Peer Counseling & Capitalism

Originally posted on my newsletter, The Standard Rainbow Hour, which you should subscribe to (free)

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BIG NEWS IN CAPITALISM

At long last I have thrown several switches which now allow the Internet to pour money into my bank account. Options include Buy Me a Coffee (a sort of Patreon lite) and Venmo. I’m holding off on Substack subscriptions, I think BMAC is a better platform.

Old friends of mine will note an Easter egg in the Buy Me a Coffee membership tiers. Someday I will tell the legend of the legendary Preferred Rhombus™ program.

I’d like to continue making work about mental health and human wellbeing. My ultimate goal is to do this full-time. I don’t think my work is compatible with advertising or sponsorship.*  Particularly given that I believe advertising is a causal factor in our mental health crisis. Discuss.

So, in the immortal words of public television, this work is supported by Viewers Like You.

*I did get my first sponsorship offer, from a water bottle company(!?)

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This week, however, is brought to you by Doubt.

Doubt:  That queasy feeling in the back of your throat, the tickle in the back of your brain, that tells you that something, somewhere, is wrong.  Did you say something wrong? Did you leave the stove on?

Ask your spiritual adviser about Doubt. Or maybe don’t…?

I’ll share some doubts with you.

  • Should I be talking about my mental health challenges?
  • Should I  be talking about my history of childhood emotional abuse and neglect?
  • Am I an imposter?
  • Am I crazy person on an island scrawling a newsletter on kelp with a seagull feather?
  • Am I mistaken about my story, about my understanding of life, trauma, and everything?

Doubt shows up for me as a kind of paralysis. I read recently that one of the most agonizing mental states is indecision. I’ve spent much of my life there, so I can attest to this. Indecision has some benefits, including stasis.

I have also read that we are evolutionarily biased to the familiar. Even when the familiar is harmful to us.

I’m realizing why people don’t talk about mental health, or abuse. Because the shame and stigma associated with it is a palpable force. The pull towards silence is gravitational. It’s just so much easier to remain silent. Really it would be better for all concerned.

I feel the pull to silence from one quarter, from some human beings who are very important to me.

But from other quarters, I hear something very different. Old friends reach out and say: Right on, carry on.  I’ve received several thousand messages of thanks and encouragement from Gen Z kids on the Internet.

I continue to have faith that I can turn something ugly into something beautiful. That by pouring love on trauma I can shine sunlight into a dark cave.

I believe that trauma has the capacity to destroy us or make us more beautiful. I’d like to say we have some choice in the matter but I think much of our survival rests on dumb luck, good fortune.

Beauty can look like many things. People who go through trauma have unique, experiential insight into suffering. In the best of cases this blooms into exceptional capacities for compassion and empathy.

Another form of beauty is using your own trauma, your own story to help others.

Witness the peer counselor, a frontline mental health worker who has lived experience of addiction or mental health challenges. I was interested in the role as a possible job, so I had a chat with a peer counselor a couple months ago. 

I learned some surprising things about peer counselors. I learned they do much of the direct patient care in mental health facilities. They talk to patients, they host group therapy sessions, they are essential members of care teams.  They provide what many mental health professionals cannot: Lived experience of trauma, addiction, and mental health challenges.

I still didn’t quite grasp what ‘peer counseling’ meant, so I asked my interviewee, and she astounded me.  She told me she used her story to help patients. She said that was primarily what she did. She was a storyteller.

The next day I watched a wonderful comedy special by Gary Gulman, The Great Depresh. In it, he describes his life with depression and anxiety. And something clicked in my brain: Ah, peer counseling.

I think one of our societal errors in addressing the crisis of mental health challenge and addiction is that we rely too much on our very thin professional mental health resources. I think the community as a whole needs to step up to build a stronger net for those who struggle. We need to grow our compassion and our listening skills so we can take better care of each other.

I can see now that artists have their role. They can peer counsel at scale. They can destigmatize and normalize. They can help build resilience. All by sharing their stories.

Hallelujah.

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THE NEWS

Since my last letter, Squirrel has grown wings and taken flight, at least on TikTok.  As I mentioned in a previous newsletter, social media stats are dopaminergic and should be ingested with caution.

Forgive me some stats. When last we spoke Squirrel had about 15,000 followers. He now has 56,000. His most popular video has been viewed 497,000 times. Or in another measure, it has been viewed for about 6,700 hours.

Overall, Squirrel’s videos have been viewed one million times since the launch of the project on July 30.

I’m not sure what this means. All I can say is it means more than nothing. It is a nonzero ripple in the sea of humanity. The comments cascade in and they are fairly consistent:

I continue to walk in Squirrel’s paw prints.

OTHER HOT LINKS

I continue to enjoy writing, and nine people continue to enjoy reading Lord Bezos Rides South, my satirical fantasy about Retail Lord Jeff Bezos and Emperor Markus Zuckerberg. Subscribe today!

Speaking of mental health and the internet, therapist Allyson Dineen talks about trauma therapy and mental health proselytizing on Instagram (Therapy Chat).

TRAUMA BEARS

Chapter 3

It is November, 1950. It is very cold. Grandpa Bear’s feet have stopped hurting, which he knows is a bad sign. He is in a very bad place. He is so scared, but he can’t stop moving, can’t give up. Around him are 60 dead and dying comrades. He is the only medic remaining.

They must evacuate. A new Lieutenant,  a fancy college bear, is barking orders. Grandpa Bear is very angry. The Lieutenant is saying, We go this way. The Lieutenant is pointing, mistakenly, idiotically, the wrong way. Deep into enemy lines.

Mortar and artillery shells shriek into their sad little camp. Rifle shots crack and bullets whiz by Grandpa Bear’s face. He is numb to it. This is not his first war. But fuck this Lieutenant. Grandpa Bear says something short, concise, and insubordinate to the Lieutenant. The Lieutenant stiffens and hisses a threat to him, but Grandpa Bear turns and walks the other way. And some of the bears and trucks follow him. And some follow the Lieutenant.

The bears who follow the Lieutenant walk into trap, a wall of flying metal and fire that shreds their bear bodies and extinguishes their light.

Grandpa Bear walks through the ice and the bullets, and watches his toes freeze, and his friends die.

At last, he reaches friendly lines.  A Colonel bear claps him on the back, You brave son of a bitch.

In 1951 he receives a silver medal, and a son. He receives both with the indifference of someone who is still trapped somewhere else, somewhere very cold.

The son is happy to be here, at first. The son looks into his dad’s face, searching for love, or at least recognition. And finds nothing. And the gap between what he needs and what he receives will open a great raw wound him in that will never heal. And will remain unhealed even as he becomes Dad Bear.

Chapter 4

Little Bear is not yet Little Bear, but a tiny being inside his mother. There’s something wrong. Little messages in his (their) amniotic sea. Caustic anxiety hormones that sour the sea, as his tiny body organizes. Changing him from the start.

On occasion, his primitive, raw self beholds a terrifying thunderstorm, and the sea sours with anxiety.  The thunder has a hard tone, a staccato report, like gunshots. Coalescing into sounds like “No,” and “Enough!”

And at other times, calm. Soothing sounds. Mother sounds. Sea sounds. Music sounds. And then, the rumble, the sour sea.

Chapter 5

Mother shape. Dad shape. Other shapes and shadows. Brother shape. Calm energy. Jagged energy. Sharp energy.

His eyesight improves and he sees Dad Bear looming over Big Bear, like a tsunami curling over a fishing boat. Dad Bear emitting thunder sounds, his eyes black. Big Bear wilting, crumpling, crying, hurting.

They think Little Bear isn’t watching, and learning but he is.  He doesn’t need words to know what is passing between his bears.

This is when his universe takes shape. This is when laws are laid down in stone. And among them: To be loved is to be yelled at. That the Dad Bear is as unpredictable as a summer storm, and must be watched, must be constantly watched.  And that likewise, the boy bears must watch themselves, for they can bring on the storms by a stray noise or a forgotten crayon. That Mom Bear is the nice one. But there is no bear, no force in the universe that can protect the boy bears from the Dad storms. It is best to go limp.

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