When Violence Hits Home, Can We Keep Growing?

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“Creating Our Mental Health”: Welcome to a conversation between two social therapists who meet regularly to share and advance our therapeutic work. We hope these dialogues can support and stimulate others who are integrating developmental conversations into their therapeutic practices and personal growth. See the first post in the series for a brief explanation of what social therapy is and the perspectives we’re coming from in our dialogues.

On May 19, one of us (Ann) was walking on a busy street corner in New York City, when she was randomly assaulted by someone who walked up behind her, punched her to the ground, and ran off. She became the latest random target of a phenomenon dubbed by NYC law enforcement as “the knock-out game.” Passersby pitched-in to help, called the ambulance and chased the assailant. Ann underwent surgery for a broken hip and hunkered down for a long-term recovery.

We want to share conversations we had coming out of these events in the hopes it might help others explore how to keep growing emotionally in an uncertain and sometimes violent world.

Close-up of therapist's hands explaining a problem to his patients

Hugh: Ann, throughout this ordeal, you’ve been so upbeat and cheerful, despite being in pain and mostly confined to bed. I wanted to ask you how you’ve managed to be positive in the face of this random attack. I think yours is an unusual response. Let’s unpack it.

Ann: Thanks, Hugh. I’m touched by your question. I’m aware that these things are happening all over the world. I’m as susceptible as anyone else to random attack—they are happening to more and more people. I don’t subscribe to the philosophy that “everything (even really bad things) happens for a reason,” or (conversely) that somehow I’m in a protected class. These are uncertain times, many institutions are crumbling and chaos is often what we have to deal with. We’re all subject to getting attacked or hit by a car or whatever. So I think that helps me not to take things overly personally, and that can be very grounding.

Hugh: So, it seems to me your locating yourself in the world rather than somehow separate from the world helps you have the response you’re having. That may sound obvious, but I think in this over-psychologized world, we often think of ourselves as individuals separate from the world we’re part of.

Ann: Yes, and that sets us up to take everything that happens personally. I didn’t and still don’t feel angry at my attacker. I don’t know much about who he is—just that he is 24 years old, and presumably pretty desperate and angry. He could not do anything constructive with that rage, and we see that happening more often as people are desperate in their lives. So I didn’t feel that the attack was personal—it’s OF the world.

Hugh: Wow! I think you’re so right about all of that. But it’s an unusual response, to say the least. Most people do take it personally when something terrible happens to them.

Just to let you know, I was also particularly concerned about how this would impact you given your age.

Ann: Yes, I’m 75. And yes, just because I didn’t get into blaming or relating to myself as the ultimate victim, it was hard to stay on track emotionally, given that I am older and you just don’t rebound after serious injury. Not easy!

Right after this attack, I went through a period where I thought that this was the beginning of my demise—my health would continue to go downhill, and so I was finished! I felt overwhelmed and discouraged. I talked about it with friends and in my therapy group.  They were upset, frightened, sad and so eager to be with me in going through this. It was deeply touching to me.

Hugh: Could you say more, if you’re willing, about that work and how it impacted on you emotionally?

Ann: Sharing my response to the attack helped our group and me explore other very painful life experiences as a Jewish women that I’d had a tendency to minimize. I told them about my painful childhood living in an Austrian refugee camp with my parents who had survived the Holocaust in Eastern Europe.

People in the group were deeply responsive and urged that I not minimize the emotional impact of these kinds of painful life experiences.

Hugh: And how was that process of opening up for you?

Ann: It was petrifying and wonderful at the same time. We discovered that others who had been through violent experiences, including one man who had been held at gunpoint with his young daughter, dealt with the experience by saying to himself, “It could have been worse; we were lucky,” and feeling that he didn’t have the right to be that upset. This was important to me. That we could experience terrible violence without making it “personal,” or blaming the perpetrator, etc. while still letting it land emotionally.

Hugh: How do you think that has been helpful?

Ann: It’s allowed me to have more compassion for myself and others who go through these kinds of events.

Hugh: So, I’m gathering, part of your experience is depersonalizing this experience by talking about all this with other (and culturally diverse) people. And that’s part of locating your personal experience in the world. It seems like you sensuously experienced that by talking about it.

Ann: I think it’s depersonalizing and personalizing at the same time. You’re a particular person with these other particular people, many of whom have had experiences that are similar though not the same. So there’s a connection there, but it’s also the case that my experience is very particular to me. And to have people want to get to know me in that very intimate way is incredibly moving to me.

Hugh: That’s very touching to me and wonderful to hear.

Was there an element of you choosing how you were going to respond to the attack?

Ann: It’s a good question. I was doing certain things in my life before this happened. I decided I’m going to continue my life and I’m going out to meet people on my walker. I continued doing therapy. I let my clients in on what’s been happening with me and they’ve been great. I also started swimming. So, I’ve been living my life, rather than preparing for my decline which is what I was initially inclined and tempted to do.

Hugh: You are all those things—special and particular. But at the same time, you’re not a superwoman, you’re an ordinary person who chose how you were going to live your life after this attack.

It’s inspiring when someone does that right before your eyes. People think, “I couldn’t possibly do that!” Well, maybe you could!! You can perform certain activities that produce certain outcomes.

All of us can choose how we’re going to live our lives, moment to moment. We can keep changing how we live our lives. And I also think it’s miraculous and magical that we can do that. We live in a world where you’re supposed to do things in certain “normal” ways, and it’s so constricting. When people choose to do things differently, it’s powerful and magical.  Things that seem impossible can happen.

Ann: Yes, it’s hard to make developmental choices when things are so painful.

It’s a very emotional choice. I cried a lot. The emotionality doesn’t go away, the sadness, the fear. I’m 75, I have a broken femur, may need a hip replacement. It’s been one health difficulty after the other, and I’m waiting for the next shoe to fall. The streets are less safe, but it’s not going to stop me.

Hugh: Thank you, Ann. Yes, keep going!

***

Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

9 COMMENTS

    • Hello letsdevelopphilly. Thanks for your support and encouragement in sharing my experience and response to getting hurt on the streets of NYC. I”m inspired by you reminding us that with all the pain and suffering in the world, we are also, as you say “of the world” with people like you – caring, giving and supporting our need to continue to grow and develop. Much development to you and to Philly!

  1. I often wonder about the way people define ‘violence’. That came about as a result of hearing about one of the Nigerian authors (Wole Soyinka from memory) speaking about the “silent violence” being done to his people.

    I truly am sorry that you were subjected to such an attack Ms Green.

    I know my mother was a little older than you when she broke her hip, and the hospital desperate for the bed, and little chance of her recovering, gently put her to sleep after giving us a couple of days to say goodbye. I wonder when such acts become acts of violence…… rather than “resource allocation”.

    And then of course I think about the euphemism used by our Chief Psychiatrist to describe what would otherwise be considered acts of violence……. “unintended negative outcomes” for the people who had their necks broken during restraints in our ‘mental health facilities’.

    I think the attribution theorists would suggest that your way of thinking about these matters puts you in the best position to recover from such an attack (see the work of Martin Seligman for example). Funny how ‘mental institutions’ take people in the opposite direction…….. deliberately. “Abandon all hope yeah who enter here” huh?

    Even going so far as to boast about how they are going to “fuking destroy” anyone who has a valid complaint to register. And then use the resources of the State to carry out that threat. These situations where the State needs to conceal their human rights abuses not considered ‘attacks’….. and the forging and uttering with false legal narratives called “editing”.

    Good luck.

    • So here’s the rub……

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZ9UQKBUrsg&t=11s

      Now the ‘care’ that this man received looks a lot like violence to me. But, we are told by the Minister that there are some “concerning aspects” to his apprehension which does seem to make us feel a little better about the way he was being ‘treated’ by the people with a duty of care to the community.

      He does seem to perhaps need attention to his hip after being mown down by a police motor vehicle, and the ‘knock out game’ played by police done from behind……

      The point being is that the nurse who called police and requested his ‘apprehension’ was lawful given he/she had personally examined him within the prior 48 hours. Thus taking him into custody and ‘chemically restraining’ him in an induced coma all lawful.

      Where the law gets a little murky is in situations like mine;

      I wasn’t actually an “Outpatient” and had no “treating psychiatrist” when police were requested to cause an “acute stress reaction” to force me to talk to a Community Nurse (a legal protection the Chief Psychiatrist doesn’t recognise…. well, he rewrites the law to remove this protection afforded the community by the law) . And the drugs I had been ‘spiked’ with (benzodiazepines) to incapacitate me and allow a knife to be ‘planted’ on me for police to find, weren’t actually my drugs. I’ve never been prescribed these drugs, and would never take them willingly.

      The Community Nurse being aware of the powers being provided to him to arbitrarily detain and torture citizens via the criminal negligence of the ‘authorities’ finds the exercise of such powers amusing. He laughs about your feeble attempts to have something done about his criminal misconduct, knowing what is done to anyone who dares try and complain….. The Charter of Healthcare Rights as effective as the Convention against the use of Torture ratified by the State…… there is no effective mechanism to allow anyone to make a complaint, and your ‘mental illness’ will need to be ‘treated’. You legal representative isn’t actually working to assist you other than ensuring the State doesn’t have a motive for ‘unintentionally negatively outcoming’ you for speaking the truth to power.

      See, the Community Nurse just lies to Police about the status of anyone he wishes to have ‘procured’, and someone he hasn’t even laid eyes on, never mind actually examined, is now his “Outpatient” and will be forced into a foregone ‘assessment’ at the point of a police weapon, and whilst they have been drugged without their knowledge with intoxicants….. later to be made into their “Regular Medications” with documents which have been forged by a Senior Medical Officer, and which can be “edited” to include his forged statutory declarations (produced once the police have induced the “acute stress reaction” to ensure he can put the words into the mouth of his victim…. I mean “Outpatient”).

      You would think there would be laws against such ‘knock out games’ (called ‘remotes’ where I live) but as with the tv game show “Tipping Point” it isn’t over yet.

      Once the Mental Health Law Centre requests the documents demonstrating what I am alleging, there is a problem in the hospital providing the documents and requesting they keep the facts from their client and instead conspire to pervert the course of justice over the matters. They need to create the appearance that they have done their duty, whilst not doing their duty, throwing the victims under a bus, and allowing their criminal negligence to conceal known criminal offences, and failing to report to the Corruption watchdog. And what are you going to do about it? Pay thousands to one of their colleagues (who become aware that this is going nowhere because you will be denied access to the Courts by public officers) to be told how expensive their time is until your wallet is empty?

      The ‘resolution’ lies in the lawyers receiving an “edited” set of documents (remove the ‘spiking’ and the fact that I wasn’t an “Outpatient”, and insert documents making that the “edited” reality), draft a letter of complaint to the Chief Psychiatrist (once they were sure that the documents I had obtained via FOI had been retrieved by the Police….. being able to demonstrate the “editing” a problem), and then forge a response from the Chief Psychiatrist and claim they haven’t got the resources to even read the response to the complaint they ‘assisted’ with. The victim is left with a poison pen letter and the ‘authorities’ now aware they no longer have the proof can turn their attention to defrauding other victims of State sanctioned torture, or wrongful deaths. I was shocked at the response of other legal representatives…….. all roads lead back to Rome (the Law Centre), and they are told to not be ‘over zealous’ with their enquiries……

      The lack of resources at the Law Centre was really lucky because that letter of response from the Chief Psychiatrist is bizarre to say the least. Well it is when you examine the documents he had access to before drafting it…… and not just the “edited” set of documents. It looks like he was knowingly uttering with forged documents…… in fact it doesn’t just look like it, if he was the author of that letter he WAS uttering with a known forged document.

      Not that it matters when police can snatch you from your bed and hospital staff will put you into a ‘permanent induced coma’ and the documents can be “edited” before any legal representative gets the opportunity to examine them. Not that they would do much other than point out the ‘little problem’ to the State and then be afraid for the safety of their family. This being the situation with the ‘therapist’ who first though I was crazy, then received a call from police asking him to find out from me “Who else has got the documents?” (the ones they had failed to retrieve before the forged letter was distributed covering up the way they are arbitrarily detaining and torturing citizens….. that is, spiking them with date rape drugs, calling them “Outpatients”, causing “acute stress reactions” and then forging documents making what they want to be true a reality……. others can then utter with those forged documents to “fuking destroy” the families of the victims should they dare try and access the protection of the law )

      Crazy isn’t it? The violence of the slander and gaslighting would in most circumstances push the victim to suicide (as it nearly did in my instance, not that my family would do much more than call for earlier and more brutal interventions)…… and I have little doubt the Operations Manager obtains great enjoyment out of her “editing” duties and covering up the human rights abuses occurring at the Ariel Castro Memorial Hospital…… and being paid for such vileness by taxpayers unaware of what is actually occurring in the name of ‘care’.

      Accountability? Not when they have the resources to paly the ‘knock out game’ with your family, and the whole community will turn their back and in fact breach their positions of trust to assist in your destruction because the police are busy helping with a cover up…….. nice little relationship can develop when they can conceal arbitrary detentions and torture by making the victims an “Outpatient” and start drugging them before they are even examined by a psychiatrist. People with no prescribing rights arranging ‘spikings’ with date rape drugs and then doctors write prescriptions for that post hoc? I can see a problem for the community there. Particularly rape victims.

      The ‘trauma’ of being detained in such a manner justification for a chemical restraint capable of laying an elephant out for a week…… and as the Chief Psychiatrist says in his letter [the forged one]…. “Of importance is the observed behaviours of the patient which can represent a risk to the person or other however justifiable the reasons for the behaviour may be”. Which was fascinating to me as I had made it very clear that the only way the Community Nurse could have possibly “observed” my thoughts was for him to travel back in time three weeks……. this corrupt practice, called “verballing” is used in my State to obtain wrongful convictions and has resulted in some long prison terms of the victims….. and it makes me wonder how may people have been swallowed up into the ‘mental health system’ and drugged for the rest of their natural lives based on this method of fraud.

      And lets not question the Community Nurses ability to read minds…….. I mean with zero ‘evidence’ he knew I was a wife beater despite my wife claiming she said no such thing…….. must have read her mind too? And documenting such falsehoods really does cause problems when the hospital starts distributing those documents along with other slanderous and misleading documents (breaches of the Federal Privacy Act but the victims are at a distinct disadvantage ….. they have methods of ‘resolution’ at hand to ensure zero accountability and carte blanche. Your now a ‘mental patient’ based on forged documents and guess what? Look out for the blow to the back of the head when your least expecting it. It’s referral time, and the police are helping the perpetrators cover up their abuses.