Wheres’s Whoopsie #3/Improv #2: The Empty Canvas is Already Whoopsied

I have an approach/avoidance relationship to mindfulness. Creating an intentionally mindful state is a battle, but hyperfocus, which comes naturally, has trance-like qualities.

The more upsetting recent events have been, the more I have hyperfocused on my labyrinthine coloring book. Can I call it mindful meditation that I completed two posts worth of Where’s Whoopsies in one weekend? Does it help that it was actually soothing?

Or does it no longer count since I derive no comfort from the meditation mantras themselves, just from their repetitive motions? I have only heard one suggested meditation mantra among many that I partially identified with.

“The glass is already broken…”

It is supposed to help you let go of hypervigilance and stop trying to control things that can’t be controlled. Release Attachment, per a Buddhist from another of those worship services I attended in college. Embrace impermanence, the knowledge that both bad and good things will happen (and are transient), and there will be less dukkha from them?

Maybe that is comforting if you aren’t already dealing with crisis. Reminding me the glass is already broken reminds me there won’t be enduring safety at the end of this incarnation of complex trauma anymore than there was after past incarnations. The other shoe will always drop. It may take months or years, but there will be a next incarnation. Acknowledging the cracks in the glass hasn’t yet made it hurt less when it shatters in my hand.

At least, though, it doesn’t make it hurt more. It acknowledges that cracks in the facade have always existed simultaneously alongside the mundane; more than one truth or state of being can coexist. It doesn’t suggest how to do more than merely drift between these states of being, but it acknowledges them. Affirmations that distill to “it’s always darkest before the dawn” don’t seem to grasp the basic truth that after dawn comes dark again?

I’ve been procrastinating writing about my first Improv class. Not because it went terribly, but because I don’t know how to write about trauma one day then turn around and write about humor the next day.

My primary expressions of PTSD are to numb and to become even more pedantic. I become a bit of a caricature of myself, but, otherwise, I am not drastically different. I can maintain a career and go to Improv while dealing with trauma. My work knows there is a situation. I had to make an emergency trip earlier this month and take critical calls during business hours. (I have stayed later and come in on weekends to keep up. Not feasible forever with chronic illness, but what can I do?) I meant it literally when I said I can deal with trauma on Tuesday and go to work on Wednesday – and Improv on Sunday.

I can live that dichotomy, but I can’t write it without fearing I’ll come across as heartless or indifferent. It accomplishes nothing, though, to destabilize everything else in my life for a crisis for which the “best” outcome is simply a return to pre-crisis stasis. Fighting for the continued humane care of someone many people consider a “drain on society” is also more likely to work if you personally subvert that stereotype. I feel a warped sense of relative safety when people can’t tell I’m already broken.

My last post is somewhat different than most in media res mental health posts. It was, however, written during an emotional flashback. It is not the only #advocacy post of mine written during one.

How then do I write about pantomiming a “glass half full” in Improv without appearing to either discount just how broken that glass also is, or how much it hurts that it is? How do I write those competing realities? Ironically, a mantra drilled into us in Improv is, I think, the closest I can come to writing the paradox of PTSD that isn’t “P.”

Improv is incredibly hard and surprisingly intuitive. The first half of class, where we practice cueing, mirroring our partner, and timing, is daunting in exactly the way I hoped. The second half, generating random associations quickly while looking natural, is effectively training neurotypicals to embrace ADHD.

One of the games is called  “Yes, And.” Good Improv accepts whatever has happened as truth. It builds upon, not negates, what came before (“And,” not “But.”) You might be pantomiming being lost in the woods. Your partner thinks you are portraying a stumbling drunk. Your character from then on is drunk. You have all possible responses in the world available except for one. You can’t deny being drunk. You have to work with what now is, and integrate it with your original plan.

I don’t get whiplash phasing between these realities. (I just have to remember to catch my partner’s eye for as long as it takes to mentally say “red ball?” before I speak.) I confessed my ADHD to the instructor. He told me that, at least in Improv, I’m lucky. Timing is apparently easier to train than nonlinear thinking.

I don’t derive comfort from embracing the simultaneous realities in which the solid glass from which I’m drinking is also broken. I don’t deny either reality, either. The glass is already broken, and no amount of positive thinking or Pinterest pins will make it be otherwise. I do derive comfort from knowing there exists at least one “mantra” that moves beyond just affirming the existence of multiple realities and tries to build momentum within them.

Yes, the apparently whole glass is also simultaneously broken. That truth is encoded too deeply within my white matter tracts and knotted muscle fibers to forget. Yes, complex trauma is – and always will be – an uncomfortable truth to have to integrate into a collective narrative that expects it will always get better (or at least that you will always get over it.) Yes, recognizing these truths initially made me afraid to write about them. Not everyone can handle that integration.

Yes, And?

(999 words)

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.


10 thoughts on “Wheres’s Whoopsie #3/Improv #2: The Empty Canvas is Already Whoopsied

  1. I get so mad when I mess up my colouring book with a mistakes. It sounds like you are a perfectionist like me! Perhaps aknowledgeing than distract from the negative helps one to move on. What a very helpful post. All the best to you, Amy Belle

    Liked by 1 person

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