In Rhode Island: “I Am Not Your Mascot” Presentation

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The mascot issue doesn’t just get attention on Opening Day, although that is probably when you hear about it most.  One of my fellow members of the Lake Erie Professional Chapter of the American Indian Science & Engineering Society recently shared with me an event she helped run in New London, Connecticut to educate people on the issue.  The event, called “I am Not a Mascot”, was held June 9th at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist congregation (http://www.allsoulsnewlondon.org).  Alex is the Task Force Chair for the Growing Racial and Cultural Equity group (G.R.A.C.E.) in the congregation, and the presentation was a G.R.A.C.E. event.  Many UU congregations, which focus on respect for everyone and everything despite their differences, have been adapting similar programs.

The “I am Not a Mascot” presentation was given by Lorén Spears, a citizen of the Narragansett Indian Tribe which is surrounded by Rhode Island State.  Lorén is also the executive director of the Tomaquag Museum, dedicated to indigenous education and located in Exeter, Rhode Island.  She received a Bachelor’s of Science in Elementary Education from the University of Rhode Island, a Master’s in Education from the University of New England, spent years teaching in public schools and also as an adjunct professor at the University of Rhode Island (Native literature), and even founded the Nuweetooun School.  She works to educate the public in traditional knowledge passed down from her Elders, including traditional cooking, beadwork, language, basketry, weaving, traditional dance, music, and oral history.  The Tomaquaq Museum (http://www.tomaquaqmuseum.org/home) also has a number of podcasts and videos on its website.

Alex provided some notes for how the presentation went and what was covered.  Some highlights included discussions of the term “r*dskin” – a racial slur that came from a time when Natives were skinned and the skins were exchanged for money.  This led into talking about the Washington team and its refusal to change the name despite the fact that the name is offensive and comes from a violent part of American history.  The history of the Cleveland team was also discussed, its logo having started with just a “C” which progressively became offensive (a pictured slide is shown below with the logo changes by year).  High schools are still using stereotypical and offensive mascots and names, though that is starting to change.  (Several State school boards have outlawed such things and require schools to make a change in the next couple of years.)  Social Media has made It easier for Natives to combat these stereotypes as they can rally from far and wide and made an online presence where they would otherwise be left unheard.  Finally, psychologists have proven that these negative (and allegedly “positive”) stereotypes, misrepresentations, and cultural appropriations have all caused psychological harm to indigenous peoples.  Lorén also gave examples of other logos that have been changed, like the Golden State Warriors, but also examples of mascots with African-American references that have been terminated.

On one slide, some facts are shared that counter the argument often heard that nothing’s going to change.  Rather, 2/3 of over 2000 “Indian” references in sports have been eliminated in the last 35 or so years.  28 high schools, to date, have changed their “R-word” name.  In addition to this information, the Cleveland baseball team is largely phasing out to a Block C logo.  The Washington football team was stripped of all its trademark rights.  Oregon has recently joined the growing list of states that ban Native mascots in schools, including California’s advancement of the bill to ban the “R-word” name at schools.  In Madison schools, clothing with Native American logos have been banned.  Furthermore, public statements have been made by dozens of tribes and national organizations, such as the American Psychological Society and the American Sociological Society, which share the position that these mascots are unnecessary, harmful, and should be immediately eliminated.  This is especially crucial as these organizations are capitalizing on stereotypes, making these images seem acceptable, perpetuating the feelings of inadequacies in Native youth, playing a role in racial inequality, and most certainly contributing to before battling against the suicide rates and race crimes experienced by Native people, statistics which are all alarmingly the highest by far than any other group, despite being a minority among minorities.

Alex said that everyone who attended the workshop say they learned a lot.

Below are photos provided by Alex from the educational event:

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The Meaning in Dreams.

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Growing up, my mom and my grandma would always ask me about my dreams. Whether they were good, bad, or just plain profound, I would tell them if something stood out to me the next day. There were days when my dreams were dictated by medication, including a series of horrifying nightmares I experienced during my few weeks in India when I switched to a different kind of malaria pill.

I was always amazed by how progressive my family seems to be, yet certain things stick in the mud like a stubborn twig. Things like my grandma’s insisting that owls are a sign of death, my dad yelling at me for speaking ill of my brother when I saw a raven, or the way my family dwells on dreams. I’ve always felt like dreams are just a subconscious moment of clear thinking, kind of like an innocent child creatively experiencing the world or like those moments when you can’t solve a math problem and walk away from it, only to solve it when you’re not thinking about it. But maybe there is something more to it? I do, after all, own an old, large book of palm reading, tarot cards, and dream interpretation.

I do listen to my thoughts and my dreams. I find myself convinced that it keeps me out of trouble, or even death. Like when I leave the house late and my mom says “It was for a reason; something would have happened if you were on time.” Well, once a drunk driver collided head-on going the wrong way down the Turnpike a few miles ahead of me. I think that really got me thinking from then on.

But dreams?

I know a lot of friends would reject my subconscious theory and rationale. They would say it is undoubtedly god speaking to us, showing us what he wants to see. I just have a hard time believing god really cares that much about the bajillions of people here that he sits with them every night and orchestrates their dreams within their respective time zones and sleeping schedules. Wouldn’t it be easier just to sit back and watch? I mean, most people probably forget their dreams anyway.

Last night I had an unusually frustrating dream. My family and I flew to London for a week. I had just gotten back from London (true story), but I was eager to go to the White Cliffs of Dover and also to the northern most point of Scotland. We sat around in this large, modern apartment, staring out at the glass windows for several days, not leaving, before I finally said something. My mom insisted it wasn’t a big deal, we could see London from the living room. I looked out and, sure enough, I could see the London Eye turning and Big Ben not far from that.

My brother was playing games on his computer. I’m not even sure what my dad was doing – if anything. Every time I tried to suggest leaving, they’d ignore me and say that my brother had stuff to get done. But then they’d let him keep playing games.

“Mom, let’s walk to the train station. I have London so well memorized around the Thames that I can get us to Dover in no time.” (true story)

“Okay, fine, we will get ready and go to Dover.”

I wait for a few hours and it is getting dark.

“Mom, if we don’t go now, it will be dark and we can’t see anything.”

“We can go tomorrow.”

“Then we can’t go to Scotland, too!”

“Calm down, it’s no big deal.”

“I didn’t pay for airfare to come to London for a week and sit inside this room!”

And we never went anywhere. It got dark, I could see the blue Eye, and I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t even run away.

I think I know what my dream was telling me.

First of all, my mom mentioned grandma talking about a trip to Australia. I was surprised yesterday that the flights are cheaper than the ones I’m buying to go back to West Africa in less than two months. That’s why I was dreaming about our family traveling. London was always on my mom’s list.

The apartment. I think that’s how I feel about a lot of people, that they’re just idling, watching the world through protective glass, never going outside of their comfort zones. Suffocating in their Bell Jars. Thinking this is as good as it gets, that text book pictures and stories come even close to representing the real thing. And that’s definitely not what it’s like.

The imprisonment. I think I feel imprisoned often by the restraints my parents have always placed on me, whether it is in my athletics or in my travels, whatever. They were shutting down my idea of going somewhere, doing something crazy. I always feel like, if I listened to them, I would be idle, I would be stuck living the same old, conventional, rural Pennsylvanian life. Maybe I want that, but not without leaving it first. They just never tried to leave it at all. And they try to lock me in their norms.

The computer. This is two-fold. One, I was surprised when my mom recently made the comment “I can’t believe you’re surviving without Wi-Fi”. I thought it was sarcastic. Since when did my mom rely on the Internet? She just got a laptop and an e-mail address not that long ago. It’s not like she ever needed it. I didn’t even know she understands half of what she tries to do on it. And, yes, work makes me dependent on Internet, but not like that. Two, this DEFINITELY reflected my attitude on my family’s treatment of me versus my brother. He is more important, he can do what he wants. I can only do what I want if I damn well do it myself. They’ll dish out the money for him to do something stupid and useless and which doesn’t help his career. Meanwhile I’m actually working and trying to live life. Give me a break.

So – let’s look at this two ways:

1. Subconscious, pure thoughts: Does this mean I truly feel this way? Or is this where the imagination part kicks in and starts making me dream up situations for self-pity? Could it be that my views from this dream are really what I’m facing in my daily life?

2. God’s thoughts in my head: If there’s a god putting these ideas there, what is he trying to tell me? I don’t see a way for me to appreciate anything from that dream, unless I’m supposed to appreciate being able to say “I’m in London” – I think not. Is he trying to make me realize the differences between me and my family? I have no idea.

But I enjoy dreams. They are stories I write without trying to write them, and look at all the symbolism I subconsciously conjure up!

Brain Over Mind: Dealing with Psychological Disorders

This is a story about how I have learned to conquer psychological disorders.  I still deal with a lot of this stuff every day, but I am slowly coming to terms with it which enables me to feel better. I have been in denial for so long about the things in my head and I have been too ashamed to talk about them with anyone, even my doctors.  I decided to write this (long) entry to reflect as briefly as I can on how my mentality has changed over the years. Hopefully someone can relate and feels encouraged by this.  The point of this entry is to reflect on my progress and remember that it’s okay to be told you have a disorder (or several) and that, in some ways, a disadvantage is actually an advantage.

1Seeing life through a different lens.

Last night, after dance class, I was expecting a call from a friend.  It never came.  Yet I somehow managed to pack up my ghilles, drive home, and read a couple of books without a fret.

For me, that is HUGE.

There was a time not so long ago (perhaps just weeks) that not getting a call from someone would have led to a complete breakdown.  I would have absolutely lost it.  It’s kind of hard to explain.  Yet I’ve managed to come to terms with it in my own head and it’s given me a huge grip on life.

THEY CALL IT “DIAGNOSIS”
I’ve struggled with my emotions, perfectionism, and self-hatred for a long time and always just assumed it was how everyone lives.  I just referred to it as my “inability to cope” and denied the help of doctors and psychologists.  Even after being diagnosed with a few disorders when I was 18, I still was in denial.  I was required to do counseling during college due to my declining physical health, increasing injury rate in athletics, and a series of mental breakdowns that led to bouts of what the doctors were calling “severe depression” with sudden swings of “anxiety” that were sometimes triggering paranoid episodes – basically, borderline bipolar.  I just scoffed at what they told me.  I didn’t want to hear it.

Despite being told these disorders are real and that it’s okay to have them, let’s just put you on meds and get you into counseling – I refused to accept defeat.  I’m not sure if it was denial if I seriously believed I was unable to cope, that it was all in my head – and not in the psychological-disorderly way.  As a reaction to being told there was something inherently “wrong” with me, I just kept denying the evaluations.  I didn’t want to admit to myself how I was feeling.  My doctor would ask a survey at the start of each appointment that rated how depressed or suicidal I was the past week.  I was afraid she would judge me if I was below-average-happy, so I started lying on the evaluations.  Then I felt guilty.  I asked her to scrap them all together, claiming it made me “feel worse about myself”.  In hindsight, I probably received the lowest psychological scores for having done that.

MEDICATION, THE WORD I HATE
I started with Wellbutrin for depression.  I didn’t think it did a damn thing.  Maybe I was expecting to be healed, but I also recall thinking it was a trick, that they were just feeding me blanks to see if I was lying about my feelings (which I didn’t even feel like sharing anyway).  I didn’t want to be a hypochondriac.  But the pill really just made me feel less.  Less bad, but less good too.  I think it numbs the brain.  They kept upping the dose until they were probably worried it would kill me, then they decided to try Celexa.

On Celexa, I at first hardly noticed a change.  I kept saying “I don’t need pills”, but I was told “pills or counseling” and was happily blackmailed for the time being.  They doubled my dose and I admitted I felt a little more in control.  As I started taking the pills, I noticed I could control my hunger better.  I had less shakes, but my heartbeat seemed more spontaneous.  My dreams were so vivid that I started waking up to myself screaming and crying.  It was always dreams of me being crushed, my bones breaking, my breath torn from me.  I took the pills for a good year before I finally thought, Why do I need these?  I don’t want to depend on medication.  This is silly.  I literally talked myself out of it.  I bullied myself.  Fool, grow up and stop blaming your problems on something that doesn’t exist.

That’s when I tried doing what I had done with Wellbutrin – just not taking the pills and pretending like I had.  In the past, I just felt cleaner somehow not taking them.  Stronger, even if I was still as “off” in thinking as I was previously.  But cutting that many milligrams of Celexa off at once… that was not good.

Have you ever watched The Hunger Games movie?  Do you know the part when Katniss was stung by the tracker jackers and her world spins and it looks like she is tripping?  That was how I felt 50% of my day.  If I skipped my medicine for a day, I would start to feel light-headed.  After two or three days, I started hallucinating.  I couldn’t see straight and it always felt like the world was turning 2 seconds behind me.  The room always spun when I looked to either side.  I was terrified, so I kept playing the game of a few days on, a few days off, then I almost started feeling my anxiety again as my bottle started to empty and I dreaded being trapped in that tripped-out world again.

WHAT I WAS SECRETLY FEELING IN MY MIND
So, over the course of these years, my mental-whatever-it-was progressed like this: I started noticing so much self-loathing that I was drained of energy, had no motivation, and found no entertainment in life.  I started asking rhetorically about life and why I’m being bothered with it.  My negative attitude made me hate myself even further.  Then I started to feel extreme waves of self-consciousness, like if this is how I perceive myself then dear god what do other people see?  I began to stress.  I understand now that a huge part of these “disorders” is environment, and I was placing myself in a very unhealthy one.  I began caring too much about others and how they feel in regards to me.  My ups and downs became so dramatic that I don’t know how I ever got out of them.

I can distinctly remember the spring before I turned 20.  I lived in a room that felt like a box, about 10 feet deep and 8 feet wide.  Every part that made up me was trapped in the room and right in my sight whether I liked it or not.  I recall becoming hateful again at my own image, both internal and external.  I recall pushing myself so hard in athletics and academics that any slip-up put me on a burning, downward spiral within myself.  I remember my alarm going off in the morning, me shutting it off, looking at the clock, then feeling my stomach bottom out with such sudden acidity that I felt like I just bungee jumped off a cliff.  The only thought in my head: “It’s another day.  ANOTHER DAY.  I have to GET THROUGH it.”

All I could think about was how monotonous, meaningless, and painful my days were.  Every day, the same thing.  I was mechanically getting through it.
Get up.
Shower.
Brush teeth.
Give up on hair.
Give up on face.
Put on clothes.
Look too fat, put on other clothes.
Repeat.
Give up on looking okay.
Put on shoes that hide my feet.
Grab enormous bookbag.
Don’t forget something.
You’re going to forget something.
Grab clothes for practice after.
Water bottle.
Always skipping breakfast.
Go to class.
Run to class.
Why are you always late?
Sit at class.
You forgot to do your homework again.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?  Don’t you EVER read your assignments?  You wrote it on your hand, too.

Knowing how much I hated my days and that I had no reason to feel that way made me that much more upset.

That’s when I started realizing how much others were affecting me.  I tried to suppress it as long as I could, but certain things about myself and the way I think always seem to leak back in to my life.  This is when the depression became much more manic and when my anxious cycles started reflecting bipolar tendencies.

Example: I’d get a text.  So happy!  I’ve been waiting to hear from this person!  Literally skipping around the cramped room, smiling.  Read the text.  Freeze.  Stomach bottoms out.  Not what I wanted to hear.  Instantly begin bawling.  Crumble to floor.  It was just because they canceled our plans for tomorrow, nothing more.  Realizing this, picking myself up.  Sudden rage at myself.  I don’t mean anger, I mean punching my thighs, kicking things, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU.  Get over it, baby!  Back to tears, self-pity.  Then I suddenly remember something unrelated and I’m laughing again.  LAUGHING.  Then crying.  Then laughing while crying while pinching myself.  Then curling up on my bed, so confused, feeling defeated, and falling asleep without doing that homework assignment I put down and even wrote on my hand.

That was at 19.  The next year, the medicine I was taking numbed me enough that I was just getting by.  I started distracting myself with people and fell into the wrong crowd.  At least I wasn’t hurting myself anymore, but then I started hurting other people.  And obsessing over small things.  I had a one-track mind.  I couldn’t let things go.  I wasn’t having as big of peaks and valleys, but I was still throwing myself into them.  I started imagining things that weren’t happening and ignoring the things that were.  I was losing control of myself and forgetting who I am.

STRUGGLING TO FIND MY BRAIN
The hardest part of any psychological disorder – whether it’s an eating disorder, mild to manic depression, etc. – is being able to pull yourself out of your world.  “Your world” is your mind.  It’s where you imagine, where you dream, and where you cause yourself to fail.  “Our world” is your brain.  “Our world” is the same world we are living in, the one in which our brains must work to allow us to survive.  Something like anxiety naturally occurs in both worlds, but it crosses that fine line when anxious, fight-or-flight tendencies consume our every thoughts for six months straight or longer.  I used anxiety as the example there, but I believe all “disorders” are really just a hyperbole of a similar instinct and that they’re all cousins in the Mind.

When I began to realize that my life was literally being defined by my disorders and not the orderly, planned lifestyle that I had craved in the perfectionism that caused my manic behavior in the first place, I was finally able to come to terms with my problems.  I still uphold that I had minor afflictions, but I refuse to deny that there wasn’t at least something going on.  I took a whole 8 months to control myself and I was certainly tested in that time with some of the most painful moments I’ve experienced in quite some years. Trust me, it wasn’t easy. I ended up hospitalized two or three times for what was at the time potential organ failure. Turned out, my anxiety was suppressing my appetite and causing physical pain. I had to learn to control it, calm down, breathe, see a way around it.  In this time, I became much more self-aware.  I took to analyzing myself, others, situations, etc., and learning how to mediate them.  Traveling has certainly eased those tensions and is probably a huge reason for why I’ve become so addicted to going abroad.  It’s freedom, release, and reminders that there’s so much more to life than myself.  Yes, it makes me see how worthless I quite frankly am in this huge world, but I don’t get depressed about it any longer.  No, I see it as a challenge to be the biggest I can be.

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TODAY’S PEACE
I am now able to look at the call that never came and, instead of breaking down, crying, rolling around on the floor, bruising myself, laughing, whatever “crazy” thing I did before – now I step away from it completely.  I do feel sad and I do laugh, but it’s because I can’t help but feel hurt – and that’s okay.  But I also laugh at his foolishness.  I don’t NEED you.  I have faith in life and can get around this.

Finally, I am able to look at someone mistreating or neglecting me and chuckle, saying, Well that’s his loss.

And it is!

Brick by Boring Brick.

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The familiar lyrics echo through my mind as I proceed through monotonous, daily chores at work, on the commute, while cleaning,…:

Keep your feet on the ground
While your head’s in the clouds

I mean, how real is that?  I’d always been a dreamer.  I was always lost in books, so out of it that sometimes people would talk for minutes before they realized I was engrossed in the pages of a Brain Jacques or Michael Shaara creation.  I was the girl who was never caught flirting with the boys on the playground; instead, I would escape the feelings of inferiority by climbing high into a spruce in my plaid skirt at recess, lying back on a branch against the trunk, and seeing if I could read a whole chapter before the bell rang.  Up here, no one could hurt me.  And in the worlds I read about, I could do anything.

But it was always important to remember, when I put the book down, that no book would save me from test scores or barn chores.  I still found a way to live in both worlds.  When my life got tough and I couldn’t sleep, I was the misbehaved child whose only misbehavior was when she sneaked out of bed at 2am, curled up under her desk, and read an entire novel by nightlight before her alarm went off the next morning.  I was determined to keep my feet on the ground and still have my heads in the clouds.

And when my world became more tragic, I did build it up with magic in my mind.  My favorite part of the day was the part when I would lay down at night with my CD player in and play out the same routine in my mind to the tracks.  In other words, I made my own music videos that enabled me to absorb the lyrics and also imagine myself doing anything I wanted.

Make sure to build your heart brick by boring brick
Or the wolf’s gonna blow it down

Paramore’s Brick by Boring Brick is just such a hit-homer.  Not only does it include these ideas and these words, but it holds a much deeper meaning.  It wasn’t until I started to really read the lyrics about princes, betrayal, loneliness, losing contact with the real world,…she’s ripping wings off of butterflies…and noting the butterfly on the cover of the Brand New Eyes album did it become clear: This song is in a way running parallels between our means of escaping the hard times as well as the psychological assault scientists have, in past times, placed on children called Monarch Programming where they build up their thoughts in imaginary lands of castles and mirrors…and so let’s bury the castle.  Don’t believe me?  Read about it here.

(After just posting about The Butterfly Circus, and now this, I think it’s funny how everything comes full-circle.  My Potawatomi Indian name is, after all, Mem’iki – or butterfly.  My grandma gave it to me not just because she once told me it’s her favorite being but because I’m her little butterfly who flits around the world incessantly.)

But, in conclusion, I will add my favorite part of Brick by Boring Brick, a section of the bridge that makes me think there is really something powerful behind what this is saying:

If it’s not real, you can’t hold it in your hand
You can’t feel it with your heart
And I won’t believe it
But if it’s true, you can see it with your eyes
Oh, even in the dark
And that’s where I want to be

Take from it what you will: psychology, religion, love,…I feel like these lyrics touch on both the physical and spiritual essence that embodies the things we cling to and why.  Look up the song.  You might really enjoy it, too.