Category Archives: ooh! i have a pretty navel

The side of Kurt Cobain I wish I’d seen when I was young and needed it

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Today, Kurt Cobain would have been 50. Like many other teenagers, I idolised Kurt Cobain. I was absolutely obsessed with Nirvana. I owned all the albums, I adorned my walls with posters, I downloaded all tracks you couldn’t buy on a CD off of Kazaa. Sadly for me, by the time I got into Nirvana, Kurt Cobain had been dead for at least five years. Kurt’s being dead meant two things. Firstly, to my chagrin, I never got to see Nirvana live, except on a worn-out VHS of Unplugged In New York. And secondly, perhaps the bigger impact, I was never really exposed to a side of Kurt Cobain that I needed to see: his femininity, and his ride-or-die attitude towards women.

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When I was a teenager, I was awful. I had well and truly drank the Kool-Aid that femininity was bad and to be cool, you needed to reject that shit. I lived in horrendous ragged jeans, so baggy that if it rained, they’d soak all the way up to the knees, and Converse high-tops that were equally terrible in the rain. I was your stereotypical suburban early noughties grunger kid, my DiscMan screeching Linkin Park or System Of A Down when I wasn’t listening to In Utero for the seventy millionth time, because god forbid I listen to any music recorded by a woman! I bought into internalised misogyny wholesale, hating on other women being “girly”, and embodying that particular flavour of alternative subculture misogynistic pretension.

This is the only picture I could find of myself aged 16, and it's not representative of the hot mess I was at that age: I look significantly better here than I usually did.

This is the only picture I could find of myself aged 16, and it’s not representative of the hot mess I was at that age: I look significantly better here than I usually did.

I spent quite a few years as an awful person, and it took years longer to start undoing the damage.

I wonder how differently things would have gone down had I had access the side of Kurt Cobain, my idol, that I only really began to learn about relatively recently. When I was young, I never saw pictures of Kurt embracing femininity, wearing makeup and dresses. The pictures that were available on the posters you bought at Woolies, or the grainy Geocities webring, all showed Kurt in more masculine attire: jeans and unembellished plaid or jumpers. And a lot of the magazine interviews, where Kurt talked about supporting women, articulated sophisticated views on rape culture, played benefits for reproductive rights and unabashedly rode out for women in rock… these interviews were not available to me, the internet not being any good at archiving them back in 2000.

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I don’t doubt that the erasure of this aspect of Kurt Cobain’s essence was elided during this period because the gatekeepers were men. It was men who administrated the little websites which featured pictures, men who modded the forums. And it probably made them profoundly uncomfortable that Kurt Cobain was a feminist ally who looked heart-stoppingly beautiful in a dress. So they ignored it and avoided it.

Some of it seeped into my consciousness. I remember once arguing with a friend who didn’t like Nirvana that Kurt Cobain was a good person.

“Why?” asked my friend,

“Errr… he was against rape?” I retorted, which fell rather flat because obviously any decent person was.

I wish I’d had access, then, to what Kurt actually had to say about dealing with rape culture, because it would have helped me no end to have heard these words at the age of 15:

“The problem with groups who deal with rape is that they educate women about how to defend themselves. What really needs to be done is teaching men not to rape. Go to the source and start there.”

I’m not one for handing out cookies, but that’s a pretty important statement, and far more sophisticated than my understanding of the problem (the lyrics to Polly and Rape Me) was at the time.

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I wonder how much differently things would have gone down if I’d known all about this feminine and pro-woman side to Kurt Cobain at a point in my life when I sorely needed to hear things like that. Would I have embraced–or at least not rejected–femininity that much earlier? Would I have been seduced towards feminism in my teenage years, decided to learn more about it, because my idol was into it? Or would I have simply rejected Nirvana and latched on to a band with worse politics?

I wish I’d had the chance to find out, and that for the years between Kurt’s death and information being more readily available, the feminine side to Kurt Cobain had not been hidden.

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Adjusting to lamotrigine: 75mg

Continuing my series on lamotrigine and its side effects, I levelled up to 75mg of lamotrigine last week. I now take two 25mg tablets before bed, and one 25mg tablet in the morning. This is very annoying, because the tablets come 14 to a strip. It was easy to keep track of making sure I’d taken my dose at 25mg (I knew when the fortnight was up because it was one strip), and I could keep track at 50 (the pill from the left of the strip in the morning, the one from the right in the evening). But it’s a pain in the arse keeping track now.

The upping my dose brought back the dreaded itch, although a week on, it’s died back down again. I find that regular bog standard antihistamines help make the itching less intense. I’m pleased to report that my skin is still attached to my body, though sometimes when I’m itching, I wish it wasn’t.

The vivid and lucid dreams remain, and are mostly still boring, although I did have an interesting one the other night where Alan Partridge had been murdered, and it was up to me to figure out which member of East 17 killed him. The murderer got away with it, because I couldn’t remember the names of the band members who weren’t Brian and Tony, in order to investigate them (I googled when I woke up: they’re called John and Terry, in case this dream proves to be prophetic). I’m not sure whether dreaming more vividly, and often lucidly, is the cause of me finding it harder to wake up in the morning, and tireder throughout the day, or if that’s a separate side effect of the drug, but it’s a minor annoyance that I wish wasn’t happening, but it’s not so bad that I want to come off it or switch meds.

I finished the packet I was initially prescribed, and this time I went to a different pharmacist and was given the fancy branded lamotrigine: Lamictal. For the most part, I’m not feeling much difference between branded and generic, except that the Lamictal gives me a feeling like very minor indigestion about 10 minutes after I swallow it. I may be the only person in history to prefer the cheaper medicine.

Regarding prescriptions, my medical exemption certificate came through, and now I’m eligible for free prescriptions, not just for my lamotrigine, but for literally everything. If I get prescribed antibiotics, they’re free. If I develop another condition, all my meds for that would be free. If you live in the UK, have epilepsy and are taking daily anticonvulsants, you too are eligible for free prescriptions. The scheme isn’t well-advertised, and the list of conditions that can grant you free prescriptions is preposterously short, but it’s worth applying if you can. Pop into your GP surgery, and ask them for a FP92A form, fill it out, and then get your GP to sign it and send it. Within a few weeks, you’ll get a little card that means you don’t need to pay for any prescriptions. The free prescriptions is a huge upside to having an unpleasant medical condition and being on medicine with annoying side effects.

I think that’s it for now. Please get in touch if you want to talk to me about lamotrigine. I think it’s important that we share information. You can tweet me, drop me a FB message, or email me: anotherangrywomb@gmail.com. I’ll tell you all about the full dose when I’m on it.

Adjusting to lamotrigine series
25mg
50mg

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Adjusting to lamotrigine: 50mg

Regular readers and followers will know that I’m currently adjusting to lamotrigine for my epilepsy. I’ve been taking 50mg a day now for the last fortnight: 25mg in the morning and 25mg at night. Today, I’ll be upping the dose again to 75mg (25mg in the morning and 50mg at night), with the eventual goal of 100mg a day.

At 25mg, I reported some side effects (or possible side effects): itching, weird pooping, gnarly dreams and light-headedness. I’m delighted to report that the pooping seems to have evened out, back to normal-for-me, and the light-headedness has mostly subsided. I still get the occasional bout of feeling vaguely light-headed, but only once or twice within the fortnight. I’m wondering if it’s lessened because I’m taking a more even dose: the light-headedness at 25mg tended to happen in the evenings, at points where it had been a long time since I’d taken a dose, and now I’m taking more regular doses.

The itching, once again, cropped up when I upped my dose, although this time I was prepared for that, and knew that it didn’t mean I was going to die. However, just before my period, I had a couple of zits, and obviously I made everyone I know look at them and tell me if they thought it looked anything like a horrible skin rash with the words “toxic” and “necrosis” in the name. Spoiler: it didn’t. It was a couple of normal zits. Meanwhile, the gnarly dreams are still there, and still, for the most part, boring as shit.

Sadly, it’s not all good. I had my first period on the drug last week. And let me tell you, for me, menstruation plus lamotrigine is absolutely horrible. I usually don’t get particularly bad period pains, and only on the first day of my period. This month, I had cramps for two days before (as well as the aforementioned zits, which aren’t very usual for me). And then, on the day it came, I was in a world of pain. My uterus felt as though it was attempting to punch its way out of my body; I had a horrendous headache that no painkiller could touch; I bloated up like a balloon; and every time I mildly exerted myself the muscles I’d use decided to join in with the pain. The next day, the worst of it had subsided, but I was still crampy, and I was for the rest of my period.

In good news, though, my period, despite being absolutely fucking horrible, was much lighter. I bled for three days, and there was far less blood than usual. So, hooray, I guess. Like a monkey’s paw wish, I got lighter periods–but HAHA!–they’re hell on earth for the time they’re present.

And finally, I wondered if perhaps my recent uncharacteristic bout of optimism might be down to the lamotrigine’s mood-stabilising effect. I honestly don’t know. Perhaps it is, or perhaps it’s because a Nazi being punched in the face is really fucking funny. I’m certainly not feeling positive overall, but maybe a little more resilient and less despairing. Last week, something horrible and triggering happened in my personal life, and I fell apart for about two hours, where historically I’d be a mess for at least four days. So, maybe that’s a good side effect kicking in?

That’s about all their is to report for now. As always, please get in touch if you want to talk to me about lamotrigine. I think it’s important that we share information. You can tweet me, drop me a FB message, or email me: anotherangrywomb@gmail.com. I’ll update soon about my 75mg adventures.

Adjusting to lamotrigine series
25mg
75mg

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A new hope?

Content note: this post discusses Nazis and contains a Rogue One spoiler. And, I suppose, a spoiler for Episode IV of Star Wars, too, but that film is 40 years old and you really should have seen it by now.

I’ll tell you what I wasn’t expecting to feel during the week of Donald Trump’s inauguration: hope. And yet, for the first time in months, I felt something like hope brimming up inside me.

Not because a president was elected whose inauguration honestly felt like the opening sequence of a particularly heavy-handed dystopia movie. But rather, because it looks like perhaps resistance is possible. I’d almost forgotten what hope feels like, and forgotten how to articulate such feelings: forgive me, therefore, if this post is somewhat incoherent, and just enjoy the pictures.

Inauguration day in London started with a series of banner drops as part of the Bridges Not Walls campaign. Each of London’s bridges–and many others up and down the country–carried a message of solidarity from activist groups. There was representation from numerous groups, bearing messages representing transfeminism, Black Lives Matter, welcoming messages to migrants… and there was this, over Vauxhall Bridge.

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Activists stand on Vauxhall Bridge holding rainbow smoke bombs. A banner beneath them reads “Queer Solidarity Smashes Borders”

When I first saw this picture, it brought a tear to my eye. It is a simple message, so simple. Queer solidarity smashes borders. Four little words, lighting the way beneath a rainbow. It is infused with hope of undoing the violence we face. Of course it isn’t all that needs doing, but it is heartening to see those words prominently against the middle of London, and cropping up all over the news.

I watched the inauguration in a pub, me and a friend agog in horror. But then later, an even bigger cause for hope rose up. Everything kicked the fuck off. People rioted. People protested. People made it abundantly fucking clear that they didn’t accept the legitimacy of a far-right president, elected through dubious means, and neither were people particularly keen on the rich, white men in charge of the world.

limo

A limo is burned at the Washington DC inauguration day protests. Sprayed on the side of it is the words “We the people” and the circled A.

None of this compares, though, to the ultimate cause for hope which erupted on that day. It was, I think, a Destruction of the First Death Star Moment. I am talking, of course, of…

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Nazi Richard Spencer gets punched by an anarchist, then looks really fucking wounded. It’s hilarious.

I have not yet grown tired of watching this. The punch is funny, and the look of wounded pride on that Nazi’s face afterwards as he tries to fix his fucked-up is better still. I am utterly delighted that this punch from an unknown hero has become the first major meme of 2017 (a few of my favourites–honestly I don’t think anyone should stop until it has been set to every piece of music ever recorded). I’ve also been pleasantly surprised at the response from the more liberal side of the left. I’d had hatches battened down, defences ready for having the tedious argument as to why political violence is absolutely a necessary and valid tactics, and maybe they should ask their grandparents about the ethics and efficacy of physical violence against Nazis. However… I didn’t really need it. Even liberals seemed to agree that it was broadly all right to punch Nazis, and deeply satisfying to watch.

I also like to think of how pissed-off Donald Trump must be. Such an arrogant and self-centred man must surely be spitting feathers at the fact that an anarchist upstaged him on his Big Day, by clocking a Nazi right in the jaw. I expect he’s been sulking ever since Friday.

It turns out that punching a Nazi in the face is more effective and less resource-heavy than instigating no-platform notices against fascists. Since the punch, Spencer has said he is afraid to leave the house and that he feels he will require more security at public events. This suddenly makes him a far more expensive speaker to book, which will likely prove detrimental to his lucrative rent-a-Nazi-guest career, and severely impact the number of platforms he is given. If every Nazi got a smack in the mouth, we could probably staunch the rise of fascism pretty darn quickly.

The opposition continued over to the next day, when it was estimated that millions of women were marching against Trump, all over the globe. There was a march on every continent, even Antarctica. Everyone, it seems, is invigorated against the man whose name is a fart.

I am in no doubt that the way forward–even the way to hold ground and stay alive–will be rough. I am in no doubt that we need to maintain the solidarity that feels as though it is being built, to expand and build links. I am in no doubt that the problem extends far beyond Trump, and cannot be solved merely by strategic punches and public symbolic actions.

And yet, my low and jaded expectations have been surpassed already. There is more resistance than I anticipated, more passion, more rage. 

As Princess Leia points out at the end of Rogue One, what we have been sent now is hope.

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Adjusting to lamotrigine: 25mg

Those who follow me on Twitter will probably be aware that recently I made the decision to start taking lamotrigine, an anti-epilepsy medication which is also a mood stabiliser. The reason I made this choice was that recently my epilepsy, which used to cause minimal problems in my life to the point I didn’t need to take daily anticonvulsants, has escalated somewhat.

Why lamotrigine? My neurologist initially suggested keppra, but this was ruled out when I told him that I am prone to bouts of quite bad depression, and also irritability. Keppra has a tendency to exacerbating both of these things, so we decided on a medication which would not only prevent seizures, but also perhaps lessen my depressive tendencies.

I’m writing about this because I found it difficult finding out much information about the experience of adjusting to lamotrigine from a personal perspective. There’s lists of terrifying side effects, such as STOP TAKING IT IF YOU HAVE A RASH BECAUSE IT MIGHT MEAN YOUR SKIN WILL FALL OFF AND YOU COULD DIE, as well as slightly less horrifying but still unpleasant things like dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth, bad hangovers on just one glass of wine or tremors. Thing is, these lists don’t really help you know much about how badly it actually affects you, so I found myself asking people on Twitter who were willing to give me information, and this was reassuring. So what I want to do is document the adjusting to lamotrigine experience on my blog, where it’s publicly searchable, so hopefully someone in the same boat as me will find the information they need.

I have been taking 25mg lamotrigine, at night, for a week so far. Lamotrigine has a slow build-up, so I’m taking 25mg at night for two weeks, then 25mg in the morning and 25mg (50mg a day) at night for another two weeks, then 25mg in the morning and 50mg at night for two weeks (75mg a day), and finally up to my full effective dose of 50mg in the morning and 50mg at night (100mg a day). The reason for this slow build up is it means you’re less likely to get the nightmarish skin-falling-off rash. I should stress at this point, that the rash is very rare, but it’s serious enough that if you have any skin rashes, especially in mucous membranes, you should stop taking lamotrigine at once and get your arse down to a doctor.

Obviously, this caused me quite a bit of anxiety, and just before I took my very first dose, I went over my skin in a full survey, looking at places where I had little patches of dry skin or ingrown hairs, just so I wouldn’t panic if I noticed these after beginning to take lamotrigine. Nonetheless, nothing scares the shit out of you more than when it turns out a quite common side effect of lamotrigine is itching, and that this does not mean you have The Rash. I was prepared by a Twitter pal that I might experience some itching, and that antihistamines would stop it, but even then, every time I get itchy, it makes me a little worried. Luckily, the itching was worst in the first three days, and seems to have died down now.

The other side effect that concerned me was the idea of the nasty hangovers. I’d heard horror stories from some people using it that even one glass of wine would give you horrendous three-day-long hangovers. Fortunately, this hasn’t happened to me, and I’ve been drinking around two units of alcohol a day since I started (a little part of me is hoping that the lamotrigine expect me to drink a little and not punish me for it).

Other than this, I’ve experienced a bit of light-headedness, just occasionally. I just feel a little bit dizzy for about a minute or so, before everything is fine again. It’s not very severe, and it’s not even particularly annoying, because it’s incredibly sporadic. I’m also a little sleepier in the mornings than usual, but not so sleepy it makes it impossible to get out of bed.

The thing I wasn’t expecting was lucid dreams. I don’t dream much, but I have been dreaming more with the lamotrigine, and they’re lucid dreams. Disappointingly, they are incredibly boring, mundane lucid dreams. Last night, I dreamed that I was an adviser to the Medicis, but my job wasn’t very interesting, I just had to keep the accounts, and I dreamed vividly of making Excel spreadsheets with a quill and ink. Another example: I had a dream there was a wasp in my room, and I was trying to kill it. I realised it was a dream when I noticed my laundry basket was in a different place to usual.

And finally, I’m not sure if this is a side effect because it’s too early to tell, but my pooping has become somewhat irregular. While it was never very regular to begin with, this last week it’s been either constipation or several mega-dumps in a day. We’ll see if that one stabilises.

So, is it working yet, for controlling my epilepsy? Not really, no. I had a seizure yesterday. However, at present, I’m only on a quarter of the effective dose, and it’ll be another five weeks before I’m up to the full effective dose.

I’ll update, every time I up my dose, and if there’s anything else interesting to report in the meantime. If you want to talk to me about lamotrigine, please do! I think it’s important that we share information. You can tweet me, drop me a FB message, or email me: anotherangrywomb@gmail.com

Adjusting to lamotrigine series
50mg
75mg

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Aphantasia, possibly? TIL that most people don’t mean “mental image” as a metaphor

Content note: this post describes in detail the Prime Minister having sex with a dead animal, and relates an encounter in therapy

There’s been a Facebook post by Blake Ross going around which hit me quite hard. In it, a person talks about their experience with aphantasia, where you lack a “mind’s eye”.

It hit me because I realised I probably have aphantasia.

I’ve gone for thirty years of my life, gladly ticking along, thinking about things, writing about things, describing and remembering things, without ever having questioned that maybe I wasn’t doing it in the same way as everyone else. When I think about things, it’s never visual. I’d sort of assumed it was much like this for everybody else.

For my entire life, I’ve thought that phrases such as “mental image” or “visualisation” were metaphorical, and it was absolutely fascinating to learn that not only was this not true, but this is not true for the majority of people. After all, how can one describe one’s own chatter of thoughts outside of the realms of analogy and metaphor? To me, “mental image” has always meant something that you’re thinking about a lot, while “visualise” meant “think really hard about doing this”. It’s hard to even express how my own thinking works, because language is so set up–as I now understand it–to reflect thinking in images.

To me, my thoughts mostly come in the form of words, feelings and sounds. I can “think out loud”: an inner monologue, often in my own voice. There’s also more passive stuff going on, almost like reading a book that you don’t need to concentrate on–except I don’t see the words, and I don’t exactly “hear” it like a muffled radio–it’s just, I don’t know, kind of background processes which I could concentrate on if I wanted to and I cannot really articulate them how I perceive them, but it’s definitely a mush of words, feelings and sometimes even music. Maybe a little bit like people chatting in a coffee shop, and you occasionally pick up snatches of the conversation going on?

If pushed–for example, by tests checking your ability to visualise–I can bring up a picture in my mind to some extent. For example, the test in this article starts with asking you to picture someone you see frequently. I concentrated hard on visualising my friend, A, and I could eventually bring up something. But it was almost useless to me, not telling me much about what A really looks like. What I conjured up was like a passport picture: it’s arguably a decent likeness, but impersonal and ultimately looking not much like the person really looks. A dim and useless picture, devoid of any connection with the actual person. Instead, when I think about what A looks like without being forced to visualise it, I’d think of it almost as though it were a description of a character in a novel, with little personal quirks like the way A always walks with purpose, like she has to be somewhere very important.

The same is true for, say, visualising somewhere I’ve been before. It takes a lot of effort, though, like I’m squinting with my brain. I can call up a picture, but it is static and flawed, like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of an already-blurry photograph. Again, though, this information is mostly useless to me. If I wanted to remember somewhere I’d been, it’s far more vivid for me to remember specific incidents that happened in that place, as though they were scenes in a script that I was reading. It also helps a hell of a lot to create a mental image if I’m thinking about a photo I’ve seen of the place, ideally a photo that I myself took.

It explains a lot, if I have difficulties in visualisation, that a round of therapy that used visualisation heavily did not work for me. We did a lot of guided visualisation: my therapist would encourage me to visualise my anxiety as though it were a display in a museum, to visualise taking my anxiety and unknotting it. During these sessions, I would write these scenes in my head, describing in detail what I could “see”, even though I could not see anything. I would add set dressing: the whole thing read like Stieg Larsson in its levels of unnecessary detail. Nonetheless, I actually saw nothing, and didn’t find that therapy particularly helpful.

Luckily for me, my brain seems to do a lot of stuff without me knowing it that helps me function. I don’t know how I’m capable of recognising familiar faces without necessarily being able to visualise them, but I usually am.

I am aware, after reading Blake Ross’s account, that I am less impaired than him: I may not have a mind’s eye, but I have a mind’s ear and can hear music or noises or the sound of someone’s voice. I have the other senses, too, and can summon up a smell or a taste, or a brush against the skin. I also don’t have issues with memory: I can remember incidents, and so forth: they come up almost like diary entries but richer, accompanied by a host of feelings. I also don’t skip the bits in books where there’s lots of description of the setting, because I find it nice to know what a character looks like or the colour of the wallpaper in a cafe, even if I can’t see it myself.

I can appreciate visual art, but I unsurprisingly suck at creating it it. Absolutely fucking suck at it, and I always have. At school, I was asked not to do GCSE Art because I am so fucking shit at art. I didn’t really mind: I always hated drawing and sculpting anyway. I knew it was something I couldn’t do and others could, but I never realised that could be due to my inadequate visualisation ability, because I am dyspraxic and also crap at things like learning sequences of movements (which meant PE was also an unmitigated nightmare) and fine motor skills (handwriting was fucking dreadful, too).

I know I do have visuals without the effort of the mental squint, under certain circumstances. When I dream, I dream with vision as well as the other things that happen in my head. I can even experience visual thoughts when I am on the brink of sleep, and mix it in with my conscious thought.

Sadly, I am not necessarily spared the horror of a bad “mental image”: I may not see anything, but it’s nonetheless horrible. Take, for example, that time David Cameron fucked a pig. I thought about it, almost as if it were a particularly unpleasant scene in a book. I could think about the braying of the crowd, wonder about whose lap the pig whose head he fucked was in, ask endless questions, like was it to completion, and generally feel a sense of utter disgust.

Even as I write this, I realise I am probably doing a godawful job of explaining how things happen in my mind without images, because it’s very difficult in the first place to explain what thought feels like. So what does thinking with pictures feel like? I’m kind of imagining, if my own thought processes are like a bunch of cue cards with salient information on them, that yours are like a Buzzfeed article: mostly pictures, with a couple of words around them.

For me, basically, mental images are not something I find particularly useful, even if I can access them under certain circumstances. I suppose I must have learned to work around not visualising very early on in my life, and it’s something I just don’t rely on at all. As far as I’m aware, this hasn’t affected me adversely particularly. In fact, I wonder if it was a gift all along: I find it quite easy to put things into words, most of the time. A lot of my writing practically writes itself, words tripping from me. Perhaps it’s so easy for me because that’s how my thoughts always looked anyway.


Advance knowledge is power: A trip to the dentist

This is the first post in a short series on engagement and trigger warnings/content notes.
Part 2: The banality of trigger warnings
Part 3: Exposing the true nature of exposure therapy
Part 4: A strange hill to die on

Content note: this post talks about dentists and dental procedures in detail, as well as PTSD and rape.

“It’s going to have to come out,” the dentist said, and my brain squawked fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck.

One of my wisdom teeth had done what wisdom teeth tend to do, and grown in at a decidedly funny angle, meaning that whenever I chewed, talked or smiled, it would scrape against the inside of my mouth, causing regular mouth ulcers. I’d sucked it up and dealt with the pain, because, to be quite blunt, I was quite terrified of having to have the thing taken out. I’d heard horror stories about wisdom tooth extractions, and had hoped against hope that maybe my own gob would behave itself.

The dentist couldn’t just yank it there and then, because he didn’t have his instruments of torture to hand, so I had a week to prepare myself.

I read everything I could on wisdom tooth extraction in that week. I learned about exactly what the procedure would entail, what each step would feel like. I swotted up on aftercare, and what I might end up doing wrong and how to do it right. I looked at pictures of all the tools that would be used and where exactly they would be rammed into my poor fucked-up mouth, because I knew there was no way I’d be able to ask the questions I had during the procedure itself.

When the day came, I was prepared, and I went through with something I’d thought I might not be able to. I wasn’t even particularly scared. It all went exactly to the script. Afterwards, it healed perfectly, because I knew what I needed to do–and more importantly, why.

It’s not an experience I’d care to repeat, and I hope anything else that decides to grow in my mouth has the decency to point in the right direction. But it wasn’t traumatic.

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When I was old enough to have my adult teeth, but still young enough to think strange things, I had my first scale and polish at the dentist. I’d had no idea he was going to do that to me, and I assumed it was some sort of punishment for me not flossing diligently enough.

The scale and polish was a huge factor in me going to the dentist as infrequently as possible, just about often enough to maintain my NHS patient status.

A few years ago, my old dentist–the uncommunicative grump who pulled my wonky wisdom tooth–retired and I got a new one. He was about my age, so must have been quite recently-qualified, with his patient sensitivity training still fresh in his mind. Every single thing he did throughout the dental checkup, he told me in advance what he was going to do, and how it might feel. He told me that if I wanted him to stop, I should raise my hand.

Just the knowledge that I could ask him to stop if it hurt, and knowing what he was going to do and when, was enough. I’m a little less dentist-avoidant now. It’s not exactly something I relish, but it’s not traumatic.

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I’ve spent 500 words talking about dentists because people find the principles of giving a warning in advance far easier to agree with when one talks about matters of the body–even the body as it interacts with the mind. There’s no objections when you talk about getting a week to prepare yourself before you have a tooth pulled. So why are there objections over giving people who have survived trauma a little bit of a heads-up so they can better ready themselves?

Ultimately, that is all the trigger warning/content note is. It’s a flag which says, be prepared. There’s an asteroid field ahead, captain, engage coping mechanisms!

For me, when I see a trigger warning, sometimes it’s not particularly relevant to me, so I ignore it. Sometimes it is relevant to me, but that doesn’t mean I’ll disengage completely: I’ll make sure I’m in a place to engage. For me, this involves making sure I’m not caffeinated, because a kick of anxiety in combination with caffeine easily translates into a full-blown panic response. If I’ve had a coffee, I might wait an hour before engaging.

That’s the thing with trigger warnings: most survivors don’t simply avoid–they have the advance knowledge to do what they have to do. One survivor might open up a tab with a game they find distracting to play after they’ve read a blog post with a trigger warning. Another survivor might make sure she watches a television show in the strong, comforting arms of her girlfriend after hearing it contains a rape scene. One survivor might start practicing the resilience building affirmations he learned in therapy on a daily basis once again before throwing himself into the rape scene in the set text. Another survivor might steel zerself by taking a beta blocker before ze goes to a class that ze has been warned will be discussing rape.

Each survivor has a unique set of coping mechanisms, but each can only do these things with a bit of advance knowledge. It’s more than a simple choice of engaging or disengaging: it empowers people to choose how they engage.

The debate on trigger warnings has been absent of decent evidence: this is because there’s little to show they’re either helpful or harmful–instead, what we mostly have is anecdotes. Therefore, the question becomes mostly a political one.

Over the next few days, I’ll be looking a little bit more at both the politics and the extant evidence with trigger warnings, particularly looking at the conflation of random exposure with controlled exposure. Tomorrow, we’ll be looking at if it’s really so simple, why does everyone lose their shit?

Part 2: The banality of trigger warnings

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