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?

Differently

Every now and then I get bummed. Sometimes, I think about simply staying home all day, reading books or checking Facebook and Twitter. There’s enough information flying around that I know I could fill my time just fine.

When I first moved to Asheville, that’s just what I did. I had pushed myself too hard in Atlanta and I didn’t want to do the same thing here. However, I got bored. Like other people of faith, I am called to work for justice and peace in whatever way I’m able. These are important words for me to remember- “in whatever way I’m able. My brain injury has given me many limitations but this doesn’t give me a reason to avoid working to bring God’s reign in the world.

One caveat here though. Every person’s brain injury is different and comparing what I’m able to do with another brain injury survivor, is not possible. I know survivors who are unable to speak or unable to use their arms and legs. They have a call as well but it is different from mine.

Try harder or walk awayThe saying on the left does not exactly work for brain injury folks. If I simply walked away from something when it didn’t work, I would be walking away from things often. The statement needs to read “…choose whether to walk away or TRY SMARTER.” If doing something differently – perhaps even a couple of different ways – doesn’t work then walking away is an option.

For years I sat in the congregation at Grace Presbyterian Church and thought about singing in the choir.   Since I can no longer play violin, music has always been painful for me. Even though I sing, I wanted it to be with a group where the director knows how to rehearse which isn’t always the true in churches. At GCPC, this isn’t the case.

Finally three years ago, I decided to sing in the choir and it really touched on the musical parts of me that have been dormant. I love singing in the choir! However, I had to do things differently in order to participate. This meant not processing in with them because to do so meant standing in the narthex which is very noisy. I began staying in a room below the sanctuary and doing my “resting brain” thing until it was time to enter. Along with a couple other adjustments, this worked so instead of quitting, I worked “smarter.”

Of course I must always determine whether my adjustment affects the projects at hand in a negative way. In most situations, this isn’t the case. Usually it just involves me being different than others and I can live with that. However, I do try and make it clear that if someone has a problem with this, they should speak to me about it and not talk behind my back. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered folks like to talk behind people’s backs!  I’ve learned that’s their problem and not mine, although this is easier to write than to believe!

In order to participate in things, I also must determine if my adjustments are harder on me than necessary. I visited a man on death row for years in Atlanta and it was very hard for me. I’m glad I did this but in my current situation, I would not make the same choice.

If you have a brain injury, how do you work smarter and not harder? Even if you don’t have one, I’d be interested in your comments.

“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.

 

 

Holy Anticipation

Last night I had to be at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church for an alto rehearsal at 6 :15.  Ever since my accident, I don’t see well in the dark.  I don’t know exactly why this is or what happened to injure my eyes but something did.  As a result, I don’t drive at night which is a real pain in the neck.  I couldn’t find anyone to take me so I decided to take the bus.  I only needed to get it about an hour before I needed to be there so I figured it would be okay.

Of course I worried about it.  “What if I get on the wrong bus?  What if I pull the string to signal the driver to stop at the wrong place? What if I look like a jerk because I’m not familiar with the route?”  It’s interesting because Mark Ramsey’s sermon at GCPC this past Sunday was about Mary’s song and it was called “What We Do While We Wait…..We Worry.”  (The picture is “Magnificat!” by Sister Mary Grace Thul and was printed in the bulletin.)


We had an email exchange about parts of it yesterday before my bus trip.  I was especially bothered by one of his statements in the sermon: “…we find that anxiety has, by God’s grace, become holy anticipation and against all appearances, and against all odds —that literally saves our life.” It’s funny but when I reframed my worry this way, I wasn’t so stressed.  By the time I was ready to go, I was okay. I think perhaps God’s Spirit was at work.

I met my friend, Donnie, on the bus.  Donnie was homeless and he recently moved into an apartment.  He knew everyone on the bus which helped folks to begin talking to each other.  I discovered another woman was concerned about getting her connection as well.  When we got to the station, it was just in time for me to catch my bus.  However, I didn’t know which one it was and by the time I figured it out, it had pulled out.  I ran after it screaming, “Wait!  Wait!”  A family with two young children were nearby waiting for their bus and they told me that once the driver closes the door it’s not opened again. 

So I went into the bus station to try and figure out if another bus was going to come.  The guard sitting behind the information booth ignored my questions so I turned around and asked the other riders.  I was told another bus would come in about a half hour and I could wait.  I looked at my watch and saw I had 35 minutes until rehearsal began.  I said, “Shoot, I bet I could walk there faster!”  Another woman nodded and said, “Yep you could.” 

I had no idea how far on Merrimon GCPC was but I figured I’m in good physical condition and it couldn’t be too far so that’s what I decided to do.  My first problem was trying to figure out how to get to Merrimon from the bus station.  Folks pointed me the right way but my spatial orientation issues got me all confused.  I asked several folks how to get there but I didn’t write what they said down and I ended up walking all over downtown.

By the time I finally figured out where Merrimon was it was dark and I had only 15 minutes before the rehearsal began.  I thought about going back to the bus station to catch that bus but I wasn’t sure how to get back to it.  So I trudged on in the dark. I considered stopping at one of the bus stops and waiting for the bus, but I do hate being in darkness outside like that. After a few feet, it is total darkness and it’s a bit scary not knowing what is out there so I decided walking was the better option. 

It always helps me to think of a saying or a Scripture verse when I’m stressed out inside.  I thought back to Mark’s sermon and tried to come up with that phrase that calmed me down before but all I could come up with was “holy *********!  I decided that wasn’t the right phrase and walked on.

When I got to the McDonalds next to the church, the bus passed me.  When I arrived at the rehearsal I was a sweaty mess and was panting too hard to sing a note. Since my brain can handle only so much stimulation and my little journey began at 5 o’clock, by 7:45 I could tell I needed to “rest my brain.”   One of the rest rooms has a couch so I went there, put in my ear plugs and turned out the light for a few minutes.  

I am thankful that God gives me, and others, the strength we need to live in our challenging, wonderful world.  

 

Waiting In Darkness

I went back through my blog and noticed how in my last few posts, I sounded rather depressed and frustrated that I have a TBI.  In fact, I didn’t like reading them for this reason.  However, I participated in an action on Saturday about the water issue here in Asheville and it energized me.  I do love actions!  I’ll say more about this later but first I want to comment on today’s devotional by Richard Rohr.

In it Rohr writes, “The darkness will never totally go away.  I’ve worked long enough in ministry to know that darkness isn’t going to disappear, but that, as John’s Gospel says, ‘the light shines on inside of the darkness, and the darkness will not overcomeit’ (1:5). He goes on to say that “the real question is how to receive the light and spread the light.”

Looking back over my posts, I see my darkness.  I often get mad when I can’t remember names or I get overstimulated. I can’t help thinking, “if only I didn’t have these challenges, I could do so much more!”  Sometimes I just lay on the couch and mope.  There’s even been days when I don’t bother getting out of bed because it seems I have no purpose in life.  “It would have been better if I had just died in my car accident all the years ago.  Then I could be with God and I wouldn’t have to deal with all these challenges,” I have thought.

Rohr says there are two ways to release our inner tension.  The first is to stop calling darkness darkness and to pretend it is passable light.  I’ve done this in the past and he is right.  His second suggestion is one that I find helpful just now. “Stand angrily, obsessively against it, but then you become a mirror image of it.  Everyone can usually see this but you!”  I did this on Saturday when I demonstrated against the states takeover of Asheville’s water system.

On the right, is a picture of me demonstrating as many in our legislature were driving to a Christmas dinner at the Grove Park Inn.  Folks lined the streets carrying signs against this take over.  It’s interesting to me that we were in the dark as we demonstrated. Rohr writes, “Our Christian wisdom is to name the darkness as darkness, and the Light as light, and to learn how to live and work in the Light so that darkness does not overcome us.”

We were standing in the darkness, as we often must do, when we work for peace and justice.  It isn’t fair that I have a brain injury just as it isn’t fair that so many folks must live with a disability.  We must “fit in” to a world that isn’t made for us.

One example of this for me is, I really enjoy singing in the choir at GCPC.  However, I can’t handle the stimulation as the choir processes in and out.  As a result, I’ve found a little room behind the Sanctuary where I can sit quietly wearing my ear-plugs so I may “rest my brain.”  This makes my darkness, as Rohr describes, “passable light.” 

At the end of his devotional, he writes “We must wait and work with hope inside of the darkness – while never doubting the light that God always is – and that we are too (Matthew 5:14).  That the narrow birth canal of God into the world –through the darkness and into an ever-greater Light.”

Transformation

Yesterday at Circle of Mercy Mahan Siler preached a sermon titled When the Power Goes Out. I must say I could really relate to it.  He spoke about powerlessness and how this drives us to prayer.

In his sermon last night Mahan reminded us of I Corinthians 12:7 where Paul writes about the “thorn in his side.” I know that no one knows exactly what this thorn was but I feel my brain injury is the “thorn in my side.”  I have never asked God to take my brain injury away as Paul appears to have done with his thorn but it does feel a bit like a thorn.

I have a Presbytery meeting tomorrow and I thought it was at a different place.  Since I don’t need to take my nap anymore, I decided not to figure out how to do this during the meeting.   I figured I could find a room somewhere at the church, put in my ear plugs and “rest my brain” for a few minutes. 

 However, I realized over the weekend that the meeting is in an unfamiliar place.  Since I don’t do well with the unexpected, I needed to figure out how to deal with my over stimulation.  So I called and got directions to where I could go for a break.  I need to be prepared for when my spatial orientation stuff kicks in and I have that “flighty” feeling.  I can deal with it much better if I think about it happening before it really does happen.

So everything is all set.  The problem is, I worry about all the little things that might happen.  Will I be able to get to the meeting okay after taking Sparky to “Doggie Daycare?”  Will I get overstimulated and have to find a place to “rest my brain?” Will I have difficulty finding my car after the meeting is over?  I’ve decided to pack a lunch and will eat in a quiet room somewhere to get out of the stimulation.  I saw the button pictured below today and it struck a nerve.

I’m afraid I worry too much about what people think about me. My cognitive therapist reminded me that folks have so much on their minds already, they probably don’t even think about me at all!

At the risk of doing the “proof text” thing, I did rediscover Romans 12:2 today.  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” 

It doesn’t matter what the world thinks of me.  I pray that my mind will be transformed into being what God calls me to be and not what God calls others to be.  Sometimes when I see all the other ministers (teaching elders) and elders (ruling elders) I feel bad since I cannot do as much as they can.  Our society is so “do” oriented which leaves those of us who are unable to do as much, behind.  Yet,  I think God really isn’t interested in how much each of us does but rather in how we relate to God and the world around us. 

Gracious God, transform me!  I cannot do it myself even though I too often try.  Amen     

Overwhelmed

Mark Ramsey delivered another thought provoking sermon this past Sunday using Isaiah 43:1-8 and Ephesians 3:14-21.  I say “delivered” because when I read it today, I had a different impression.  Sermons really need to heard and not read.  After I heard it, I felt he was speaking directly to me since I often feel overwhelmed.  However, some of the stories contained a different meaning when I read them later.  I had to wade through my emotions a bit to write this but it was good for me.  Wading through emotions often is.

Being overwhelmed happens to me often. It happens when I don’t pace myself and I try to do too much. It’s often coupled with over stimulation and cognitive overload which is not what Mark was talking about.  I try very hard to avoid this and mostly I’m successful. I also know my limits now are not what they used to be prior to my injury.  I cannot do as much and I try to remember that this is okay. Sometimes though I compare myself to someone else who has a brain injury who is doing better than I am and then I feel bad.  I must remind myself that every brain injury is different and comparisons are impossible.  All I can do is what God is calling ME to do and no one else.

In his sermon, Mark shared a story about something that occurred during a commencement service at Emory University several years ago  Many notable folks spoke to the graduates who were more interested in celebrating the day then listening to the speakers.  Then there was a moment when everyone grew still as a man named Hugh Thompson was given an honorary degree.

He was, by far, the least educated person on the platform.  He had started college, but his family was too poor to be able to put him all the way through.  So he dropped out of college and joined the army and became a helicopter pilot.  In 1968 on a routine patrol he flew over the village of My Lai in Vietnam. He looked down out of his helicopter and saw United States troops, having lost their moral bearing and in a frenzy were massacring people in the village.

Many pilots would simply have kept on flying but he set his helicopter down in the line of fire, between the troops and the villagers.  He got out of the helicopter and confronted Lt. William Calley in the name of decency.  He went over to the ditch where they had thrown the bodies and combed thorough them –seeking anyone who might still be alive.  He found a little boy – who is in his 50’s today – alive because he was pulled out of that ditch by Hugh Thompson.   He then radioed other ‘coptors to come in a rescue the remaining villagers.

When he stood on the platform, he said to the students, ‘I have no wisdom or eloquence to give you today.  I can only tell you what my parents taught me a long time ago  It was the words of Jesus: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ ” And the students, for one breathless moment, were stilled by a vision of faith and humanity that had some size…They were overwhelmed.”

The picture above is the one printed in the bulletin and I like it immensely.  I often stretch my hands or lift up my voice to God asking and hoping, for guidance.  I do hope to be overwhelmed by God’s creativity in my life but sometimes I have on blinders and I’m not able to see.

Earlier Mark said that “Paul in Ephesians says that when we are overwhelmed, to the contrary, God opens up the floodgates and inundates us all the more.   But NOT with the floods of pressures and demands and brokenness and vulnerability- but with the great flood tide of the kindness and mercy and grace and love and generosity and joy and hope of God.”

In addition to overdoing it, being overwhelmed has another meaning for me today.  Now for me it is being overwhelmed by the creativity and the goodness of God.  Thich Nhat Hanh reminds me to “change the channels” and focus on how God is working in me.  I like Mark’s last statement in the sermon. “And you can TRUST that God will OVERWHELM us – in all the ways we most urgently need.” 

This is my hope.