"I Go Back to May 1937"

I Go Back to May 1937
By Sharon Olds

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the   
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks,
the wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips aglow in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,   
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are   
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.   
I want to go up to them and say Stop,   
don’t do it—she’s the wrong woman,   
he’s the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,   
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you have not heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty face turning to me,   
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome face turning to me,   
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,   
but I don’t do it. I want to live. I   
take them up like the male and female   
paper dolls and bang them together   
at the hips, like chips of flint, as if to   
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

How Different Are We From Animals?

This is a stunning, deeply moving story of an abused primate; the story of his journey from a dysfunctional outcast to a healthy member of his community. It raises many questions about the effects of abuse on humans and throws me for a loop regarding the Nature/Nurture debate.

I am so convinced at times that my symptoms are purely neurological, but I cannot forget that chronic verbal abuse, neglect, and constant overstimulation had a tremendous effect on my mental health. Nature and Nurture are inextricably linked.

What is very difficult for me in reading this story is that love can be so powerful, so healing.
I truly was not loved by my parents and had no real support system to make up for that. Brian the bonobo seems to have been rescued from a life of misery with a holistic approach that depended heavily on love and support.

I am stunned that I am somewhat envious, but this helps me keep the faith. It keeps me humble in the face of animals that are very much like us and we are very much like them.

Brian The Mentally Ill Bonobo And How He Healed
By Alexis C. Madrigal
It took a troop of apes, and a psychiatrist, and a little Paxil.

“Things were not looking good for Brian. He'd been kept from the affection of his mother—and all other women—and raised alone by his father, who sexually traumatized him. Normal social interactions were impossible for him. He couldn't eat in front of others and required a series of repeated, OCD-like rituals before he'd take food. He was scared of any new thing, and when he got stressed, he'd just curl up into the fetal position and scream.

He also hurt himself over and over, tearing off his own fingernails and intentionally cutting his genitals. He was socially outcast, left to clap his hands, spin in circles, and stare blankly at walls by himself.
Still, some other bonobos were kind to him. Kitty, a 49-year-old blind female, and Lody, a 27-year-old male, spent time with Brian. When he panicked, Lody sometimes led him by the hand to their playpen at the Milwaukee County Zoo.

After six weeks, the zookeepers knew they had to do something. They called Harry Prosen, who was the chair of the psychiatry department at the Medical College of Wisconsin, who took Brian on as his first non-human patient.”

Brian’s story comes from a new book: Animal Madness: How anxious dogs, compulsive parrots, and elephants in recovery help us understand ourselves by Laurel Braitman.

If these stories do not move you, you have no heart.

Click the title to read Brian’s story. Clicking on “Animal Madness” will direct you to the book on Amazon. Savor!

Abuse Takes Toll On The Brain

Not that surprising, and we must find hope in brain plasticity and the ability of the brain to “rewire” itself. Yet, that is a long, hard journey. Prevention (if possible) is key.

Read the full article here:

Studies Report Early Childhood Trauma Takes Visible Toll on Brain
Published: October 16, 2012.  By  Society for Neuroscience

“Trauma in infancy and childhood shapes the brain, learning, and behavior, and fuels changes that can last a lifetime, according to new human and animal research released today. The studies delve into the effects of early physical abuse, socioeconomic status (SES), and maternal treatment. Documenting the impact of early trauma on brain circuitry and volume, the activation of genes, and working memory, researchers suggest it increases the risk of mental disorders, as well as heart disease and stress-related conditions in adulthood.

• Physical abuse in early childhood may realign communication between key "body-control" brain areas, possibly predisposing adults to cardiovascular disease and mental health problems (Layla Banihashemi, PhD, abstract 691.12, see attached summary).

• Rodent studies provide insight into brain changes that allow tolerance of pain within mother-pup attachment (Regina Sullivan, PhD, abstract 399.19, see attached summary).

• Childhood poverty is associated with changes in working memory and attention years later in adults; yet training in childhood is associated with improved cognitive functions (Eric Pakulak, PhD, abstract 908.04, see attached summary).

• Chronic stress experienced by infant primates leads to fearful and aggressive behaviors; these are associated with changes in stress hormone production and in the development of the amygdala (Mar Sanchez, PhD, abstract 691.10, see attached summary).

Another recent finding discussed shows that:
• Parent education and income is associated with children's brain size, including structures important for memory and emotion (Suzanne Houston, MA, see attached speaker's summary).”

Projection of Abuse

Tearful Rags Andrea
I recently made a major move to a new home. In the process I came across these two old friends of mine -- Rags Andrea and Tet Bear (yes “Tet.”) I was not interested in dolls as a child but I anthropomorphized stuffed animals; Rags was the exception. What I found striking is I had drawn tears on Rags’ face. She is also stained with my own tears. It is so obvious I was projecting my sadness onto her. I did this with my pet dog as well; I treated her poorly, yelled at her, then asked her forgiveness.

My mother (the amazing seamstress) made Rags’ new dress -- the old one had literally disintegrated. I have no recollection of my mother making a single comment to me re: why Rags’ was crying. It also seems I put a happy face on her; why I don’t know. I suppose it reflects the dual nature of my survival instinct -- deep sadness and fear combined with a “happy” exterior -- the false face which was safer to project in my mother’s presense.

I also had a dollhouse, but it was likewise inhabited by animals. A small mouse was the matriarch of the family, but she was not married. She had a live-in companion.

Children are far more observant than adults give them credit for. Read More...