both dance festivals! Oh what might the world come to if we danced all night outside in limestone sink holes to pumping music and glorious night skies.

Better stick to something safe and legal like alcohol.