Tag Archives: Dissertation

migraines and NSAIDS and dissertations, oh my!

Well, it has been a week of migraines. My normal med, Fioricet, wasn’t working but was still giving me the “saps all my energy for a day” side effect, so I called my neurologist. Of course it took over a day for him to get back to me and then it was to tell me to take the NSAID powder he had given me a sample of. Interestingly, my memory of the instructions were that I was only to take it before the migraine became full-blown. So, I took it and so far it seems to be working. I’m dizzy and it tasted awful, but it seems to have at least temporarily knocked out the major pain of the migraine. I’m still left with the fun fogginess and dizziness that are the lovely side effects of all of these meds. However, it is better than the mind crushing pain of the migraine. So now I’m back at my desk preparing to respond to the email interviews that I began this week. (Hence, the “dissertation” part of this title.) The migraines have slowed me down, but I’ve used the foggy moments, during which time writing is not an option, to organize my notes, collate some of the collected data, and enter sources into my Sente database. Hopefully, I can write a post soon on my digital workflow. For now, suffice it to say I have made great progress in my (finally re-approved by the IRB) research study, thanks to the help of my participants, who have been wonderfully forthcoming in answering surveys and now interview questions. To any of you who read this, thank you so much! I’m so lucky to have a set of participants who believe in the importance of this research. It really keeps me going through these times of my own personal difficulties.

getting unstuck: the cat formerly known as a blogger

I’m feeling a little like a former blogger these days. I know blogging is good for me and I want to blog, but it seems that I let everything else come before blogging. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal if I weren’t writing my dissertation on blogging. Well, it’s on trauma and blogging but close enough. So, I’ve been asking myself the question: what’s got you stuck? You have the ideas. You (kinda sorta) have the time. You have the access to computers and internet pretty much 24/7.  And yet.

It turns out this insomnia thing is working well for me tonight because I’m making myself ask that question and, perhaps more importantly, answer it. Guilt. If I’m on the computer and typing, then I should be writing my dissertation, right? Yes and no. First of all, in spite of how I feel and often behave, my dissertation isn’t the only thing in my life, but I usually feel that way. I tend to connect everything that I do to my research, whether it be reading, writing, internet surfing, or even watching tv. The obvious solution would be to blog about my dissertation. Works in theory but in practice I’ve been in a research study holding pattern until this past Friday. My school’s IRB determined that my study was not exempt and after months of back and forth finally gave official approval on Friday. I’ve been afraid to blog about my dissertation before getting that approval. It’s not that I’m going to publish anything that I don’t have permission to post, but the delay put me in this weirdly fearful holding pattern as though someone might read something that I post and not like it. All in all, I’ve been really stressed and when I get really stressed, I often freeze up. I get stuck. Well, here’s to getting unstuck and once more attempting to take my own advice.

Slight digression {{ Last night I went to a local restaurant/bar/coffee house where I go sometimes to work and get out of the house. I was sitting at the bar, having a bloody mary, and reading How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves (for my dissertation of course). An acquaintance of mine sat next to me and remarked on my book and how he usually wrote stories but hadn’t lately. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to or didn’t have ideas but he just wasn’t writing. So, I suggested he use a strategy that I use in writing my dissertation: set a word count goal (I use 500), sit down, and make yourself write until you meet the goal. (This is in no way an original idea, btw.) The idea is just to get started. Maybe it will work and you’ll keep going and it will be wonderful writing. On the other hand, it might be crap, but at least you met you tried and you can get the satisfaction of meeting your goal. }}

So, my advice to myself is to employ that same practice with blogging. My blogging resolution is to try to write a blog post each day; don’t obsess over it being perfect (as this one obviously is not); and publish the damn thing. (I have way too many blog posts sitting in the never-ever land of “Draft”) I’m putting this out there for anyone (still) reading this blog: my blog posts will probably not be very polished but on the plus side, maybe they’ll actually exist.

Introducing “Writing/Fighting to Survive: The Rhetorical Strategies of Trauma Bloggers”

As I reconstruct my dissertation–rewriting, revising, conducting a new research study–I’ve been considering many of the questions that reappear in my personal research journal. Since my research isn’t just my research, I can’t really make my research reflections fully public. Some of the things that I reflected on were concerns for specific participants (I include this here because I am conducting a new research study to complete my dissertation and have an entirely different set of research participants) or feelings that were at the time too personal to share with my blogging audience. I’m beginning to test out these boundaries now for several reasons. First, blogging is good for me. Seriously, it’s like vitamin C (and not the sunshine and vitamin C that I joke about being in clove cigarettes) and warm chamomile tea followed by a slug of peppermint oil to wake up your brain. As Father Ong (That’s Walter J. Ong, S.J. to all of you non-Purdue, non-rhet/comp geeks like me) so aptly put it “the writer’s audience is always a fiction.” So, while writing in my research journal, I am writing to a fictional audience just as you, my dear blog reader, are a fiction in your own way, writing in my blog makes the audience less fictional. Sure, I imagine you when I write and until I hit the “post” button that’s all you are–imagined readers. But the great thing about blogging is that in the moment that my post changes status from “draft” to “published,” you emerge from the ether along with my pixelated thoughts and voila–real readers who write back. And this brings me to…

Here’s a piece of my dissertation introduction for your edification. Feedback is appreciated.

When I wrote my master’s thesis, I began with a story of my own pain, relating it to the purpose and context of my subject matter. I did this because stories matter. They are how we construct ourselves within the world, how we determine self worth, how we deal with the vicissitudes of living, and most importantly for me, they provide insight into our motivations. Just as motive is important to understanding our life decisions in a broader context, it is important for the scholar in understanding what she chooses to research, to the writer in understanding what she chooses to write about and how. My research deals explicitly with these motivations that compel the trauma blogger to write about their experiences. It seems only fitting that I do the same.

I was first diagnosed with primary PTSD and chronic depression at the age of nineteen. These two diagnoses did not define me but rather put into words what I was experiencing. After a lifetime of painful medical conditions and procedures as well as emotional and physical abuse, my psyche was damaged, so much so that I feared it might never heal. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to meet an amazing therapist who guided me in understanding and working through the traumas that had so disrupted my ability to live fully in this world. In addition, I had a caring psychiatrist who carefully worked with me to find a drug regimen to balance out the neurochemical problems that contributed to my disorders. Many people with PTSD and depression are not as lucky as I have been and/or need to supplement the professional help by engaging in therapeutic techniques that they develop in response to who they are. The people discussed in my research have chosen writing as the vehicle for their therapy, more specifically they have chosen blogging.

Like the bloggers that I discuss, I needed to develop my own techniques for dealing with my trauma. Unsurprisingly these techniques were rooted in my previous experiences of dealing with problems. First, I researched; I read everything I could find on PTSD. I read clinical studies, psychological theories, research into the causes and effects of PTSD, narratives, and literary theory. I became consumed with learning about trauma, convinced that if I could only understand it, I could defeat it. Since then I have written about and researched trauma extensively; I have posed theories about trauma and language; I have analyzed works of literary fiction and nonfiction; and after I became a blogger, I began studying the writing of trauma bloggers. My academic and scholarly nature lead me to deal with my trauma in concert with my professional development. However, throughout all of this I discovered that what helped most was not the research and reading but the writing about it. Like these trauma bloggers, writing became my therapeutic outlet. Yet my writing did not fall into the traditional rubric of therapeutic writing; it was and is primarily academic in nature and doesn’t fall into the genre of therapeutic journalling. In spite of this, I have found it to be more rewarding than writing about the specific experiences and perhaps more importantly, it feels safer. Those feelings of safety are often what allow victims to write about feelings and experiences that they cannot speak of.

My own experience inspired the questions that I explore here. What has motivated these bloggers to write? More specifically, why did they choose blogging rather than private journals? Why have they chosen personal blogs as opposed to the support forums that are plentiful? And when they sit down to write a blog entry, why do they do it? What experiences motivate them to take the time to sit and write and publish their thoughts? And I don’t mean the traumas that are the origin of their PTSD; I mean the experiences that directly precede the act of writing the entry. How do they respond to the experience in content and form? Do they write about the experience, the emotions that the experience engenders, or do they externalize like me and write about what they learn through the media and reading? I want to know what the writing means to them and if it helps. I want to know the answers to all of these questions, but to answer them I need to start at the beginning—the motivation.

As Kenneth Burke has noted “motives are shorthand terms for situations” (p. 30, Permanence & Change). In making this claim, he is explaining that motives are more complex than we usually perceive them to be. Motives are situations that we recognize through a pattern of stimuli and response that have occurred with enough frequency that we have generated a word for them. For example, my motivation in writing this is what I would describe as a desire to help myself and others. My “desire to help” is actually my response to a situation in which I see a pattern. Specifically, there are people who are hurting and who deserve to have their voices heard; I want to have my voice heard; I want to do my part in helping these people; and I am best equipped to help through my training as a rhetorician and scholar. So, there is a situation that involves both stimulus and response that I have translated into the words “a desire to help.” The motivations of the bloggers that I am discussing are no less complicated. Understanding the situational context of their writing helps me to understand what interactions constitute their defined motives which then helps me understand their writing. To clarify, the writing in this context is the response, and I am trying to identify the stimuli and understand the response and by making connections between stimuli and response understand motive.

So, the reader may have a question here: why do motives matter? An excellent question deserving of an explanation. I refer back to Burke to answer this. In examining motive I am actually looking at three linked concepts: orientation, motivation, and communication. Trauma victims’ orientation has been disrupted by their response to trauma. It’s really not dissimilar to being lost. The structures or landmarks that you use to determine your position are no longer there; you are disoriented and to find your way you must find those structures. “Orientation is a bundle of judgments as to how things were, how they are, and how they may be.” (14) Orientation is a means of understanding the world, when it is lost or disrupted, so is the individual sense of self and well being. Motivation is directly related to one’s orientation. The stimuli and response to a given situation (and the naming of it) are understood through prior experience. For the traumatized their orientation, influenced by trauma, results in response to stimuli that can be harmful in a multitude of ways. Because their response doesn’t always make sense in the way that we might normally understand it, they can’t attribute a word for it. They can’t give the situation a name. Thus, they cannot communicate their experience and that is what makes traumatic experiences traumatic—the disabling effect that they have on our ability to communicate. Communication is how we make connections to others. Ultimately these three concepts are circular. Communication helps us to reestablish orientation. Being able to communicate the trauma and experiences returns the ability to situate that bundle of judgments that is our orientation. Since my argument here is that writing allows us to process information differently and in some ways more effectively than other forms of communication, I need to understand the motive for writing as opposed to talking and the efficacy of blogging as the means of communicating these experiences. I also am trying to determine how blogging may move the blogger toward more stable orientation.

memories of finding and losing myself in words

.

Part One: A Perspective from March 2010, Finding Myself in Words

Alice Walker


As I work on my dissertation I’ve been reading essays by some of my favorite authors. Most of them are women. One of them is Alice Walker. For some reason I’ve been particularly teary today. While taking a break from my reading and writing, I cried over a Buffy, The Vampire Slayer episode (“Amends” for my fellow Buffy fans). Before that I teared up at one of the more poignant Death Cab for Cutie songs. Now I am tearing up after reading portions of In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens. I’ve read it before. Some of the essays I’ve even read dozens of times, and they’ve always affected me deeply. Writers like Alice Walker, Adrienne Rich, Toni Morrison, bell hooks (to name a few) resonate deeply with me and often my first readings of the works that affect me most remain imprinted on my memory. Perhaps it is like this for other readers as well, visceral memories of when they first uncovered a favorite text and felt their lives change. Truly, I am not being hyperbolic here; words have changed my life. I would go so far as to say that they have saved my life. In my most difficult hours I have turned to the solace of books. It’s why I studied creative writing at SC Governor’s School for the Arts when I was a teenager. It’s why I became a scholar. Even more importantly, it’s why I teach and study writing. In particular my early exposure to these writers made me even more committed to writing about the voices that aren’t often heard, voices like those of trauma bloggers.

I’ve always been an avid reader. During the summer my mother would often drop me off at the public library when she went to work and pick me up that evening when she left. Inevitably I would be carrying several bags of books, a habit I have brought with me into adulthood (the carrying of excessive numbers of books). On the weekends, she would drop me off at the outlet mall near our home where I would spend the day scavenging through the books at a remainders store, searching for hidden treasures. That book store is probably why I belong to an almost assuredly small population of people who read Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being at age fourteen. There were other great books to be found there. At thirteen I read Benazir Bhutto’s autobiography and Colin Turnbull’s The Forest People. It was there that I found my first Alice Walker novel, Possessing the Secret of Joy. (I know what you were thinking, but The Color Purple came later.) After that I became obsessed with learning more about female genital mutilation and the activism surrounding it. Believe me when I say that I was quite popular after choosing FGM as a presentation topic for one of my middle school classes. What can I say? I was a strange kid.

 

Part Two: The Present Tense, Finding and Losing Myself in Words

Photo by Jennareally CC Licensed

I’ve been reading a lot lately, and not my usual diet of academic essays, theoretical and critical works, philosophical treatises, and infinite news sources, blogs, and magazines. Of course, these have still been a steady part of my diet. They are, after all, my meat and potatoes, my sustenance. However, lately I’ve immersed myself in fiction. Some of it excellently crafted and “literary;” others of a more purely visceral pleasure. Some, I would go so far as to say, delve into the realm of “guilty pleasure.” Long on plot and intrigue but short on poetic language and insight. I’ve been indulging in dessert words. Some of it strong dark chocolate filled with antioxidants and rich pleasure that lingers on the tongue while others are more drugstore candy–sweet in its momentary enjoyment but leaving little lasting memory. In fact, some of my recent forays into fiction have been saccharine, leaving me wondering why I consumed them at all. Of course I do know the answer to that question. It’s one of the things that is at the heart of my love of fiction. True, my love of reading is at its core the knowledge it brings, the insights it reveals, and the questions that raises deep inside of me. But the other side, the pure desire for fiction, is in its ability to provide escape. I’ve needed a lot of escape lately. Reading, you see, is my drug of choice. It saved me from sadness and loneliness as a child, a teenager, and continues to do so through my adulthood. The desire for that escape into fiction is also a kind of warning system, a signal alerting me when I near depression’s abyss. I know when my depression descends into an anhedonia where even books are unable to comfort me that I’ve reached a danger zone. That’s when I have to shift from avoidance to kicking my own butt. Then it’s time to drag myself away from the edge by any means necessary. Sounds a bit dismal, doesn’t it? A perhaps unhealthy attachment to reading? My perspective on it–if you’re going to have an addiction, reading seems like a pretty good one given the alternatives. I think the key is that reading is more than just an escape. It shores me up, helps me build dunes against the erosion that threatens my well-being. The dunes keep me from being beaten down so that I can pull myself away from those dangerous riptides. Pretty impressive mixing of metaphors, huh? Blame it on the fiction overload and the voices of various authors and characters echoing through my head right now.

As I mentioned in my previous post, life has been overwhelming lately. This time in my life has been a seemingly contradictory opening for losing myself in fiction. It has been a time where I’ve had the luxury to indulge  in what has been a necessity. For various reasons (including the financial resources available to me and the unexpected consequence of unemployment) I have had the luxury to escape, to lose myself. Some might argue with my assertion as to the necessity of doing so. But I know myself well enough to know that the only effective strategy for saving myself in these times is to escape. There may be other ways; I just haven’t found them yet. Sometimes you have to lose yourself to find yourself again. I don’t know that I’ve completely accomplished the latter, but I am ready to try again.

But here’s the crux: it’s rare that you have the luxury of living in the extreme peaks and valleys that have been my method of survival. In the past I’ve worked through semesters never indulging in those times of escape and pure pleasure, mostly because I fear that I’ll respond like an addict and ignore the duties of my real life for the joys of escape. When the work is done for the semester, I go on a fiction bender. I fall into the escape until I have to force myself out and face reality again. Ultimately, I know this can’t go on forever. It might be cathartic, but it’s too much and not enough. It’s not healthy. I binge on catharsis then go cold turkey letting reality chip away at my psyche until I can batten down the hatches and find my cathartic shelter before returning to the storm. So, I’m working on a new strategy, and it’s going to take some serious cognitive restructuring. I have to make time to integrate those times of catharsis into my everyday reality. If I don’t, I think that I’ll either be swept away by the storm or forget how to open the hatches once they’ve been shut. It’s going to take willpower to unlearn a behavior thirty two years in the making. (Yes, I realize that I couldn’t read at birth, but my preliterate life was still filled with the escapes of childhood fantasy.) So, how am I going to do it? Well, I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Nothing too impressive. As with any good strategy, it doesn’t rely on one single foundation but a network, so that should one portion fail another should pick up the slack. Built in redundancies have served me well in running websites, maybe they’ll work with running my life as well. Suffice it to say that I don’t have the energy  to go into full details here, so you’ll just have to wait for the next post. (Kind of pathetic in the cliffhanger department, huh?) So, tune in next time to hear how a reading social network, a contest for accountability, a set (but not too rigid) schedule, and a new feature for this blog is going to help my direct my life back towards the tracks.

finding the right/write words

A challenge when writing is always finding the right words to express oneself. When writing about the experiences of others, this becomes even more of a challenge. Add to those challenges the word choices made when writing scholarship that anlayzes the thoughts, experiences, and behavior of others, you find yourself in a quandary of diction that necessarily leaves out important information. As Kenneth Burke has famously noted: “Even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality” (Language as Symbolic Action, 1966, p. 45). Extending this point Burke argues that it can be useful for us to develop new terms that might reflect a different aspect of reality. Ultimately this alters our point of view and allows us to view situations differently and perhaps make observations that would otherwise go unnoticed.

My specific problem is how to talk about those who have been traumatized. The words typically used to describe those who’ve been traumatized are “survivor” or “victim.” A recent interview with a woman who had breast cancer described herself as a “fighter” rather than a survivor. But “fighter” doesn’t seem like the right word either. I guess it comes down to how we define ourselves. Yet for the life of me, I can come up with a word that shakes the preconceived labels already in use. Even as a someone who has been traumatized, I’ve been unable to find a word that works. I would call myself both a victim and a survivor. For me I’ll always be both. A victim of violence that left me traumatized and could have left me dead. I’m not being melodramatic. Situations involving domestic violence (not just the spouse battering kind) frequently result in death, either by the hands of the perpetrator or by their own hand. Sometimes death seems like the only way out of the horrific memories or the current reality. Fortunately, I now look at myself as a survivor but a part of me will still always be a victim, as disempowering as that feels, it’s a reality that I’ve yet to escape. Still, in spite of my own experience, I have yet to come up with a word that hasn’t already been used and that still reflects my experience adequately. Words are tricky things.

I’ve been considering this issue for some time given that  it’s an essential part of my dissertation. My temporary solution–to refer to them as the traumatized. Long term solution is that I’ll ask my participants how they define themselves. It seems only appropriate given that I advocate participatory research. In future research, I’ll add it to my questionnaire. At this point in my research I’ll need to work the email angle. For now, this is what I’ve come up with for my dissertation. So, here’s a little portion of my draft:

One of the challenges in writing about trauma (and in fact in all writing) is the selection of terminology that best reflects the writer’s perception and coincides with how the reader will understand the term. In this circumstance it is important that I define my choice of terminology and the tensions that exist in selecting them.  As Kenneth Burke notes: “Even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality” (1966, p. 45). I am conscious of the fact that the terminology I choose to use here will reflect my selection of reality and will thus deflect from other points of view. The best thing we can do, then, is be conscious of the choices that we make and remember (and supply our reader with the transparency) that these terms are our interpretation of reality.

My conflict here is multi-layered. Not only do I need to recognize that my choices are an interpretation, I find it difficult to actually interpret the reality with the terms available to me. I am uncomfortable using the word “victim” because I feel as though it is a further violation of the person who has been traumatized by placing them in the position of a passive object who has been acted upon. A victim is someone that something happened to, who has been acted upon. The traumatized have already been stripped of their agency by the victimizer and resulting trauma; how can I further strip them of that power? But there is a certain reality to the term victim; it does reflect an important fact—someone hurt them So, why not call them survivors? This is a further difficulty. True, the traumatized have survived their traumatic experiences in the sense that they have not died. However, survival is more than not being dead; it’s about living. As I’ve explained, the traumatized are unable to live fully in the present. They are possessed by their traumatic memory; the trauma is still acting upon them. Surviving means healing. By referring to people who have been traumatized as survivors by virtue of the fact that they did not die is a deflection of the reality of trauma’s effects. The term “survivor” deflects attention from the harm done by the traumatic experiences. So, if I choose to use the term “victim” for some of those who have been traumatized at what point do they become survivors and do I have the right to make that determination?

My interpretation of this reality is that speaking is survival. By not remaining silent, trauma victims reclaim their agency; they live. While this certainly doesn’t ensure that they heal, it does mean that they are surviving. The trauma isn’t controlling them entirely; they are beginning to process the memories, to loosen their hold. The trauma bloggers that I discuss are survivors, even more so they are activists. By giving voice to the existence and experience of trauma, they are creating an awareness of traumatic experiences and the damage of trauma to the psyche.

Ultimately victim and survivor, as terms, form an either/or binary that obfuscates the complexity of trauma. Not only does it force the individual to be identified as either the acted upon or the actor, it also neglects the spectrum that might exist between these two states of experience. Healing is a process and thus “becoming” a survivor is a process. Using one term or the other deflects the attention away from the lived experience of coping and living with trauma—attention that I am not willing to lose. So, unable to develop a term reflective of how I view those who have experienced trauma, I will simply refer to them as “the traumatized.” While this term still places them in an object position, it lacks the negative connotation of “victim.” Happily, when speaking specifically about people who have both experienced and blog about trauma, I can use the term “trauma blogger.”

following my own advice

I haven’t had much time to blog lately because of all of my dissertation work. For a while I found that the blogging was helping my writing process, but then I got a little freaked out about the possibility that the blogging was taking me away from my work. Of course I’ve been feeling guilty about not blogging. Part of that is because I want to be true to my readers (though they may be few) and another part of the guilt is that I actually enjoy blogging. Then there’s the fact that I study bloggers. Perhaps the most important reason is that I continually encourage my students to write informally as a way to prepare themselves for formal writing. I require students to write low-stakes, informal reading responses and post them to their class blogs as a means of practicing. Writing is one of those activities that improves only through much practice, an opinion that I continually emphasize to my students. Yet I have been failing to follow my own advice, a practice that I often complain about when others do so. If you’re going to preach it, you should practice it. While I’ve been writing drafts of blog posts, I haven’t been completing or publishing them, a practice that would cost my students grade points. So, I vow to spend time (at least weekly) writing (and completing) posts for my blog. If nothing else, I’ll post about my dissertation. Perhaps that will alleviate the guilt I feel on both ends.

reasons for blogging

I feel the need to remind myself why I blog (or, at least, why I should blog).  I’m feeling a little listy, so I’m going to do this in bullet point format.

why I blog

“The instant publication encourages spontaneous writing rather than carefully thought out arguments.  Being allowed to write spontaneously releases us of the expectation that our writing must be perfect and polished” (266).

and

“In our blogs, we allow ourselves to write half-thought, naked ideas and show them to others rather than saving them for fully fleshed out carefully thought through papers” (267)

At the same time, unlike notes written exclusively to oneself, blog entries require us to think through our ideas and more fully form them making it more likely that they will reach fruition in the future.

  • Another aspect of blogging that is important to me as an academic is that it breaks the mold of the “ivory tower” publication process.  In a blog you write for a larger audience and thus, your writing is more accessible and available to the world rather than just a select group of individuals.
  • Along the same lines, writing in a blog allows for collaboration in a number of ways.  Not only does it provide a place for you to share your research with colleagues, the comment function allows them to respond to your work.
  • Blogs are allowed to be more personally oriented; they are, in fact, expected to be.  Thus, blogging academic work implicitly argues for the importance of personal experience as evidence.  At the very least, personal experience can share the same space as academic work.
  • A particularly important reason for my blogging is that I consider myself to be a digital ethnographer.  I am researching blogs and, significantly, arguing for their value and importance.  Blogging reinforces my argument that blogs have value beyond narcissism and linking.
  • Blogging makes me feel connected to the world.

So, there you are–a partial list of my reasons for blogging.

arguing for the strength of the traumatized mind

I have found, that living under circumstances of chronic traumatization, of sustained abuse, has made me a better critical thinker and has increased my ability to understand the needs, emotions and motives of other.  But this could be a mythos created by me to make sense of my disorder and pain.  Still, I think that those who suffer chronic traumatization as children, and thus during crucial brain development, experience a different development of mental capacity.  Forced to live in a mode of hypervigilance and to consider at all moments the thoughts and motives of those perpetrating the abuse, abused children learn a sort of “double consciousness,” W.E.B. Dubois’ name for the state of mind possessed by oppressed groups:

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of  others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,–an American, a Negro; two warring souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in     one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder (The Souls of Black Folks)

Often I have felt as though those around me were seeing the world with a different set of lenses, ones which are blurry and leave images soft along the edges, whereas in my world all of the edges are hard and unyielding.  Speaking with other survivors has lead me to believe that I am not alone in this feeling.  Many of us feel that we see what others cannot.  Whether or not this is a deeper truth or a figment of the traumatized mind remains to be seen.

Judith Herman refers to a similar thought process in Trauma and Recovery, though she likens her version to George Orwell’s “doublethink” and the psychologist’s use of the word “dissociation”  According to Herman, “the dialectic of trauma gives rise to complicated, sometimes uncanny alterations of consciousness” (1).

“To speak publicly about one’s knowledge of atrocitites is to invite the stigma that attaches to victims” (2) I have plenty of friends from high school (middle and elementary) who do not believe that I was abused. I worked long and hard to create the appearance of a normal family, not because I wanted to be like everyone else, but because I didn’t want my abuse to be the thing that distinguished me from the crowd.  I wanted to stand out, but because of who I was not what was done to me.

Let’s take something horrible and make something good out of it.  I want to show the horror; give voice to the voiceless; but I also want to make what we have, take what we have suffered and transform it into something that gives the former meaning.  So that our sacrifices will not have been in vain.

Surviving my dissertation

After my original dissertation idea was determined to be unfeasible (by myself and my dissertation chair), I found myself struggling to find a topic that still fit the spirit of my work.  Ideally, I would use the dissertation to create a theoretical base for my future study into narrative and trauma.  This, however, is much easier said than done.  The truth is that I don’t know how to write a theory without the use of real world applications.  I imagine this has something to do with the way that I value theory as praxis and vice-versa, and, while I am by no means rejecting that belief, it’s making this dissertation thing kind of difficult.  So, I’m trying to determine how, given the resources readily available to me, I can make a significant contribution to the field of trauma studies. (It’s times like these that make me think that I should have gone into psychology.) Here’s what I’m getting so far:

Thought #1: In the struggle to use writing as a way of healing, trauma survivors use unique rhetorical strategies for approaching their trauma.  My sample set would be blogs, discussion forums, and memoirs, which I would examine using a combination of Burkean theories of identification and feminist content analysis.  Using Jeanne Perrault’s idea of feminist autography, I would loosely categorize my samples as such, perhaps even going so far as to include theory within the scope of my research into autography.  Perreault defines autography as “a writing whose effect is to bring into being a ‘self’ that the writer names ‘I,’ but whose parameters and boundaries resist the nomadic” (2)*  While Perreault examines exclusively female-authored texts that have been published in print, I will be exploring mostly self-published blogs.  Also, my focus will be on how the writing brings into being a self that has been formed in response to and in spite of trauma.  I would also be looking into the Burkeian concepts of identification and consubstantiality as strategies for repairing the rift between self and other that is characteristic of trauma.

Thought#2: Focus on traumatic autography as a way of fighting back.  Writing as a way of healing seems too optimistic, as though writing can make the trauma all better, which I do not think is true.  Titles tend to help me focus, so I’d tentatively title this: “Writing/Fighting to Stay Alive: Rhetorical Strategies for Survival” or “Writing/Fighting to Survive: A Rhetorical Theory of Trauma”

Thought#3: [The most ambitious of these and the most difficult to put into concrete terms.]

My dissertation will serve as a basis for future research into memory, trauma, and narration.  By first establishing a methodology based on a synthesis of feminist, psychological, and narrative theory,  I will lay the groundwork for future study of the significance of language in identity formation and the effects of trauma on that process.  For the purposes of this dissertation, I will be taking a small sampling of writing by those who have experienced traumas.  These samples include: single-authored blogs, discussion forums, and memoir.

I want to create a theoretical basis for the argument that trauma is inherently a linguistic issue and that the loss of language is more than a symptom of the trauma; it is the trauma itself.

Okay.  Here’s a start.  Any feedback is appreciated.

*Perreault, Jeanne.  Writing Selves: Contemporary Feminist Autography. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1995.

An Articulation of Trauma

The framework for understanding trauma that I am using in my dissertation defines trauma as the emotional/psychological impact to a person’s psyche as the result of an event, experience or set of experiences that overwhelm those individuals who experience it. This results in an inability to integrate the experience into their narrative memory, and it is this inability to integrate the traumatic experience(s) that results in a psychological state of being that impairs the trauma victim’s ability to live completely within the world of the present.  Instead of current actions and feelings, the trauma victim lives with both the horrific memories of the past and the fear that they engender.  Because traumatic memory is not integrated into the narrative memory, it cannot be controlled and recalled at will; rather, it is often elicited without the individual having a conscious choice and unlike memories subject to recall and control, these feel as though they are temporally present.  In addition to the ability of these memories to intrude upon the present, they are also responsible for the state of fear and hyper-vigilance that characterizes the life of the traumatized.  Thus, the memories themselves not only interfere with the ability of the traumatized to live in a current reality by intruding upon that reality; they also impair the individual’s ability to negotiate within the world around them because of the state of fear that they have engendered, both a fear of the traumatic event and a fear of the memory’s ability to surface and disrupt beyond their ability to control it.  Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the clinical term encompassing the development of these traits “following exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor” (DSM-IV 424).

To further clarify, when we use the term “memory,” we are usually referring to either “working memory” or “narrative memory.”  Working memory “holds short term information for the purposes of performing a current process” (Field 326).  On the other hand, narrative memory is a form of long-term memory in which past experiences have been integrated and are available for conscious recall and reflection.  Since trauma occurs “[u]nder extreme conditions, existing meaning schemes may be entirely unable to accommodate frightening experiences, which causes the memory of these experiences to be stored differently and not available for retrieval under ordinary conditions” (van der Kolk 160)*. This loss of meaning schema makes trauma narratives disjointed and fragmented.

*van der Kolk, B. (1996). Trauma and memory. In B. A. van der Kolk, A. C. McFarlane,
& L. Weisuth (Eds.) Traumatic stress : the effects of overwhelming experience on mind, body, and society. New York: Guilford Press.