Crowdsourcing Art!: Feb 2023

If you know me irl, you might know that I do not enjoy having a body.

I have no problem with your body. Your body is great, it’s lovely, it’s wonderful, it’s acceptable in all its imperfection… but me? I’m just a floating head…That’s where I felt safe (past tense, because I am challenging this belief!). I know conceptually I have a body…but that knowledge (LOL) is not embodied. I don’t mind attention, like you can look at me when I shared an idea, or knowledge, or advice… but to look at me because I *exist* otherwise? Intolerable.

In the summer, I had a very humiliating experience: I was attending a show, minding my own business, when the host stopped mid-way through his speech to draw all the attention of the very large room to me. The host wasn’t trying to hurt* me…in fact, he was giving me a lovely compliment, but I was incredibly embarrassed… to be suddenly and unexpectedly placed into the spotlight. I turned red. I broke out into sweats. I could feel everyone’s eyes on me. I felt a deep deep shame. I know I was asked if I was okay, by the bar manager who had come to take my food order… by my friend at the table. I could only gasp. I heard a buzzing in my ears. I was working hard to hold back tears.

I was so frightened, I had lost my voice… but the answer was obvious: no, I was not okay. I wished to leave immediately… but how could I? The show had now started, the lights were bright, I was clearly visible, to leave would draw even more attention and perhaps hurt the host’s feelings…what was the big deal anyway? I was just overreacting! So, my body stayed, but me? I left.  

Self-criticism appears to have a very different effect on our body. The amygdala is the oldest part of the brain, and is designed to quickly detect threats in the environment. When we experience a threatening situation, the fight-or-flight response is triggered: The amygdala sends signals that increases blood pressure, adrenaline, and the hormone cortisol, mobilizing the strength and energy needed to confront or avoid a threat. Although this system was designed by evolution to deal with physical attacks, it is activated just as readily by emotional attacks. By ourselves or others.

Dr. Kristen Neff, The Physiology of Self-Compassion

Disassociation (a freeze response), shaming myself and then denial! Also, fun survival fact about me: I laugh involuntarily when I am scared (and sometimes angry). In addition, I have been trained to use humour to defuse emotionally uncomfortable situations! There’s pros and cons to this strategy… but it’s really hard to express what your needs are if you are not connected to yourself, and laughing at yourself… and it turns out my body is part of myself.

Sooooooooo, I am very intentionally trying to find a sense of safety in my body. That’s my focus right now — it’s been *incredibly* hard, but I am getting better at it. In my body, lives all these experiences (like the one above) that I now have to confront (instead of avoid). I now have to be here, mindfully, with my body… and trust that it knows what it’s doing. Our bodies has a self-healing system, and according to Dr. Kristen Neff, we can hack into it with soothing touch! In doing so, we engage in an effective self-compassion strategy.

So enjoy the podplay I made all about self-compassion! You’ll be guided into a self-hold — and thus you will active that care system! It is designed for Trout Lake, (on unceded territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm Nations) but I believe you can do it wherever, since you are basically just moving your arms. I am curious to know what you think, so please report back!

Here’s me acknowledging my body. I feel disgusted!
[photos by Chelsey Stuyt photography]

(*to be frank, I’m not actually sure what the host’s intention was. The host never apologized or acknowledged how frightened I became. Later, he told me he enjoyed seeing me be publicly humiliated like that. He did it again to me at another show, but I was somewhat expecting it, surrounded by a very large group of folks I knew including some of my best friends, in a smaller venue and so I felt a lot less threatened. Folks came up to me after and stated I “handled” it a lot better than before… again, because there was a clear recognition that I was not okay the first time. I hold myself accountable here. I never expressed my need [a boundary: do not call me out on the mic at shows]. I also never told the host about my internal experience; and if I did, I likely diminished it/laughed it off… so I didn’t call for a repair: I was really scared, can you please acknowledge that and help me find safety again?, and of course, I am responsible for staying with someone who told me how he got pleasure from publicly humiliating me without my consent [another example: holding a poll with his friends to determine if I cry too much] .)

Fool Master

Working as a nurse has given me the (financial) freedom to travel a ton, move spontaneous, take a variety of classes and go to lots of parties. I do not get emotional satisfaction from the work, and I do not get virtue points (but I do notice others endow me with them. I invite you to experiment with this, the next time you talk to a stranger who you won’t meet again, say you are nurse. If you are a nurse, say you are a sex worker. Please report back if the stranger had a different response to you regarding moral assumptions about your character).

It was requested that I explore the trope of the high school mean girl who goes into nursing. I mean, the logic is flawed. I offer the following arguments:

(1) gendered profession, specifically “traditionally” female occupation. Relating to assumptions around female/ femininity & caretaking.
— In Canada, about 91% of nurses were female in 2021 (CIHI, 2022).
— Historically, the body of the trained “modern” Canadian nurse was a white middle-classed ciswoman (McPherson, 2003). Prior to the era of the “modern’ nurse, much of Canadian health care was provided by nuns or lay women. Thusly, the female high schooler, bully or not, has a higher probability of entering a female profession like nursing.

(2) the ideals of nursing – compassionate and caring – make a strong contrast between the profession’s virtue and the cruelty of adolescent behaviour.
–reinforces a binary between “good”/”bad”
–accusation of bullying are an ego hit for the profession, resulting in defensiveness + more attention to the trope
–more interesting/memorable for the person looking up their bully due to the [moral] expectation that nurses are good/nice/kind/caring/compassionate.
The public’s perception of nursing generates expectations for the behaviour and morality of the nurse that may or may not align with their lived experience/ impression of the human being doing the work.

(3) Nursing is a job. People, in all their complexities, do jobs to survive in capitalism.

$$$

In my final year of high school, I made a video yearbook. Most of the footage has me behind the camera – but in this short clip, I am the subject.

Context: We are in chemistry and setting up for an experiment. I recall that in the end, we needed to use another group’s data to complete the lab report. I also know, I tried to get even more safety goggles from surrounding groups, but my other classmates were unwilling to give them to me as they were working. Finally, my intention was purposefully to be funny/silly, and my speech is improvised.

C : Say hi Kyra, the fool

K, in a serious voice: Hi, my name is Jessinta Kyra Philbert [N: and I look like an idiot], and today, I’m looking at children… in chemistry.
As you can see, I’m being extra safe by wearing as many safety googles as I could get my hands on.

A: Practicing for journalism school Kyra?

N: Yeah, you sound kinda stupid.

K: N____, A____ secretary.

A: I’m not the secretary! I got turned into secretary ’cause N can’t do his job properly.

N: I told you I wasn’t going to be secretary.

K: This is Kyra Philbert, reporting.

N: Get this on film! [*throws a balled up piece of paper at Kyra’s face*]

K, in regular voice: *laughing* I hate you!

Kyra- the fool.

What strikes me – beyond the casual violence – is that I didn’t go to journalism school. Not even comedy or an arts degree! I went into nursing! A choice that everyone thought was bizarre. A choice I double-downed on, in part, because everyone else thought it was a terrible idea.

I wouldn’t say I was mean in high school but I also wasn’t particularly nice or kind. I was known for being weird, smart, social, funny and emotional. (My whoremoans were next level. I am thankful everyday for wise ageing and less raging).

I went into nursing because I wanted a university degree, able to work immediately after and to be financially independent. I also went into nursing because I did not feel brave enough to be a creator.

I cry at the start of every movie
I guess ’cause I wish I was making things too
But I’m working for the knife

I used to think I would tell stories
But nobody cared for the stories I had

Mitski, “Working for the Knife”

Working as a nurse has given me the (financial) freedom to travel a ton, move spontaneous, take a variety of classes and go to lots of parties. I do not get emotional satisfaction from the work, and I do not get virtue points (but I do notice others endow me with them. I invite you to experiment with this, the next time you talk to a stranger who you won’t meet again, say you are nurse. If you are a nurse, say you are a sex worker. Please report back if the stranger had a different response to you regarding moral assumptions about your character).

Speaking of nursing and morality!
I have completed my master’s of science in nursing thesis. It is written in an academic style, but also I think there are some spicy moments (particularly in chapters 4 and 5). If you like my favourite theorist Sara Ahmed, you will appreciate the sweaty, sweaty, stinky conceptual work I’ve done in these 92 pages!

[and full disclosure, I do not feel “proud” beyond intellectually. I feel that I should be proud. What I notice is that I’m fixated on small errors that are now forever viewable; that I got an 90% (A+) but immediately obsessively googled to see what the average thesis grade was at UBC… and then felt relief in my shame when I saw the ‘average’ for the course was 91%– validation that I am not actually good; that I feel bad for feeling bad; that I am not meeting expectations; that I am forever difficult; that I had a series of escalating meltdown writing the acknowledgement/dedication because it brought up a lot of complex feelings for me; that I amplify those complex feelings by denying them; that I amplified them more by shaming them: you are a fool!] So I hold of this suffering, imperfection, and self-criticism in love and kindness while sharing in the spirit of common humanity.

Nurse Angélique : revisioning French Catholic nursing history as an ethical intervention in contemporary Canadian nursing practice

$$$
Finally, I am grateful that I am experimenting in creation more.
Two quick things:
(1) Thanks to everyone who voted in my last post, please look forward to a podplay experience in Trout Lake, about self-compassion and intertwining! Available on spotify here; or feel free to read about the process
(2) Save the date(s) peeps on unceded territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm Nations: I’ll be hosting a weekly event over 5 consecutive Sundays evenings in Mount Pleasant specifically to showcase queer performance art. March 19th to April 16th, 7pm-9.30pm. READ MORE

May I feel loved

I have a rule about when I have an experience of shame: I tell 3 friends immediately.

I do it because cognitively I know that shame thrives in secrecy and silence (thank Brené Brown!)… so by sharing this experience with folks I know love me, I receive empathy and understanding. In turn, the shame can’t survive.

It is super hard.

Now here I am, not just telling my close circle about my shame… but writing about it publicly. The shame I’ve been carrying for much of my life is destroying me. I need to let it go… and I recognize putting it all out there is how I will facilitate that process. My conscious journey with shame beings in 2017. I had a breakup that prompted me to seek intensive therapy. It was a very valuable experience. Now, 5 years later, my focus is no longer on changing myself… but embracing the person I am. I want to be perfect, and never hurt anyone ever… but it’s not realistic and it’s not serving me. So, in an act of self-compassion, I share my shame as I find my strength in my extreme softness.

;;;

I’m on stage in an improv class. There are 3 other players with me, and we’re doing some sort of theatre game. I approach my improv friend Iris and get quite close. I do not touch her, but I am closer than I would get to a stranger. She shifts away from me. I do it again. She does it again. I do it a final time. She again moves. I had initially thought we were playing, but something in her body language is telling me that I’m invading her space. I stop. Instead, I turn and do the same action to another classmate, who leans right in. The scene carries on, class continues, and I forget.

Until days later, I am walking along Broadway when Iris texts me. It was a sunny day, and I had been feeling pretty good. Iris lets me know she felt uncomfortable with me getting so close in the last class. She assumes I have a crush on her. I recognize that she is giving me valuable feedback on my behaviour, and I’m certain it was very hard for her to send that message. I apologize profusely, promise to not do it again and clarify that I don’t have a crush on her.

Meanwhile, my body is breaking down. I don’t know what is happening. I am mortified… but it’s more than just feeling embarrassed. My face is bright red. It’s winter, I can see my breath but now I’m unbearably hot. I am sweating. I am shaking. I want to die. I want to jump in front of a car, and just die. I want to curl up into a little ball and hide forever. I feel so gross.

I have thoughts like:

She thought I was being sexually inappropriate towards her!

I’m a predator!

I am an abuser!

I cannot keep people safe!

I don’t know how to respect boundaries!

I am bad!

The thoughts are intense. The feelings are super big. I am worried I will act impulsively. I take 3 big deep breaths. I scan my environment and note 5 things. I calm myself down enough to call a friend… to ask… if I am abusive…if I am respectful… if I am good… because I am not so sure anymore.

;;;

The worksheet my counsellor Winnie gifts me begins with a questionnaire. Do You Suffer from Debilitating Shame Due to Childhood Abuse? It is adapted from Beverly Engle’s book “It Wasn’t Your Fault”. I picked Winnie specifically because she gives out homework. I need homework. I need tangible things to hold and do so I feel like I am making progress. I know how to do homework. I am good at school, and I am good at learning. It’s the only shred of hope I have.

At the time, I am living in absolute agony, but it’s mostly invisible. By all accounts, I’m doing well: I go to work. I go to school. I pay my bills. I see my friends. Talk to my family… but I’m crying a lot.

My roommates have requested I stop crying at home because my sobbing is disruptive to them. I regularly crawl out of bed at 3 am and sit in my car… but the tears won’t flow there. I try to cry in public, but strangers approach to comfort me and then I end up reassuring them. I only feel safe in my bed… it’s the only place my body wants to release… I memorize my roommates’ schedules to know when I can feel as big as I need.

I’ve stopped sleeping.  

I’ve stopped eating.

I’m in physical pain – my heart is aching all the time.

I’ve made plans to end my life.

I think about dying all. the. time.

;;;

There are 35 items on the questionnaire. A series of yes/no questions.

-Do you believe you made it difficult for your parents or others to love you?

-Are you a perfectionist?

-Do you feel you are basically unlovable?

-Do you feel ugly – inside and out?

-Are you a people pleaser?

-Are you afraid of what you’re capable of doing?

-Do you always blame yourself if something goes wrong in a relationship?

-Do you neglect your body, your health, or your emotional needs?

The instructions at the end report there is no formal scoring, but “if you answered yes to many of these questions, you can be assured that you are suffering from debilitating shame. If you answered yes to just a few, it is still evident that you have an issue with shame.”

;;;

I go home for the holidays. It’s incredibly expensive to fly cross country, but I’ve been really struggling. I think that being with my family would be healing. It is, but ways that are not immediately or obviously. Here are three vignettes of that visit:

(1) Mom
My mom is planning a holiday party. She wants me to pick up dishes for catering and is incredibly stressed. She is requesting my help, and I want to help her… but she’s not listening to my boundaries. I am telling her no about the timing, it doesn’t work for my schedule, but she keeps pushing. I ask her why she is focused on me when she could request my just-as-capable brother’s assistance. She tells me that I respond better to guilt. That I am easier to manipulate.

(2) Dad
I try to talk to my dad about his behaviour when he came to visit me in ‘Vancouver’ (on unceded territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh and Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm) during the summer. He interrupts me, do you blame me for your breakup!?.

I don’t blame him, but I explain that I have only ever introduced one partner ever, who I was deeply in love with, to my family… and they actively mocked me during the entire interaction… my competence, my character, my concerns…and the reality that she broke up with me later that same night… and used their behaviour as evidence of my failings… was not a coincidence… “I don’t blame you, but… ”. He has stopped listening because he tells me he knows me better than I know myself. He informs me that I’m just being overly emotional again. He refocuses the conversation on my reaction about the breakup. You are ruminating, he tells me.

(3) Stepmom
I don’t exactly remember what preceded this incident, likely I had an emotional reaction. My stepmom comes into my childhood bedroom. She has known me since I was 8 years old and was integral to raising me. She tells me that she loves me because she must as family but doesn’t understand how I have any friends. My friends have a choice to have a relationship with me, but she doesn’t. She informs me that I am so unlikeable.

;;;

I am a child. I am in the green basement of my childhood home. I’m upset about something. It doesn’t matter, it never matters, what I am upset about. I use my words. I am ignored. I get louder. I am ignored. I get louder, and louder and louder. I am ignored. I do something bigger, something I know cannot be ignored. Maybe I break something. Maybe I punch. Maybe I just keep screaming.

Until

Suddenly

Dad who has been so silent until then

grabs me

and

drags me up

Kicking/ Screaming / Biting

The three flights of stairs

Carpet

Wood

Carpet

To the bedroom

That was assigned to me

Because when they asked me which bedroom I wanted, I said the blue one that looked out over the backyard… but was told that I actually wanted the yellow one… which is bigger… and fit the bed they had already decided I would have.

Where I am to stay. Alone. And “think about my reaction”. And why I can “never control myself”.

;;;

I am a child. We’re at a cottage. Grandpa Rex is there. My mom works for him.  Maybe there is a business meeting happening? I am fuzzy about the details, but I know I am upset about something. It doesn’t matter, it never matters, what I am upset about. Mom listened to me, and we’re doing Kyra’s emotional management plan. Where I go to my designated safe space—to feel however I want to feel and self-regulate. Alone.

Suddenly, Grandpa Rex comes in

And hits me

Hard

For being too loud

And annoying

And emotional.

It is one of my only memories of him. He dies before I turn 8.

;;;

I am a young adult. My mom tells me she must “walk on eggshells” around me because I am so emotional.  She has told me this for a long time. She is reading the book, stop walking on eggshells – a very helpful resource for friends and family for a condition that *I do not have!* – She has a very close friend, a child psychiatrist, who makes bold claims about me without knowing me…and reassures my mom that I am the problem… which she takes the liberty of sharing with me… to remind me that I need to do better around controlling my feelings.

;;;

We’re in the backyard, it’s the summer. My best male friend is over with my family. We are having a small party before I go back to university. The mood is light. The jokes start… how no one will ever want to marry me. How I’m ‘too’ much, ‘so difficult’, loveable but only after overlooking all of my horrible, tremendous flaws. I have so many. I would be lucky if anyone expresses any romantic interest in me at all. They would all commend the person who could love me.

Everyone is laughing hysterically.

;;;

In my family, it was clear that as a girl/woman, the pinnacle of my existence would be my marriage. My capacity to be a wife… and then eventually… a mother.

;;;

My shame, particularly flairs up in romantic relationships when I feel emotions… specifically negative emotions. My shame blooms if I think I’ve crossed a boundary, even if it was a boundary I couldn’t have possibly known was there. Even if I stopped immediately. Even if I rationally know that there is a big difference between abusive behaviour and accidently crossing boundaries.

;;;

There are racial elements to this… and this shame extends past my family of origin into society at large. The Combahee River Statement must write that Black women are inherently valuable so deep runs this racial shame. How I am seen as a Black woman… needing to be put back in her place. How I was treated as a Black girl, denied a childhood in so many ways. Viewed as aggressive when I’d disagree or when I don’t behave in legible ways. Severe punishments for minor infractions.

;;;

Winnie helps name the experience with Iris for me: “shame spiral”. I had never heard that term before. She gives me the handout on debilitating shame- the one I am quoting now. She tells me the antidote is self-compassion. She is impressed with me that I shared with others. “That was exactly the right thing to do.”.

After many months, it’s her kind voice that replaces the hypercritical voice of my ex living in my head. An auditory hallucination of my shame, replaced by empathy.

;;;

Shame is busted with empathy, and you can also give empathy to yourself through self-compassion. A final exercise from Engle’s book. You use this sentence, and fill in the blank with as many responses as you can think of

Given my history of abuse, it is understandable that _________

I believe I am unloveable

I feel unattractive

I struggle with expressing my anger

Apologize when I’ve done nothing wrong

Restrict my food intake to punish my body

Take all negative feedback as truth

Believe others over my own instincts

Run away when I get scared/hurt

Accept harsh criticism by my romantic partners

Ignore my own desires to prioritize others/the group

Fear I might hurt others like how I’ve been hurt

;;;

Well…

Shame is a really sticky beast! I’m not sure how to end this… beyond that self-compassion is a really useful tool… and that more vulnerability will make the world a better place… Brené Brown says “vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” and I want to be able to feel loved.

For I am enough.