Reclaiming Self with Priyanka Bromhead

I’m kind of glad that the conversation is happening again. When I was talking to you last week, I was kind of sitting on the surface a little bit because I was processing those things in real time. 

How did you reclaim yourself as a woman given that we didn’t grow up in an environment where that was modeled to us?

Firstly I had to understand that I was a woman, particularly because mainstream feminism kind of only upholds white women as women and then within even brown and black communities, the darker your melanin, the less ‘woman’ you are, right? So it was about rejecting not really euro centric beauty ideals because, that never really affected me, but it was more on a cultural level, understanding and seeing how our Amma, our aunties were treated very differently to white women and how a lot of that had been internalized as well. Unpacking all of that and understanding that I am worthy of care and rest and love and the gentleness and softness that society is quick to hand to white women but restricts from us. Particularly as the oldest child of an oldest, female child, seeing how that really affected Amma post war and then with her own issues of domestic violence at home. And how that infiltrated into our upbringing. Seeing how that impacted her and impacted the way she lived as a ‘woman’ and deciding that was not what I wanted for me. It was not what I wanted for my own kids, especially my female child. I thought if I want this for her then I really need to model it for myself. So that was kind of being self compassionate and practicing awareness of how I felt in situations. 

There’s a lot to say about what we call culture, culture. Really it’s often just intergenerational trauma that has become culture. Understanding my culture and understanding yes, there are many good things about collectivism and communities. There’s also a lot of toxic aspects. Going back to what the good things are, and getting rid of the not so great things.

You mentioned that you don’t want to model this notion of abandoning yourself to your female child. How do you find that you’re able to balance self care and be in community and these spaces that aren’t always fully non toxic? 

For me, it has been a lot to do with finding my community and chosen family. Because my biological family has been really toxic and dysfunctional and damaging. So, as you know, the oldest girl on both sides, there was not a lot of respect for my agency and my autonomy. For my body, my voice and my ideas, right? I had to advocate for myself at a really young age. That was labeled as difficult and mouthy, in Tamil ‘polathu vai’ (loud mouth). All those things that people were quick to point out, as problematic, without actually examining what the root cause is. I’ve dealt with that, my earliest memory of that is the age of 3. Realizing more recently, probably in the last ten years, that my biological family is not interested in my wellbeing and while that is really difficult to accept and is uncomfortable to verbalise, if they hear this they will get up in arms. But at the end of the day, that’s not really my responsibility, their reaction and feelings are not my responsibility. My responsibility is caring for myself, for me and for the next generation. And for me that is about cutting intergenerational trauma. So balancing self care and my relationship with my family first. Because, I have had to cut a lot of ties with them, because the toxicity level is quite high. There was no compromise. I had to say that I wasn’t going to continue engaging. That doesn’t just go for my biological family, it goes for other relationships as well. I don’t think we are called to be martyrs or indebted to people for whatever reason. Or to live our lives driven by fear. I certainly had seen that in my own world growing up. So it becomes about finding community and loved ones who are really able to see you for who you are and love you for whatever that looks like, understanding your boundaries and your limits and not try to push you through them.

So much of the way we’re modeled love is in such a self sacrificial way and I really question if that is love or trauma bonding.  When you’re in it, it’s such a strong, toxic energy. And when you step outside and see it for what it is, it’s uncomfortable and you really need to make the decision to do things differently so that you’re not furthering the pathways that are literally imprinted into your brain. 

It would be so easy for me to be in community with all these people, right? I could just bite my tongue. But what would that do for me, it would cause me more stress and anxiety and frustration and I don’t want to live my life like that. I want to be free of that stuff. There’s so much to say in my own experience about toxic theology and spirituality. Like, Bible verses have been weaponised, right? So much of our understanding of serving community, for women especially, is really just being doormats. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. We are not called to be doormats. We are called to be treated with dignity and care and love and gentleness and generosity. If anyone ever feels like they need to be a doormat based on their spirituality, or based on Christianity, you’ve got it all wrong and you’re allowing people to take advantage of you, and you’re allowing yourself to be abused. And as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence, I don’t want that for me anymore. And I don’t want that for my kids, so why would I want that for me now. I don’t want that for anyone I care about. So if I don’t want it for them why would I want it for me?

There’s this verse in the Bible that’s one of the two greatest commandments: love yourself like you love others. Well how can you love others if you don’t love yourself. How can you love yourself if you don’t know who you are. So I think it all comes back to reclaiming who you are and really comes back to knowing yourself. Sitting with the uncomfortable truths about you as a person. About the trauma you’ve endured but also the trauma you inflicted. And that’s uncomfortable and people don’t like talking about that. It’s the oppression that you face but also the privilege you hold. People don’t want to talk about the privilege that they own as well. So I think it’s all of those things, and that’s a lot, and it takes time. But it certainly does give you a little perspective and understanding on how to care for yourself.

I was talking to you about a week ago about how I felt like my nervous system was so dysregulated because of all the chaos that was happening in the world. Coming from the environment that we have means we have more sensitivities when it comes to our bodies, our capacity in general. How do you find ways to self-regulate throughout the day? What’s an easy way for you to feel grounded? 

This is a really interesting question because with me and I’m sure a lot of people, we’re often not self aware of what’s happening in our bodies and to them. Because we live in this manic state all the time. There’s no time to decompress and have down time. Particularly as a parent of three very energetic kids. Two are on the spectrum, one who has ADHD. And then myself, it’s a lot. I’m not just managing my own nervous system but also asking ‘how can I care for you in this process?’ and ‘how can I teach you how to self regulate?’. The good thing is that because I’ve learned how to help them, I’ve applied some of that to myself. Particularly as someone who has the tendency to be quite anxious, I’ve got complex PTSD. So trying to function in a world that is always throwing things at you is tricky and depends on your circumstance.

I think it needs to be said that self care and self regulation really is a privilege. It should be a right but it’s a privilege to take time out to care for yourself. This conversation itself is a very middle class conversation. Amma as a working class refugee woman didn’t have time to have these conversations. I think it’s important to acknowledge that.

Things like exercising. I’m finding cold air and being in the cold can be helpful. I do pranayama and yoga and asana practice. I’m very new to being dedicated to it, more recently. I definitely think self regulation is also checking in with your community and seeing how they are going as well. I think there’s much to say about the interconnectedness of self care and community care. I’m quite a creative person, I write and I draw. When I say creative I mean, my grounding comes from doing creative things. Writing, drawing, dancing is a fun one. With kids in the living room. It starts with being aware of what’s happening in your body. Understanding when it’s stressed, and asking why your body is reacting the way it is. And trying to support it. Cos you’ve only got one, right?

Yeah, and we are like you said privileged and fortunate enough to be able to articulate what is happening in our bodies and recognise when we feel like we are dysregulated which is, for many a constant state. Or a state that is quenched through addiction or a coping mechanism. It’s also really interesting to think about the environment we grew up in, addiction is something that could be easily gravitated to given the conditions. Sometimes I wonder if spirituality, toxic spirituality is an addiction.

Totally, because you’re filling the void, right? You’re trying to heal a wound that needs healing and it’s never really done the right way. It all stems from trauma. I remember growing up and having migraine headaches consistently. Appa would take me to get MRIs and scans or get glasses, but there was never a definitive diagnosis. It’s only in the last two years that I’ve realized, because I’ve experienced it again as an adult, that a lot of that has had to do with being in a complete state of trauma. Going from one burn out cycle to the next. Living in a traumatic environment that causes burn out. Moving from that experience to another burn out cycle and never having time regulate. The last two years I’ve been on stress leave and it’s been the first time I’ve been able to stop and ask why is this happening to my body, what is happening to my body. And it’s been the first time that I can get back to myself. It has been a privilege to be able to take time off under work cover. Which is a huge taboo, there’s a lot of stigma attached to taking stress leave under work compensation. But I can’t recommend it enough. Particularly if you’ve had a psychological injury at work. To take the time off to recover from it. Take the time to heal and get your therapy paid for. Take advantage of a system that’s not there to take care of you at the end of the day. 

Priyanka Bromhead is an eela thamizh antidisciplinary artist, writer and educator who lives and works on unceded Darug land. The daughter of refugees from the island known as Sri Lanka, she has worked with young people in South West and Western Sydney for 15 years presenting decolonial and antiracist perspectives. Her educator role goes beyond the classroom, seeing her work in the arts, cultural and community spaces for various youth organisations , Blacktown Arts Centre, Darlinghurst Theatre Company and Sydney Story Factory. Priyanka’s own writing chronicles the intersections of her identity, as well as her observations of Western Sydney life, through poetry, prose and creative non-fiction. She is inspired by the words of Oodgeroo Noonucal, Toni Morrison, Lauryn Hill and Mathangi Arulpragasm.  Her debut anthology, mozhi (Girls on Key, 2021) is a meditation on the tensions of language, loss and life as the displaced and the displacer. Priyanka is  the founder of we are the mainstream, a grass-roots collective dedicated to unpacking internalised White supremacy, building cross-community solidarity and resisting and dismantling White heteropatriarchy, to bring about individual, intergenerational and collective healing.

New Beginnings: Intentionally Living at a Mental Hospital by Fabliha Yeaqub

January 2022

In Mi’kmawi’simk (the language spoken by the Miꞌkmaq tribe, the indigenous peoples of Mi’gma’gi, now known as Nova Scotia in Canda), there is no one specific word for “family” as their linguistics are based on what they see and observe. They say, Wula na nikamaq. This is who I am connected to because we are so alike. 

These are the words that echoed through me as I lay back on the gurney at a mental hospital last summer.

Laying back, completely still, I stared at my mother and a nurse who handed her over a clipboard with packets of forms, then at the ceiling where the fluorescent light flickered above me until my eyes felt sore from its glare. There were a few other beds on the other side of the hospital room and rickety chairs that made irritating squeaky noises when you sat on them. Tired mothers stared at the small TVbox in the corner playing PBS NewsHour as their children drearily scrolled through their phones. I looked back down and realized the nurse and my mother were staring at me.

“Do you know why you’re here today?” the nurse gently asked. I gazed at her blankly. I could see her mouth moving but I registered what she was saying after a few moments. I tried to reply but no words came out except a small, battered croak. She gave me a sympathetic smile, nodded, and gave a pen to my mother to fill out the neverending forms with technical language neither of us would ever be able to understand and left. I watched my mother’s palms as she started to scribble away.

A flashback shifted my mind to exactly 4 years ago when it was my mother that laid on a hospital bed with tubes plugged into her body as I sat beside her, making the quiet decision to drop out of college to devotee attention to her, completely. I suddenly thought back to 30 years ago, long before I was born, when my father laid in a hospital bed after he experienced “a mental shock,” as my mother calls it, after hearing the news of his mother’s death, whom he hadn’t seen since immigrating to America nearly a decade ago.

I thought of how similar I was to my father. How both of us had felt the weight of the world on us suffocating us until no words were left but just a pathetic wheeze.

I looked back at my mother’s hands that were covered with henna stains from the night before, reminding me that it was Eid al-Adha. Suddenly feeling guilty that we were spending Eid at a hospital, I looked away and shut my eyes. Feeling nauseous and drained, I tried to seek solace in the darkness, shutting off my surroundings as if it would make it less real. My thoughts shifted to someplace else. How the fuck did I get here? 

Last summer on Eid, I was admitted to the mental hospital for having a nervous breakdown. Or so it says in my file, “ Patient experienced a nervous breakdown with psychotic symptoms of dissociation, detachment, and suicidal thoughts. Low to medium risk.”

I had heard my mother tell the nurse, “It was completely unexpected. She’s been doing okay…” the first day I was admitted. “I think it has to do with her period…” she added. Neither of us could’ve suspected that I would’ve wound up in the mental hospital when 48 hours earlier, I was drunkenly dancing away with my friends on my first ever summer getaway trip. I looked through the images of myself from that night. I wore a flaming red bodycon dress that clutched onto the curves of my waist, tightly hugging my breasts, sneakily revealing a few inches of my cleavage, and exposing my stomach just for a little for a tease. My friends and I danced for hours until 4am at Level Up Lounge, a Black and Brown gay club, tipping strippers with strap ons flinging at our faces, glowing under the disco ball, flirting with hot butches while screaming how I wished the night would never end. For the first time in my life, I felt sexy. I looked back down, staring at my dreary hospital gown. Oh, how things could drastically change in just 48 hours.

“I don’t think she’s been okay for a while,” the nurse said in response. I was a bit taken aback by her words. In the past month, I did more than I could’ve possibly imagined. I was meeting new people, getting wonderful job opportunities, doing exceptionally well in my classes, and was making great progress on my thesis. I was just out dancing with my friends, having the time of my life. How was I not okay, I thought to myself.

I said my goodbyes to my mom after a long wait for an extra bed at the psych ward where my mother wasn’t allowed to enter. It was nighttime so everyone was on the floor already asleep.

After a nurse showed me to my room, I immediately went to bed, trying to gain comfort in the scratchy bed sheets that felt like they were laid on top of cardboard. I attempted to sleep but the numbing cold blasting from the AC kept me awake, reminding me that I was no longer in the comfort of my own bed. My eyes were wide open, trying to process where I was.

I looked out the glass window behind me, watching the moon leave, welcoming the sun. I stuck my hand out and placed them under the sun’s reflection, craving the sun’s sweet warmth. But I quickly realized that the window trapped the heat, making it feel as though the sun was an illusion. Another reminder that I was confined away from the world. I’m never taking the sun for granted ever again, I thought.

My roommate woke up, said good morning, asked what my name was, then nodded.

I wondered how my roommate was going to be like and secretly wished that we could just ignore each other as all I longed for was silence. Roommate, I repeated to myself. I thought back to a conversation I had two days ago with my friends about our dreams of moving out of our parent’s home, seeking independence, and whether we wanted roommates or not. Didn’t think I would wound up with one so soon, and definitely didn’t imagine one in a psych ward.

“Are you Muslim?”she asked. I felt hesitant. Should I really go on a tangent about how I don’t necessarily aligned with Islam, but that I definitely was not an atheist, I didn’t feel comfortable with the label ‘agnostic,’ but I guess identify as a Muslim culturally?

“Yes,” I said. I figured it was the easiest answer. She smiled and said Assalamualaikum. I suddenly felt a wave of relief knowing my roommate was a fellow Muslim. She was an immigrant from Sudan and was living all by herself after leaving her family a few years ago. I guess the loneliness caught up to her, too.

Over the course of the day, there was quite literally nothing to do except stare at the white walls, the fluorescent lights, the TV box that sat on the corner where the patients routinely argued over the remote. A group of psychiatrists made their rounds, asked me questions, then nod sympathetically before advising the nurses which medication I should take for the remainder of my stay.

For the next 2 days, all I did was sleep like I never slept in my life. It felt like I entered an orbit and my body refused to leave. As if my body had finally given up on me after….after what? I couldn’t find the answer. Or perhaps I already knew and wasn’t ready to confront it.

On the third day of my time in the hospital, my body felt comfortable opening up and I was able to speak. The psychiatrist there asked me some standard questions and asked me how I was feeling.

“I think I’ve been doing okay. I’m not sure why I’m here.” The doctor scribbled notes in her notepad and said,

“I’m glad to hear you’ve been doing okay or have you been feeling okay?” she asked.

I stared at her before replying, “Same thing.”

She smiled before doing that therapist thing. The thing where therapists pose a question instead of saying something directly so you can figure it out yourself. “Is it though?”

“Well, I went on an overnight trip with my friends, doing things out of my comfort zone. I’m meeting new people and having fun. I’m finally living my life. So of course, I’ve been feeling okay. Why wouldn’t I?”

“What do you mean by finally living your life?”

After turning 21 in lockdown back in 2020, I vowed to myself that I would start living life on my own terms. I thought about how hard quarantine was for many of my friends while the isolation felt deeply familiar to me. It was as if I prepared my entire life for it.

From my young teen years to even my early 20’s, I would spend days at home without stepping outside. Mostly because I rarely had any friends, was tormented by my classmates for as long as I can remember, and was still processing the sexual abuse I endured at the hands of a total stranger. I would routinely go to my therapy appointments, grocery shopping with my mom, classes, go back home where I would hide myself under the covers, my laptop screen glowing against me in the dark. I looked at my peers who had already experienced the thrilling euphoric tingly feelings of falling in love and endless stories of sleepless nights in the city while the only stories I had was a list of Gurinder Chadha’s movies I had recently binged watched.

It was when I was reading Jane Eyre in my bed in 2020, once again being trapped at home (this time being because I had to) with nothing to stare but at the white walls, fluorescent lights, and my laptop screen. I came across this quote that tore through my body,

“I remembered that the real world was wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitement, awaited those who had the courage to go forth into its expanse, to seek real knowledge of life amidst it’s perils.”

It was that exact moment when I started to reflect and had come to the conclusion that my life was… empty. Hollow.

I began to examine myself and wondered if I had ever made a risk. Had I ever done something absolutely crazy? Had I ever made one selfish decision without constantly thinking of others? Of my family? Who was I outside being the obedient, studious, caring Bengali daughter? Was I anything other than an extension of my family? I tried to seek answers but realized I had none.

Whenever I asked my mother stories of her youth and about her crushes, hoping to hear something scandalous, I always noticed how sad she looked.

“I just had a lot of responsibilities,” she said. “I had older brothers and was too scared to disappoint them. Then my father died and before I knew it, I was married.” Then she would sit quietly, and stare into space before changing the subject. I wasn’t sure if she just couldn’t find any words to express her deepest feelings, or if she wanted to protect her daughter from her true feelings. Or perhaps she didn’t want to confront the possibilities of a life she missed out on.

I wondered if my dad and I also did this. Were we not able to speak as we lay on the gurneys of a hospital because we were worn out, or was the silence a way to protect our loved ones?  Were we just protecting ourselves from the horrifying reality?

After I realized that I no longer wanted to live like a hermit, I decided to start going out of my comfort zone. To start saying yes to life more without hesitating. Before I knew it, I was hiding cropped shirts and dresses with deep neck cuts under salwar kameez, dancing shoeless on bar tables, and running manically into the night sky of Manhattan with my friends. I’m doing it, I would think to myself after a night of escapades. I’m finally doing it.

However, I still felt this deep impending vacuum of hollowness inside of me. No matter how much I tried to fight it off or even fill it up, it still remained, like a stubborn stain.

So, if I had started to take ownership of my life, why was I feeling like this? Why did I still feel so empty and hollow despite finding this newfound euphoria? How did I wind up here? I still couldn’t find the answer. I suppose I just kept trying to fill the void with everything and anything until one day… it exploded and my body collapsed.

After playing around with my lunch (mystery meat and a side of soggy mashed potatoes) for nearly 40 minutes, I went back to myself in my hospital room where my roommate was reading a book from the hospital library.

“So how old are you?” she asked.

“I just turned 22.”

Suddenly, she jumped out of her bed and shrieked, “Whaaat?! You’re so….young!”

Young? I certainly didn’t feel young. My body felt heavy and sore all the time. It felt as though I had lived the life of someone that was 100. Soon, I realized that I was the youngest patient on the floor of the psych ward.

“So why are you here?” she asked while crossing her arms.

For some reason, I felt more comfortable opening up to her than the doctors. I suppose it was because it felt easier talking to someone that was admitted for being “crazy” …like me. So I told her everything. From how I had just had the best time in my life in Philly, then to here, after having a dissociative episode in a park. Wounding up an asylum soon after.

“I get it,” she said. “But you have such a long life ahead of you.”

I suddenly felt nauseous. The thought of even facing the rest of the week drained me, and now I felt suffocated by the idea of decades of years waiting for me.

I tried explaining that I wasn’t entirely sure why I had had the episode as nothing specifically traumatizing had happened. She quietly looked at me for a bit after hearing me ramble on and on about how I feel like I had found myself and yet still I felt as though I couldn’t escape this deep endless void. My face burned with embarrassment as the silence in the room started to feel relentless. Have I said too much?

She looked at the glass window and finally spoke, “I remember when I decided to move to this country. I was 25 and just ended an engagement. I told myself the same thing. That I was going to take ownership of my life with my two hands and just run. I haven’t been back to Sudan since then and I just turned 36. But look at me now. I still wind up here every year.”

She got quiet again, but it seemed as though she was negotiating how much of her life she wanted to share with me. Another thing we Muslims have in common. The urge to remain as secretive over your life as possible, say enough that the other person is left thinking they know everything about you, but not entirely.

“I felt so completely guilty every time I was happy. Then when I did feel guilty, I tried running away from that by taking more risks. But I think I was too busy doing things I felt like I should be doing. I thought I was living life, but for what? Was I truly living it for me or was I just doing it out of fear that I wasn’t living?”

She was once again silent, only her words echoing in the air. Fear…fear…fear, the echo mimicked back.

A nurse entered the room, notifying my roommate that the psychiatrist wanted to speak with her. I was left alone in the room, of course with the door always left open for the guards, but still, the echoes stayed taunting me.

All my life, I have been surviving. I had entered complete isolation by hiding away from the world, seeking solace under my covers so that no one could ever hurt me, again. I had convinced myself that I had finally stopped being in survival mode as I left my bed to explore the world. But in reality, I was still surviving and desperately clinging on to the little energy I had left in me. It was just this time, the survival looked different.

Was my roommate right? Was I moving through the world because I was afraid that I wasn’t doing enough with my life? Was fear motivating me and ultimately…guilt? Was I trapped in survival mode? Would I ever get out? The thought itself terrified me.

I thought about the past summer again, and how every time I found myself in the middle of God knows where, past my curfew, phone calls from my parents ringing every few seconds before it inevitably went  directly to voicemail, I would be overwhelmed with confounding guilt and frustration. I didn’t want to live like my mother who now felt a fury of regret for not living her own life and yet I felt terrible for leaving my parents at home as I knew they would be missing me, even though I would only be gone for just a few hours. And then a rush of anger waved over me of how this guilt implied I was doing something wrong, when I was just being an average 22 year old. With this toxic mixture of shame and vexation burning up inside me, I would put my phone away, snag another drink, pushing and pushing until there was nothing else to push. That was the cycle.

I was too busy hopelessly trying to prove to myself that I was more than an extension of my family than dissecting what I had endured. But there was more to my existence besides processing my trauma and serving my loved ones. And yet, instead of living on my own terms, I had resorted to living out of spite. I wasn’t living, or at least, intentionally living. I was so focused on making sure that I was living every single moment to its fullest that I forgot to just merely…exist.

My mind shifted to Bronte’s quote, “the real world was wide…” I wanted to desperately touch and discover every inch of the world as it is so wide. To devour its entirety. To live passionately and feverishly.I no longer wanted to live my life out of vengeance or allow guilt and shame to fuel my hunger for the world. I wanted to start living intentionally. But how when all I knew was how to survive?

I was released from the hospital a few days later and reunited with my parents. With this newfound awakening, I rested at home to recover.

Two weeks later, my parents and I decided to go to the beach as we were approaching the end of the summer. The last time we went to the beach was when I was a small child, and we hadn’t been since. We gasped as we left the concrete ground and sank our naked feet into the sand, realizing we couldn’t remember the feeling or even what seagulls sounded like.

We approached the roaring water. We were frightened at first, thinking back to how we spent our days isolated at home, watching hourly news channels recycling horror stories of hurricanes, deaths, tsunamis, shark attacks, and of course, drowning.

The sea retreated back into the wide ocean and then gushed to the shore, nearing our legs as if it was welcoming us like giddy children. My mother stood on my right while my father was on my left. We held each other’s hands and stepped into the cold sea.

We looked into the horizon, the endless sea, then back at each other, giggling. It was one of those magical moments where we felt so insignificant compared to the large ocean, but also so infinite that we could devour the world.

I will start intentionally living, I thought to myself. I’m not sure how to exactly but I exist. I am here. And that is more than enough. 

Alchemizing Grief with Meital Yaniv

Hi love, how are you? 

I’m listening to this song right now which feels like a perfect early anthem (to this conversation!)

Hi love, it’s freezing cold here today, and i just finished organizing my new work space so this feels like a celebratory landing of sorts, love this song!

How are you?

I’m really good. It feels weird to say that because I was just crying a lot. It’s nice because I had a very slow morning after two pretty intense calls and I think I’m beginning to realize that I actually need so much space to process, right… (I feel like you know this about me) but I guess those dimensions within myself are clarifying more and more, getting finer attunement and sharper angles. I used to feel a lot of shame for how much alone time I need and these days I’m seeing that it’s actually super powerful to name it. At the very least, for myself. So today I took a slow morning but then also needed to decompress a lot from these two calls that I had. So I did yoga, prayed and pulled Tarot… my morning ritual, all backwards. Then I ate a bison stew I made two days ago that’s warm in my Instant Pot… I don’t know, I just feel as if I’m in a state of  bliss. Maybe because I feel holistically held. One of the cards I pulled today was “Hummingbird” which in the Medicine / Animal Card deck that’s the card of joy, which is also what my name means in Arabic… so I don’t know, I’m feeling this deep sense of wholeness that I’ve been feeling more and more since the eclipse. 

Other than that, I’m really happy to be talking to you. So honored and excited to delve a bit deeper into your grief journey. I didn’t realize until recently that so much of the work that I’m doing is about grieving and grief. For my ancestors, but also my life – the sharp twists that my early life took that I’ve begun to untether from, but even still… I feel like what healing journeys rarely make space for is one’s grief, the totality and immensity of that experience. So I wanted to start there, at our grief. What’s your relationship to grief?

I love that our entry to grief is through joy and birdsong and slowness and nourishment and true names…i feel like grief holds all of these threads and so much more…a question i’ve been asking myself and my loved ones in moments of deep grief is who is here? Who is grieving? you said that your grief is for your ancestors and for your life and there is so much in that sentence….grief is life. And feeling it, being with it is a way we get to be in service of life. Our bodies, our senses, our sensitivities are asked to move, digest, operate in speeds and paces that makes it hard to be in the rhythms of life/death (i really feel this two words say the same thing) the disconnection we feel/ we are, that longing for belonging. so grief becomes this standby that is waiting to be express, i wonder sometimes if that is why grief usually moves in waves, overwhelming us and underwhelming us, because we never learned how to be in balance with it…so i think this question of who’s grieving when those waves rise is an important one, like a moment to catch up to ourselves, and everything that our body is caring, generations of grief.. And in that self our ancestors, the Earth, the past, future present are all here. My relationship with grief these days has shifted a lot as I recently completed a death doula training, and allowing myself to come home in many ways into death work is allowing me to be with the unknown of grief in a more intentional way…mmm…where do we go from here? Haha!

I think it’s cool for us to talk about grief, in general, but also because you and I are both really happy people, lol! Or that’s also one part of us, the joy – the ability to share it. I think I often have felt, though, that’s the only setting people like me at… and that conditioning started young, in the home, where I also became the absorber of the grief of violence within my body, my mother’s (and her mother’s) bodies, as well as the family’s body. I became a sort of living remnant of the familial tragedy(ies) of my lineage, a reminder. 

I think maybe that’s why my presence is very intense to people… as it was for my mother, because I hold so much, I remember so much. I also hold both feelings – joy and grief – so honestly and equally. I think both of us can do this, it’s a sort of alchemical power we both share. Because we transmute it and then offer it back to people. That’s what all the work we do is. So talk to me about death doula training. What called you to it?

Thank you for this articulation, perhaps the intensity is in the joy of feeling grief, not because it’s fun or joyful but because it is real…and in that feeling we remedy our roles as absorbers, we offer ourselves digestion time that can be expressive, creative, alive. That living remnant you speak of, the survivor within and without, that alchemical power, in many ways that is life being reflected as itself and life is intense as fuck! So that intensity we carry is the spine trembling from grief and trauma while also dancing in joy of its own aliveness. The both and of everything. Which is also death. I think death is teaching me how to see and be in between the binaries. What called me to death work, mmmm, my ancestors, my prayers, Fire, some determine ravens, an ancient familiar force i cannot articulate, it wasn’t an invitation or even a choice it was just is, this is the work, here is the teacher, breathe in and walk towards. Death work as I hold it is the unknown work, we know nothing about death (aside for the fact that we are all going to die, which means we are all already dying) but we do know life and our senses offer us the essences of life. In this very moment we are alive (or we live a life that we think is alive) so death work to me is life work in the unknown. Which to me translates to heart work, as this inner beat is the only thing i have to offer to myself and the dying. 

What is your relationship with death?

I think we are also constantly in a state of dying (I mean, of course) but also that’s the point of both an ending and beginning. In learning how to live—and I mean this by living in accordance with the land, Morth Earth, the spirit world and laws — within that state comes an acceptance that we inevitably learn how to die… but I feel myself getting really overwhelmed by that reality sometimes. Since I was about 10, and this coincided with the first time I learned about Nostradamus, I had maybe my first “awakening” lol which was a panic attack in the middle of the night, realizing that we’re all going to die. It’s a punctuating, breathtaking experience to remember we will die. The last time I had a similar “awakening” (which could be otherwise misread as a panic attack) I was watching a movie with my friend Sophie, this was maybe around 2015, and I remember being like, “Holy shit, I’m not going to be here one day.” That always spins me out, it’s such a wild acceptance to make. But it’s also such a humbling reality and I think to honor that, to walk with death awareness, is a similar calling I’ve responded to. As you know, I’ve also had a similar download to be a death doula, as one of the many life vocations I’ve been called to do. I don’t feel ripe for the work yet, but I do think I’ve already started the work, ardently. I love living with death awareness because it clarifies life so much more. You begin to see how potent everything is. To me, this is my tutelage as a Muslim, to come back to Allah, the Earth, as we all must, is to submit to life. 

You’ve been through a lot of motions in your life. As an israeli who has left that land, I want to talk to you about your relationship to death with the land of israel, but also how you transmute that identity into the liberation of Palestinians. How do you do this work?

Thank you friend, i’ll start with ‘learning how to die’ which is a widening vortex as we probably all know how to die, that and birth are the two things we all do, so then i ask myself did we forget we know? Or do we remember by doing? Learning how to die, is learning how to live and both of those things translates to learning how to be of the Earth that we are, how to be the elements and minerals we already are, how to be in connection with all that we are already connected to, how do we tend to the land by tending to ourselves, how do we offer ourselves to the land, how do we be reciprocity, how do we be the offering itself. So this notion of land, home/land/s, outside of borders and colonial, imperial forces, leaves us with the lands of our bodies….i am holding this thread in one hand and will continue with another in my other hand with a prayer for braiding…

‘The land of israel is a dream (some of us will say a nightmare) it is an identity that is based on sacrificing the lands of our bodies for a grief that has lost its root and is operating on imaginable fear. It is not real. The land of Palestine, is the homeland of so many lineages and peoples, traditions, technologies, plant-life, medicine-life. The state of israel is a machine-manmade growth that was implanted on the land and we need to support it in dying, so that the land can be. The israeli identity is being force fed by this machine, so in order to help it die, apart of us (israelis) need to die and in going through this dying process within myself i can say that it feels like a premature cut of an umbilical cord, that is how strong the nation/state brainwash is. 

Once we doula ourselves into this death, our horrific imprint of occupation apartheid and geneocide could die with us and the land could be, and the peoples could be.  

In Muslim and Jewish death traditions the bodies are wrapped in a sacred sheet and are placed in the Earth with no barrier, between our Mother and the offering we are. We have so much to offer back to the Earth in our dead bodies if we allow the Earth to compost us. My prayer is to doula this israeli nation/state to its death, so that Palestine is free, and the peoples are free, and the olive trees are free, and the waters are free. 

Yes <3 I’ve recently been thinking a lot about “land back” which was something I first heard through Lorna Munro, an Australian Aboriginal woman and poet. I was on a panel with her back in 2019 and she talked about land back, saying all allyship is a performance on stolen land and I just remember having chills. Because I heard the truth. I was like, “Wait, it’s possible to give land back?” I was in shock. I remember just being so silent on the panel, just absorbing all this knowledge from the other panelists — all Black and/or Indiegnous Australian women speaking to something that felt so radical, revolutionary and yet the most obvious next direction for us. 

Now we think of the climate apocalypse that we’re currently in and the inevitable future of our species (if we don’t heal and rematriate this land) which is possible extinction. We look at land grabbing, and the inevitability of commercial interests moving towards privatizing water. It makes you realize how mindless and debased the colonial imagination is, and how scarcity driven you have to be to think that you can claim anything in a world where you will eventually die. It proves our hubris as a species, and the denigration of capital and what it’s done to us spiritually. The fact that we just absolve ourselves of our greed, our hypocrites, I don’t know there’s a mass death awareness that needs to happen here. Anyway, to me, land back poses a utopic chance to start again, to rematriate the land, to let it live in accordance with the custodians that want to cherish it… that’s the future for me. 

In Palestine, I think of the lemon groves, of the generations of farmers and families that have been displaced from their land. To me, giving land back is the only option and this work is the work we must do for our ancestors, to heal their wounds as well. Perhaps the ones they didn’t even know they had. As a Bangladeshi, I think of how the lands of my parents might be one of the first nations to sink into the water. Bangladesh has already been collapsing, and I’m thinking about the large-scale climate migrants that will be born out of the losing land, again, to a thief, to the colonizer. The cyclicality of this violence is so deep and I carry that grief. The pain of the people from my land. I feel it in my body. That’s what I think it means to work with death, it’s to grieve the collective pain for others. But I’m so grateful that we’re both doing this work together. It’s the only meaning I can make within such a space of darkness. It gives me humility to remember that I’m doing this for Creator. For liberation. 

Ok, last question, how do you keep this prayer alive? How do you nurture this prayer that is unfolding everyday? This commitment you’ve made in this lifetime is a big one. 

I think a lot about the land missing its people, not from an ownership or a statehood place, but just missing the bodies/lands that knew/know how to tend to the body/land. Coming back to this cyclical movement might rewire the one of deep violence you speak of, the spiral of remembering. This commitment, this prayer is a daily practice of remembering who I am, and why I am and where I am. I am a guest on this land (Turtle Island) and I try every day to deepen into my understanding of what it means to be a ‘good guest’ (in the words of Corrina Gould, Sogorea Te’ Land trust) I am getting very emotional as I am writing this answer, a lot of writing and backspace deleting is happening…this prayer I hold and tend to is not just my own, which takes me to the beginning of our exchange when I wrote about asking who is here? The known and the unknown, seen and unseen, the liberation of Palestine is the liberation of the land of my body, and my body is not just my own, I tend to this prayer by tending to the land I am currently on. By holding a Redwood tree and feeling the Roots of an Olive Tree Oceans away. Bringing an Owl to burial on this land with a death prayer I learned in a native tongue that comes from a different land. Tending to Seeds of love, of a heartway, tending to all my relationships, tending to the death of all my identities which I see as a form of queering death. I appreciate your wordsmith, that medicine you carry in the languages you offer, I water those seeds today, the language of a life remembering itself through the hearts, I water the seeds of your heart. Isn’t it wild to think about all the hearts that are beating in synchronicity all the time. I want to learn to listen to that sound. One last thought I want to share in relation to what you’ve written about extinction and climate apocalypse, I recently had this thought about reincarnation….if our species will be extinct, if we all die here, are we still going to incarnate as a human form?

meital yaniv (b. 1984, Tel-Aviv, israel) is learning how to be in a human form. they do things with words, with moving n still images, with threads, with bodies in front of bodies, with the Earth. they are a death doula tending to a prayer for the liberation of the land of Palestine and the lands of our bodies. they are learning to listen to the Waters, birdsongs, caretakers, and ancestors as they walk as a guest on the lands of the Tongva-Kizh Nation, Luiseño, and Cahuilla peoples and ways.  

Accepting Grief and Collective Loss with Death Doula Carmen Galvan

Hi Carmen. How do you feel? What time is it where you are?

Yes this timing is perfect, I just finished work so I’m feeling great! It is 6pm currently in Toronto so I’m just glad the day is done and we’re able to do this chat 🙂

Can you tell me a little bit about how you arrived at BIPOC DeathTalk?

Sure! Basically I had suffered several traumatic losses and had been working in the mental health sector as a social worker and realized that the way people talked about and understood grief was really terrible and not at all helpful and through a friend who was a death doula I was introduced to Corinne, who had just become a doula themselves. We both agreed that death and dying conversations were very white and eurocentric so we decided to run an in-person discussion group called BIPOC DeathTalks and it was so well received and popular we ran a couple more. Since then things have changed as Corinne is doing their own thing but I now cofacilitate BIPOC Grief and Death Talks with Kayla Carter, who is a full spectrum doula (and I’m a death doula).

What an incredible resource you have cultivated. I’m so glad to be here with you, this morning, for me! I mentioned this in my email, but I lost my grandmother in August. I am processing it in all different ways, but my initial reaction to the news of her loss was so unlike me as someone who naively thought I ‘confronted’ death a long time ago. How has your own relationship with death and dying shifted through your work as a death doula?

I definitely realized that my understanding of death was always “weird” in comparison to those around me and within society. I am Mexican, I wasn’t born in Canada but when I started grieving I was told by people I worked with in mental health that I was a liability and I really felt demonized for grieving and for wanting more support. Through my work as a death doula I realized that actually, society as a whole in many “western/eurocentric” countries are actually terrified of talking about death, looking at it, being around it and so even when we grieve, and we know we do so in our own ways and mourn in our own ways, the systems tell us that we’re wrong and that we’re not “resilient” and that thinking about death is bad. I think it really helped me face the fact that the world is full of toxic positivity that’s trying to tell us that something like death shouldn’t hurt for too long and that if it does it’s bad but it’s just not true. I’ve always accepted dying as a part of life (because I’m Mexican) but I never thought of it as something radical? Until I became a death doula. 

Wow. I’ve never made that connection before, between toxic positivity and the encouragement to almost ‘get over’ death. Totally. Right now, I feel like we’re in a moment where we’ve just been explicitly exposed to so much death and dying, not just with the pandemic but its root cause – the way the climate is dramatically shifting. Although in the west there’s been no ritual to grieve these losses. So as a result, we just keep moving forward and into the ‘new normal’. Do you feel that at all?

Yes I definitely think that’s the case – it’s terrible. We have not been given the chance to grieve or mourn anything that’s happened in the last year and a half. The way I put it is we’re carrying the dead carcass of our pre-pandemic lives, hoping it comes back to life instead of accepting the loss we’re currently going through and letting ourselves collectively feel it. We are all traumatized, especially those of us from marginalized communities, because the loss hasn’t stopped for hundreds of years but now we add a pandemic and the constant threat of world-ending climate disasters and we’re all just sitting here traumatized, trying to smile our way through it and I don’t think that’s a good idea. I really feel that in the west certain people get to grieve, predominantly white people, we are not afforded that luxury because grief and death is looked at in a very narrow way. But we are grieving the death and loss of our lands, our people, our childhoods and our own identities. In Canada when stuff started coming out about the Indigenous children they were finding in unmarked graves all of these white people cried about “this isn’t the Canada I know.” It’s the Canada we as Indigenous people have always known and we don’t get to cry about it. Sorry, that was a long response but its a whole mess and I do believe that only certain people are allowed to feel the depth of loss they experience. 

Yes. Folks from marginalised communities have not been given a chance to grieve throughout the history of the modern world. I think a lot about apocalyptic, end of the world minded folks who have been shaken up in the past year and a half (my mother is one of them). I also think about in Australia, on Darug Land where I currently am in so called Sydney, the Darug people considered colonisation to be the apocalypse. 

It’s not like we’re given proper space to grieve either, if we are reliant on the wheels of capitalism to make a living and survive. How do you begin to suggest we collectively make space for that grief, in a western world where we are constantly distracted and pushed towards dissociation? 

We as BIPOC Grief and Death Talks come to it from the perspective of 2 physically unwell, chronically ill women who look at it through a disability justice lens. So our first thing is building and creating community. We run these grief talks online for free in the hopes that people will build solidarity and community. We’ve already heard about people coming together and speaking to each other or giving each other support and advice after we run the groups and it’s completely self-sustaining because people are only asked to do what they can, and are more than willing to be there for others, especially knowing that so many of us have never been given that opportunity. I know many people who do things differently but I do believe that capitalism wants us to believe that we’re all alone in our struggles, that we’re all individuals who cannot learn or experience healing through each other (without it being some hyper-professionalized and psychiatrized space like a counselling space or a psychotherapy) but we totally can and if there’s anything I’ve learned through our groups its that we just kind of need to make space for people to hear each other without judgement and feel held in the moment? If that makes any sense? It’s small but I do think it starts with unlearning what we’re constantly told and understanding we can be here for each other as complete strangers, in whatever way you can do that? We do it this way but others do it differently and it’s great. Not sure if that made sense?

Yes, that makes total sense. What I am understanding about my own resistance towards an expansive grief comes down to a very basic feeling of being judged for how I feel. And how we’re taught, in the west, to repress any type of extreme emotion. So I can imagine that a space nourished in a way to disconnect judgement from our expressions of grief can be so healing and beneficial. 

What about in our daily lives, how can we integrate this knowing into how we engage in our everyday activities? 

Hmmm that can be hard but I always believe in acknowledging shame. We feel a lot of shame when it comes to emotions, you can’t be too happy or too sad in this society, it’s all very beige and bland. We learn from an early age to shame and police ourselves so we definitely talk about giving yourself (in private at first usually) the ability to let out your emotions in ways that feel good, and not attaching it to an outcome. That’s the other thing, we’re obsessed with outcomes and something meaning that something else will happen. Not to mention unlearning our idea of therapeutic care. Yes, counselling/therapy, massage, pampering is very good for ourselves as self-care but so is smashing things in a rage room or just screaming and yelling, taking up an “angry” sport. It doesn’t have to be pretty or neat and it doesn’t have to be linear so we always encourage people to allow themselves to feel, because we’re quite good at being compassionate to others but when it comes to ourselves we’re constantly policing our feelings and doing things to “complete” healing. Grieving doesn’t stop, it changes you and you grow around it, it doesn’t just go away after 10 sessions of counselling so definitely fighting with yourself and your own beliefs about who you are – it’s been programed since we were kids and it takes many years to really feel like you’re making any headway at confronting death and grief in a realistic, non-capitalistic or ableist way. Not sure if I answered that correctly or if that’s what you were looking for? 

Yeah, I guess the way we acknowledge and hold our grief doesn’t just change overnight, it is a lifelong process of unlearning, like you said earlier. It’s really interesting that you mention shame as well, as something programmed into us.

As a death doula, do you work with folks who are explicitly in the process of conscious dying? We are all on that journey in one way or another, have you ever had the chance to be part of that more focused journey? 

Currently due to COVID I haven’t been able to work with anyone who is “actively” dying but actually since things opened back up I am going to start doing some work at a hospice nearby so I am excited about that. I have worked with children of immigrants whose parents are older and a bit more stubborn than they’d like about admitting that it might be time to start organizing their affairs but that’s less of stuff like vigiling or doing hand-on death preparation and informational work for families and more of the administrative side of death preparation, because many of us with immigrant parents have to contend with parents who like to pretend they’re back home and everything will get settled in their absence somehow and that if they plan it now they’ll die sooner. I work mostly with immigrant folks and have had the opportunity to work with Trans folks because unfortunately we are not always granted the privilege of knowing when we’re gonna die so my goal as a doula is to get everyone to prepare ASAP regardless of where they’re at, especially because some of us have targets on our backs because of who we are. 

I am so appreciative of all that you offer, Carmen. How have you been preparing yourself for the work that is approaching you at the hospice?

Yes! Part of the prep work was doing 10 weeks worth of training, then I have more in-person training coming up, as well as more extensive bereavement counselling training. But on a personal level I have been investing a lot into my own care and mental health, I have been doing intense trauma therapy (EMDR) since May and have also been working on taking as much off of my plate as possible in order to be ready for this next chapter. It’s been a journey to get here, and I was supposed to have started this portion 2 years ago but that’s what happens with COVID. I think it will be meaningful and messy and I am just happy to be able to support people in my neighbourhood. I think just having a good support system has made all the difference. I have chronic pain issues that happen when I’m stressed so I’ve already set myself up with a chiropractor, physiotherapist, naturopath. It’s no joke and it’s extremely expensive, I have the privilege of having a workplace with good health benefits so it’s not as expensive but it’s a lot of things to set up so I don’t crash and burn. 

It’s amazing to know you have such a strong eco system, and that you’re so intentional in giving back to yourself. Wishing you continued wellness and strength as you enter into this new phase <3 What are three things you do daily to ground?

That’s a great question and something I need to work on constantly as someone with severe anxiety, because for me being grounded in myself is horrifying (I have no other words for it). But for me, I am not a meditation person or a silence person (not sure if that’s a bad thing) so what I do is I take many deep breaths when I start my work day, at least 5 intentional breaths just to get myself situated. 

The other thing I do is I dance, I am not a skilled dancer or a good dancer but dancing helps me shake out a lot of the left over emotions going on – I dance it out at least one song a day

And at night while watching some sort of true crime show(my coping mechanism), I do this thing called symmetry exercises? I think? But its basically tensing and relaxing your muscles in a very specific sequence to trick your body into relaxation. That’s it 🙂

Carmen Galvan is one half of BIPOC Death and Grief Talks, a death and loss support organization that she runs with her co-facilitator Kayla Carter. Carmen is a death doula, while Kayla is a full spectrum doula. BIPOC. Currently supports available include online discussion groups, one on one grief peer-support, death doula services (in English and Spanish) as well as grief and loss trainings and debriefs for groups and organizations. You can find them on Instagram at: bipocdeathgrieftalk
Their own instagram handles are carmen_maria416 and kaylaxcarter
Feel free to DM or send an email if you would like to access any services
Services for individuals/community members are free but for organizations or companies a fee is included (but can be negotiated depending on size, funding availability etc).


Connecting Childhood Trauma and Chronic Pain with Prinita Thevarajah

Hi Prinita <3

Hi Fa, how are you feeling?

I’m so excited to talk to you for real. I’m OK! I think today’s conversation will probably be helpful to the both of us. In a lot of ways we are cyclical to each other, our healing paths have intertwined not only because of proximity, friendship and collaboration, but also because our traumas mirror in some ways (and not in others) and those somatic repercussions have a similar resonance across folks who’ve experienced similar things to us, what I’m talking about is CSA. 

Earlier when we were talking on the phone we discussed how (a lot) of abusive people follow a certain script and I’ve found with trauma, especially after reading works like When The Body Says No, for example, you begin to see patterns in how abuse lands in the body and how it surfaces. I’m interested in hearing about where you are with your body and with what’s been surfacing. 

I feel so warmed by you this morning, always, but particularly today after I’ve really spent time completely alone which has been rare for me over the past year. It’s really affirming and comforting that despite our physical distance we’re always on the same page of resonance.

What I am coming to understand about my body is that it is really a never ending journey, it’s like a well with no bottom. I keep unearthing more and more about how I’ve repressed so much within me, and am now experiencing that in one way through chronic pain, endometriosis. 

I’ve been living at my parent’s house for the past two months which inevitably resurfaced so much in terms of hypervigilance within my body. Because the trauma I faced was sexual in nature, and because I grew up in a culture where sexuality is so repressed, expressing my sexuality and sensuality is part of the shadow integration I am now working through. Repressing sexuality is repressing life force energy. It’s like moving through life with a numbed sense and for me that looked like ebbing and flowing through depression and dissociation throughout the past two months. I am still doing a lot of work to cognitively detach from voices that swim in the undercurrents of guilt and shame so, being in a space like my childhood home makes my spirit leave my body. I operate in survival mode. It takes a lot for me to self soothe because the vibration of conditioning that I feel physically in that place is so strong. The past week has been pivotal for me in understanding how my endometriosis flares when I am in boundaryless and unintentional environments. So the choice becomes mine to recognize that pattern and actively detach and cut the cord – which is hard because it’s so counterintuitive for me. 

I really relate, and I know that feeling acutely. In terms of chronic pain and endometriosis I know that these are still evolving parts in your life, things that are perhaps still landing in your body, with my own reckoning of chronic pain and my own chronic illness, I’ve been pretty surprised and saddened by my own ableist attitudes towards my own body and illness. I’ve spent so much of my life coding these things, hiding these things, hiding my constant pain that didn’t just arrive in my body… all these things as to why I forever wanted a massage, why my body is always in knots, makes so much sense now that I’m finally decompressing and seeing the evidence and lining it up. It’s wild to actually begin to witness yourself, which means all the parts. I wonder how your process has felt accepting this new state of your body when you’re giving language (or even finding language) that finally fits. I take so much solace in the acceptance, even if there is grief and anger, as well. How about you?

Yes, internalized ableism is a lot to confront and hold. We’re taking on the voice of those that perpetrate harm and spitting it back out at our own selves. That’s what’s been the most heartbreaking thing for me. It took me so long to get a diagnosis for my condition because I myself initially took on the narrative that I’m probably just “too sensitive”. I didn’t want to take up more space. I didn’t want to play more into a victim narrative that is often attached to people who have chronic illness and disability, and my own dismissal was inherently ableist. 

I’ve become very blunt. I’ve reflected a lot on failed relationships, misunderstandings and miscommunications in spaces that are supposedly meant for care. One thing I can say is, people who experience chronic illness and disability – there’s a different type of consciousness we’re operating with. We experience the world a lot differently. We notice things differently. Like, when I was a child I was acutely aware of when people were racially microaggressive with my parents. I could tell when someone was trying to cause harm.  Our experiences of pain have made us hypersensitive to feeling – whether we choose to engage or disengage is our choice, but there’s no denying it’s presence. I think what I’m speaking to is the intellectualization of care rather than the actual experience of it, is what I became very aware of. 

For most people who did not live through violent and adverse childhood experiences and consequently matured into adulthood in a normative body, they simply do not get it. And I find myself getting more sick trying to explain it to them. So I tell the truth. When people ask me why I can’t be in loud crowds anymore or, ‘it’s just one beer!’, or, just aren’t willing to see me when I say I live my life differently to minimize pain in my body, I literally tell them I lived with childhood sexual abuse and inherited trauma which has consequently resulted in the tissue of my uterus lining to grow outside my uterus because she is so inflamed!

It’s a bit intense but…. I am learning how to embrace my intensity.

Yes I’ve seen you bloom, love. I’m so moved by how you are evolving and accepting these parts of yourself and taking up space in your own life. One thing my friend Tayyeb has recently been asking me a lot is, “Babe, are you taking up space?” It’s so antithetical to the ways in which I assume both of us have been socialized — to minimize our pain but also, and even more so, our presence. Those things are such revealing signals when you start engaging with pain that’s in the body. Recently, just thinking about how spatially I exist, and how that interconnects with how I spatially do (or don’t) exist in my body has been really confronting. Do I participate in my disassociation and if so, how can I advocate for myself (even to myself) when I’m not even fully engaged? I think when you’re in highly traumatic moments, like being in proximity to the very space where you were abused, those things are even more top of mind… So, how do you advocate for yourself, for your pain, for your illness now? Or at the very least, how do you negotiate things with yourself? 

I’ve stopped apologising for needing space and taking space and time to accomplish things – whether that’s my daily routine or my goals for my practice as an artist. Patience was only ever modeled as self sacrifice to me. Martyrdom has always been revered. Fuck martyrdom. I am really attempting to embody a fierce protector for my inner child, the child me who sacrificed her own body for the sake, reputation, ‘legacy’ of my heteronormative family. 

Advocating for myself looks like responding to text messages only when I have responded to my own needs first. Putting myself first in all ways and not having guilt for that. As a Libra who was raised by two Librans, codependency is a real issue for me. Codependency and community has been conflated through trauma bonding in the culture I was raised in. So really knowing deeply that I can only surround myself with people who are equally committed to their own liberation, instead of being saved by structures, authorities, institutions, is a way I advocate for myself. I’m learning how to detach from toxic and abusive people emotionally, cognitively and behaviorally. 

And then very simply, if I want to experience something that will make me feel safer with myself, and hear a voice of self deprecation and self harm lurk up to dissuade me from making that choice of safety, advocating for myself means calmly quietening that dismissive voice. 

What has been clarifying about your endometriosis diagnosis? I imagine it’s been helpful to have answers… 

Honestly, the endometriosis diagnosis initially felt like I was being finally backed up. For once my pain wasn’t being dismissed. And having the diagnosis means that if anyone does dismiss me, I have an institutional diagnosis to challenge them with, lol. It was more about being valid for me before it was a framework of how I could heal. 

Endometriosis is essentially chronic inflammation. I think about that holistically. Emotional inflammation means avoiding emotionally volatile environments. Mental inflammation is having a clear boundary with work and labor. Spiritually, I know that if I’m not responsible with cleansing and protecting my energy, I’m going to flare up. Engaging my base chakras has been really healing during flares. So bodily, if I don’t stretch to release tension, sleep and eat well, I’ll trigger a flare. 

It’s interesting though because this time last year I began my journey with Ayurveda because of my skin issues (which I now know is an endo issue), and that was the entry point to healing my body. My diet according to ayurveda and my endometriosis cross over completely. That’s been pretty transformative in the faith I have in seeking out healing that is more aligned with my values. It’s been wholly intuitive for me, the science coming later to validate what I’ve been feeling all along. 

Does that resonate for you? Being led by your body first?

Absolutely. Yeah the ayurveda + diagnosis connection is pretty wild. Or how ayurveda often intersects with TCM as well and that’s usually connected to the blockages of the chakras… it’s always moving (and affirming) to see how holistic this work is. 

I think the only way is to have really clear boundaries with yourself and others. Recognizing why I eat the way I do, use the ingredients I use and acknowledging that this attention to detail wasn’t just a quirk, but an intuitive connection I had with food and thus my body (inherently understanding what I could/couldn’t eat) has been suchhhhhhhhh an illuminating as well as FRUSTRATING saga. I guess the hardest thing is that this path is not linear. After figuring out these things in my early 20s, in my early 30s there’s still such a stop and start motion of implementing things full time and not getting cocky about my own health… I guess that’s an integral thing about this path, how uncomfortable it is and how it’ll throw you out into the deep end sometimes. But I guess I’d rather be here—with all this clarity—even if it’s uncomfortable, than to be in the dark. 

What’s advice you’d give folks that are wanting tenderness with themselves? How do you find tenderness on this never ending journey to healing?

The non linearity humbles me. Like being back at square one now that I am physically closer to my the site of trauma, being back in that place where I am a child again and now knowing I can use the skills I’ve learnt to protect myself, but this time I am more aware of the danger that exists more hidden below the surface, in the patterns. 

Tenderness to me has become synonymous with slowness and quiet. If you are craving tenderness due to a heightened sensitivity, chances are, you are taking on energies that don’t belong to you. The only way for me to really know what I want is to stop and be still. Even if I am fighting the stillness, that is an indicator for me that I am distracting myself from something. 

Stillness and moving slowly allows me to come back to my breath which in turn allows me to come back to my body and that’s where I am able to tap into the abundance of tenderness I have for myself. 

Tell me five things that you’ve been doing to nurture softness

1. Combing my hair in the morning with neem oil & giving myself scalp massages
2. Sleeping in 
3. Going for long walks in areas I do not know and connecting with the trees along the way
4. Turning notifications off my phone
5. Dancing, every day 

Coming To Terms With An Invisible Disability with Eugenie Lee

Thinking of the context of us being in Sydney and lockdown being over, being back out and about, if you could choose just five words to describe the state of your spirit, what would they be?

Inquisitive, hesitant, excited, explorative and resilient.

When we were speaking earlier, you were describing the research you were doing around pelvic pain, and you labeled the factors contributing to it as biopsychosocial. I’ve never heard anyone use that term before. I’ve always heard factors referred to as biological or psychological or social but never the three together, and it makes sense to me. For some in the community who might not understand what it means, what are the biopsychosocial factors of pelvic chronic pain? 

I learnt the terminology through a neuroscientist who specialises in persistent pain in Australia, specifically a body and mind team based at the University of South Australia. And also Neuroscience Research Australia, Randwick in Sydney. Basically what they’re saying is body and mind are not separate, we are holistic beings. Although we live in the physical body (bio) we cannot separate psychosocial components from our own experiences. Our perception of experiencing pain (because pain itself is a perception) cannot be separated from physical biological experience or away from psychosocial experience. So in a sense, neuroscience recognises that we are holistic beings. 

What we experience through social interactions or emotional wellbeing or disturbances can manifest itself through our own body. If, for instance, you feel pelvic pain on the left side of your body, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is tissue damage on the left side of your body. There is a psychosocial component that contributes to that perception of pain. It’s expressed sometimes through physical sensations.

In your work, McGill Pain Questionnaire, you incorporate milk as a representation of the hereditary component of pelvic pain. I’ve been really interested in understanding the ancestral component of pelvic pain. In that piece you make reference to the female link and it reminded me of Gabor Maté who wrote the book When The Body Says No. He talks about endometriosis as stemming from childhood issues of repression and repressing femininity. The day after I was diagnosed with endometriosis, my grandmother passed. She always had pelvic pain but undiagnosed, she would often voice the pain. What do you think about the ancestral quality of pelvic pain, specifically relating to women?

I can only go by evidenced based research where a lot of scientists say a few things that validate my own experience. Having said that, I can never dismiss my own lived experience that has not really been researched, one’s subjective experience, from the perspective of science. 

If you ask me, there are hereditary experiences through female lines that definitely exist in my condition. My mother always had some sort of pelvic pain. She talks about how she used to have huge clots when she was having her period. Or she used to miss work or school because of pelvic pain. But never diagnosed, of course, in that generation. I don’t know about her mother because she passed away when I was very little. 

Scientists do say that there is some sort of genetic hereditary issue when it comes to endometriosis. But they rarely did any research on “women’s issues”. They call it women’s issues when it comes to pelvic pain although there are many men who also live with pelvic pain. Endometriosis is considered specifically a women’s issue. Science is very heavily male dominated so it just never pulled on their attention to do more research. Even though pelvic pain has existed for hundreds of years.

Going back to using milk as a material expression for my artwork; endometriosis generally occurs during the childbearing years for women. I thought milk was an adequate metaphor to talk about endometriosis. From a cultural perspective, I think it’s an all women thing, not specific to my Korean-Australian heritage. Milk is something all women, even mammals can relate to. Talking about more of a cultural reference to endometriosis, I would point to using seaweed in McGill Pain Questionnaire. When you see the video about pulsing, that is specifically seaweed mixed with water. That pulsing movement is based on thick, mucus like clots that gather together and pulse away. This pulsing sensation is quite common in the endometriosis experience. The reason I used seaweed is because they talk about, if you were exposed to dioxins and a lot of chemical exposures when you were young, you may develop endometriosis. It could trigger the genetic components that start the endometriosis process. I was exposed to a fair bit of dioxins growing up in Korea. Eating whale, and a lot of pesticides that had a huge amount of dioxins. 

This is all, even scientifically, based on conjecture. A lot of research in endometriosis is so sparse. There isn’t a lot of solid evidence on what may cause endometriosis, what triggers the genetic components. We just don’t know. Because there’s hardly any funding within medical industries to support endometriosis research. Even though it is quite a common experience. A lot of the time I’m just going by my own experience and even the not so evidenced based research that floats around on the internet. Which is a kind of commentary in itself. We just don’t know.

One thing that really struck me when I first saw your work was how the artist really becomes the vehicle of filling the gaps, so often where policy and research lacks. I was mind blown because I learned so much more when engaging with your work than I did with any type of interaction with any medical practitioner. It was initially frustrating but also so comforting and affirming. So, I’m very grateful for your practice because as artists we could choose to make art about anything and you’re choosing to fill that void that exists all around the world. 

I want to know if you think that there is an emotional component to pelvic pain and endometriosis. Based on the understanding of the psoas muscle as the region that holds trauma and emotional pain. Do you think there is a link between a woman’s emotional experience and how they experience chronic pelvic pain? 

If I’m going by medical science again, there is no evidence. Although a lot of people say there may be links. ‘May be’ in that sense, it’s almost rude that they’re not validating a lot of women’s experiences and hearing their voices as part of research. 

Personally, and by speaking to a lot of other women who experience pelvic pain, yes there is a strong link. I only recently came out as someone who was sexually abused, possibly from when I was born, by my brother. The abuse only ended when he left for America when he was fourteen. Until then, I was his available toy and subject for his sick curiosity, perhaps. That continued with the indifference of my parent’s towards my wellbeing and almost like, he was protected and I was not. So I had to find my own way to protect myself since I was born. Even though I was brought up in a middle class, well off family. When it comes to abuse, there is no boundary. In a way, my emotional expression that seeps through my paintings and sometimes installations are partially a form of me to make sense of my emotional pain and confusion and shame. Although, it is unwarranted. My shame is not because of what I’ve done, but because of society’s stigma that has been placed on the victims of sexual abuse. 

Some of that, I’m sure, physically manifested as pelvic pain. There is a lot of evidence out there that childhood trauma can significantly affect that person’s autoimmune functions, and it changes the brain functions and it literally changes the cell structure. But they’ve never actually done further research on how women are affected by sexual abuse that consequently is effected through pelvic pain. 

Thank you for sharing that with me and I’m so sorry for what you’ve experienced. My sister took out incest on me and I was sexually abused for eight years. Only as an adult did I really process that, and when I began to process that is when I began to process the pain. And I didn’t have words to articulate it, of course, but only when I began to assert boundaries for myself could I really understand what was going on in my body. 

So many of the women that I’ve spoken to who have severe endometriosis have had some sort of violence occur to them as children. To make that link and then see how these systems not only disregard women by looking past this, but also, overlook care for children. It’s heartbreaking and disappointing. 

I wonder how connecting those dots help you, if at all, be with your family and resolve any past traumas. I moved back home after three years of living out of home and had an endo flair last week. My parents are only starting to understand it and they know that I was abused as a child. And when my mother came to check on me, my instant reaction was to get mad and be frustrated which was coming from my inner child who was really hurting. 

How have you moved through that yourself?

That’s a big question. I’ve been through a lot of treatment options, I’ve explored a lot.

Before I answer your questions, I just want to clarify that one of the reasons that never spoke about my childhood sexual abuse and physical, emotional, verbal and everything else that came with it, regarding my pelvic pain issues with my GP or gynaecologist was because, once I mentioned that, it would almost give them a reason to wash their hands about caring for me. And send me off to a psychologist, ‘we’re not qualified, you need a psychiatrist, don’t talk to me about your pain.’ 

The medical system is so heavily based on biomechanical perspectives that, anyone, especially women, who come up with links to pain and emotions and childhood experiences, they just don’t want to know. In medical schools, they only learn about persistent pelvic pain for about two and a half hours compared to all of the years of curriculum. They don’t really get a chance to learn much about pelvic pain. So, I don’t blame them. It’s the system. They’re part of the system and come out to care for patients with very complex histories, stories and narratives. They’re simply not equipped. The textbook teaches them about acute pain so they just give us medication and hope for the best. When somebody presents them with a biopsychosocial pelvic pain related issue, within that twenty minutes of consultation, naturally, they don’t know how to deal with it. The easiest option is to send them to a psychologist. Childhood abuse particularly, is just not a helpful clue for medical practitioners to help us along with our pain. I just wanted to put that aside.

I had a similar experience of moving back home with my parents, cos I just couldn’t look after myself for a while. So I definitely understand what you’re going through. Going to people who never protected me, never had the skills to protect me, that concept just doesn’t exist but I had to move back to that environment. That in itself made my pain worse. I would be going through extreme pain and my mother would see how much pain I was under. By looking at my body language, my behaviour, unable to articulate or even speak simple sentences, unable to eat, vomiting, not sleeping and literally crawling around the house. She could see that I was under a lot of pain, but at the same time the burden was on me, to explain to people, including my family who were supposed to care for me, to explain and educate them about pain. I didn’t have a lot of answers myself. I was waiting for my clinicians to explain my experience, but they couldn’t, cos they didn’t know. 

Pain is an incommunicable issue. Socially, I am stuck, as a sole person, to explain and make sense to other people what I was going through. But at the same time, I was going through so much trouble understanding what I was experiencing. Naturally a lot of people go to Dr Google to explain their experience. Or go through a lot of other alternative therapies which have even less evidence based experiences. Being a woman with pelvic pain is a very difficult position to be in. As a carer, for parents or friends who witness your experience of pain, it only highlights their helplessness. You’re a walking definition for their helplessness. When people are forced into situations where they feel helpless, their default mode is to look away. They don’t want to deal with it. They want to help but they don’t know how to. And we can’t tell them how to either. There are so many dimensions and barriers in communication when it comes to pain. 

Cycles of taboo. If you were to look at it from the beginning of our lives and whatever the childhood developmental experience is not spoken about, and then we age into the consequences of those experiences and there’s no language for that either. It’s such a sticky thing to navigate. After I got my diagnosis, just so many relationships in my life began to make sense where the missing link was empathy. The deep connection that I felt with people was usually that they had suffered under violence or lived with chronic pain. So even having to explain myself to friends and family who would say passive, insensitive remarks, I didn’t understand why they were so hurtful to me. After the diagnosis it started to make a lot of sense. Which is also why your work is so amazing because it really does help to create some sort of understanding and empathy for people who wouldn’t usually be able to navigate this experience.

What’s it been like to see how people process this understanding of chronic pain? Do you think there’s more of an understanding now about pelvic pain as a disability? Is that becoming more present to the general population?

To be honest, I don’t know what the general population thinks anymore because I’m so surrounded by people who care for me and other people with disabilities. In a sense, I would say yes. More people are starting to be aware of pain or chronic illness.

We are disabled. Personally, it took me a really long time for me to be able to see myself as a disabled person. When I was studying at uni years ago, there was a disability benefit that allowed a week extra of study times and pushed back deadlines. I had to see my GP to see if he could write me a letter to qualify for the disability benefits. And he said, “Oh! Oh yeah, I guess your pain is sort of like a disability.” He had never thought about it before. That was about twelve years ago.

I was struggling to see myself as a disabled person too. Even though my life has been so debilitating and each of my daily functions have been affected, no body told me I was disabled. I thought disability was an obvious thing, that you were in a wheelchair or legally blind – that’s it. My knowledge of disability was so minimal, just like anybody else really. I still saw everything as an ableist person. My worldview was ableist. So, it took a while. 

After a few years of living as if I’m an imposter, I felt like I didn’t deserve to be a disabled person for some reason. I didn’t know anybody who called themselves disabled with a chronic illness. So I was very isolated and felt very alone. The crucial thing is, if you’re disabled, you need to be visible so that it helps other people come out and see themselves as they are, right now. Not five years ago, who you are now. Everything is a work in progress. Our symptoms change, our experience changes. You can’t compare the person who you were two or five years ago. You are who you are now. You need to stay open minded and accept who you are as you go, with the fact that your symptoms and experience will change in six months time or one years time. 

It was only a few months ago that I told my step daughters, teenagers. I just broke down. The reason I told them is because they just didn’t understand. They had this expectation of me to get up early and do things for them and do this and that. I just struggled so much. I couldn’t do the things that they expected me to do, because they expected them from an ableist perspective, even at that young age. They internalized what people ‘should’ be able to do. They had this assumption. I just didn’t need that expectation, it put so much pressure on my body, my psyche, my wellbeing. So I had to come out. I was nervous, they’ve been living with us for so many years and I was only able to say that a few months ago. 

What a powerful example though, for them who will inevitably be surrounded by women with endometriosis and chronic pain. I still find it difficult to think about myself as disabled. It’s frustrating that the onus is put on us and we become the only resource.

Do you have hopes for how the conversation is integrating chronic pain in Australia?

In a small space yes. One of my collaborators, Dr Susan Evans, is a founder of pelvic pain in Australia. Susan and a few other strong women got together and made an endometriosis task force and convinced the health minister Greg Hunt to give funding to endometriosis in medical research. Although things are happening very slowly, they started educating high school kids in South Australia and Victoria. More media is paying attention to women’s pain, especially endometriosis. There are books coming out. So yes, yes it is hopeful.

In general, disability justice is starting to gain traction. A lot of arts organizations and institutions are taking it seriously, looking into accessibility. Really educating themselves. 

I have been speaking through medical circles around the globe as somebody with lived experience. People who are interested in persistent pain are paying attention to lived experiences. People are starting to incorporate lived experiences in their pilot studies.

How are you taking care of yourself lately?


Several years ago I had to look at my social surroundings for my own wellbeing. I had to be brutally blunt to toxic people around me. It was hard because a lot were my family members. It took many years of psychotherapy for me to deal with guilt. For me to stop them from coming into my life. That was painful but I’ve accepted it finally. I have my own family now. Most of the time I only surround myself with people who care for me and I care for them as well. As much as I care for them, I expect the same level of care in return. If that’s not mutual, I don’t give up. It’s just not worth my well being because it directly affects my health. That’s a strong biopsychosocial cycle.

I exercise everyday as part of my pain management. Exercise is an evidence based pain management that all of my neuroscience colleagues advocate for. Any kind of movement, your brain just loves it. It’s your brain that makes the decisions whether you should be in pain, not your body but your brain. It’s your brain that makes the final decision of ‘yes, you’re under threat’ or ‘no you’re not’. 

I follow a terminology called DIM SUM. Danger In Me, Safety In Me. It was invented by the neuroscientist who trained me about pain. His name is Professor Lorimer Mosely. He’s an amazing science communicator. He and David Butler wrote this tiny little book called Protectometor. What they say is the brain is your best ally so the brain can also be the worst ally when it comes to pain. So how to look after your brain if you live with consistent pain, do everything to make yourself safe so your brain can conclude that you are safe. What you experience is 100% true and should be validated. Everything is subjective so what you experience won’t necessarily be what I experience, but we acknowledge everyone’s pain. We openly embrace diversity. What is safe goes back to our childhood experience, where you didn’t know what safety meant. You didn’t have your safe space so you have to relearn the perception of safety. For me, safety means having a bath. Hanging out with people who don’t judge me, who encourage me and support me. That’s my safety. Having good food, there’s a dietary issue when it comes to pelvic pain. So eating really good quality food is safety for me. I’ve become a food snob, I’m a foodie. Sleep, you need to have good sleep each day. Find good integrative doctors. Finding good clinicians – find your own team. It’s multidisciplinary care. 

Danger In Me is, understand what makes you feel threatened. Toxic people who have abused you, eating bad food, get rid of it. 

Everybody’s DIM SIM’s different. What the protectormetor says is, each day, pay attention to where your DIM is according to your SIM. As long as your SIM is higher than DIM, there’s no way that your body wants to produce pain. If DIM is higher, the protective mechanism will kick in. Pain is necessary to protect you but make sure that you protect yourself rather than allowing pain to kick in.

As long as your own ecosystem is operating in a healthy way, pain is manageable. 

When it comes to long term pelvic pain, you need to adapt your language with your experience. How you view your own pain. Because pain is a protective mechanism, your brain can be your best ally. It sometimes might overreact and think you’re in so much danger, bang, pain. If you can, for instance, change your wording, to see your pain experience, to see your best friend as trying to do everything to protect me right now, you can train your own brain. How do you word your experience? Ask yourself, is this extreme discomfort or extreme pain? If it’s discomfort, acknowledge it as discomfort. Don’t say ‘I’m in pain’. Cos if you do, you’re telling your brain, ‘keep sending me protective mechanisms’. Detach from your experience and observe it. Have a conversation with your brain in a very nice, nurturing way. Bring down that DIM. Be loving towards yourself with gratitude and compassion. Your brain is doing the best to protect you. With that attitude you can up your SIM, even in one day. It’s your attitude. Accept who you are and treat yourself with care and a lot of love. Your pelvic pain experience will become almost like the best thing that has happened to you. 

The Mirrors in Mycology with Sneha Ganguly

Hi Sneha! How are you feeling this evening? If you could use five words to describe the way your spirit feels, what would they be? 

I am doing well this evening.  Gosh, 5 words I think would be overwhelmed, loved, self-assured, excited, and creative!!  How about you?

Hmm.. this morning I am writing to you from my mother’s bed. My spirit is feeling, quiet, slow, reflective, comforted and calm. I really love that you said you’re feeling both overwhelmed and self-assured. Good overwhelmed, I hope, but even if not, thank you for sharing the often contradictory feelings that arise when we prod at the spirit. 

I’m so happy and grateful to be with you here this morning. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation from the moment I discovered you and your work. I want to start by asking, how did you arrive at the intersection of mycology and art?

Thank you, Prinita for being here with me this morning, even though I know you must be feeling low energy.  You will soon find out that I am a super slow writer, always looking for the right words to reflect how I feel.  I think one good reason why I became a visual artist 🙂 

Thanks for the question.  I have identified as an artist for as long as I can remember.  It is the only thing I am sure of for myself.  I discovered the power of mushrooms sometime in high school.  Learned that they were decomposers of the natural world.  Inspired by them, I made my first mushroom artwork at 17.  Then 10 years later, burnt out from living in NYC, I retreated into the forest and spent a lot of time alone.  I did however join the New Jersey and New York Mycological Societies at this time.  And at the New Jersey Mycological Society’s Annual Fungus Fest, I learned that you can make paper from mushrooms and it blew my mind!  That started my exploration and speciality into mushrooms for pigments and materials.  

Wow. How has your process with the mushrooms evolved over time and can you share any deeper lessons fungus has taught you along the way? I am particularly interested in hearing about how being in practice with fungi may have shaped your relationship with death and decay, as decomposers of the natural world.

My practice evolves slowly.  Every year, even every day, I learn something new about mushrooms.  Their world is SO vast and there is so much to learn.  But I think my favorite part is foraging for wild mushrooms.  I learn so much by observing their formal qualities, their unique functions and properties, their environmental needs, their symbiotic relationships to other organisms in the ecosystem.  There are so many variables that need to align for a mushroom to fruit that the moment feels intimate and special.  

I learn so much from them, but your question reminds me of two things…  First, did you know that mushrooms are our closest relatives on the tree of life!  When I see their supple skin, their phallic shape, their flowing gills, they feel very human to me.  Of course, they are our ancestors! 

They also signify to me that there is life after death. Physical proof that reincarnation exists!  It gives me peace to know that on an elemental level, we decompose, and recycle back into the earth, and are born again!  

What a sacred process. And what a great teacher. When I began looking into different mycology societies and foraging communities, one thing that stood out to me was the overwhelming whiteness of these spaces. Discovering your work, as a fellow South Asian, was so affirming. Even down to your IG handle (kali mushrooms), I think seeing representations of identities other than whiteness is so transformative in thinking about how mycology allows for vastly different and interconnected spiritualities and ways of being. As a founding member of the POC Fungi Community how has mycology allowed you to further explore your own identity? 

It is true, many mycology spaces are still predominantly white, but that does not stop me from expressing myself and culture.  Still the mushroom community gives me a lot of hope.  Most mycophiles are very intelligent, weird, fringe, and morbid in the best way.  It is also a space where amateurs are welcome, and their contributions are valued by the larger community unlike some other scientific disciplines.  Due to the lack of BIPOC representation, I am even more motivated to take up space!  I feel a lot of agency and responsibility in participating and helping shape this community and our collective mushroom culture.  But it is always exciting to connect with other POC interested in mushrooms.  I met Mario at the New Moon Mycology Summit four years ago, and being the few POC at the event, we decided that we needed to create a space for BIPOC where they can feel supported in their mushroom-related interests and endeavors.

I have never thought about how mycology allows me to explore my own identity. To me mycology is a medium, a language, and an aesthetic through which I can create and have found a way of life and practice which seems holistic and sustainable.  It took me a long time to find but it is largely the reason why my art looks the way it does.  Something I am really excited about in my art practice is silk dyeing and painting with mushroom pigments.  It reminds me of the beautiful saris produced in India, and learning these techniques helps me connect with my cultural heritage, mixing the old with the new. 

Thank you, Sneha. I’m so appreciative of your offerings and your forging of new pathways through mycology. I look forward to seeing how your practice continues to evolve and hearing about the continued lessons you are learning with fungi.

To end, can you share three things that you have been coming back to as grounding rituals? And maybe, if you have any rituals around your practice with mushrooms?

I love this question!  

I have developed a weekly ritual, where I carve out some space to microdose and go to the museum. I look deeply at the works of art and look for patterns and connections across cultures and narratives.  I bring a sketchbook, where I write and draw and take notes, and play around with concepts I might be working with in the studio. 

I also like to go out looking for mushrooms regularly.  I anticipate the weather forecast, and go out to the local park following the rain, and start scanning the ground and trees, slowly, looking for mushrooms.  I like to take pictures, to log what I have found, both for technical, educational, and artistic purposes.  When I come home, I identify what I have found and learn about the individual species.  I learn whether they are edible, poisonous, medicinal, good for materials or pigments. 

Lastly, I take what I have learned and I try to apply it by creating something.  Sometimes it transpires into a work of art or even medicine-making.  I learn to make extracts for dyeing, paintmaking, and medicinal infusions such as tinctures, using honey, alcohol, glycerin, water, and other vinegars and acids.  I use them for myself, and am starting to make small batch products to share with others.  I am super excited since I am preparing for my first market next week!!

Myceliating the System and Rebuilding Rot with Olga Tzogas


First off, how are you?


Hello! Hello! I’m doing good, busy but really feeling decent these days. Lots going on but the rains are bringing me joy, because they help fruit so many beautiful fungi! It’s been a lovely year for wild mushrooms so far. How’s it going over there?


It’s going well! I agree, the rain is so cleansing. I’m in Brooklyn right now, and there’s something about the weather today that is lending itself to both melancholy and introspection. I’m so excited to talk to you because what you do is very moving to me — teaching people more about mycology — and so I want to know everything. 

Tell me, what was your journey to mycology? 


Yes the waters! So cleansing, it feels so much better out there after a rinse I tell ya! Thank you for your kind words! I’m just the messenger of the fungi and it’s been such a treat sharing what I love with people and other folks catching on to the divinity of mushrooms and Fungi. I always loved eating mushrooms, in foods, and growing up, my mother, every New Years Day would make this really simple dish with white button mushrooms, parsley, wine and lots of garlic…mind blowing. As I started to steer my studies in community college away from art to more biology, I had some amazing teachers that were walking encyclopedias, they could see anything outside that was wild and tell you its name and everything about it. It was inspiring and mostly because when we started learning about mushrooms and fungi, we found hundreds of varieties and many of them incredible edibles. I’m super into food, grew up in a Greek diner and that’s the way to my heart. So they grabbed my attention and really, I just rabbit-holed myself into their wonder. It’s vast, as we know, mushrooms are beyond food, but medicinal, therapeutic, ecological healers and ceremonial. They are almost infinite in their abilities and their range of existence in so many fields of study and life. It was indeed the love others had for fungi that was contagious and I caught on as well.


This is so concise, I love how you can track your love and interest in mushrooms right from these formative moments like New Years Day meals… Food is a gateway for me as well. I started gaining more interest in mycology/fungi/ the mycelium network through the work of Paul Stamets and Fantastic Funghi recently really blew my mind… just how intelligent this species is. You say you’re a messenger (and I believe it) so was there a moment that you can remember where you felt you had to teach people about this majestic wondrous plant/medicine? 

And if so… why? I’m really curious how that journey started for you. Did it feel like a divine calling? 


It’s funny because I think it just happened naturally. It’s almost like, every person who does know about Fungi is a teacher because we end up having to explain to folks what they’re looking at all the time hahaha. I would be at markets selling some gathered goods, when I first began my ‘business’ with fungi and half the time it was educating folks, because they would be like, “hey! I saw something like that the other day! What is that?” And you end up giving them a little lesson along the way. Really, though, it was the need for the info in the community around here, the desire to bring other teachers, to host, to learn from too. I definitely put lots of my initial knowledge to the credit of incredible fungal mentors like Ja Schindler of Fungi for the People, who really taught me how to grow mushrooms and encouraged me to share the knowledge as much as possible.  


I feel like most people I meet who work with Fungi are teachers, you’re right. I’m also in awe of anyone who dedicates their time, efforts and energy into educating people about this Earth. You’re also right about community — I find there’s something really utopic about Fungi because they have this immense regenerative quality that is so profound — and in conversations even about our ecological future in the face of the current climate catastrophe I believe that Fungi does and will play such a role in how we reimagine the world ahead of us. 

Does that resonate with you? Do you agree? 


I want to say yes, but I’m also a bit bitter of green washed models of what our future could be like. I think we know what it could look like, because the models are present all over the world in various pockets of areas left alone from so-called ‘progress.’ Like, that recent Elon Musk tweet he’s offering tons of money to combat the climate crisis and it’s like, JUST PLANT TREES! LOL It’s the Industry fucking shit up, and they just want their little green washed eco campaign to make their other awful practices seem less terrible? Idk im pretty ‘anti civilization’ in the sense that so much is caused by immense industrial frameworks for everything we do and consume, I think it’d be way better if it didn’t exist at all LOL but obvs that’s not reality and we live in the so called late stages of capitalism, do I think mushrooms are going to make greedy jerks not mess the planet up? I don’t think so. I think there’s this boom for profit that just won’t let up. Do I want there to be a better ecological future? Sure do! But until we really see that, the pipelines are still being built, by the same companies selling green energy, giving us the ‘alternatives’ when really Mama Earth provides all. We’re so detached. It’s hard and it’s also just the systems in place, it’s hard to escape the rat race as they say. There’s tons of privilege that exists with this notion of returning to the land, growing food, growing mushrooms, etc because that’s not a reality that everyone can do, and sometimes the folks that were living on the land good, get displaced by giant energy projects, pipelines, developments, hotels etc. I’ll also say that, Paul’s youtube video about ‘mushrooms saving the Earth’ is deflective, it puts huge pressure and hope that one organism is going to save us, a ‘cure all’ if you will and it’s not that simple. I mean it almost is, but most don’t want to have that convo; abolition of the military, prisons and what was it? 70 companies responsible for the rest of the ecological crisis? It puts this personal responsibility on the US when it’s really on THEM.   


Yes, I absolutely feel you. Late stage capitalism is really an interesting beast because it really wants to take the planet down and doesn’t care if it extracts the entire Earth for resources, it’s a devastating reality we live in right now but I guess it’s funny I’ve been thinking about the future a lot as I’m writing my fourth book on the wellness industrial complex (called Who Is Wellness For?) so I’m examining the question of futurity a lot. I absolutely believe we can only have a future on this planet by collapsing predatory Capitalism (though I don’t believe an ~ ethical alternative ~ which I’m sure they’ll try to sell us will work when our planet is literally melting) and that’s really the only way. Because… what happens when power lines go down, or labor workers can’t work — Capitalism relies on cheap labor and the “compliance” of the Earth… and I actually feel her saying NO. Like a big booming NO. And I think she’s going to keep saying NO! NO! NO! Until we are forced to stop and reconsider. So yes… absolutely feel you on the reality we are living, but I think that future relies so much on the hope that we can collapse and reimagine… without greenwashing but by actually collapsing and reinstating new paradigms. I feel like that’s what your work is doing on a community level… by educating people you’re giving them an entry point to their own liberation from Capitalism in a way!!!

So what do you think are steps we can take for anyone who reads this to engage with Fungi in a holistic way? I feel like learning how to be with these medicines is definitely a step toward redefining the right relationship to the Earth. 


Study them and all their relatives. Study the trees, smell the flowers, feel plants. Listen to the birds and go outside and see the Earth resisting the concrete and the flowers that make their way to every corner of the city and beyond. We need to listen, and you’re right, Earth is saying, NO NO NO! And we need to hear that and protect Earth at all costs. We need to connect to teachers and folks who are sharing. Obviously that could get tricky cuz the internet is filled with a wide range of info and content. I luckily did start learning about Fungi, kind of before there was much internet content out there and I began learning from folks in local mushroom clubs. It really is a great way to connect and learn. They know their stuff. It is definitely a more colonized approach to Mycology; most mushrooms are picked, identified, placed in herbariums and stored. But it’s a stepping stone to get comfy and maybe find your fungi crew to connect with. It’s a matter of time, we find each other. Sadly, clubs are very apolitical. They won’t talk about deforestation or climate crisis because this older boomer model, ‘leave politics’ out of it’ let me have my club time, when the habitats they like gathering from are under serious attack and gone. Thankfully now though, with the help of the internet, we have found more rad, inclusive spaces to adore fungi and study. I’m grateful to many teachers like the folks over at the POC Fungi Community, Mama Maiz and countless BIPOC Earth stewards leading the way.  Showing me and my community how to navigate with more care and connection. It’s been a journey for me, if we spoke 15 years ago, I would of told you I wanted to be the next Paul Stamets, seriously, now, with the grace and guidance of incredible people everywhere, my growth within the fungal centric world, I tend to be steered away from his model and more of a smaller, diverse, decentralized and interconnected one. I want discussions around water and land rights to be part of the conversation when we talk about fungi, when we talk about mushrooms at the store or in the packets. Where did they come from? There’s tons of mushroom companies out there right now and I’m def in favor of supporting smaller growers and folks making noise for change. Like, I don’t know about you, but I want to give money to people doing rad work, advocating for police abolition, the end to corporate welfare and a real eco centric paradigm.


I think that’s why your work shows the radicality of fungi—because what is it if not a confrontation of death? I’ve been thinking about death awareness a lot as a way to navigate thwarting Capitalism. Everything you’re speaking to as well — abolition of cops, of prisons, of Capitalism, of these industrial complexes that need to collapse — is all a part of the future of Fungi to me, because with that very praxis of mycology there seems to be an intelligent system that though might not have all the answers how they respond and communicate with each other, at the very least, to me, is a radical way of showing how to learn from them. 

Thank you for this conversation. It’s been so healing. 

One last question, I want to know through all of this radical work that’s being done and needs to be done, how do you center and take care of yourself? This journey towards ~ the collective anti-Capitalist future ~ is a long one. How do you harness yourself for it? Do you use daily tinctures? Are there particular blends or fungi you would recommend for caring for yourself and your community through fungi? 

Are there any smaller growers you would also recommend? Folks that you would recommend others looking into? 



Yes, we definitely gotta decompose, myceliate the system and rebuild from that rot! Rot can be good and I hope we can get more comfy having conversations like this. Here, in the West there is this innate fungiphobic mindset that has stemmed from our fear of death and the unknown and I appreciate you bringing that up. Fungi are mystics and carriers of so much knowledge, bridging all the topics, all the waters, all the conversations and I think we gotta honor that. The medicine that I try to connect with is honoring my one commitment to take a walk in the woods at least once a week. It’s something I’ve been really trying to make sure I do for at least an hour a week. I know that might seem bizarre because I work with mushrooms, but sometimes, the farming and the business side steals the original joy, which was walking around, seeing what was growing, which is just such a delight. It’s new every time. It’s very stimulating and sometimes ya just end up picking berries or watching woodpeckers, heck or getting bit by a tick too, it’s not always a dreamy landscape.  When I do get the need to take medicine, I really like Turkey Tail mushrooms, they are incredible. I could talk about them for an hour on their own. I’m also really excited about growing cordyceps, and playing with different extractions with them. I love all mushrooms, they’re hard to pick. I tend to work with mostly polypore fungi, reishi, maitake, turkey tail and violet toothed polypore. I love chaga but I dont offer it anymore because I’m getting so shaken up by the massive extractive industry that’s just getting bigger and bigger.  The Chaga ‘fruit’ is only found in the wild and it makes me really scared to think how much of it exists on shelves of stores right now. When I am stressing about climate collapse, I tend to take some roses, elder flowers, tulsi, various herbal essences and lots of cannabis. Thank gawd for cannabis. Also lots of water, tons, and with lots of lemon. Hot water with lemon is my go to.  

As far as growers and makers, it’s almost impossible to not find a local mushroom farm at this point. There’s been a boom of mushroom farms and businesses. I def encourage folks to visit their local farm markets and see who is growing what. It’s a great way to get really fresh produce and foods. I love so many people doing so much amazing work, growing and sharing with their communities. Herban Cura does a phenomenal job offering classes and they also have a great line of extracts called BRUJAS that has both botanical and fungi extracts. William Padilla Brown, has an assortment of high concentrated extract of medicinals, very techy, and inspiring. Out West in Oregon, ZoomOut Mycology offers kits and medicinal teas and extracts.  Our fam down in Southern California, as mentioned POC FUNGI Community provides classes, medicine and resources to BIPOC communities to get into fungi.  For any mushroom cultivation classes I really do suggest the school at Fungi for the People, Ja and Val are incredible teachers and you will not regret it. It’s very loaded with info and most folks out there aren’t offering a course for 7 days which includes meals and camping. TBH I took Paul Stamets classes 12+ years ago and looking back, it was not worth it. It’s a bit of a novelty class, there were no real hands-on demos, no interactive way to learn. Very formal, and standardized.  Basically save the bucks and learn from smaller growers, his books tend to leave folks thinking they gotta drop $20k to grow a mushroom, that’s not the case.  They literally can grow on most water streams.  One of my current favorite cultivation books out there right now, is DIY Mushroom Cultivation By Willoughby Arevalo, who is soo talented and hilarious.

Thanks so much for this opportunity. Appreciate you

Decolonizing Astrology with Alice Sparkly Kat

From Vedic to I Ching, Evolutionary to esoteric, there are so many different practices of astrology. Astrology is essentially a tool for transformation. A recognition of one’s connection to the Universe and everything in it allows us to do better by ourselves and the world around us. What is the most popular/ easily accessed form(s) of astrology in the west and what are ways these practices replicate oppressive structures? 

The type of astrology that is most popular in the west is modern astrology. When we deal with modern astrology, we have to understand that it comes from modernity and modernism. Modernity was a movement that was all about erecting these neoclassical ideals through modern materials, with glass panes and steel structures. Modernism was patriarchal reordering, where Europe extracted cultural stuff from its colonies while treating the people in those colonies as less than human. The two “grandfathers” of modern astrology—Alan Leo and Dane Rudhyar—were part of modern and modernist movements. They cited India as a source, didn’t cite any Indian astrologers, made up their own ideas about caste structures to reinforce Europe’s race supremacy, and saw Europe and the colonies in this weird, binary gendered dynamic.

So, it’s not just that western astrology uses Roman names and deities and reinforces white supremacy in that way. It’s that this use of Rome is anachronistic—it comes from the 1930s. It’s part of a larger movement in which Europe was trying to revive itself using neoclassicalism, much like how fascists were looking to Rome to unify Germany but then were also appropriating swastikas. If you look at the history, western astrology tends to revive when there is a perceived sense of white loss because it is understood through this neoclassical aesthetic. It became very popular in the American South after the Civil War as well.

What does it mean for BIPOC to decolonize astrology? How do we as displaced people, settler colonists living inside the structures of white supremacy, capitalism and the patriarchy begin to even think about this move?

The first thing that we have to understand is that decolonization is not a hashtag. It’s not a purely cultural movement. Decolonization of astrology, of how we understand ourselves and our environment, has to happen with land reparations.

Astrology is about orienting yourself to the world. The language of astrology is completely founded upon cultural belonging. In western astrology, planets that are “dignified” are “at home” and planets that are “in detriment” are “in exile.” This language is not apolitical. If you look at the history of settler colonialism, who was defined as settling and who was defined as transient was racial. White people settled. Indigenous, black, Mexican, and Asian workers were transient and were criminalized for transiency. That isn’t to say that relations among BIPOC are equal—they’re not. It just means that settlerism, citizenship, and cultural belonging don’t come from a question of whether or not you were born on the land that your ancestors come from (indigenous people are also criminalized for being “foreign”) but come from power—white power.

What we have to understand about modernity and also whiteness, since whiteness is often conflated with modernity, is that white people were not the ones who built it. How could they? Settlers did not move to America or Australia to do any labor. They were here to own. The labor that built modernity is slave labor, coolie labor, and indigenous labor on indigenous land. Navajo women used their ancestral weaving technologies to design our first circuit boards. New York City was built by Africans who came with woodworking skills that they learned in Africa. All the interfaces that we use to access the digital world today are made by Asian women. All of the materials that construct modernity—cotton, steel, oil, sugar, tea—are extracted from stolen land and exploited labor. All of the technologies that make modernity come from people of color. Whiteness is not something that was forced on us from the outside but something that we were forced to build.

We built and continue to build modernity. So much of the meanings without modern astrology, with Venus getting its sexual associations through what sex work has historically meant, Mars being wrapped up in the enemy or foreigner or terrorist, or Mercury dealing with the extraction of labor, has people of color already in it since modernity is something that can’t exist without people of color. Nothing in modernity can exist without people of color, not sex work, not labor, not the military industrial complex. We’re already living inside of every modern language, including modern astrology. White astrologers might be able to pretend that there’s a direct line between Rome and the modern West but we know that’s not true due to the stories we hear from our elders and ancestors. We understand that our histories of survival are complicated inside of anything that is modern, including modern astrology.

To decolonize, we have to completely rethink cultural ownership and belonging. The people who are thought to own modernity, to have contributed the most to it, did none of the productive labor and only owned enterprises, plantations, and corporations. These people have the privilege of belonging or settling, even in places outside of the West thanks to globalization. As people of color, we have to figure out how we want to belong and how we want to own. We can’t mimic the vocabularies of white people since they will just perpetuate the same problems. This is the work of decolonizing astrology—it’s the work of decolonizing how we relate to the world, whether that’s through belonging or owning or something else. We have to do this work with the direct action and with reparations. The material and cultural work have to happen at the same time, since neither can happen without the other.

Decolonization is a lifelong process that begins with the individual and is applied to all varying aspects of life. Once on this journey that is undoubtedly not an easy one, we begin to foster a self awakening that allows us to heal past traumas buried deep within us. How has committing to a decolonized practice of astrology and wellness in general allow for an enhanced sense of your own Self?  

Astrology is kind of a weird, niche language. The best thing about it is that a lot of queers and a lot of people of color are actively participating in it right now. That’s the best thing about it! There’s nothing inherently liberating about astrology. It’s just as supremacist and capitalist and patriarchal as a lot of other languages, such as art or theory or psychology.

But! We’re here. We’re using it, misusing it, remixing it, and abusing it. We’re making sure that our stories get heard and that we listen to each other using it. When I think about what’s going on with astrology, I think about how there’s so many lesbians in the K-pop boy band fandom. We use these random cis men as our barbies or literary drag skins to turn each other on and comfort each other. K-pop is very much a queer space, of transpeople, nb, and femmes loving other transpeople, nb, and femmes, even though all the images are of cis men. What queers do with K-pop—that’s what people of color and queers are doing with the pseudo-Roman figures in modern astrology.

The best thing about astrology is that I’ve been able to develop a practice where I get to heal members of my community on issues of racial trauma, sexual trauma, displacement, loss—there’s no readymade vocabulary within a lot of therapeutic language to talk about these issues. A lot of the vocabulary that we have to address mental health goes back to Rome (paranoia, anxiety, depression all being Latin words). I chose to use astrology and not counseling because you don’t have to go through the institution to become an astrologer. What you have to do to become an astrologer is to commit to community work. You have to learn your perspective through people and I’ve been lucky to have work where I develop relationships with immigrant elders and kids that I learn through. That’s the only way you’re going to develop your language and your practice. Because this is the way astrology works, I’ve been able to feel supported.

Alice Sparkly Kat is a queer, PoC astrologer. They use astrology to re-chart a history of the subconscious, redefine the body in world, and reimagine history as collective memory. Alice offers sliding scale astrology options

Resensitizing Grief with Sydney Gore

Sydney, how are you holding up?

Hi Prinita! These past few weeks activated a new level of exhaustion that I had never experienced before. I’m an empath so I get drained really easily and with this particular situation I can’t really take a break. This is simply my experience as a Black woman and I have to live through it in real time during a global pandemic. I’m doing all that I can to nurture myself and those conscious efforts seem to be paying off. This week I’ve been feeling like the energy in the atmosphere is pushing us toward a fresh start and that invigorates me.

Describe your energy today in three words.

I love this question. I had an energy healing session the other day and my practitioner basically told me that my root chakra is out of sync so I’ve been paying closer attention to that area. But back to your inquiry… The three words that describe my energy at this precise moment are: abundant, tender, and rooted.

What does being ‘well’ in the revolution mean for you?

THANK YOU FOR BRINGING THIS UP. To me, being “well” in the midst of a revolution means prioritizing emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual health. It’s about turning inward and acknowledging how you’re responding to what you’re feeling. We have to address our internal wounds and the deep trauma that lies buried there. You won’t be fully equipped to do the work that is necessary to help others if you haven’t made the time to take care of yourself. Racism is literally a public health crisis… Waris Ahluwalia once showed me how “healthy self” literally spells out HEAL THY SELF and it blew my mind. The gut-brain axis is so powerful, I hope more people educate themselves about this vital relationship–I trust my gut more than anything or anyone else. Dayna Hunt recently outlined how advocacy, empathy, anti-racism work, speaking up, and holding space for others are all pillars of wellness and I couldn’t agree more. Also, let’s decolonize the wellness industry while we’re at it!

Racial grief is inevitable in a racist world. The Combahee River Collective Black Feminist Statement reports that, ‘an early group member once said, “We are all damaged people merely by virtue of being Black women.” We are dispossessed psychologically and on every other level’ White supremacy perpetuates fragmentation, disconnection and disintegration experienced by all racialized people, particularly by women of color, especially by Black women. Grief can be a catalyst for collaboration, connection and bridge building. How do you navigate your need to mobilize, your need to grieve and your need to heal?

I have a habit of channeling my grief into productivity. Perhaps it’s a defense mechanism to distract myself from tapping into pain that I’m not ready to feel, but I always find myself keeping busy. It’s this constant state of “go, go, go” until I drive myself to a breaking point of exhaustion and the only way to avoid completely crashing is giving myself permission to rest. 

Following the murder of George Floyd, a switch went off inside me and for the first time in my life I felt invigorated to act—I refused to be silent about my experiences and with each passing day my voice has grown louder because the messages are no longer being ignored. I felt like it was my duty to raise awareness about the systemic racism that continues to poison the world so I threw myself into sharing resources to educate my network. 

By the end of the first week of protests, I was running on E and took the cues from my body signaling for restoration. I extended deadlines so I could have enough space away from work to process and reflect in real time without being overwhelmed. I’m still healing, but the steps that I take to nourish myself keep me grounded.

Kwame Ture writing about the uprising’s response to the Vietnam war states: (They were) emotionally scarred, spiritually drained from the constant tension, the moments of anger, grief, or fear in a pervading atmosphere of hostility and impending violence. Where some of us channel our grief into rage and collective action, it is still necessary to sit with the mourning, to fully feel it and fully embrace it in order to move with empathy and affect. This concept of embracing grief becomes exhaustive when violence against the Black community is constant, it is daily. To detach from mourning is insensitive, but is it necessary for self preservation? 

As a diagnosed empath, I find it very difficult to detach from my emotions. I wouldn’t say that I’m desensitized to hostility, but when certain acts of violence become repetitive you sort of get used to hearing about them no matter how inhumane it is. I’m sure this is even more common for the generations that came before me and have witnessed the same injustices occur throughout the course of their lives. I don’t know how my grandmother is able to digest this material and out of respect for her I never ask because the last thing that I want to do is inflict emotional harm from a triggering topic. I have to sit with my grief in order to deal with it which usually means taking time to be in solitude with my thoughts and purge all the emotions that are bubbling deep inside my gut.

Shock factor has been key in allowing folks on the other side to understand the plight of Black communities. Social media has aided this shock, where folks have been exposed to footage of death in real time. Lately, the amplification of Black death online has combined with the daily updates of lives lost to COVID19. The oppressors tactics of loss, fragmentation and disconnection renders the normalization of violence against Black and minority communities in America a spectacle. Do you think destroying the spectacle of violence is possible in an imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy? 

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with my mother where I asked her point blank if there was a moment during my childhood similar to what is currently happening because I couldn’t remember anything significant before 9/11. I didn’t have a political “awakening” until I went to college in 2011 and prior to that I wasn’t paying close attention to what was really going on. She told me that I was correct in my recollection, but pointed out this has become so intense in recent years because of our immediate access to information through technology and the Internet. The exposure that we have to these events on social media allows us to be informed immediately whereas when my mom was my age it would take longer for a report to surface about a non-local tragedy. Obviously, I have no desire to watch this type of footage whenever it surfaces online, but at least I have the choice to scroll past it. The fact that this is what it takes to convince people that violence against Black and marginalized communities is wrong is a bigger issue though. It’s exposure at the expense of our well-being.

Over the past few days, we’ve seen spurts of online aggression towards Black women especially, by men who are not reluctant to give up their standards of toxic masculinity, men who are still attached to their ego and thus, essentially upholding the patriarchy. In her conversation with Boots Riley, Noname said it is difficult to fight the revolution when men who look like Boots are unwilling to acknowledge that they have a role in committing violence against femme identifying Black folks. As a brown woman, I empathize greatly. It’s hard to fight alongside male comrades when you know they are only fighting for themselves. Toxic masculinity renders machismo identity unable to present insecurity and vulnerability. (Most cis/hetero identifying) men often find it difficult to grieve and often this moves them into indifference. How do you think about this as something that needs to be dismantled in order to conquer the larger goal of destroying white supremacy?

I find it extremely frustrating and counterproductive that some Black men continue to be so unwilling to hold up their end of the bargain when it comes to protecting the lives of ALL Black womxn. It’s a glaring blind spot that hinders the growth of our community. There’s no progress without the involvement of Black womxn, PERIOD. We can join hands and shout about the evils of the white man at the top of our lungs, but this doesn’t absolve Black and brown men from their part in perpetuating toxic masculinity and committing heinous acts of violence. Misogynoir is a cancer and we need to cure everyone that is spreading it.

Noname was right when she declared that we are the new vanguard in the closing verse of “Song 33.” Weak minds are dangerous because they distract us from executing our mission. J. Cole and men that think like him are getting us nowhere with their half-baked dialogue. In Salvation: Black People and Love, bell hooks writes “It has not been easy for black women to maintain faith in love in a society that has systematically devalued our bodies and our beings.” Oluwatoyin Salau should still be here today–her tragic death could have been prevented. Instead, she’s another name on the long list of Black womxn that were failed. In conclusion, LISTEN TO BLACK WOMXN. 

Reclaiming grief is necessary in recognizing it as a force to challenge oppressive structures. How might we begin to think about grief as a resource as opposed to grief as something that needs to be fixed?

My friend Mangda Sengvanhpheng, a certified death doula, describes grief as “the ultimate expression of gratitude for our losses.” I’m someone who struggles with uncertainty which stems from an underlying fear of the unknown, but have had no choice but to overcome my discomfort with death. I feel like this has something to do with being an only child and coming to terms with the fact that you might be completely alone someday. There is nothing to gain when you refuse to accept death as a fundamental part of life, but not everyone will experience death with dignity. By now, I hope history has taught us that oppressed people deserve to be protected while they are still alive. 

When my grandfather died at the end of 2018, I thought a lot about how he spent almost a decade preparing our family for that moment yet I still wasn’t ready for it when it came—I didn’t get to properly say goodbye the way I would have wanted to because my mind didn’t even consider that there would be no next time after that time. I agonized over his passing for six months because I felt that I hadn’t done nearly enough to show him how much I appreciated him when he was still alive. There are so many resources to prepare you for the next big steps in life, but the guide for dealing with the aftermath of death is a mess. 

Now as a way to move forward, I try to focus on finding different ways to honor his memory, striving to make him proud of the person I am becoming. My Pop-Pop once made this observation about me during our weekly phone calls: “You see the world for what it is—good, bad, or in-between—you see the world for what it is and you figure out how to navigate accordingly. That’s why I know I don’t have to be worried about you.” (Let the record show that tears were shed while speaking about this.)