Internalized Racism

Must stop worrying. I’m worried about how to best serve God. I’m worried about current responsibilities. I’m worried about my double vision. I’m even worried about the Prickly Pear cactus in my front yard because it’s not looking right. I’ve done everything I can at this time for each issue so I need to stop obsessing! Just stop.

The bus stop by my house.
The bus stop by my house.

 On Wednesday night I had a choir rehearsal at First Presbyterian Church downtown at 7:15 PM. I didn’t have a ride but decided to take the bus since the route is an easy one. I took the early bus because it tends to run late and I wanted to be on time for rehearsal

Riding the bus put me in touch with my internalized racism. I don’t like to admit this but because of my background as middle-class white women, sometimes my stomach clutches a little inside when I see a person of color. I know how to hide this but I hate it. I made a point to talk to the man in question about general things which is so important when one gets into this state.

Doing this used a lot of cognitive energy though and I needed every ounce of it for the rehearsal. I often think, “Is it too much for me to go to that meeting?” Will I be overloaded if I go to that rehearsal? If I make that phone call, will I have enough cognitive energy for my meeting?” One of my challenges is monitoring cognitive energy and stimulation. Facing my internalized racism is hard for anyone because it takes a lot of self- awareness as well as cognitive energy.

Since I haven’t taken the bus in a while, I didn’t realize it doesn’t go into the station now because of a sinkhole so I missed my stop. As time went on, I realized we were going back to West Asheville. I asked the driver if we had stopped at the station and he told me about the sinkhole.

So I ended up having to ride the whole route again which took an hour. When I got to the rehearsal, I was exhausted and grouchy. I had to get used to a new environment and the Sanctuary had spotlights which shone directly into my eyes. To make matters worse, the guest conductor seemed impatient and testy. Following the rehearsal, I just wanted to go directly home and was under the impression this would happen. I then discovered my ride needed to return to the church due to car pool arrangements.

I could feel my emotions intensifying quickly which happens when I’m tired and frustrated. If I push myself much beyond that point, I lose complete control of my emotions and lash out at whoever and whatever is there. I’ve learned how to catch myself prior to this point by leaving the situation but this wasn’t an option.

Fortunately, a couple of folks stepped up who are aware of what happens when I get overstimulated and offered to take me home on their way to the church. I really was on the edge so I’m grateful this happened.

If you have a brain injury, how do you react when you are overstimulated? What compensatory strategies do you use? Some folks do not have this challenge as much as I do so it may not be a problem. Its clear folks without brain injuries also have limits. If that is you, what are your limits and how do you take care of yourself?

“One of Those Days”

Singing in the choir at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church this morning was “one of those days.” We warmed up in the sanctuary which meant going upstairs to the choir room first and getting my bulletin and robe. I already had my music since I take my folder home every week. I use a large print bulletin for two reasons. First my vision isn’t good and second, I can’t hold the hymnal like other choir members and the hymns are printed in those bulletins.

There was no bulletin in my music box in the music room. I said a few choice words before realizing I was going to have to get one downstairs that wouldn’t be three-hole punched. Well, it was there but I had looked in the wrong box. I didn’t put my robe on because it is unbearably hot.

Sherrie McCleary-Small modeling our wonderful choir robes.

Sherrie McCleary-Small modeling our wonderful choir robes.

These robes are the exact style my husband wore when he was an alter boy in the catholic church in the 60’s. We need new robes!  Here is a picture of them.  I figure I would spend time complaining about it on my blog today so I can get it out of my system. I suspect other choir members are tired of my complaints so perhaps writing them down will keep me from complaining so often!

I joined the choir for the rehearsal in the sanctuary. Only a couple of us weren’t wearing our robes which I don’t really understand. I would roast if I wore the robe so early before worship.   Any day now, I will probably have hot flashes but they haven’t started yet so I don’t even have that as an excuse! Other choir members have told me the robes are hot as well and even in winter women often wear sleeveless shirts to try and keep cool.

After rehearsal, I went downstairs underneath the choir loft to “rest my brain.” I do this by putting in my ear plugs in a quiet place and closing my eyes to avoid visual stimulation. I put both pieces of my robe on before remembering I needed to punch three holes into my bulletin. I figured the office would have a three whole punch and it was only one floor up so I looked there first. No hole-punch. “Great,” I thought. “Now I’m going to have to go all the way upstairs to the choir room to use the hole-punch.”

I headed to the elevator to keep from having to take the stairs, pushing the wrong button so it stopped on the wrong floor. After getting to the correct floor, I punched the bulletin and went back down to my quiet place. By then I was sweaty so I fanned myself with the bulletin. I didn’t have any time to “rest my brain” because I heard the first hymn. I always enter from the back and don’t process in with the choir because the narthex is so noisy and the stimulation is too much for me.

I have a zipper compartment where I keep my chap stick (I’m addicted to it), a pencil, earplugs and Kleenex. I even keep throat lozenge there as well. To go right along with the rest of the morning when I was finally seated, the zipper on the compartment broke allowing the contents to fall out. Of course they didn’t all fall out at once. First the chapstick fell out which another choir member returned to me. Later, a throat lozenge dropped followed still later by the ear plugs. The choir sits in the front of the sanctuary facing the congregation and it was all I could do, not to make faces. In fact, I probably did!

I have always been sort of what is called a “space cadet.” I’ve been known my whole life for dropping and losing things. Now, I always try to allow extra time for this reason because it is worse now. I must admit, this morning I felt a little like Lucille Ball.



Disability Difficulties

I had surgery on my thumb on December 2 in Charlotte, NC.  At first I had to wear a fairly big cast which meant I couldn’t use my left arm at all.  Two weeks later, they put on the purple cast which is the perfect color for Advent. This picture was taken at choir practice last night.IMG_20131218_181536_550

Not having use of this hand has reminded me again how annoying it is to live with a physical disability.  I wasn’t able to take a shower or wash my hair by myself.  I had to make sure Michael had loosened the tops on any bottles I might need to open since my left hand wasn’t strong enough to open them.  I don’t send out many Christmas cards which is a good thing since addressing them is a painfully slow process using my left hand.

After returning home from the Disability Institute in July, I’ve been a bit uninterested in the disability movement.  It was so neat to be there for my experiences as a person with a disability were valued and this felt good.  Here at home, it is different and I haven’t been able to get energized around the issue. However, this experience with my hand reignited my interest.

For example last night at choir practice, I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold the music like everyone else so I made arrangements to have a music stand.   Plus the anthem for Sunday is in a book which I can’t hold so I had to copy it and figure out how to put it together.  This sounds like a small thing but it isn’t.  I’m not able to use the black folder like everyone else so I’ve rigged up a system of using black poster board so that it looks like everyone else’s. I’m not very good with measuring things and putting them together so I cut the pages all different sizes.  It’s a mess but it worked last night.  I’ve asked Michael to help me straighten it out for Sunday morning.

I have no idea how much time I’ve already put into making the anthem look like everyone else’s. We’re singing many anthems on Christmas Eve and it’s going to take me a while to put them together. I really don’t want to do it but it makes some folks uncomfortable in the choir if I don’t use a black folder.

This points to a much larger issue in the disability community: – the time we put in to be like the rest of the world.  It’s a much bigger issue for folks with physical disabilities because often it involves just getting into the room. The event might be on the second floor and there is no elevator.  We in the disability community do not want special favors or special recognition.  We just want to participate which sometimes is difficult for us to do.

A New Year

WordPress for Dummies

I finally made the switch to WordPress. It is much easier to comment now so I do hope folks will take advantage of this. One doesn’t need to have a brain injury to comment but I really see this blog as a place where brain injury survivors can share their struggles as well as their joys and get support from each other.  I’m having difficulty figuring out how to add a picture correctly though.  I think this will get better with time.

For this first post on WordPress, I want to share a poem by Jan Richardson from Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas.

In the center of ourselves
You placed the power of choosing.
Forgive us the times
We have given that power away,
When we have sold our birthright
For that which does not
Satisfy our souls.
And so in your wisdom
May our yes be truly yes
And our no be truly no,
That we may touch with dignity
And love with integrity
And know the freedom of our choosing all our days.

When I first read this, I thought about how when I lived in Atlanta, I pushed myself way too hard. I chose to do things because I thought that’s what was expected of me. As a result, I often spent days simply laying on the couch “resting my brain.” I didn’t even need to use ear plugs for this because I was so tired, I simply slept. I always bounced back after resting but I did the same thing over and over again.

When I moved to Asheville, NC I decided to not become involved in anything. What happened when I did this? I got bored. “Why am I even bothering to stay here in this world?” I asked myself. “I’m not doing others or God any good at all so I should just leave and do everyone a favor!” However when I was having my better days, I realized doing this would hurt too many folks. Plus it wouldn’t be a good reflection on God for a minister to just check out of life!

So I made the choice to be as involved in my life as I can while being honest with what I’m able to do. I don’t believe God wants me to spend my days exhausted because I pushed myself too hard and got over stimulated. Nor do I believe God wants me to have to rest all the time due to cognitive overload.

You know what? I’m much happier now than I was before. I’m trying new things like singing in the choir at Grace Covenant Presbyterian and I’m taping into my creative side again. I’m taking an intense water aerobics class and I’m trying to write again. So who knows what this New Year will bring. I must say, it is rather exciting.

What sort of things are you looking forward to this year? If you have a brain injury, write about some of your struggles. Let’s see if the commenting part on this system is easier. It really is true that those of us who have brain injuries and other disabilities, need to share our joys and struggles with each other.

A Journey

This is the picture that was printed in the bulletin at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church last Sunday (Sept 23, 12).  There is always a picture printed longside a quotation of some sort. This Sunday I didn’t see any connection between the picture and the quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  It’s funny, but sometimes I think they connect to the sermon and other times I do not.  It’s okay though because worship is more than simply the sermon. I sing in the choir now and the anthems are the same way. 

The thing is, it doesn’t really matter for worship should touch all the senses.  Even if the sermon doesn’t connect with me, something in the service always does.

I could relate to this picture because I often feel as if I’m in a maze filled with mirrors along with this boy.  I try to do something and I come up against my brain injury challenges which makes me want to just close my eyes and block out all the commotion. Dealing with all these challenges can really drain me.  Occasionally, I do block them all.  I stay home, don’t answer the phone or read my emails. But I always come back.

I also could relate to parts of the sermon by Mark Ramsey.  If you’d like to read it, here is the link:  Mark points out that we often “have a propensity to always chase the ‘shiny object,’ thinking it will solve everything.” He expands on this idea with a few examples. “The blueprints to personal riches.  The plan that will make us thin. The coaching that will make us popular The drug that will take away our anxiety.”  He says that we cannot borrow our life from someone else. 

I know there’s been times when I’ve wanted to borrow someone else’s life.  Perhaps I could borrow some one’s eyes since mine have double vision and I dislike having to wear my eye patch.  Perhaps I could borrow some one’s church where I would preach every week giving nuggets of divine wisdom.  Perhaps I could borrow the professional orchestra that so and so plays with and make music that brings people (and myself) to heavenly places.

I appreciate Mark’s comments about temptation.  “Temptation is the lure to chase the tiny object and so tire ourselves out chasing the shallow thing that we don’t know who we are – and doubt descends on us: will we ever be able to hear God’s true voice?  (bold added)

How many times have I asked myself this question?  Where are you, God?  Are you speaking to me or only to those around me?  That brain injury survivor over there is able to do so much more than me! That minister can serve out her ordination vows.  What about me?  Don’t you care what I’m feeling?  Doubt descends.

In his sermon, Mark shared a thought by Anne Lamott.  “Faith is about the willingness or necessity of being wiped out of what you think holds you together, to face a benevolent annihilation without all the stuff that you think defines you….  Because you have to give up some false stuff to get to the true.

My brain injury has forced me to give up some false stuff.  The idea that since I wear a robe and stole on Sunday, I am closer to God than others.  The idea that since I have a seminary degree, I can study scripture and theology better than someone who doesn’t.  The idea that my call to be a minister is “better” than others.

On that last idea, I think the Presbyterian Church (USA) unknowingly leads one to believe this.  When I went from being a member of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta to a member of the Presbytery of Western North Carolina, I had to write a statement of faith and say a few words about my call in front of the Presbytery.  I believe this fosters the idea that the ordained call is “better” or at least a more important call than what other people receive.

I don’t want to be who I’m not anymore.  I write this but I know this isn’t easy at all.  To be oneself is a journey like no other.