Improv #5: Meta-Analysis

Image result for I rarely have a thought by itself ADHD
Source (as best I can tell): GAGfm

This post was supposed to be about physicality in Improv. It was also supposed to be titled The Body Keeps the Score. It is neither of those things because it turns out even a girl with ADHD can’t truly have an original thought. My brain can’t stay inside the box, but it certainly can stay within the bounds of the total accumulation of all of the centuries of human thought. Unless the author is writing in their native cuneiform, even the next Great American novel will most likely share overarching plot themes with thousands of other plot elements throughout history – and that’s okay!

As my new Improv teacher describes it: “You remember that movie about that guy and that girl? And they seemed like they were good together and you thought they’d get together? Then something happened, and they didn’t get together – but then they did and it was okay? What was that called?” There is nothing original under the sun, and we’re encouraged in Improv to tap into universality for comedic effect. Improv encourages us to mine tv tropes for concepts to explore in a pinch.

Realizing I’m not that original after all is why this post is no longer about physicality in Improv, which was the topic of the first session of the next series of classes that I finally started this week, but is instead about the use of call-backs, Chekhov’s gun and strategic use of Breaking of the Fourth Wall to meta-analyze my own motivations for talking about physicality in Improv (and/or life) instead of exploring physicality in Improv (and/or life.)

It’s also a good example of why you should never look a gift call-back in the mouth, of what stream of what unedited stream-of-consciousness ADHD thinking looks like, and, of course, of pressing the punchline in general.

This is an actual series of events that occurred in my first return to Improv session:

Instructor: “Today’s theme is physicality.”

Lavender (in her head): “I am totally naming next my post The Body Keeps the Score. I don’t even care if nobody remembers that I use the words trauma and Improv with about the same frequency or if no one else gets the connection that that book is about the body and trauma.”

Instructor: “Today we are going to talk about being in your body. Improv 101 students can be in their body, but then they get stuck inside of their own heads. They worry about their next line of witty dialogue – and while they do they go stock still on stage and forget their body. They become talking heads, and that’s boring to the audience. Improv 201 students need to be to be able to be in their head and in their body at the same time.”

Lavender (still in her own head, and probably stock still and spacey looking in her body): “What?! Wait, did he literally just feed me a Chekhov’s blog post? Are we seriously doing the ‘you need to integrate mind and body therapy spiel?’ This is almost too on the nose…”

Bully-in-the-Brain (unfortunately also in Lavender’s head, despite her best attempts at serving an eviction notice): “So, in that case, you are going to suck today. I mean, you have all the body awareness of a girl who forgets to eat until others complain about her tummy gurgling.”

Lavender (to her Bully-in-Brain): “Great. I don’t think I’ve done a legitimate ‘Something I Failed at Today‘ post for some time…”

Instructor: <Says something.> Lavender doesn’t really know because the Bully is distracting, even if the rest of her running monologue isn’t because she’s gotten used to having dozens of channels blaring in her brain constantly, what with the ADHD is for life bit. (That article claims medications turn off 58 of 59 tv channels usually on in the ADHD brain. That’s not strictly accurate: it’s more like they turn off 48 and now you are down to a functional, if confusing, ten.)

Lavender (alone again inside her head because the Bully had no response to her last comment – or maybe just likes Improv too much to argue further): “Wait, the Body Keeps the Score is the one about the disconnect between the brain and body in trauma, right? I wish I’d ever been willing to buy the book instead of just renting it from the library. How long have I been on the waiting list for that? Am I going to have to buy the book just to feel okay using that title for my post? Also, if a book is that popular, why does the library only have one copy?…”

<Some variant of this monologue keeps up for a while, but Lavender resumes listening to her instructor and enjoys the rest of the session. Sometime later, on the way home..>

Lavender (again to herself): “Maybe I’ll just Google to make sure I’m not the Guardian columnist who used a meme* of a quote from 1984 without verifying. Also, maybe I should re-read 1984? Would I remember it enough to quote it anymore? Hey, what was the name of that Sinclair Lewis book about the U.S. turning fascist in the 1930s?* I meant to read that at some point…”

<Even later still, to her Partner as she walked through the door.>

Lavender: “We talked about being in our bodies today!”

Partner:** “I assume you are going to write a post about it? When you do, you should figure out what the cost per class is and if it’s cheaper than your therapy co-pay. I bet it is…”

Lavender: “Don’t tempt me. Also, do I need to have read a book to reference it in a post? It’s on my list, but the library is slow. I’ve never actually read The Body Keeps the Score all the way through. I’ve just read excerpts or read about somebody reading it.”

Partner: “Just include the standard ‘not from original sources’ caveat and do the standard I-don’t-write-for-the-Guardian sanity check. Read 1984 again before you ever use it in a post, but nobody cares about a non-fiction concept from the trauma literature that – if it isn’t from that book specifically – will have a really close equivalent in it. ”

I did the standard I-don’t-write-a-column-for-the-Guardian sanity check, and, apparently, I should have stuck to just joking about the book instead of knowing about it. Some things exist too seriously to be any fun to joke about anymore. Including Improv?

Apparently, The Body Keeps the Score itself describes how improv has emerging uses as part of trauma therapy. There is a classroom violence/trauma prevention curriculum that uses Improv. Bessel van der Kolk was an author of the first trauma yoga study. There has not been an official large-scale study of the effectiveness of trauma improv, that I have found, but preliminary evidence of efficacy exists. Trauma Drama also exists. It is possible to train with Bessel van der Kolk’s affiliated institute to offer trauma improv (and trauma drama/trauma yoga.)

I love Improv, but I don’t think I’d want to take improv explicitly for traumatized people. I like to claim Improv is trauma therapy, but I don’t think I’d ever want it to actually be part of structured therapy. That could create some potentially bad associations, given some of my experiences with therapy. But, even if it was part of my current therapy – which seems decent, despite my skepticism and past experiences with the other type – I would still turn down the opportunity, I think. I want at least some things in my life not to have to have the prefix “trauma” attached to them. Trauma-sensitive yoga would probably be good for me given that yoga itself is good for just about all chronic conditions (as long as it is appropriately modified when necessary), and being publicly corrected in traditional yoga class is highly upsetting to me. I don’t take trauma yoga because of reasons. But, I don’t, so far at least, really have any deep RSD about Improv. I’d rather keep the lines unblurred between my purely positive escapes and chronic stress for as long as possible. Sometimes I just want to be conventionally unconventional. And, the first rule of trauma improv seems like it should be not to point out it is trauma improv. (Note to self: do not separately analyze only Improv-related posts for the presence of “trauma talk.” Don’t do it. There is such a thing as ignorance is bliss.)

*For those wondering:

  1. It was surprisingly hard to find a source that described the original Guardian retraction of its 1984 quote. I get the irony that I have to cite a media source with a known liberal bias just to prove it happened. I don’t know if it’s better or worse that I could equally have cited one with a known conservative bias, but the mainstream centrist media didn’t seem to report on the story at all.

2. It is probably unfair to single out one specific example of less-than-thorough fact checking when there have been more prominent examples in recent history. That one snuck into our household lexicon, though, because it seemed a particularly risky example given the original source material for the supposed quote and Clockwork Orange’s tried-and-true coopting of any mistake to discredit all media. To err is human, to forgive divine – but even still check references online!

3.  It Can’t Happen Here is really cheap ($1.99) on Amazon Kindle! The Body Keeps the Score isn’t as bad as I feared either ($14.99).

**Again, for those wondering:

  1. Yes, I originally signed up for improv to address the ADHD external signs and symptoms. Yes, this means I should already have guessed we’d be going in-depth into physical Improv at some point. No, I did not consciously remember during my internal monologue. ADHD memory is weird. It has apparently disconnected all semantic network links in my brain between Improv and work, the original reason I signed up for it.

2. Yes, my Partner’s speculation was correct. Improv costs about the same per class as one of my therapy session co-pays. Make of that what you will, or maybe try Improv when you can’t afford therapy? The entire class series costs less than the cost of two pay-out-of-pocket therapy sessions if you don’t have insurance.

3. Yes, I have tried to convince my Partner to take Improv. I think he’d also be good at thinking on his feet. No, he doesn’t have ADHD. We’ve just been together a long time and it’s doubly hard to be original with someone you live with. Also, we’ll call this post a Comedy and maybe a bit of a Rebirth plot hook.


Data Minding

I first intended to post about the fact that statistical algorithms can pick out individuals with various mental health diagnoses from the type of language they use on social media last November, but I lost my hyperfocus on the topic almost immediately after I read the original media blurb about a new study. I also forgot to ever read the study itself, which was sad because it should have been right up my alley. (In my defense, I was probably exhausted at the time. I usually am.)

I suppose in hindsight there was nothing stopping me from writing the post after November – when I finally remembered it existed – but I’d have felt like a failure as a blogger. I mean, aren’t bloggers supposed to produce semi-current content for their readers? I’d also hate to disappoint any of my readers who might be statistical outliers, but apparently statistical algorithms can also pick that out.  At least online, I’m not the only one with the attention span of a gnat. Articles over a month old are ancient in the blogosphere. Got to play to my audience and pretend I’m aware of the passing of time.

I truly thought my chance had come and gone. I could have cried with relief when another article came out this month referencing similar research about the language used by individuals with mental health diagnoses on social media. Sometimes I do get a second chance to make a first impression. (I will confess my own self-regulation of my own science ideals vs. science practice hasn’t improved since November. I haven’t read the original research cited in this new article, either.)

I managed to get a timely post up, and I know that – this time- I won’t disappoint my readers. I posted extremely relevant content and I intentionally set myself up to succeed…

…by failing forward. I mean, after all, I did just manage to write the most statistically obnoxious – I mean “optimal” – example ever of a social media post by someone with ADHD above. It should trigger as many automated flags as possible during data mining that I truly have the diagnosis that I know I have. I was, however, only diagnosed in adulthood.

Continue reading “Data Minding”

Messages in a Bottle #4: Cold Lang Syne

Today’s winter storm event – Winter Storm Liam – is turning out to be a non-event for my area. There are two more potential snowmakers behind it, per my favorite bedtime story,  aka The Weather Channel. Maybe those will live up to the hype that Liam didn’t.

The blizzard we ran into in Iceland in the final installment from my holiday trip was decidedly not a non-event. I assume it was the same bomb cyclone, aka Winter Storm Grayson, that caused our complications as the one that caused problems for most of the U.S. Either way, this entry is dated 1/2/18. Its lessons include a) always scan your important documents into Evernote if you have ADHD, even if you are on vacation, and b) get the winter damage rider on your rental car if you visit Iceland in January. The pic of just sheets of white is a road. If you don’t believe me, look for the road signs as hints. We drove in that.

Continue reading “Messages in a Bottle #4: Cold Lang Syne”

Messages in a Bottle #3: Stoppin’ in a Winter Wonderland

This post was originally dated 12/28/17. It chronicles a stretch of the 54 and the 55 –  unpaved but “real” roads reasonably far off of Iceland’s Ring Road – as well as part of the Ring Road once we finally found our way back onto it heading North from Snæfellsnes to Hvammstangi. It was written from our little cabin at about midnight after we’d gotten in about an hour earlier. For those at home who are keeping score, the sun sets in Iceland in winter at about 4pm. So, we had been driving one-lane dirt roads along a fjord well after dark. The road conditions were “icy” with “blowing snow.” But, they weren’t yet a blizzard. That would happen later in our trip! Thank heavens our little cabin had a self check-in, as checking in with limited check-in hours might have been interesting. If you read my last Iceland post, you learned that the west of Iceland completely shuts down over Christmas and Boxing Day. It does open back up afterward, but there aren’t many restroom break opportunities along even the Ring Road, and many of the N1 stations that claim to be open those days are in towns off the Ring Road – or they close down about 2pm. This makes pit stops complicated. I have no photos of the moonlit fjord or the crazy drive because I’m a chicken, but I include some photos from the next two days at the end.


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20H8: H8as vs. D8a

I want Mueller to take down Trump. My head wants Trump taken down any way possible, but my heart specifically wants Mueller to do it. He’s a wonk. He’s a wonk who is described (by anyone other than the most vocal House Republicans) as scrupulously based in the data, cautious enough to only act when his case is unassailable, and impartial to the point that he will fire members of his own team for the crime of admitting they dislike Trump in a private text, lest Mueller inadvertently feed into Trump’s unfounded accusations of a witch hunt against him. (Trump keeps using that word – I do not not think it means what he thinks it means.)

I’m a wonk. I’m a data nerd now, but as a kid I was a would-be historian. What is history if not the raw data for psychologists and sociologists the same as statistics is the raw data for epidemiology or economics? I think I developed a reverence for the scientific method partially as a way of holding on to sanity in a world of gaslighting and injustice. Abusers try to deny reality, and they know how to make their victims – and the authorities who might be able to cause consequences for them – believe them. But, looking into the history of women’s suffrage or the Civil Rights Movement, looking into public health statistics, looking into the academic achievement gap in America’s schools,  looking into how many Americans believe the words that come out of Trump’s $7i7hole about women, minorities, the poor, the disabled or anyone else who isn’t him, I could/can reason out why abusers use gaslighting to ensure their victims are too ashamed to speak out. I could/can begin to release my own shame. It isn’t my fault horrible things happened – it’s the fault of systemic power imbalances that disenfranchise Americans, abusers who turn a blind eye to the basic humanity of others, and bigots in positions of authority like Jeff Sessions who reinforce those imbalances rather than put the weight of law on the side of lasting change. Through a principled method for determining the truth, I could hope there was a way to hold on to it amidst lies.

Continue reading “20H8: H8as vs. D8a”

Coming Soon on Nightmarescape (Season Premiere Sunday, January 20th, 2018)

It’s hard to get 7-8 hours of sleep – or, heaven forbid, the 12-14 hours my wonky nervous system would typically prefer while still not feeling rested – with nightmares. In the absence of sleep, a clever girl learns to approximate sleep through other mindless trance tasks that keep the brain from thinking too hard (and her body from thrashing and hurting her.) In addition to coloring books, I have been substituting the tv series Supernatural for sleep this week. The series has thirteen seasons! I once got two months out of using Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a sleep surrogate. (Granted, that was during the writing of my thesis, not specifically due to nightmares, but close enough.) Buffy only had seven seasons. I can mine this new mindless entertainment goldmine for much longer, it appears. Re-activating my Netflix account was worth it for Supernatural alone.

Nightmares are a criterion for the diagnosis of PTSD. The DSM-V doesn’t give nightmares due credit, though, despite their prominence as a diagnostic marker. It simply lists them as one expression of Criterion B: Persistent Re-Experiencing of the Traumatic Event(s), alongside intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and emotional distress and/or physical reactivity after exposure to traumatic reminders.  For a feature of PTSD that is so iconic for both sufferers and for the public stereotype – and media portrayal – of PTSD, psychologists and sufferers alike fail to appreciate the true art of the nightmare. There is a deep, if twisted, vein of creativity shown by the PTSD brain in the myriad of ways it shocks and alarms its captive audience and in the reams of material it creates to keep its viewers hooked.

Continue reading “Coming Soon on Nightmarescape (Season Premiere Sunday, January 20th, 2018)”

Messages in a Bottle #2: No-Boxed-Lunch Day

I feel like I should offer some post hoc commentary on this blog post, but maybe next time. I think I’ve mentioned before that one of the most frustrating aspects of any form of chronic illness seems to be that we also become extra vulnerable to any acute illnesses that are going around. The two do not not play nice together, and there are currently a lot of acute illnesses “going around.” In the week and a half since I’ve been back to work, I’ve gotten sick with two separate strains of crumminess that are going around the office and have dealt with a “flare” (or whatever you call an uptick in symptoms of dysautonomia) in tandem with both. This three-day weekend is being spent in bed.

This post was written on 12/27/17 in Northern Iceland, after grocery stores had re-opened, we’d had a full meal cooked in our little cabin and we had seen the Northern Lights for what would end up being the only time the entire trip, because we later ran into a blizzard!

So, most places I have visited over Christmas are either “multicultural” (read: opportunistically capitalist) enough, don’t celebrate Christmas/Boxing Day as national holidays or are otherwise open for tourists on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.  Iceland isn’t.

Now, we knew this. We knew that we should either book a reservation at a high-end restaurant (the only ones likely to be open) before the trip – before the restaurant sold out – or plan to hit the local grocery store (our more affordable option) before about noon on Christmas Eve to stock up. We planned to stock up on Christmas Eve and drive to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula on Christmas Day, check-in to our hotel with its electronic self-check code, and use its kitchenette to make ourselves food while we explored the area on our own. We planned to avoid the lack of options by simply cooking like we always do. You know what they say about the best-laid plans…

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Messages in a Bottle #1: Ghosts of Christmas Past

Journaling just for myself has never felt like self-care. The bully-in-my-brain sees it as indulgent and self-justifying, and it has never felt satisfying to write anything creative that only my eyes would see. Plus, I find ways to hate anything creative that I write. I’m a much harsher critic than the Internet. I gave up officially journaling for therapy after my first-ever 12-week course of CBT. Student Mental Health Services shoved me into standard short-term CBT way back during my PhD because it was easier for them than their therapists digging deeper to discover that my classic anxiety and depression were side effects of less-common ADHD and C-PTSD.

I gave up CBT after that first generic catch-all course in favor of more somatic-based therapies, which I researched for myself. However, because I really did have ADHD even when undiagnosed, I initially threw myself into CBT with hyperfocus intensity for those original twelve weeks. I didn’t often share my answers fully with my therapist, but I at least answered them honestly for myself. My immersion included buying an expensive, leather-bound journal to use to fill out the homework. I filled out about half of the two-hundred-page journal between homework and attempts at personal journaling. I never knew what to do with that journal, because it contained personal thoughts that, for a while, brought me shame. I couldn’t throw it out, and I couldn’t figure out what else I could write in it that could go thematically with answers to therapy questions about my past that I never even showed that CBT student therapist. I just kept it with me.

Continue reading “Messages in a Bottle #1: Ghosts of Christmas Past”