Healing Doesn’t Look Pretty

Trigger warning: discussion of trauma, both sudden and violent and prolonged and subtle.  Also for Racism and Ableism.

This is a picture of me, Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone, having a raw, terrifying healing moment. My hair is back, greasy, and a mess. My brow is wrinkled, my nose is red and so are my eyelids, even through my glasses which are perched slightly down and askew from proper.. The reason they are red is there too- there is snot dripping from my nose, and there are tears on my round cheeks and slicking my eyelashes together. Though it is a still, the chapped lip trembling is also visible. This is a close up, so aonly the neckline of a beige crochet sleeveless top and bare shoulder can be seen, with a messy corner shelf in the background and a pale greenish wall.

This is what healing looks like. It doesn’t look like sitting under a tree on a clear day, or walking with your homogeneous looking family. It isn’t playing frisbee with grandkids and their dogs, and it isn’t lifting your hands in victory after climbing a mountain.

Healing isn’t pretty. It hurts sometimes. You have to dig around and realize exactly what has happened to you, what attitudes and perspectives you’ve been taught to frame your world in. It isn’t something that happens all at once, or in a short time.

I was sobbing because I was healing. I was realizing just how much my world and what I engage with was based on the abuse I faced and the things my abuser said. So I took a picture, a reminder that this feeling and this confrontation is a part of healing. Of undoing the damage that was done on me, that was continued through me.

I was watching the “Pretty Girl Rock” video. And it came to the part where the style of TLC was depicted. I remembered the day I heard Left Eye had died. I was sitting in a hotel room at a CASSP conference in PA. The world had gotten overwhelming, so I had retreated to the room to watch MTV. I cried as the alert scrolled across the bottom.

But when we got home, and I mentioned it to my abuser he scoffed. He said that she was crazy, that she was a druggy, that she was “bad” and that her death was due. He equated her race, too, to her inadequacies. I went to my room, and I played TLC’s Fanmail on repeat.

But from that time after, I didn’t listen to rap, hip hop, or R&B. There was something lost to me after that. A desperation to stop being “other” in order to avoid the abuse I faced, to stop being “crazy”, stop being a “Social Retard.” I told myself that it was because of the way that things have changed, because of misogyny, because of glorification of “Ghetto” culture in the main stream music.

But the reality is that I had turned those things that were said to me, that destroyed my faith in the world inwards. They were all connected, all tied to those things that were labeled undesirable to my abuser. That avoiding them somehow would make me safe.

Looking back, I can see how these things played into his racism, his ableism, his xenophobia. That they fit his words on people with mental health disabilities, how we aren’t fit or competent and how those of us with developmental issues would “never grow up.”  How his deriding of non-white people, his saying that black people were sub species, interplayed with his ableism and his sexism.

“Lazy Nigger Bitch” he called me one day when I couldn’t get my brain to move fast enough, to disengage with what I was doing. This might have been the same day he threw my typewriter on the floor, shattering it, for the same reasons. In any case, he combined all the things he saw as “bad” into insults, into things that I would hope to avoid in order to make myself safe. That by avoiding association with certain “elements” I could somehow make myself safe.

That particular incident was 10+ years ago, but now I’m just starting to see how much it twisted me, and made me a victim of fear. How much it made me enable systems of power that would continue to oppress both my friends and myself. To realize how much these systems of oppression were twisted against me, and against those I love- and those I’ve never even met.

This, this disassembling of the systems he re-inforced in my brain? This, this determination to fight the injustices he made me think were universal and unchangeable?

This is healing.

(Post started in Dec 2010, finished march of 2011)

Perils of (Buy?+) Copy+Paste

I have noticed something a little disturbing. Well, perhaps not terribly unusual- may actually be a standard in the world of publicists for all I know- but still disconcerting. What is this? The copying of another person’s article or release as framing for your own work.

I’m not talking necessarily plagiarism- oftentimes, the original writer is cited someplace, in a terribly unobtrusive way. Sometimes, the story was paid for from a news service.  Certainly not Plagiarism. And in the general population, it would be nothing.

But what I’m talking about isn’t just in the general public, general sphere. It’s used by the people who are supposed to be our defenders- without checking that the article or release’s approach is appropriate. It’s one thing to link to an article that has appeared elsewhere. I’ve done it, even when the article in question irritated me. But to run it under your letterhead, or to purchase it for distribution, is something else entirely.

Let me use an example that came through my inbox today:

I got a forward that was originally distributed by the people Organizing the Reinventing Quality Conference in Baltimore, Md this week. I was a bit upset by the approach that the article in the email used, so I started to check them out. From their website, they looked interesting. Lots of talking up about bringing in community living, self advocates, etc. (I’d love to hear from anyone who is better familiar with them and their reputation among self advocates; savannah@autismwomensnetwork.org)

But talking up isn’t unusual even in organizations that aren’t so supportive. It is a tough lesson to learn- one that might make an advocate, particularly one that has ASD related issues, bitter. But many organizations assume token language usage, alongside the more obvious issue of token representation. Not being sure what to think, I plugged the Lede into google.

I discovered a couple of things. It turned out to have been originally written for the Raleigh News & Observer. As a general news  source, the treatment in the article was typical, though frustrating. And it isn’t unheard of for companies the size of their owner, McClatchy, to sell distribution rights (McClatchy-Tribune).  All perfectly normal in the industry.

What bothers me is how many groups- and the sort of groups- have reprinted the article as is. Some do so in a way that clearly shows- albeit at the end of the article- that it was retrieved from a distributor, like Behavioral Health Central. NAMI- for all the issues I have with them- doesn’t even host the full article, and instead links the reader to the News-Observer’s site to read the full article. All of these have various levels of appropriateness in distributing this article. As much as it personally pains me, NAMI’s approach was the most appropriate.

But back to the email I received. This is how it started (where a byline might be):

Image shows the email, with the logo of a non-profit, followed by edit dates, the title of the article, the lede (with Raleigh in caps at the start) and no byline in the normal position

And here’s the bottom (where the full information is given on Behavioral Health Central):

Bottom of the email, with the last line of the article, followed by a name, a phone number, than an edited date and links to two PDFs, followed by the email client's buttons for "reply", "reply all", and "forward"

Someone who is familiar with journalism or publicity might think to google the lede. But my guess is that the majority of readers won’t- maybe their background is in social work, or maybe they are parents. I know the org that forwarded this to me has a primary family base.  To these “average” people, the language would appear to be authorized by the distributing organization.

My opinions on the article itself can be found in my last post. I disliked the perspective. But when a non-profit or other organization promotes an article- especially with such limited sourcing- counter to the interests of the population they claim to serve, there is an ethical problem.

Now, that was just one example- one that was specifically centered on a journalistic article that was distributed without proper sourcing.

But the problem is vaster than that. I have seen publicists copy over releases from government agencies to give context to the information their client is trying to get out. While giving context is an important step, that context needs to be in the language and perspective consistent with the organization you are representing. It is both lazy and unethical to refrain from copy editing the entirety of what you put out there to be consistent. And if a publicist were to submit something this way to a professor in college, they would most likely receive a reprimand.

I have a proposition. Why don’t we all take a moment to find some standards as to what we do and don’t put out there. Here are my suggestions:

1) When distributing an article, source clearly. Don’t cut out the original distributor. Use bylines in their customary place. I would even prefer that the sourcing be put in the by line. EX: “Michael Biesecker for the Raleigh News Observer.” But even putting the sourcing clearly at the end (EX: “Originally published in the Raleigh News Observer”) is at least consistent with Journalistic standards.

2) Use language consistent with the organizations/people we represent. While there does need to be a recognition of the language and views of the public, that doesn’t make it okay to use language inconsistent- or even opposed- to the organization or people. Instead, use it as a chance to promote their language and views, even if only subtly.

3) If creating context, don’t simply copy and paste someone else’s release for it. First of all, it’s lazy and bad work. Secondly, it limits your ability to promote who or what you you are supposed to. And occasionally, it might promote things that are *unwanted* instead.

In response to a journalistic approach

I read an article today, and it is spurring me to write two blog entries. This one addresses the article itself; the other talks more about Non-profit use of articles and releases written by others and some ethical issues surrounding that.

The article in question was published in the Raleigh News Observer under the title “Study: Four killings reported in rest homes“.  The lede is “In the past two years, at least four residents of North Carolina rest homes have been killed by fellow patients who had histories of severe mental illness and violence.

In all honesty, it’s a pretty standard approach used in journalism to use a “bloody” headline and/or lede to grab attention. But is it the right thing to do, especially when talking about an already vulnerable population? Does it not contribute to some of the problems of stigma we face today, not only for those with Mental Health disabilities, but in the larger disability community?

Most of my comments here won’t make sense unless you’ve read the article. Go on, click it, I’ll wait.

First off, the placement of people in nursing homes is actually a misappropriation of the implications of  the Olmstead decision. For the vast majority, the nursing home is *not* the least restrictive environment, and for some it is further inappropriate. The language in the article doesn’t seem to recognize that the warehousing of patients in nursing homes is exactly counter the opinion put forward by the courts.

This study further worries me, because the way it is presented starts out with wording that is extremely negative about people with MH disabilities, and might lead those who do not read the entire thing to assume that taking people *out* of institutions was wrong. The public might not be familiar with what exactly Olmstead was, or even the breadth of human rights protections the ADA affords.

Towards the end it makes comments on the horrible conditions. If you *do* know your history, you can recognize as rather identical to the sort of institutional care that we have been trying to get people out of, but few people know their institutional history.  It does not adequately suggest what the appropriate measures would be. It does not call for change, but instead allows the imagery to “fester” in the reader’s mind, where someone with less of a background in the issue might come up with some very frightening “solutions” indeed.

This perspective is very much one that favors the provider, as well as the social worker voice, over that of the consumer (remember, nursing home placement is generally speaking 18+), especially with the emphasis on homelessness as the only visible alternative (rather than showing examples of the underfunded and harder to get a spot in alternatives) and this treatment leaves me worried. While yes, it is true that many would currently end up in the streets, very little mention is given to the sorts of programs that are *supposed* to be the alternative, but are under funded.

How are we supposed to rise support for something to be appropriately funded if the information we give out doesn’t explain what exactly that *means*?

There’s another question here, too, when it comes to the professional view bias. It’s one that has been repeated over and over in the history of institutional placements of all sorts. Owners and superintendents have manipulated the public perception of various populations in order to increase their standing, power, and funding in the public. Just as a politician manages public perception of himself, professionals manage their and their clientèle’s perception. And so half-truths and misleading information about populations in institutions abounded.

While today, the Eugenics hot topic focuses on pre-natal testing, in the early 20th century the argument was focused on Sterilization. The idea was that those with developmental or intellectual disabilities were either too fertile, or unable to protect themselves from unwanted advances. With the rise of the concept of Social Darwinism in the late 1800’s, it became more and more worrisome that there was a possibility of so called “degenerates” reproducing.

At first, some superintendants supported the idea of sterilization privately. There was an initial reluctance to publicize this, though, for fear that they would lose funding for patients that, once un-sexed, might be returned to the community. Over time both the concept of the disabled as a public menace and issues of over-population in institutions grew. Eventually, in the face of a lack of space for larger and larger intakes, they shifted their public support to sterilization. Privately, their letters show that as they gained more public support for the procedure they grew doubtful about the actual usefulness outside of institutional control. *

Back to the lede and title.

The fact that it leads with “four killings” caused by “other patients” with no mention of the deplorable conditions until later on is extremely troublesome. It uses, instead of the entirety of the problem, something that PLAYS SPECIFICALLY on stigma the public holds towards people with MH disabilities. In fact, there is very little relevance to the subject of the article in the lede. Deplorable conditions should be “bloody”  enough to grab headlines, and that is the real focus of the article.

Even if you are a parent rather than an individual with MH disabilities, there needs to be a recognition that leading with this sort of stigma will *not* help in the long run. Instead, it will just perpetuate the stigma so that when someone who is a minor right now reaches age of majority, the stigma will still be as virulent as ever.

In my eyes, to ignore all of this in writing an article on this topic is negligent- not as a journalist, but as a human being.

*For more information about the history of the treatment of the Developmentally Disabled, I would recommend Trent’s “Inventing the Feeble Mind

Seclusion and restraint in Schools- Our tortured students.

Today was the House Committee Hearing on “Examining the Abusive and Deadly Use of Seclusion and Restraint in Schools”. (An archive of the Hearing can be found here, with select clips on the Labor and Education Committee’s Youtube, and C-Span has it here.)

The GAO Report (PDF) Was given to the Representatives on the Committee ahead of time. These included* chairman Miller (D-CA), Andrews (D-NJ), McKeon (R-CA), Woolsey (D-CA), McCarthy (D-NY), Scott (D-VA), Hare (D-IL), Biggert (R-IL), & Payne (D-NJ), who were in attendance (though several arrived late due to other bussiness).

Miller’s Initial statement can be found here.

Witnesses:

As the Education and Labor Dems youtube has the testimonies divided up, I have put a link to each next to the appropriate person. Otherwise the above formatting is from the Education and Labor’s Website on the issue. Also, these do not include the Q&A portion. see further down in the entry for those portions.

Gaydos brought her daughter, Page (Dx: Aspergers, formerly bipolar) as well. While I was disappointed that page didn’t speak, I can understand why she didn’t. She’s still a minor (16?), speaking in front of people is nerve wracking, and the incident happened around 2001. Also, many people still discriminate against Those with “invisible” disabilities, especially if they attempt to advocate for themselves (usually saying that they obviously aren’t that disabled). Her mother recounted her story, and How there were other families who had similar instances happen. She elaborated that the only reason why they were able to pursue it was financial stability, and that she has talked to many families that did not because they didn’t have that amount of financial resources.

On a side note, I loved Page’s outfit-though I wouldn’t have worn that shirt. Well, I would have at 16, but that is beside the point. 🙂

Toni Price Was both witty and heartbreaking in her testimony. Her foster son was killed durring a restraint, and because she was “Only” a foster parent, she was told she could not pursue charges. This happened while she was in Texas. The teacher that even the representitives refered to as havin murdered her son is teaching today in Virginia**. There were several points where I thought she would break down crying. However she didn’t, and when It came time for Q&A, she was sharper than a tack and extremely witty. She even talked back to McKeon (who I will get to in a moment)

I applaud Rep Hare, BTW, for his comment that It was shameful to have the attitude that Foster Children don’t matter.

Here’s Miller’s Q&A:

Note worthy moment: look at 4:00-5:40. Here Miller compares some of the restraints to water boarding.

Throughout the Q&A sessions, various representatives compare this to toture, and I think it’s of note that many of the

Here’s Andrew’s Q&A:

He starts right out questioning how useful the in place things are while pointing out WHY they are faulty and thereby suggesting how they can be fixed. This is mainly to do with why teachers who were put on a register for this in Texas’s state registry don’t automatically loose teaching certification in Texas, and how the Virginia Board of Ed didn’t even KNOW that the teacher was involved in a restraint related homicide.

Also of note: He refers to Cedric’s homicide as “murder”, Refuted McKeon’s points, and was very goal specific. (And now my first non-jewish political crush in ages. ♥)

Quotes: 6:36-7:00 “To those that imply that these cases are isolated and infrequent, that One is enough. And two, there are a lot of people who probably are not reporting these claims because – at least their trying- because no one listens to them because they are so voiceless.” He also said that the fact that schools are blowing off concerns as just being “annoying parents”- that there was something wrong with that.

Unfortunately, these are the only two Q&As that the Ed and Labor Dems put up on their youtube account. There were other Dems who answered, but their Q&As seem only available if you watch the full hearing, as is McKeon’s. However, since I’m so Disappointed in McKeon’s Approach (also, what was I expecting, really?), I’m cutting it and posting it for your viewing pleasure.

McKeon (R)’s Q&A

Sorry for the poor sound quality, had to record the screen. *frowns*

McKeon’s comments start with blaming Unions, and then going “but privacy!”

Toni Then is incredibly witty. She asks if Pedophiles are on a list that they have to report to. And then asks how it is that they are on a list, but teachers who murder students aren’t, and McKeon laughs and agrees on the point.

I definitely don’t like McKeon. At all.

The others that testified were professionals and they played in professional speak.

I have to wonder, though. We still have these things are going on in our schools, mostly to disabled students, and no one is talkign about it. And yet the Torture memos are BIG NEWS OMG. How is it any less worse that this is happening in our High, Elementary, and Pre-schools? Is it that tyhey are disabled that keeps people from outrage, is America really that callous? I expected more outrage, and instead I hear only a dull rawr.

*If I missed somebody, my appologies, I was going off my notes on Twitter, which were not complete. Corrections can be posted in the comments.
** I have been informed by a friend in VA that the teacher has been put on administrative leave.