S1E52 - Smokey on Mental First Aid
Margaret and Smokey talk about ways to go about mental first aid, how to alter responses to trauma for you self and as a community, different paths to resiliency, and why friendship and community are truly the best medicine.
Margaret can be found on twitter @magpiekilljoy or instagram at @margaretkilljoy.
This show is published by Strangers in A Tangled Wilderness. We can be found at www.tangledwilderness.org, or on Twitter @TangledWild and Instagram @Tangled_Wilderness. You can support the show on Patreon at www.patreon.com/strangersinatangledwilderness.
Hopefully will come out Friday, December, 2nd and will probably be This Month In the Apocalypse.
LLWD:Smokey on Mental First Aid
Margaret 00:15 Hello and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast are what feels like the end times. I'm your host, Margaret killjoy. And, this week or month...or let's just go with 'episode'. This episode is going to be all about mental health and mental health first aid and ways to take care of your mental health and ways to help your community and your friends take care of their mental health, and I think you'll like it. But first, this podcast is a proud member of the Channel Zero network of anarchists podcasts. And here's a jingle from another show on the network.
Margaret 01:52 Okay, with me today is Smokey. Smokey, could you introduce yourself with your your name, your pronouns, and I guess a little bit about your background about mental health stuff?
Smokey 02:04 Sure, I'm Smokey. I live and work in New York City. My pronouns are 'he' and 'him.' For 23 years, I've been working with people managing serious mental illness in an intentional community, I have a degree in psychology, I have taught psychology at the University level, I have been doing social work for a long time, but I've been an anarchist longer.
Margaret 02:43 So so the reason I want to have you on is I want to talk about mental health first aid, or I don't know if that's the way it normally gets expressed, but that's the way I see it in my head. Like how are...I guess it's a big question, but I'm interested in exploring ways that we can, as bad things happen that we experience, like some of the best practices we can do in order to not have that cause lasting mental harm to us. Which is a big question. But maybe that's my first question anyway.
Smokey 03:12 I mean, the, the truth is bad things will happen to us. It's part of living in the world, and if you are a person that is heavily engaged in the world, meaning, you know, you're involved in politics, or activism, or even just curious about the world, you will probably be exposed on a more regular basis to things that are bad, that can traumatize us. But even if you're not involved in any of those things, you're going to go through life and have really difficult things happen to you. Now, the good news is, that's always been the case for people. We've always done this. And the good news is, we actually know a lot about what goes into resilience. So, how do you bounce back quickly and hopefully thrive after these experiences? I think that is an area that's only now being really examined in depth. But, we have lots of stories and some research to show that actually when bad things happen to us, there is an approach that actually can help catalyst really impressive strength and move...change our life in a really positive direction. We also know that for most people, they have enough reserve of resiliency that....and they can draw upon other resiliency that they're not chronically affected by it, however, and I would argue how our society is kind of structured, we're seeing more and more people that are suffering from very serious chronic effects of, what you said, bad things happening, or what is often traumatic things but it's not just traumatic things that cause chronic problems for us. But, that is the most kind of common understanding so, so while most people with most events will not have a chronic problem, and you can actually really use those problems, those I'm sorry, those events, let's call them traumatic events, those traumatic events they'll really actually improve your thriving, improve your life and your relationship to others in the world. The fact is, currently, it's an ever growing number of people that are having chronic problems. And that's because of the system.
Margaret 06:19 Yeah, there's this like, there was an essay a while ago about it, I don't remember it very well, but it's called "We Are Also Very Anxious," and it it was claiming that anxiety is one of the general affects of society today, because of kind of what you're talking about, about systems that set us up to be anxious all the time and handle things in...
Smokey 06:42 I think what most people don't understand is, it is consciously, in the sense that it's not that necessarily it's the desire to have the end goal of people being anxious, and people being traumatized, but it is conscious in that we know this will be the collateral outcome of how we set up the systems. That I think is fairly unique and and really kind of pernicious.
Margaret 07:17 What are some of the systems that are setting us up to be anxious or traumatized?
Smokey 07:23 Well, I'm gonna reverse it a little bit, Margaret. I'm going to talk about what are the things we need to bounce back or have what has been called 'resilience,' and then you and I can explore how our different systems actually make us being able to access that much more difficult.
Margaret 07:47 Okay. Oh, that makes sense.
Smokey 07:49 The hallmark of resiliency, ironically, is that it's not individual.
Margaret 07:57 Okay.
Smokey 07:57 In fact, if you look at the research, there are very few, there's going to be a couple, there's gonna be three of them, but very few qualities of an individual psychology or makeup that is a high predictor of resiliency.
Margaret 08:20 Okay.
Smokey 08:21 And these three are kind of, kind of vague in the sense they're not, they're not terribly dramatic, in a sense. One is, people that tend to score higher on appreciation of humor, tends to be a moderate predictor of resiliency.
Margaret 08:46 I like that one.
Smokey 08:47 You don't have to be funny yourself. But you can appreciate humor. Seems to be a....and this is tends to be a cross cultural thing. It's pretty low. There are plenty of people that that score very low on that, that also have resiliency. That's the other thing, I'll say that these three personality traits are actually low predictors of resiliency.
Margaret 09:13 Compared to the immunity ones that you're gonna talk about?
Smokey 09:16 So one is appreciation of humor seems to be one. So, these are intrinsic things that, you know, maybe we got from our family, but but we hold them in ourselves, right? The second one is usually kind of put down as 'education.' And there tends to be a reverse bell curve. If you've had very, very low education, you tend to be more resilient. If you've had extreme professionalization, you know, being a doctor, being a lawyer, well, not even being a lawyer, because that's the only...but many, many years of schooling, PhD things like that, it's not what you study. There's something about...
Smokey 10:10 Yeah, or that you didn't. They're almost equal predictors of who gets traumatized. And then the the last one is kind of a 'sense of self' in that it's not an ego strength as we kind of understand it, but it is an understanding of yourself. The people that take the surveys, that they score fairly high....So I give you a survey and say, "What do you think about Smokey on these different attributes?" You give me a survey and say, "Smokey, how would you rate yourself on these different attributes?"
Margaret 10:11 It's that you studied.
Margaret 10:32 Okay.
Smokey 10:59 So, it's suggesting that I have some self-reflexivity about what my strengths and weaknesses are. I can only know that because they're married by these also.
Margaret 11:11 Okay. So it's, it's not about you rating yourself high that makes you resilient, it's you rating yourself accurately tohow other people see you.
Smokey 11:18 And again, I want to stress that these are fairly low predictors. Now, you'll read a million books, kind of pop like, or the, these other ones. But when you actually look at the research, it's not, you know, it's not that great. So those..however, the ones that are big are things like 'robustness of the social network.' So how many relations and then even more, if you go into depth, 'what are those relationships' and quantity does actually create a certain level of quality, interestingly, especially around things called 'micro-social interactions,' which are these interactions that we don't even think of as relationships, maybe with storepersons, how many of these we have, and then certain in depth, having that combined with a ring of kind of meaningful relationships. And meaningful meaning not necessarily who is most important to me, but how I share and, and share my emotions and my thoughts and things like that. So, there's a lot on that. That is probably the strongest predictor of resilience. Another big predictor of resilience is access to diversity in our social networks. So, having diverse individuals tend to give us more resiliency, and having 'time,' processing time, also gives us more...are high predictors of resiliency, the largest is a 'sense of belonging.'
Margaret 13:14 Okay.
Smokey 13:15 So that trauma...events that affect our sense of belonging, and this is why children who have very limited opportunities to feel a sense of belonging, which are almost always completely limited, especially for very young children to the family, if that is cut off due to the trauma, or it's already dysfunctional and has nothing to do with the trauma, that sense of belonging, that lack of sense of belonging makes it very difficult to maintain resilience. So. So those are the things that, in a nutshell, we're going to be talking about later about 'How do we improve these?' and 'How do we maximize?' And 'How do we leverage these for Mental Health First Aid?' We can see how things like the internet, social media, capitalism, you know, kind of nation state building, especially as we understand it today, all these kinds of things errode a lot of those things that we would want to see in building resilient people.
Margaret 14:28 Right.
Smokey 14:28 And, you know, making it more difficult to access those things that we would need.
Margaret 14:34 No, that's...this...Okay, yeah, that makes it obvious that the answer to my question of "What are the systems that deny us resiliency?" are just all of this. Yeah, because we're like....most people don't have...there's that really depressing statistic or the series of statistics about the number of friends that adults have in our society, and how it keeps going down every couple of decades. Like, adults just have fewer and fewer friends. And that...
Smokey 15:00 The number, the number is the same for children, though too.
Margaret 15:05 Is also going down, is what you're saying?
Smokey 15:07 Yes. They have more than adults. But compared to earlier times, they have less. So, the trend is not as steep as a trendline. But, but it is still going down. And more importantly, there was a big change with children at one point, and I'm not sure when it historically happened. But, the number of people they interacted with, was much more diverse around age.
Margaret 15:39 Oh, interesting.
Smokey 15:40 So they had access to more diversity.
Margaret 15:43 Yeah, yeah. When you talk about access to diversity, I assume that's diversity in like a lot of different axis, right? I assume that's diversity around like people's like cultural backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, age. Like, but even like...
Smokey 15:56 Modes of thought.
Margaret 15:58 Yeah, well, that's is my guess, is that if you're around more people, you have more of an understanding that like, reality is complicated, and like different people see things in different ways. And so therefore, you have a maybe a less rigid idea of what should happen. So, then if something happens outside of that, you're more able to cope, or is this...does... like, because I look at each of these things and I can say why I assume they affect resiliency, but obviously, that's not what you're presenting, you're not presenting how they affect resiliency, merely that they seem to?
Smokey 16:34 Yeah, and I don't know, if we know exactly how they affect, and we don't know how they...the effect of them together, you know, social sciences, still pretty primitive. So they, they need to look at single variables, often. But you know, we know with chemistry and biology and ecology, which I think are a little more sophisticated...and physics, which is more sophisticated. The real interesting stuff is in the combinations.
Margaret 17:09 Yeah. Okay.
Smokey 17:10 So what happens when you have, you know, diversity, but also this diverse and robust social network? Is that really an addition? Or is that a multiplication moment? For resiliency.
Margaret 17:23 Right. And then how does that affect like, if that comes at the expense of...well, it probably wouldn't, but if it came at the expense of processing time or something.
Smokey 17:33 Exactly.
Margaret 17:35 Or, like, you know, okay, I could see how it would balance with education in that, like, I think for a lot of people the access to diversity that they encounter first is like going off to college, right, like meeting people from like, different parts of the world, or whatever.
Smokey 17:49 I forgot to mention one other one, but it is, 'meaning.' Meaning is very important. People that score high, or report, meaning deep, kind of core meaning also tend to have higher resiliency. That being said, they...and don't, don't ever confuse resiliency with like, happiness or contentment. It just means that the dysfunction or how far you're knocked off track due to trauma, and we're, we're using trauma in the larger sense of the word, you know, how long it takes you to get back on track, or whether you can even get back on track to where you were prior to the event is what we're talking about. So it's not, this is not a guide to happiness or living a fulfilled life. It's just a guide to avoid the damage.
Margaret 19:01 But if we made one that was a specifically a 'How to have a happy life,' I feel like we could sell it and then have a lot of money.Have you considered that? [lauging]
Smokey 19:11 Well one could argue whether that's even desirable to have a happy life. That's a whole philosophical thing. That's well beyond my paygrade
Margaret 19:22 Yeah, every now and then I have this moment, where I realized I'm in this very melancholy mood, and I'm getting kind of kind of happy about it. And I'm like, "Oh, I'm pretty comfortable with this. This is a nice spot for me." I mean, I also like happiness, too, but you know. Okay, so, this certainly implies that the, the way forward for anyone who's attempting to build resiliency, the sort of holistic solution is building community. Like in terms of as bad stuff happens. Is that...
Smokey 19:58 Community that's...and community not being just groups. Okay, so you can, I think, you know, the Internet has become an expert at creating groups. There lots of groups. But community, or communitas or the sense of belonging is more than just a shared interest and a shared knowledge that there's other like-minded people. You'll hear the internet was great for like minded people to get together. But, the early internet was really about people that were sharing and creating meaning together. And I think that was very powerful. That, you know, that seems harder to access on today's Internet, and certainly the large social media platforms are consciously designed to achieve certain modes of experience, which do not lend themselves to that.
Margaret 21:06 Right, because it's like the...I don't know the word for this.
Smokey 21:10 It's Capitalism. Like, yeah, we're hiding the ball. The ball is Capitalism.
Margaret 21:14 Yeah.
Smokey 21:14 And how they decided to go with an advertising model as opposed to any other model, and that requires attention.
Margaret 21:21 Yeah. Because it seems like when you talk about a robust social network, I mean, you know, theoretically, social network, like social networks, you know, Twitter calls itself a social network, right? And is there anything in the micro social interactions that one has online? Is there value in that? Or do you think that the overall...I mean, okay, because even like looking at...
Smokey 21:46 I think there has to be value, I think, yeah, they did. I was reading just today, actually, about research, it was in England, with...this one hospital decided to send postcards to people who had been hospitalized for suicidal attempts.
Margaret 22:09 Okay.
Smokey 22:10 Most of them ended up in the mental health thing, some of them didn't, because they they left beyond, you know, against medical advice, or whatever. But, anyone that came in presenting with that a month, and then three months later, they sent another postcard just saying, "You know, we're all thinking about you, we're hoping you're all you're doing, alright. We have faith in you," that kind of thing like that, right. Nice postcard, purposely chosen to have a nice scene, sent it out. And they followed up, and they found a significant reduction in further attempts, rehospitalizations of these people, so that's a very, you know, there's no, it's a one way communication, it's not person-to-person, and it had some impact on I would guess one could argue the resiliency of those people from giving into suicidal ideation. Right.
Margaret 23:13 Yeah.
Smokey 23:14 So I think this is to say that, you know, we'd be...unplugging the internet, you know, that kind of Luddite approach doesn't make sense. There is a value to answer your question to the the internet's micro social interactions. It's just we...it's complicated, because you can't just have micro-social interactions unfortunately, but you need them.
Margaret 23:44 Yeah. No, that that's really interesting to me, because yeah, so there's, there is a lot of value that is coming from these things, but then the overall effect is this like, like, for example, even like access to diversity, right? In a lot of ways, theoretically, the Internet gives you access to like everything. But then, instead, it's really designed to create echo chambers in the way that the algorithms and stuff feed people information. And echo chambers of thought is the opposite of diversity, even if the echo chamber of thought is like about diversity.
Smokey 24:16 Yeah, I mean, it's set up again, almost as if it were to kind of naturally organically grow, we would probably have just as chaotic and and people would still just be as angry at the Internet, but it probably would develop more resilience in people. Because it wouldn't be stunted by this need to attract attention. The easiest way to do that is through outrage. Easiest way to do that is quickly and fast, so it takes care of your processing time. And relative anonymity is the coin of these kinds of things, you know, that's why bots and things like that, you know, they're not even humans, right? You know, they're just...so all these kinds of things stunt and deform, what could potentially be useful, not a silver bullet, and certainly not necessary to develop resiliency, strong resiliency. You don't need the internet to do that. And there are certain...using the internet, you know, there's going to be certain serious limitations because of the design, how it's designed.
Margaret 25:42 Okay, well, so hear me out. If the internet really started coming in latter half of the 20th century, that kind of lines up to when cloaks went out of style....
Smokey 25:54 Absolutely, that's our big problem. And they haven't done any research on cloak and resiliency.
Margaret 26:00 I feel that everyone who wears a cloak either has a sense of belonging, or a distinct lack of a sense of belonging. Probably start off with a lack of sense of belonging, but you end up with a sense of belonging So, okay, okay.
Smokey 26:15 So I want to say that there's two things that people confuse and a very important. One, is how to prevent chronic effects from traumatic experiences. And then one is how to take care of, if you already have or you you develop a chronic effect of traumatic experiences. Nothing in the psychology literature, sociology literature, anthropology literature, obviously, keeps you from having traumatic experiences.
Margaret 26:52 Right.
Smokey 26:54 So one is how to prevent it from becoming chronic, and one is how to deal with chronic and they're not the same, they're quite, quite different. So you know, if you already have a chronic traumatic response of some sort, post traumatic stress syndrome, or any of the other related phenomena, you will approach that quite differently than building resilience, which doesn't protect you from having trauma, a traumatic experience. It just allows you to frame it, understand it, maybe if you're lucky, thrive and grow from it. But at worst, get you back on track in not having any chronic problems.
Margaret 27:48 Okay, so it seems like there's three things, there's the holistic, building a stronger base of having a community, being more resilient in general. And then there's the like direct first aid to crisis and trauma, and then there's the long term care for the impacts of trauma. Okay, so if so, we've talked a bit about the holistic part of it, you want to talk about the the crisis, the thing to do in the immediate sense as it's happening or whatever?
Smokey 28:15 For yourself or for somebody else?
Margaret 28:18 Let's start with self.
Smokey 28:20 So, self is go out and connect to your social network as much as you can, which is the opposite of what your mind and body is telling you. And that's why I think so much of the quote unquote, "self-care" movement is so wrong. You kind of retreat from your social network, things are too intense, I'm going to retreat from your social network. The research suggests that's the opposite of what you should be doing, you should connect. Now, if you find yourself in an unenviable situation where you don't have a social network, then you need to connect to professionals, because they, they can kind of fill in for that social Network. Therapists, social workers, peer groups, support groups, things like that they can kind of fill in for that. The problem is you don't have that sense of belonging. Well, with support groups, you might. You see this often in AA groups or other support groups. You don't really get that in therapy or or group therapy so much. But that is the first thing and so connect to your group. Obviously on the other side, if you're trying to help your community, your group, you need to actively engage that person who has been traumatized.
Margaret 29:33 Yeah, okay.
Smokey 29:35 And it's going to be hard. And you need to keep engaging them and engaging them in what? Not distractions: Let's go to a movie, get some ice cream, let's have a good time. And not going into the details of the traumatic experience so much as reconnecting them to the belonging, our friendship, if that. Our political movement, if that. Our religious movement, if that. Whatever that...whatever brought you two together. And that could be you being the community in this person, or could be you as Margaret in this person connecting on that, doubling down on that, and often I see people do things like, "Okay, let's do some self care, or let's, let's do the opposite of whatever the traumatic experience was," if it came from, say oppression, either vicarious or direct through political involvement let's, let's really connect on a non-political kind of way.
Margaret 31:19 Ah I see!
Smokey 31:21 And I'm saying, "No, you should double down on the politics," reminding them of right what you're doing. Not the trauma necessarily not like, "Oh, remember when you got beaten up, or your, your significant other got arrested or got killed by the police," but it's connecting to meaning, and bringing the community together. Showing the resiliency of the community will vicariously and contagiously affect the individual. And again, doesn't have to be political could be anything.
Margaret 32:01 Yeah. Is that? How does that that feels a little bit like the sort of 'get right back on the horse kind of thing.' But then like, in terms of like, socially, rather than, because we 'get back on the horse,' might mean might imply, "Oh, you got beat up at a riot. So go out to the next riot." And that's what you're saying instead is so "Involve you in the fundraising drive for the people who are dealing with this including you," or like...
Smokey 32:28 And allowing an expectation that the individual who's been traumatized, might be having a crisis of meaning. And allowing that conversation, to flow and helping that person reconnect to what they found meaningful to start with. So getting right back on the horse again, it's reminding them why they love horses.
Margaret 33:02 Yeah. Okay, that makes sense. Okay, I have another question about the the crisis first aid thing, because there's something that, you know, something that you talked to me about a long time ago, when I was working on a lot of like reframing. I was working on coping with trauma. And so maybe this actually relates instead to long term care for trauma. And I, I thought of this as a crisis first aid kind of thing, is I'll use a like, low key example. When I was building my cabin, I'm slightly afraid of heights, not terribly, but slightly. And so I'm on a ladder in the middle of nowhere with no one around and I'm like climbing up the ladder, and I'm nailing in boards. And I found myself saying, "Oh, well, I only have three more boards. And then I'm done. I can get off the ladder. "And then I was like, "No, what I need to do is say, it's actually fine, I am fine. And I can do this," rather than like counting down until I can get off the ladder. And so this is like a way that I've been working on trying to build resiliency, you can apply this to lots of things like if I'm on an airplane, and I'm afraid of flying or something I can, instead of being like, "Five more hours and then we're there. Four more hours and then we're there," instead of being like, "It's actually totally chill that I'm on an airplane. This is fine." And basically like telling myself that to reframe that. Is this....Am I off base with this? Is this tie into this, there's just a different framework?
Smokey 34:27 That is what the individual should be trying to do is connect the three different things, keeping it simple. One, is to the community which gives them nourishment. On a plane or on your roof, that's not going to happen.
Margaret 34:44 Yeah.
Smokey 34:45 Though, actually, to be honest. If you're nervous and you have...go back to your roof example, which I think is a pretty good one. Let's say that you had more than three boards. Let's say it was gonna take you a couple hours to do that. But it's something you're nervous about, connecting to somebody in your social network, whether you, you have your earphones on, and you're just talking to them before or during...after doesn't help. That does one way. Or the other is connecting to what you were doing, which is connecting to kind of reframing or your own internal resilience. I've done something similar like this before. This is not something that is going to need to throw me, it is what's called pocketing the anxiety.
Margaret 35:45 Okay.
Smokey 35:45 Where you're other-izing it, being like, it's coming from you too, right? being like, "Hey, you could fall. This plane could go down," right? That that's still you, you're generating that. You're not hearing that over to, and you're saying, "Okay, but I'm going to try, you know, give primacy to this other voice in my head. That is saying, "You've got this, it's all right, you've done things like this before."" So that's the second thing. And that's what you were doing. So you could connect to your community, you could connect to kind of a reserve of resiliency. And to do that is allow that one to be pocketed. But be like, "Hey, I want to hear from what this core thing has to say. I want to hear from what the positive person on the front row has to say." You're not arguing with that one. You're just listening. You're changing your, your, what you're attuned to. And then the third one is, if you can, you connect to the meaning. What is the meaning of building the house for you? Where are you going on your flight? And why is it important?
Margaret 37:03 Yeah. Okay,
Smokey 37:05 And that anxiety and the fact that you're doing it, you want to give again, the primacy to the importance, that "Yeah, I'm really nervous, I'm really freaked out about this, but this thing is so important, or so good for me, or so healthy for me to do this. This must mean it's going to be really important. And I'm connecting to why it's important and focusing on that. So those are the three things that the individual can do. The helping person or community is engagement. The second one is the same, reconnecting to the meaning. Why did you love horses in the first place? Okay, don't have to get back on the horse. But let's not forget horses are awesome.
Margaret 37:58 Yeah.
Smokey 37:58 And Horseback riding is awesome.
Margaret 38:01 Yeah.
Smokey 38:01 And you were really good at it before you got thrown. But you know, you don't have to do it now, but let's, let's just let's just share our love of horses for a moment and see how that makes you feel. And then the third one is that kind of drawing upon, instead of drawing upon the individual resilience, which you were doing, like, "Hey, I got this," or the plane, you know, you were, you're hearing from other people, you're drawing upon their individual resilience. "Smokey, tell me about the time you did this thing that was hard." And I tell ya, you're like, "Well, Smokey can fucking do that I can do it. You don't even think...it doesn't even work necessarily consciously.
Margaret 38:50 Right.
Smokey 38:51 So you could see that what you're doing individually, the helper or the community is doing complementary.
Margaret 38:59 Yeah.
Smokey 39:00 And now you can see why a lot of self care narrative, a lot of taking a break a lot of burnout narrative, all these things, at best aren't going to help you and at worst, in my opinion, are kind of counterproductive.
Margaret 39:17 Well, and that's the, to go to the, you know, working on my roof thing I think about...because I've had some success with this. I've had some success where I....there's certain fears that I have, like, suppressed or something like I've stopped being as afraid of...the fear is no longer a deciding factor in my decision making, because of this kind of reframing this kind of like, yeah, pocketing like...And it's probably always useful to have the like, I don't want to reframe so completely that I just walk around on a roof all the time, without paying attention to what I'm doing, right?Because people do that and then they fall and the reason that there's a reason that roofing is one of the most dangerous jobs in America. So a, I don't know I yeah, I, I appreciate that, that you can do that. And then if it's a thing you're going to keep doing anyway, it becomes easier if you start handling it like, carefully, you know?
Smokey 40:17 Well, you don't want to give it too much. So why do we? Why is it natural for us to take anxiety or fear and focus on it? It's somewhat evolutionary, right? It's a threat, right? It's supposed to draw your attention, right? It's supposed to draw your attention. And if you're not careful, it will draw your attention away from other things that are quieter that like that resiliency in the front row you need to call on, because they're not as flashy, right? So I don't think you have to worry about threat....You're right. You don't want to get to the point where you and that's why I say 'pocket it,' as opposed to 'deny it, suppress it, argue with it. demolish it.' I think it's good to have that little, "Beep, beep, beep there's a threat," and then being like, "Okay, but I want to continue to do this. Let's hear from resiliency in the front row. What? What do you have to tell me too?" You have to not...what happens is we go into the weeds of the threat. Oh, so what? "Oh, I fall off and I compound fracture, and I'm way out here in the woods, and no one's going to get me. My phone isn't charged." That's not what the original beep was. Original beep like, "You're high up on a ladder, seems unstable. This seems sketchy," right? Okay. Got that. And then resilience is, "Yeah, you've done lots of sketchy stuff. You've written in the back of a pickup truck. That's sketchy, so seatbelt there, nothing, you know, let me remind you that that you can overcome." And, but by going into the anxiety, going into the fear, you're forcing yourself to justify the thing. And then it becomes more and more elaborate, and it gets crazier and crazier very quickly. You know, all of sudden, you're bleeding out and you're cutting your leg off with a pen knife. It's like, "Wow, how did all this happen?"
Margaret 42:38 Yeah, well, and that's actually something that comes up a lot in terms of people interacting with the show and about like preparedness in general. Because in my mind, the point of paying attention to how to deal with forest fire while I live in the woods, is not to then spend all of my time fantasizing and worrying about forest fire. But instead, to compare it to this ladder, if I get this "Beep, beep, the ladder is unstable." I climb down, I stabilize the ladder as best as I can. And then I climb back up and I do the thing. And then when I think about like, with fire, I'm like, "Okay, I have done the work to minimize the risk of fire. And so now I can stop thinking about it." Like, I can listen to the little beep, beep noise and do the thing. And now I can ignore the beep beep because just like literally, when you're backing up a truck and it goes beep, beep, you're like, yeah, no, I know, I'm backing up. Thanks. You know, like,
Smokey 43:35 Yeah, it's good to know, it's good to know, you're not going forward.
Margaret 43:39 Yeah, no. No, okay. That's interesting. And then the other thing that's really interesting about this, the thing that you're presenting, is it means that in some ways, work that we present as very individual in our society, even in radical society, is actually community based on this idea, like so conquering phobias is something that we help one another do, it seems like,
Smokey 44:02 Absolutely. I mean, the best stuff on all this stuff is that people reverse engineering it to make people do dangerous, bad things. The military.
Margaret 44:18 Yeah, they're probably pretty good at getting people to conquer phobias. Yep.
Smokey 44:21 They have a great sense of belonging. They have a great sense of pulling in internal resilient, group resilient, connecting to meaning even when it's absolutely meaningless what you're doing. It's all the dark side of what we're talking about, but it's quite effective and it literally wins wars.
Margaret 44:47 Yeah, that makes sense. Because you have this whole...
Smokey 44:50 Literally it changes history. And so, the good news is, we can kind of reclaim that for what I think it was originally purposed to do, which is to protect us from the traumas that we had to go through in our evolutionary existence. So we couldn't afford to have a whole bunch of us chronically disabled. Meaning unable to function, you know, they've just taken it and, and bent it a little bit, and learned very deeply about it, how to how to use it for the things that really cause, you know, physical death and injury. And, and, you know, obviously, they're not perfect, you have a lot of trauma, but not, not as much as you would expect for what they do. And every year they get better and better.
Margaret 45:51 Hooray.
Smokey 45:53 We have to get on top of our game.
Margaret 45:56 Yeah.
Smokey 45:57 And get people not to do what they do. I'm not suggesting reading...well maybe reading military, but not...you can't use those tools to make people truly free and resilient.
Margaret 46:17 Yeah.
Smokey 46:18 In the healthy kind of way. Yeah.
Margaret 46:22 Okay, so in our three things, there's the holistic, prepared resiliency thing, then there's the immediate, the bad thing is happening first aid. Should we talk about what to do when the thing has, when you have the like, the injury, the mental injury of the trauma?
Smokey 46:42 Like with most injuries, it's rehab, right?
Margaret 46:45 Yeah. No, no, you just keep doing the thing, and then hope it fixes itself. [laughs]
Smokey 46:53 My approach to most medical oddities that happen as I get older, it's like, "It'll fix itself, this tooth will grow back, right? The pain will go away, right?" Yeah, just like physical rehab, it does require two important aspects for all physical, what we think of when someone says I have to go to rehab, physical rehab, not not alcohol rehab, or psych rehab, is that there's two things that are happening. One, is a understanding, a deep understanding of the injury, often not by the person, but by the physical therapist. Right? That if they know, okay, this is torn meniscus, or this is this and I, okay, so I understand the anatomy, I understand the surgery that happened. Okay. And then the second is, short term, not lifelong therapy, not lifelong this or that. Short term techniques to usually strengthen muscles and other joints and things around the injury. Okay. And that's what, what I would call good recovery after you already have the injury. It's not after you've had the traumatic experience, because traumatic experience doesn't necessarily cause a chronic injury, and we're trying to reduce the number of chronic injuries, but chronic injuries are going to happen. chronic injuries already exist today. A lot of the people we know are walking around with chronic injuries that are impacting their ability to do what they want to do and what in my opinion, we need them to do, because there's so much change that needs to happen. We need everybody as much as possible to be working at their ability. So wherever we can fix injury, we should. So so one is where do I get an understanding of how this injury impacts my life? And I think different cognitive psychology, I think CBT, DBT, these things are very, very good in general.
Margaret 49:22 I know what those are, but can you explain.
Smokey 49:22 Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. These all come out of cognitive psychology from the 50s. Our techniques, but most therapists use versions of this anyway. So just going to therapy, what it is doing initially, is trying to, like the physical therapist, tell you, "This is the injury you have. This is why it's causing you to limp, or why you have weakness in your arm and wrist. And what we're going to do is we're going to give you some techniques to build up, usually the muscles, or whatever else needs to be built up around it so that you will be able to get more use out of your hand." And that is what we need to do with people that have this chronic injury. So, one, is you need to find out how the injury is impacting. So, I'm drinking more, I'm getting angry more, or I'm having trouble making relationships, or I'm having, and there's a series of, you know, 50 year old techniques to really kind of get down and see, okay, this injury is causing these things, that's how it's impacting me, and I don't want to drink more, or I want to be able to sleep better, or I want to be able to focus, or I want to be able to have meaningful relationship with my partner or my children or whatever, whatever that is, right? And then there are techniques, and they're developing new techniques, all the time, there's like EMDR, which is an eye thing that I don't fully understand. There DBT, dialectical behavioral therapy, has a lot of techniques that you kind of practice in groups. As you know, we have mutual aid cell therapy, MAST, which is also a group where you're sharing techniques to build up these different things and resilience. So, community, and meaning, and all those...reframing all those kinds of things. So, but they shouldn't, despite the length of the injury, how long you've been injured, how long you've been limping, and how much it's affected other parts of your psychic body in a way. These are things that still should be able to be remediated relatively quickly.
Smokey 49:31 That's exciting. Yeah.
Smokey 50:10 But this is not a lifelong thing. Now, that doesn't mean, if you're traumatized as a child for example, it's sort of like if you've completely shattered your wrist bone, and they've put in pins and things like that, that wrist, may never have the flexibility, it did, the actual wrist bone, you know, the bones in the wrist. But by building muscles, and other things around it, you could then theoretically have full flexibility that you had before, right? But it's not the actual wrist bone, but that that injury is still there. You've built up...Sometimes it's called strength-based approach or model where you're building up other strengths, you have to relieve the impact that that injury, so like, a common thing with with trauma is trust. My trust is very damaged. My ability to trust others, or trust certain environments, or maybe trust myself, right, is completely damaged. So if, if my...and that may never fully heal, that's like my shattered wrist bone. So then, by building up, let's say, I don't trust myself, I did something, really fucked up myself, you know, psychologically, traumatically, but by building up trust in others, and then in the environment, or other things, that can mediate that damage or vice versa.
Margaret 53:53 You mean vice versa, like if you?
Smokey 53:59 Like, if my problem is a trust of others, or trust with strangers, or trust with friends, you know, I've been betrayed in a really traumatic way by my mother, or my father or uncle or something like that then, you know, building up my friendships to a really strong degree will reduce and eventually eliminate, hopefully erase the impact of that injury on the rest of my life. I'm not doomed to have dysfunctional relationships, lack of sleep, alcoholism or whatever are the symptoms of that traumatic event, that chronic traumatic event.
Margaret 54:54 Okay, so my next question is, and it's sort of a leading question, you mentioned MAST earlier and I kind of want to ask, like, do we need specialists for all of this? Do we have people who both generalize and specialize in this kind of thing? Are there ways that, you know, we as a community can, like, get better at most of this stuff while then some of it like, you know, obviously people specialize in and this remains useful? Like...
Smokey 55:22 You need. I wouldn't say...You need, you do need specialists, not for their knowledge, per se so much as they're there for people that the injury has gone on so long that the resiliency, all those other things, they don't have a social network, they haven't had time, because the damage happened so early to build up those reserves, that that person in the front row, the front row, the seats are empty. That is, it's really great we live...Now, in other cultures, the specialists were probably shamans, religious people, mentors, things like that, that said, "Okay, my role is to," all therapy is self therapy. That was Carl Rogers, he was quite correct about that. The specialist you're talking about are the kind of stand in for people who don't have people to do that. I would argue all real therapy is probably community therapy. It's relational. So if you have friends, if you have community, if you have a place, or places you find belonging, then theoretically, no, I don't think you need....I think those groups, and I think most specialists would agree to actually, those groups, if they're doing this can actually do a much better job for that individual. They know that individual and there's a natural affinity. And there there are other non specifically therapeutic benefits for engaging in re engaging in these things that have nothing to do with the injury that are just healthy, and good to you. So sort of like taking Ensure, Ensure will keep you alive when you're you've had some surgery, you've had some really bad injury, or if you need saline solution, right? But we're not suggesting people walk around with saline bags. There are better ways to get that, more natural ways to get that. I'm not talking alternative, psychiatric or, you know, take herbs instead of psychiatric medication. But there are better ways to do that. And I think, but I'm glad we have saline.
Margaret 58:08 Yeah,
Smokey 58:08 I think it saves a lot of people's lives. But, we would never give up the other ways to get nutrients because of other benefits to it. You know, sharing a meal with people is also a really good thing.
Margaret 58:21 And then even like from a, you know, the advantages of community, etc. I'm guessing it's not something that's like magically imbued in community. It's like can be something that communities need to actually learn these skills and develop like, I mean, there's a reason that well, you know, I guess I'm reasonably open about this. I used to have like fairly paralyzing panic attacks, and then it started generalizing. And then, you know, a very good cognitive behavioral therapist gave me the tools with which to start addressing that. And that wasn't something I was getting from....I didn't get it from my community in the end, but I got it from a specific person in the community, rather than like, everyone already knows this or something.
Smokey 59:03 Well, I think what we're doing right here is, is....I mean, people don't know. So they read....People were trying to help you from your community. Undoubtedly, with the right. intentions, and the right motives, but without the information on what actually works.
Margaret 59:27 Yep.
Smokey 59:28 And that's all that was happening there.
Margaret 59:30 Yeah, totally.
Smokey 59:31 So, it's really, you know, as cliche as it sound. It's really about just giving people some basic tools that we already had at one time.
Margaret 59:44 Yeah.
Smokey 59:45 Forgot, became specialized. So you know, I'm throwing around CBT, DBT, EMDR. None of that people can keep in their head. They will....The audience listening today are not going to remember all those things. And nor do they have to. But they have to know that, you know, reconnecting to the horse, but not telling people to get back on the horse, that kind of tough love kind of thing isn't going to work, but neither is the self care, take a bubble bath...
Margaret 1:00:19 Never see a horse again, run from a horse.
Smokey 1:00:21 Never see a horse, again, we're not even going to talk about horses, let's go do something else, isn't going to work either. And I think once we...you know, it's not brain science...Though it is. [laughs] It is pretty, you know, these are, and you look at how religions do this, you know, you look at how the military does this, you look at how like, fascists do this, you know, all sorts of groups, communities can do this fairly effectively. And it doesn't cost money. It's not expensive. You don't have to be highly educated or read all the science to be able to do that. And people naturally try, but I think a lot of the self help kind of gets in the way. And some people think they know. "Okay, well, this is what needs to happen, because I saw on Oprah." That kind of thing. "
Margaret 1:01:26 Yeah, Well, I mean, actually, that's one of the main takeaways that's coming from me is I've been, I've been thinking a lot about my own mental health first aid on a fairly individual basis, right? You know, even though it was community, that helped me find the means by which to pull myself out of a very bad mental space in that I was in for a lot of years. But I still, in the end was kind of viewing it as, like, "Ah, someone else gave me the tools. And now it's on me." It's like this individual responsibility to take care of myself. And, and so that's like, one of the things that I'm taking as a takeaway from this is learning to be inter-reliant.
Smokey 1:02:06 There isn't enough research on it, again, because of our individualistic nature, and probably because of variables. But there's certainly tons of anecdotal evidence, and having done this for a long time talking to people and how the place I work is particularly set up, helping others is a really great way to help yourself.
Margaret 1:02:30 Yeah.
Smokey 1:02:31 it really works. It's very, I mean, obviously, in the Greeks, you know, you have the 'wounded healer,' kind of concept. Many indigenous traditions have said this much better than the Western. And I believe they have...and they needed to, but they had a much better kind of understanding of these things that we're we're talking about. You know, it. So, where people can...and I've heard this podcast, your podcast too, talking about this ability to be, you know, have self efficacy. But it's more than self efficacy. It's really helping others.
Margaret 1:03:22 Yeah.
Smokey 1:03:23 And that, that is really powerful. And there's not enough research on that. And I think that's why support groups, I think that's why, you know, AA, despite all its problems, has spread all over the world and has been around for, you know, 75 years, and is not going to go away anytime soon. Despite some obvious problems, is there's that there's that... they hit upon that they they re discovered something that we always kind of knew.
Margaret 1:03:59 Yeah. Okay, well, we're coming out of time. We're running out of time. Are there any last thoughts, things that I should have asked you? I mean, there's a ton we can talk about this, and I'll probably try and have you on to talk about more specifics in the near future. But, is there anything anything I'm missing?
Smokey 1:04:15 No, I think I think just re emphasizing the end piece that you know, for people that have resources, communities, meaning, social network, you know, that is worth investing your time and your energy into because that's going to build your...if you want to get psychologically strong, that is the easiest and the best investment, Put down the self help book. Call your friend. You know, don't search Google for the symptoms of this, that, or the other thing. Connect to what's important to you. And then lastly, try to help others or help the world in some way. And those are going to be profound and effective ways to build long lasting resilience as an individual. As a community, we should design our communities around that.
Margaret 1:05:35 Yeah. All right. Well, that seems like a good thing to end on. Do you have anything that you want to plug like, I don't know books about mutual aid self therapy or anything like that?
Smokey 1:05:46 I want to plug community. That's all I want to plug.
Margaret 1:05:50 Cool. All right. Well, it's nice talking to you, and I'll talk to you soon.
Smokey 1:05:54 Yep.
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