Ecocide and PTSD



The fierce light of the white star pierced her thick white fur as the mother froze. She was trying to imagine how her cubs could make the jump from one jagged ice flow to another in the cracked deep blue waters.

Just a few months ago she had birthed them on solid well frozen ice – cubs who knew nothing but nurture – feelings of safety, love, rich abundant milk   – trusting their mother implicitly – the solid blue ice that supported them was home. Now her children faced the threat of death by drowning… A mountain of despair flooded the bear’s mind and body. Blind fear slammed through her young. To lose her cubs was more than the mother could bear. All the accumulated bear wisdom – 50 million years of bear knowing – could not help her now. Her children were helpless.

A polar bear that is forced to confront a situation like this one will live with consequences that will change her life. Nothing has prepared her for this day.  Just how she will be affected we do not know…but developing PTSD is a possibility/probability. (Her children, if they survive will have a 1 -3 chance of developing this disorder as well).

According to the most recent research in Neuroscience/Neuropsychology PTSD is a physiological state brought on by sudden trauma, or prolonged trauma that stretches back to childhood. Either way this trauma affects the individual at a cellular level, pre-disposing that animal or person to experience the world through a “darker lens”, one that may be dominated by fear. There is no cure.


The etiology of PTSD involves shock or violence of one kind or another. PTSD may occur suddenly as a result of a single trauma or it may extend over a lifetime beginning in early childhood. Approximately one out of three individuals (animal or human) may develop this disorder.

It is only recently that non human animals have been diagnosed with PTSD. Generations of wild animals like elephants, and whales who have been tortured and hunted down without mercy are starting to ‘crack’ – some erupting into acts of rage that are unprecedented…

Why? They have been unhinged by man’s violence.

Violence begets violence.

Neuroscience/Neuropsychology is providing us with explanations for this apparently bizarre behavior thanks to scientific researchers like Gay Bradshaw and Naturalists like Charlie Russell and myself.

I think one of the most important consequences of this cutting edge research/understanding is that it takes PTSD out of the category of “mental disorders” (removing a stigma) and places it where it belongs – in the cells of our bodies. PTSD is a physiological disorder.

Having suffered from PTSD for a lifetime it was a relief to have validation for my gut sense that this thing was ‘living in my body’, and that there was nothing I could do to stop “it” once the disorder was activated by yet another social stress.

Intuitively I knew…

As a researcher I recognized PTSD in animals that I studied years ago but could never find evidence to support my observations until now.

For anyone interested in understanding more about PTSD in wild animals (and more insight into our own behavior) I highly recommend Gay Bradshaw’s books “Conversations with Bears” or  “Carnivore Minds.”


The End of Democracy?


All three sides of this terrifying sculpture


I recently read Carol Christ’s response to an article “ The Patriarchy Will Always Have Its Revenge” (New York Times) with respect to our current political insanity with regard to women and rape. Carol wrote, “I find myself caught in the undertow of bad memories, stuck in a simmer of rage. My hands furl into fists. My jaw clenches. My teeth grind in the night.”


Mine too.


The Brett Kavanaugh case makes it abundantly clear we still blame women for rape even when the woman is a child.


The independent and most neutral of all papers from my point of view, The Guardian, states that according to the New England Journal of Medicine, rape is about four times more likely to result in diagnosable PTSD than combat.” I would add that attempted rape has the same result.


As a woman who has suffered from PTSD her entire life, has a history of sexual abuse, and has worked with abused women during most of her adult years I know from personal experience that this statistic is accurate, and as a therapist, I recognize that attempted rape destroys a woman’s sense of self in mind, body, and soul, just as actual rape does.


Ironically, the same morning I read Carol’s post a man posted the above picture on FB stating “that the sculpture was about a man thinking about wife giving birth.” WHAT? This frightening triple image spoke volumes to me about the hold real men and the dominant Patriarchal culture have had over Women and the Earth for millennia.


But thankfully not all men. John Erickson asks the same questions in his post on that I have been asking as the horrors mount:


“If you are like me, you have found yourself, more times than one I am guessing, watching the news, mouths agape, mind in disbelief, and your heart heavy with grief and sadness. While these great travesties occur, I find myself wondering what is the cost? How many children must be locked in cages? How many women must come forward with accusations of sexual assault and rape? How many more people must accuse the President of harassment and assault? How many more anonymous op-eds and faulty promises must be made before we finally all see that the real cost, is that these great travesties themselves (too many to recall here) are what it really takes to take down imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”


He continues: “People have grown weary of having me at parties because my normal talking points are:

  1. Asking people if they’re registered to vote (and if not, why aren’t they?)
  2. Making sure people are discussing difficult issues with their friends and families that may or may not support Trump…
  1. Asking how long they think it will be until we are actually living in The Handmaid’s Tale universe?”

He also reminds us that this is more than about Trump’s presidency. Trump’s election is a symptom of the disintegration of an entire culture.


John finishes his essay by encouraging us to vote.


In my despairing state I have reached the same conclusion. There’s nothing else left to do. If we don’t vote in November to begin the process of ending this insanity, feminist or non –feminist, Democracy will be dead.

A Little Story about PTSD

This morning I awakened at 6AM under a star cracked sky that frames the window behind my head… The owl was singing outside my window. Walking down to Red Willow River in the predawn light while listening to the sound of water blurred the boundaries between a woman and the element she yearns for, flowing water, (a natural antidote to having an intense fiery nature).


I remind myself that approaching old age doesn’t mean that I am no longer made of water – I have just less of it than before. Feeling that I am part of this river helps me breathe deep into my belly, releasing some of the mountains of stress – at least temporarily – that I have accumulated over the past few weeks… My dog Lucy has been ill. Too much fear, and a body too exhausted to sleep leaves me walking on air with no ground under my feet.


A few days ago we finally found a veterinarian who didn’t whisk my terrified dog out of my arms to do blood work, dismiss my ideas, or tell me what was right. Instead, he noted my dog’s terror, bent the rules for the blood work while offering his opinion as to where we should go from here (When I told him I was losing it he agreed saying bluntly “I can see that”). Finally, we have a plan. No more invasive testing for now, unless Lucy becomes ill again.


Dr. Martin said it was his policy to work with the people and animals that he sees (what he didn’t say was that he wasn’t attached to the need to dominate), a rare perspective for a doctor to hold but one I value dearly because I have been gifted with a friend and vet of 30 years who wouldn’t consider behaving any other way. In the last chaotic, fear dominated weeks, Gary has been the one stable influence (besides Iren and Bruce) in a sea of veterinarian misery. However, Gary is in Maine and we are making our permanent home in New Mexico and there is a limit to what he can do long distance. It is such a relief to have the sense that another personal thread might be being woven between a vet, my dogs, and me (unless I am so desperate that I have become delusional).


I can’t function without that personal thread.


For now anyway my sweet Lucy eats, rests well, and waits for me at the window as I return from my morning walk… perhaps one day soon I will sleep just as soundly again as she is doing now at my feet.


Meanwhile, a demon from the deep has arisen to haunt me.


PTSD and a Generalized Anxiety Disorder have been my unwelcome life-time companions. My present perspective is that I was born into terror, and had no way to metabolize it as either an infant, a child, an adolescent or an adult. I was branded too intense, too emotional, too high-strung, even too stupid, as if these qualities were somehow my fault. Unfortunately, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe the adults were all correct and that I was not worthy to be on this planet. I was intrinsically flawed.


It is unfortunate that I was not dually diagnosed with PTSD/ Acute Anxiety Disorder, both debilitating mental and physical diseases until mid- life. Up until that point I functioned mostly in the breakdown lane. The one exception was my relationship with animals and plants. Animals and plants always seemed to accept me for who I was, loved me unconditionally, became my best friends and eventually taught me how to love myself. As an adult I have never lived without either, and my dogs have literally supported me through intolerable losses when I had no reason to go on except for them.


Unfortunately, being diagnosed at 45 with both conditions was too late to reverse their devastating effects. Around the same time I was also diagnosed with severe directional dyslexia. Although this third diagnosis is another facet of the same story I won’t be focusing on it it now.


I had always used walking in the woods and by water as a means to alleviate emotional stress and fear, kept animals close, had been journaling for 20 years; now I learned to meditate, and to do deep breathing. I also took up yoga, believing somehow that diligence and hard work on my part would “cure” me.


I was wrong.


The poison of intergenerational terror thrives in every cell of my unwilling body and/or it takes over my mind. I live my life on an edge that most people can’t even imagine. I may know that my terror is unreasonable, but my bodymind is still forced to carry that fear.


Now in my seventies, I no longer attempt to change what is, but rather to be mindful of what is happening to me when I am going into an acute phase of PTSD, to lean into it as much as I am able, and to be gentle and non – judgmental with myself.


I still use writing, walking, meditation, and deep breathing as de –stressors, and my animals are my dearest companions, but do not expect myself to relax mentally or physically when some frightening situation like Lucy’s illness (and even more recently a dear friend’s operation) triggers the acute phase of this disease because I know the dark man has risen out of the depths of my unconscious and he is more powerful than I am. With him dominating both my mind and body I am unable to think clearly, relax, and my poor body is deprived of sleep. I develop terrible headaches that blur my vision. I am nauseous and often can’t eat. My mind is flooded by catastrophic thoughts that I am unable to rid myself of and I lose complete access to my short – term memory, ending up in a room for example, with no idea why. This terrifying force of negative energy literally brings me to my knees. But the one thing that helps me is knowing “it” will eventually have to let go of me if I can wait it out. The key is “if”.


I use the phrase ‘the dark man’ because this is how my dreams forecast either a future or mind/body attack in progress. For example recently I dreamed that I am with the dark man trying desperately to please him when he says with disgust, ‘we have nothing in common’ and dismisses me. This controlling inner demon is gender neutral – both male and female – but relentless in his pursuit and when I am in his power being patient with my emotional and physical state is the most important thing I can do. I will no longer give in to self – hatred to feed this parasite who is feeding on me.


The most debilitating aspect of this disease in its acute phase is my exhaustion. I am unable to sleep without taking medication, and even then, my sleep is short lived and I awaken heart pounding with fear. Sleep deprivation destroys brain cells and eventually causes physical illness.


I am hyper – aware and my startle reflex is intensified by these attacks. A dog barking, or the sound of music can literally send me over the edge.


Although I have been forced to take anti-anxiety medication since I was 50 (when I finally gave in to the reality that I was unable to cure my condition with diligence and personal actions), I am only too aware that this medication is only a palliative measure. It cannot stop the acute phases of the disease from occurring.


In the last year prolonged sleep deprivation and stress led to serious of physical infections that I can no longer treat with antibiotics. This current situation has left me on a new frightening edge. I will need surgery to correct a chronic stomach condition (diverticulitis – that is exacerbated by too much stress) unless I can get this stress under control. The surgeon also tells me that there is no guarantee that surgery will correct the problem.


How ironic, since it was stress that brought me to this edge in the first place.


These days I can feel a fragility in myself that I have not experienced before; my body is weary. Every time I experience the acute phase of this disease (like I am now) I feel less able to cope with it. I am depressed and feeling hopeless.


There is absolutely nothing I can do to control what happens around me. There is also nothing I can do to put an end to this acute phase.


When people tell me I “should” relax I feel crazy.


I am writing this narrative on a blessedly cool morning in New Mexico hoping that hearing the owl’s song at dawn might mean that help is on the way in some unknown way.


Throwing myself on the mercy of Nature, is at this point, my only hope.