Recovery II: new soil

Part of my recovery process the day after the election was pottering in the sun. I had several long-neglected pots of Christmas cactus,

Well, mind looked like this when I bought them...

Well, mine looked like this when I bought them…

that had got badly choked with grass and oxalis.  Some weeks ago (okay, months)  I’d bought a long wooden planter intending to put them all in that. Also, of course, by now the soil was so leached of nutriments it wouldn’t grow anything but tough weeds and the occasional weak flower.

With weeds that thoroughly established, it’s nearly impossible to pull them from your pots. Something more drastic is needed: to dump out the whole thing, and strip away everything but the roots of the plant itself—grass, oxalis nodules, earth, everything.

It’s a shock to the poor cactus, but they’re tough, and if you plunk them straight into their new soil, giving them some water and a few days of shade, they’ll thrive. Eventually.

[Maybe you see where I’m going with this?]

Shock as a medical condition is a life threatening condition that needs to be treated immediately. Shock as a psychological state may not be as immediately life-threatening, but if left unacknowledged, it can become permanent and debilitating.  (And yes, I find myself using Veteran’s Day to talk about this comparatively trivial, utterly self-absorbed, and civilian version of PTSD.  My apologies.)

I’m going to use the Wikipedia article here, for boiled-down convenience:

Common symptoms that sufferers of acute stress reaction experience are: numbing; emotional detachment; muteness; derealization; depersonalization; psychogenic amnesia; continued re-experiencing of the event via thoughts, dreams, and flashbacks, and avoidance of any stimulation that reminds them of the event.

Numb? De-realization? Hmm.

For either, the initial treatment is the same:

In a wilderness context where counseling, psychotherapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy is unlikely to be available, the treatment for acute stress reaction is very similar for the treatment of [cardiovascular] shock, that is, allowing the patient to lie down, providing reassurance, and removing the stimulus for the occurrence of the reaction.

“Wilderness context,” indeed. The article goes on:

In traditional shock cases, this is generally the relieving of pain from injuries or the stopping of blood loss. In an acute stress reaction, this may be pulling a rescuer away from the emergency to calm down, or blocking the sight of an injured friend from a patient.

So yes: do walk away from the television. Find something else to keep you busy during the first ten minutes of the national news. Watch cat videos. Play with the grandkids. Breathe.

But when the pulse has returned to something resembling normal—yet before wincing away from the very thought of The Event becomes a permanently ingrained habit—think about how to strip away all those weeds and that unhealthy soil and find a place where you can grow, and thrive.

No, I’m not talking about Canada or New Zealand. They don’t want us all, and there’s no Peets coffee, and in any case, God dammit, this is my home.  This is our home.

I have more to say about this, but before I do, let’s hear from you guys.

Any ideas how you’ll go forward into this strange new world?

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  1. Suzanne on November 11, 2016 at 6:28 am

    I am reminded of the trials a young Mary Russell went through. She learned and thrived. My earlier post on Recovery, mentions our daughter’s college acceptance letter. Is it not our responsibility to prepare our children for the world and not the world for our children? It is just these life lessons that shape our children for the world they enter. Our Minnesota heritage is you push your shirtsleeves up and get to work!

  2. BradH on November 11, 2016 at 8:13 am

    Dear Ms King,
    Retired Army physician and vet, the military has no lock on PTSD. We just manufacture it in larger quantities. We found that units with high cohesiveness and where the soldiers trusted their leadership, those units had much lower rates of PTSD. They weren’t facing the stresses emotionally alone, in other words. (Interesting side note, soldiers who grew up in the inner cities and exposed to violence often in their childhood did not experience PTSD. They already understood that the world could be randomly violent and unfair.)
    Personally, I feel betrayed by my fellow citizens, by that I mean, those who sat back and didn’t bother to vote, thinking, “He could never be elected.” They didn’t have our back. That really frightens and angers me. I feel alone.
    So, knowing what I know, what can I/we do? The VA has found that the best counselors for vets with PTSD are other vets who had similar experiences. Certainly there is much to be gained by private meditative practices like gardening, but as we each have different personalities, we respond to certain healing practices better than to others. So finding your “tribe,” your close knit circle of like minded friends who feel as you do is affirming. You are not facing the darkness alone. It is reassuring, even affirming, to know that others feel as you do. You are not crazy.
    As for me, I have cut way back on Face Book. I have unsubscribed from political newsletters, and cut the cable. I cannot confront the reality. Not for my sake; I am a straight white older male. I should be a card-carrying member of the Deploreables, and know that if I keep my head down, no one will bother me. No. I am sickened by the validation of hate of my gay friends, my minority friends, and young women trying to make their way often as single mothers, in a society that throws up barriers, then mocks them when they fail. I thought we were getting better. I was wrong.
    So. I avoid the stimulus. I have started writing, and have discovered that what the best fiction writers do, (you included,) is to tell truths through lies. I want others to hear my truths, and awaken those truths within themselves, so that such tragedies become a part of our past, and not our future.
    I can dream. That’s what writers are supposed do, isn’t it?
    I mourn with you. We shall survive today, to flourish tomorrow.

    Cactus and dreamers have tough roots.


    • Laurie King on November 11, 2016 at 8:57 am

      Thank you for this, Brad. And bless you.

    • Annette Lessmann on November 11, 2016 at 2:12 pm

      Amen, Brad.

    • Shannon Knight on November 12, 2016 at 3:39 pm

      This made me feel a bit more hopeful, Brad. My biggest sadness has not been about Trump so much as it is at discovering that so much of our country either condones bullies and racism, sexism, etc. or was willing to ignore it. We all need to stand against the tide of hate.

      I’m so glad you wrote! Thank you.

  3. Erin on November 11, 2016 at 8:56 am

    I’m going through all the stages of grief. I’ve buried myself in work to try not to think about it until I have a better sense of where this is all headed.

  4. Theresa Hillis on November 11, 2016 at 11:38 am

    Like BobH, I too am a Vet, a female Vet, who got to experience bombs dropped on my head in the first Gulf War. In my personal experience, half of recovery from PTSD is to understand it’s perfectly normal to have it. It’s the body’s reaction to trauma. And if our loved ones recognize that fact, then recovery can happen. As a person who feels the system is broken and didn’t like either of the two mainstream candidates, I voted for Johnson. I would like to say I’m surprised by the hate that is spewed but I’m not. You see, I remember when those bombs were being dropped on my head and at the same time we had someone trying to get in the gates, as I was running for shelter, my mind shouted, “Nuke ’em. Just nuke ’em.” That came from me, a medic, a person who deplores war, even having served in the military. When threat passed, I was ashamed of myself and later — when I flew the first combat medivac of the war, picking up Iraqi injured EPWs, it anchored me and brought me back to my humanity. So I understand the tears, the threats, the hate. I try and breathe. I pray for the respite where we will all remember, we are part of this life together. Yet still I mourn.

  5. Kathie Hoyer on November 11, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    Thank you, Laurie for those last two posts! They mean a lot to me – as do the supportive comments of Maggie Stiefvater. Not surprised that many of my favorite authors are willing to speak out. You are right, Brad – literature and writers have often shown us the way. That’s the way forward as well as sounding the warning if we do not engage. We have choices about how to engage, and I understand wanting to pull the plug. But I’d like to see something like a blog aggregator that lets readers see MANY different opinions – so we can find the Middle Way, or attempt to alleviate grievances without so much hatefulness.

  6. Sharon on November 11, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    I have experienced the loss of my candidate before, but this is very different, this feels like a takeover by a hostile foreign government. As Desmond Tutu once said, “if one individual or group is marginalised, we are all marginalised.” I know I must move beyond this, must cope with fear and help others do the same, and I will. In the meantime I search for that way, and pray. Pray even for the newly elected. For as we all know only too well life really can be stranger than fiction. I want to believe that miracles are possible, and I will struggle to believe that.

  7. Lu on November 11, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    Dear Laurie, while flicking through TV channels & furiously avoiding the news stations, I paused at VH1 and stopped to watch “Martha and Snoop”. Didn’t make sense but I stopped to watch. THE Martha Stewart, Snoop Doggy Dog and guest stars who were both funny and intelligent (you do have to brush up on the current slang). Man, Martha is some tough broad; she even joked (sighed?} about her jail time. The men were frank and rambunctious (as only men can be). Felt like being around my brothers and his friends. If the talk in the Senate were half so direct and truthful, America would be in a better place. Anyway, the joy is: if Martha, who is famous for being anal and precise and demanding can have a conversation with people unlike herself there is hope.
    This is primarily a food show, so the bonus is watching the fried chicken prep.

    Yes, this is entertainment and yes, look out for some profanity and sexual banter but it was honest.
    Please laugh lots!

  8. Joyce LaGow on November 11, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    One of the most interesting comments I’ve read on the election was from someone (don’t remember who) who said that without social media–specifically twitter–Donald Trump would not have been able to exist. Like all thins, the Internet has its blessings and its curses. Aming the latter I would include social media, particularly Facebook, which has allowed the dissemination of a truly staggering amount of misinformation, lies and hatred. I am on Facebook, mainly because of some games I play, but I have eliminated all but 2-3 personal contacts, one of whom is a woman fron near Venice who every morning puts up yet another incredible picture of coffee service and usually some sort of sweet. Brightens my day! I follow a few people–you, Sarah Paretsky, Margaret Maron, and Dana Stabenow. Otherwise, I avoid social media as if it were the Ebola virus and possibly worse. I know others who do the same thing. I think it is something worth considering. There have been multiple commentaries about how we are overwhelmed with information and ever more frequently, misinformation.

    I founf that I was becoming increasingly more upset over the trolls, the sheer inanity of the syrupy trash that passes for inspirational wisdom, the banality. Even the cute dog videos didn’t make up for it. I log on maybe twice a week, don’t have that many posts tongo through and am quite a bit happier not knowing just how much fear, ignotprance and hatred is out there. If I want photos of family or friends, they can send them to me by email–I have an Instagram account but find that the narcissism it promotes bores me. Italian TV s just as worthless as the American version, so I just use it for watching the European football (soccer) championships and the Olympics.

    Tuning out is really worth a try. Goes without saying I read.

  9. Lexa on November 11, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    After the election results came in I changed my FB picture to the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster. That poster was printed during WWII when it seemed very likely that Britain would be occupied by the Nazis, as had so many of its neighbors.

    To me this means that we all need to marshal our inner strengths and resources, gather our loved ones close, be prepared to support those at risk and to resist those forces that threaten what we love about America; what it stands for.

    In all of the occupied nations there was a resistance movement that worked to protect the weak and to strengthen the whole so that, when freedom came again, it could be embraced and rebuilt.

    To be part of that resistance we need to nurture ourselve, and those around us, with joy, hope and faith.

    Hate cannot destroy hate, only love can do that.

  10. Annette Lessmann on November 11, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    The only book that has defined my entire life, as opposed to my favorite book from a certain age, is Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Suess. Some of my first memories include defending the boy in our class who was just a little slower than the rest. I have been working at figuring out how to deal with the idea that my country would elect someone who thinks it is ok to make fun of people and bully people online. I am falling back on giving all my anger and grief over to God and trying not to totally dissociate from it.

    I am married to a 100% disabled combat vet. He has PTSD. I have PTSD from non combat trauma. Our house is full of shock and startle reactions and hyperalertness and flashbacks from combat and car wrecks.

    I try to believe that there is a plan here, but I am finding it hard going.

    Thanks for your posts.

  11. Kathy Reel on November 11, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    For so many of us, dealing with Hillary losing the election is an actual grieving process. Not just grieving our candidate’s loss, but grieving the loss of what we thought our country stood for, what our neighbors stood for, and even what some of our friends and family stood for. It is a disillusionment with all we hold dear about who we are. Of course, there are plenty of people who still care about the things that we do, as evidenced by the popular vote, and we will take strength in that. It just will take a bit. Like I said, a process.

    However, if we are lucky, we will come out the other side of our grieving process not broken, not disillusioned, but committed to doing our part to fight the opposition ahead of us, the years of those now in charge trying to turn back our progress. We will not stand by idly when we see discrimination, whether it is against our families or friends or strangers. We will not be silent, adrift in our sorrow. We will be vocal in our commitment to equality and decency.

    For now, I am angry and I am sad, and I suspect that I will retain much anger and sadness, but I won’t let it define me or steal my joy. I will myself be a better person and a kinder person to those who need me to be their champion. I will find great joy in the everyday wonders of life and in my family and friends whom I treasure. I will not give up my happiness, but I will be more vigilant and not take it for granted.

  12. Nancy Gordon on November 11, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    Thank you, Laurie, for this. I have some planters and pots that need similar work! While deeply grieving the loss of my idea of what we as a country stood for, I have found myself wondering what faithful resistance looks like in Southern CA. And I have found connecting on Facebook with likeminded folk to be helpful. I was invited to Pants Suits Nation before the election and that group is beginning to organize! We are stronger together.

  13. Hilarie on November 11, 2016 at 4:29 pm

    A few months ago I had the radio on all night to listen to the results of our EU Referendum. Everyone had told us Remain would win. I’d voted to remain – reluctantly because I have no love for the EU but I thought it was the best option.

    That night our country got a great shock – we discovered we weren’t the country we thought we were. The media started telling us how insular and bigoted we were – there were reports of an increase in ‘hate crimes’ and we were told our country would fall apart.

    A few months on and things are just pootling on. We know change will come but in some ways it’s a relief.

    Millions of good and caring Americans are appalled at their election result. But millions of good and caring Americans voted for this result. Your country, like ours, hasn’t actually changed at all. What has changed is that half the country has realised that the other half doesn’t think the same way it does.

    We live in democracies and under both our systems the majority (in your case of your electoral college) voted to change. And in a democracy you can’t say that one person has a lesser right to their vote just because they don’t agree with you.

    In democracies we don’t always get the result we want.

    • Catherine on November 12, 2016 at 10:15 am

      “What has changed is that half the country has realized that the other half does’t think the same way it does”
      A VERY insightful comment. Thank you and all the other people who have posted comments, and thanks, Laurie, for airing reactions that are certainly shared by ‘half the country”.

  14. Erica on November 12, 2016 at 11:48 am

    I’m still too exhausted to think clearly, and haven’t really had a proper recovery day yet, so I don’t have a way forward, either. Not yet. I have blocked out some time next week to do just that. Also, I cut out the news altogether and limit social media to merely posting for work and answering friend’s messages, and just try to keep connected to like-minded people who can offer comfort and support one another. This bit is easy, as I live in a very blue part of the country. Thank you again for this wonderful post.

  15. Pamela Gibson on November 13, 2016 at 1:56 am

    Dear Laurie, I finally found one tribute that makes me break down in tears, for the first time in years. It was the opening sequence on ‘Saturday Night Live, and the singer is the actor who has played Hillary brilliantly for months now. All my friends agree. The online magazines (Slate, Recode, MotherJones) just posted their links to it , I certainly didn’t expect SNL to make me cry.

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