bookmark_borderNewspapers and reminders of trauma

One of numerous activities that I’ve given up since the statue genocide happened is reading the newspaper.

I used to read the Boston Globe every day, as well as two small local papers every week. But now the news is so filled with triggers, opinions that make me angry, and reminders of the horrible things that have happened, that I’ve decided to give it up. I have always valued being informed about world events, politics, and the happenings in my community, and have always found the news interesting. But these benefits are no longer worth the pain that consuming news now causes.

Last week, my dad visited my uncle at his new apartment and picked up a copy of that town’s local paper. Thinking he was being nice, he gave it to me, and against my better judgment I decided to read it.

Despite the fact that it was only a small, local weekly newspaper, I could feel my mood steadily decline while reading it.

A column about how the town was celebrating St. Patrick’s Day immediately triggered comparisons with how our society treats Columbus Day. Why is one ethnic group’s holiday embraced almost universally, with parades, the wearing of the green, playing of traditional Irish music, and consumption of traditional Irish food and drink, while another ethnic group’s holiday is either ignored, condemned, attacked, protested against, or abolished entirely?

I became angry when reading a press release from the office of Rep. Ayanna Pressley, which bragged about the “just and equitable” district she was creating by securing funding for childcare and programs to help young parents. How is it just or equitable to discriminate against people who do not have children? I found myself wondering.

Similar thoughts were brought forth by an article about a housing voucher program, which was described by the town’s mayor as particularly important because of the disproportionate impact of the housing crisis on people of color and families with young children. Again, I wondered why, in the eyes of society, do white people and people without children always seem to matter less?

The “Beacon Hill Roll Call” column reminded me of the bills to abolish Columbus Day, to force people to undergo medical procedures against their will, and to discriminate against people like me in various other ways, which have been considered by the state legislature at various points in time, some of which unfortunately are still under consideration.

An editorial about Women’s History Month brought to mind thoughts about why other heritage months, such as Confederate History Month and Italian Heritage Month, are not celebrated with equal enthusiasm.

Even an article about subway track work and station improvements caused a pang of sadness. As an autistic person, my special interest is history and statues, exactly the thing that our society over the past four years has decided to destroy. I know several fellow autistic people whose special interest is trains, and I know that they would enjoy reading about these new MBTA developments. It was bittersweet to think about how others are still able to enjoy news about their special interests, while for mine the only available news centers on condemnation and destruction.

The “On This Day In History” feature, something that had been my favorite part of every newspaper since I was 10 years old, reminded me of how much things have changed. I learned that on that particular date, Hernan Cortez had landed in what is now Mexico, and Jefferson Davis had signed a bill authorizing slaves to fight in the Confederate Army. These would simply have been interesting facts to my past self, but now I cannot hear the names of Cortez or Davis without being reminded of how our society has decided to attack, condemn, and largely obliterate from existence, these historical figures.

Because I have always found news interesting and have always valued being informed, my goal has been to one day add the news back into my life. But I have found that right now, the best way of building a life that is worth living is to turn towards my inner world and away from the outer one. Drawing, writing stories about my imaginary world, organizing my toy soldiers, figurines, and dolls, and spending time with my Stonewall statue… these are the activities that bring comfort, joy, peace, and a sense of control. The news, on the other hand, is filled with nothing but oppression, meanness, and injustice.

Perhaps this will change one day, but perhaps not. Maybe my healing will progress, my resilience will increase, my mental state will stabilize, and the world will change for the better, to the point where I will be able to add the news back into my life. But for now, it’s best that I stay away from it.

bookmark_borderPain and perspective

It’s difficult to live in a world that has decided to destroy everything that makes my life worth living. My existence over the past four years has been filled with pain so excruciating that prior to spring 2020, not only had I never before experienced such pain, but it hadn’t occurred to me that such pain was even possible. Over the past four years, I’ve worked to find some way of continuing on, some way of building a life of meaning and purpose in a society that believes I shouldn’t be allowed to exist.

Living this way is laborious, exhausting, and often demoralizing. But to some extent my efforts have been successful. I have dedicated my life to honoring the historical figures that I love. I advocate for them through my writing, which takes the form of this blog, emails to public officials, and hopefully one day a book. I keep them alive through my artwork, which I sell on my art website and at local craft fairs and festivals, through my Historical Heroes Blog, through collecting dolls and figurines depicting them, and through bringing new statues into the world. Additionally, I have tried to make my day-to-day life as rewarding as possible by eliminating unpleasant obligations and incorporating activities that bring me joy. Particularly over the past two years, these efforts have begun to pay off. Often, I do experience a sense of meaning and purpose. Often, I do feel that my life is worth living.

But not always. Sometimes the excruciating pain attacks. This might happen if a new atrocity is committed, or perhaps if I merely have a bad day. And when the excruciating pain attacks, it takes over my entire soul, so that nothing other than the pain exists. The thing about the excruciating pain is that it creates something of a catch-22. There are three theoretical ways of abating the misery, of making the situation just a tiny bit better. But the nature of the excruciating pain makes every option impossible, inappropriate, ineffective, or all of the above.

The three options are as follows:

  1. Expressing my anger and grief about the terrible thing that happened. This is certainly right, because anger and grief are the appropriate responses when a terrible thing happens. But when the agony is attacking, this can feel pointless. No words are adequate to express the full magnitude of what happened. Ranting wildly, in the strongest language imaginable, would be 100% justified but would also accomplish nothing other than making me look unhinged, which would be counterproductive with respect to my goal of advocating for the historical figures.
  2. Finding some positive aspect of the situation, or of historical figures in general. This might entail focusing on the statues that still remain, making new art depicting the historical figures, or reading about their lives. But when the agony is attacking, it feels as if everything with regards to historical figures is going badly, even if my logical brain knows that this is not 100% true. Focusing on the positive seems hollow and empty, a failure to acknowledge the full magnitude of the bad thing that happened.
  3. Ignoring the situation, and the historical figure topic entirely, and focusing on something else. This seems to be the worst of the three options. When something horrible happens to a historical figure, everything else in the world is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Thinking about, talking about, making a post about, or even caring about pets, food, sports, friends, or family, to give just a few examples, would represent a complete failure to acknowledge the badness of what has happened. Doing so would be petty, superficial, and callous.

When the excruciating pain strikes, it’s as if I am at the bottom of a pit, with no way to climb out. The walls of the pit are perfectly smooth, with no handholds, nothing to grab onto, no protruding pieces of rock on which I might be able to step. I cannot gain purchase, cannot hoist myself out. All possible ways of climbing out of the pit are closed off to me.

But over the past years, I’ve discovered that there is a fourth way out of the excruciating pain, albeit a way that I have no control over: time.

In time, the excruciating pain always subsides. Not permanently, alas, because it keeps recurring. But every time that the pain has attacked, it has eventually gone away. The agony that was nearly omnipresent from spring 2020 to summer 2022 has, since then, alternated with stretches of relatively okay days, days on which I experience a sense of meaning and purpose, and a sense that life is worth living.

I’ve gained a sense of perspective that I didn’t have when the statue genocide began. Although the excruciating pain, when it attacks, is all-consuming, I am now able to recognize, intellectually if not emotionally, that it is temporary.

While waiting for the agony to go away, I have found that the best thing to do is something productive. If the floor needs to be swept, I sweep the floor; if I haven’t exercised yet that day, I exercise; if it is nighttime, I go to bed. These things aren’t exactly fun, but they are useful. When I am in excruciating pain, I am going to be miserable no matter what I do, so I might as well do something that, once the pain subsides, I will be glad that I did.

This pain is probably something that I will need to deal with, to struggle with, to manage, for the rest of my life. It is only logical to experience agonizing and excruciating pain when people have done appallingly awful things. So I continue to fight for both myself and the historical figures. Despite the frequent setbacks and obstacles that I face, I continue to build bit by bit a life of meaning and purpose, a life that is worth living.