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The Interdisciplinary Work of Lyss England

Posts tagged survival

July 20 LIVE on Northumberland 89.7 FM Small Town Radio!
LISTEN HERE for the podcast version. 

Image may contain: one or more people and people standing

My guest, Shanna Layton, and I discuss things like:

  • How Shanna found her love of cooking
  • Her career in the food industry
  • Managing good allergies and food restrictions in the food industry
  • Surviving sexual assault and domestic violence
  • Setting the rumours straight about Pitcher’s Place
  • Shanna’s favourite places to eat in Northumberland County
  • Shanna’s upcoming professional projects (meal plans!?)
  • If you have been affected by the content in this episode, please reach out to someone you trust.

    If you would like to speak to a counsellor, I recommend phoning 4 County Crisis. They have counsellors available 24/7 at 1-866-995-9933.

    If you are experiencing domestic violence, visit www.cornerstonenorthumberland.ca for resources.

    Featured Music

  • Black Hole by Charly Bliss
  • Young Girls by Kate Boothman
  • Wilderness by Cheryl Ireland
  • Sing Every Day by Avem

 

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The intention of this project is to promote healing and storytelling through community and performance. There will be an open call to anyone who wishes to get involved in the process of creating a piece of performance art regarding the topic of disordered eating and performance.

There will be efforts made to encourage a wide range of people to participate in the workshopping and performing process. This includes diversity in age, gender, race, sexual orientation, ability level, and type of disability. While, ideally, most of the collective would be comprised of people living with disordered eating behaviours, it may also be interesting to hear from people supporting loved ones living with disordered eating behaviours or people who work closely with performers living with disordered eating behaviours. There is no cost to participants associated with this program.

There will be a five week series of workshops where this group of people will discuss things such as:

How does disordered eating affect performers? How does disordered eating affect performance itself?

What is performance?

What is disordered eating?

How does performance affect people physically and emotionally?

The difference between intentional and unintentional performances regarding disordered eating

Is there a place for people with disordered eating behaviours in spaces that promote performance?

How can we support one another regarding disordered eating behaviours?

while also taking care of ourselves?

How can being creative contribute to healing?

How does body image affect performance?

The lived experiences of performers with disordered eating behaviours?

Any people involved in the workshopping process will be invited to work on the actual writing of the performance based on the notes from the workshopping process. The format of performance will be discussed amongst collective (monologues? One act play? Music? Dance? Movement? Visual art? Combination?) There will be 4 rehearsals and two performances at the end of the workshopping process. Tickets will be sold for $20 each, with compensated and discounted tickets available to anyone who would like to attend, but cannot afford the ticket price. There will also be a “pay what you can” donation jar available at all performances and throughout the workshopping and rehearsal process.

Other topics will likely come up, and anyone involved in the collective will encouraged to bring up topics that are relevant to the project. Notes will be taken at each workshop. Workshops will be co-facilitated by Lyss England and Jillien Hone. Workshops will be done according to To the Root’s community discussion format.

 

CallOutPoster

Datesposter

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collabart.JPGThe above is a collaborative piece of art that was produced during the process of The Performance and Disordered Eating Project. The artists involved are Lyss, Jill, Lindsey, MJ, Clayton, and Marcela.

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CW: bodies, trauma, rape, rape culture, body modification, consent, coercion, violence, assault, police mention, racism, transmisogyny, sexism, ableism, healing
I’ve always loved body modification- tattoos, piercings, weird hair. I have my ear lobes stretched, and have for a long time. I have 17 tattoos, and have had pink, purple, blue, white, and red hair. At various points in my life, I’ve pierced my eyebrow, labret, lip, nostril, ears x like a million, bellybutton, and nipples. I also have my septum pierced. I think part of it is that I like to shock people (it weeds out those who are judgmental based on appearance really easily), I like to set myself apart from the preps (as any Good Punk does), and I simply appreciate the aesthetic. As a sexual assault survivor and a person in recovery from an eating disorder, I have also found found an immense amount of healing through the choice to modify my body in a way that suits my aesthetic in a way that is permanent (tattoos), or semi-permanent (piercings and hair). I get the choice. I get to consent. As an artist, I get to treat my body as a canvas. My body tells my stories in a way that I can always hold with me. I can see them, and I know they are real, even when I’m not sure what else is. I like the way I look because I love my body modifications. Modifying my body has been a hugely liberating, empowering, and healing process for me.
I grew up in a Suburb of Toronto that has since become a Big City. Then, I lived in a mid-size University Town full of hippies, anarchists, and students. For a period of time I also spent a lot of time in the Toronto Punk Scene. In all of those places, I found my people. I had a community of people who, like me, considered their bodies art forms that told their stories. To them, the ways I choose to modify my body weren’t overly shocking. In fact, my modifications really weren’t particularly radical at all. After I finished my undergrad, I moved to the Small Town where my partner had grown up. in this Small Town, there is a vibrant music, theatre, and art community, and on top of that, it seemed like the ideal place where we could slowly build our careers and raise our one-day, hypothetical family. 
In spite of the vibrant arts community and the small, but mighty radical community (which looks a lot different than the radical communities of the University Town and Toronto Punk Scene), I began to run into the problem my preppy parents had always warned me about: the vast majority of people in this Small Town took one look at me and identified me as not only a New Girl, but a Freak. In the 3 years I’ve lived here, I have grown to be a part of this community, and I have a lot of love for it. But I have also experienced violence based on the way I’ve chosen to modify my body. 
Now, I should note here that I chose to modify my body, and I chose to settle in a Small Town. There are many demographics of people who experience violence based on things that are not choice, but are visible and significant parts of who they are. As a white woman, I do not experience the violence that people of colour face in my community, and systemically. When my Small Town’s police association chose to launch a “Blue Lives Matter” campaign to make money to benefit the police, I had the privilege to make noise about how inappropriate that was without the fear of being harassed or attacked. As someone who is identified as cis by others, I do not experience the violence that visibly and openly transgender people face in my community. I can use a public restroom without people following me in and inquiring about my genitals. As a person who, more often than not, passes as able-bodied (even though I’m not), I do not experience the same types of violence as people in the community who are visibly disabled and/or who use visible mobility aids. I am able to shop in the stores downtown. The level that these acts of violence exist on are systemic, and they thrive in my Small Town. The violence that I am talking about regarding my body modifications does not diminish the fact that there are people in my community who experience violence on levels that I am privileged enough to never have to experience. 

That being said, I am a disabled, mad, modified femme who has experienced violence that is rooted in these subject positions and the power structures they exist in in the context of my life and the social world around me. I could write a million essays on gender-based violence and ableism and madness (okay, I already have and will continue to), but this essay isn’t about those things directly as much as it is about the violence I’ve experienced because I have chosen to modify my body. Even more specifically, this essay is about my septum piercing being a site of violence. My horseshoe-shaped, silver, 16 gauge septum ring.

Sometimes these acts of violence are subtle. Sometimes they’re off-handed comments about how it looks weird, or about how other people don’t like it. I know it may seem like a stretch to consider those things violent, but when one thing about you is a constant source of harassment, that begins to feel a lot like emotional abuse. And that shit feels violent.

It felt violent when a manager told me I could have the job if I took out my septum ring because it made me look like a freak.
It felt violent when another manager brought up that, although she liked my look, some clients may not feel comfortable receiving counselling from me because of my septum ring, and that this has been an issue in the past.
It felt violent when people came into bars I used to work in and told me I’d be so pretty without my septum ring and that I should take it out.
It felt violent when family members told me the same thing.
It felt violent when a youth I was working with told me I was stupid for having a septum piercing. 
I could go on for a while, but I won’t bore you. I will share the most explicitly violent thing that happened regarding my septum piercing though:
 I was working with a youth who loved candy. We went into the dollar store to buy some, and I lead him to the candy aisle. We were intercepted by a middle-aged woman who reached out, grabbed my septum ring, and held on to it tightly while telling my client that this was the best way to “keep my under control”. Shocked, I reached up, held onto the woman’s wrist, and gentle peeled her fingers off of my face. She continued ranting about how I needed to be controlled with a piercing like that, and then reached up and grabbed it again. I blocked her with my own arm, turned my back to her, and made space for my client to pass by me. He was scared and shocked and had a lot of questions I didn’t know how to answer, like, “why did she do that to you?”. 
The escalation of violence regarding my septum ring lead me to take it out (that, and because I felt as though my manager had a point that that particular form of body modification may isolate me from clients, which is the last thing I want, wrong or not). I no longer felt safe wearing my septum ring in public. I felt exposed, vulnerable. I like the way I look with it in, so I continued to wear it at home, but took it out when I was in public. After a few months without it, I put it back in today. I’ll still take it out for work, but on my days off, I want to try it out again.

The fact that anyone feels as though it’s appropriate to police what anyone does with their body or their expression of self feels really fucked up to me. It feels like a violation. The fixation on the way other people look fosters such a toxic culture of alienation and unattainable perfection. It took me a long time to learn that perfect isn’t a thing, and that my stories and how I choose to tell them (including my obsession with embodying them) are a hell of a lot more authentic that meeting a beauty standard set out by anyone but myself. But my believing that didn’t stop that act of violence from happening to me.

I mean, let’s call it what it is. Rape culture. Rape culture is all about coercing people into believing that they’re living authentically and that their identities were formed through consensual experiences. Rape culture it about deciding what is best for other people, touching people without their consent, maintaining control, and stripping control away from people who may question the authority of hegemonic society. Rape culture is why a middle-aged woman felt it was reasonable to grab something that was attached to my face and tell my male client that violating my personal space, body, and choices was the Right Thing to Do.

And I’ve gotta tell you, it sure did feel similar to being raped. I mean, obviously not in such an intense way, but my brain did the trauma thing. I remember freezing and thinking, “she is holding something that is attached to my face and she’s won’t let go” and then snapping into flight mode the same way I remember freezing and thinking, “he is inside of me, and he won’t listen to me saying no” and then snapping into flight mode.

I wish I could say that this essay is a call to action. A call to respect other peoples’ choices regarding how they express themselves, physically or otherwise. A call to get consent before touching people. A call to respect the boundaries of survivors regarding their own healing (and to give people the benefit of the doubt if they choose not disclose their survivor status to you). But it’s not. It’s just one of my stories.

Content warning: all the usual stuff, but also specific mentions of self-harm, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts.

 

The stereotype of mad people goes something like this: unable to get out of bed, unable to take care of basic needs (ie. food, hygiene), engaging in impulses, suicide attempts, active self-harming, medicated, attention-seeking, manipulative, engaging with any and all delusions or hallucinations- and the list goes on. Some of these things hold truth for some people (heck, all of these things may hold true for some people!), and that is valid. But those are not things that hold true for me.

I identify as being a mad person for a few reasons:

1. I was diagnosed with Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, and as experiencing occasional quasipsychosis when I was fourteen. I was then treated by a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and my family doctor through various therapeutic practices and also with medication.

It should probably be noted at this point that I feel strongly that if I were to undergo a full psychiatric assessment at this point in my life, eleven years after my initial evaluation, I would be given a pretty different set of diagnoses. It should also probably be noted that, while I believe first and foremost that everyone ought to have the right to treat their madness/illness/body in whatever way they feel may work best for them at the time, I am extremely noncompliant with medication and do not believe that it is helpful for me or conducive to my healing process at this point in my life. I also want to acknowledge that there was a point in my life where I did feel as though medication was helpful.

2. Sometimes, I feel mad. I feel crazy. I feel out of control. Sometimes, I am so depressed I want to die for no reason at all. Sometimes, I am so anxious, leaving my apartment takes hours because I have to check and re-check that i’ve unplugged everything in my apartment. Sometimes, I hear, and see, and feel things that other people don’t hear, or see, or feel. More often than not, I wake up throughout the night, either already breathless from sobbing in my sleep or completely paralyzed, as though there’s an alien laying on top of me. 
3. Other people (sometimes) identify me as mad. When I’m having a panic attack, or when I disclose to a close friend that I am feeling “low-key suicidal” as I call it (meaning I am experiencing suicidal ideation but don’t plan to carry anything out/am safe overall), they identify me as mad.When I disclose things to doctors, they also identify me as mad. When my family has to put up with me unplugging everything constantly and panicking about it as I drive away from home, or my partner wakes up to me crying again, they identify me as mad too.
Whether I want it to be or not, madness is a big part of my life, and, given the day, I’ve been known to argue both sides. However, the stereotype of mad folks doesn’t fit for me. No matter how unstable I am feeling, I will always get up, force myself to eat, force myself to drink water, force myself to get dressed, force myself to go to work, force myself to prepare meals beforehand, force myself to maintain relationships, force myself to take time to rest and recharge, force myself to have boundaries, force myself to care for the people in my life. I haven’t attempted suicide in eight and a half years, I haven’t self-harmed in five years, and in that time, I have graduated with an undergraduate degree (with honours), maintained a long-term romantic relationship, improved my family relationships, maintained several long-term friendships, started my career, and found stable housing (finally). I am what people call high-functioning.
I work, I volunteer, I take care of myself, I maintain relationships and extra-curricular interests. People who aren’t close to me generally don’t even realize I’m mad, and in a way, that is a privilege. However, like with any invisible, chronic condition, there is something to be said for experiences being erased by what fits more easily: physical and visible manifestation of symptoms.

The fact that I am high-functioning does not negate my experiences or the validity of my healing process.

Sometimes, I feel guilty for taking up space in therapeutic settings or online support groups for mad people. Sometimes, I feel guilty because I feel as though I’m appropriating language around mental health to describe my experiences. But the reality of the situation is: just because I don’t kill myself, doesn’t make my nearly constant suicidal ideation any less significant to my lived experience. Obviously, that’s the most extreme example I could give, but you get the idea (and I do love the dramatic…).

A lot of the issue comes down to the nature of psychiatry. Lists of symptoms fit the criteria of a mental illness, as defined by the  DSM V, so people are diagnosed and received the treatment that is supposed to alleviate those symptoms. Although this process has been life-saving in many different ways for many different people, there are tons of problems with this way of identifying and treating madness.That is an essay within itself….
The one problem with this that I want to draw attention to within this particular essay is that there exists this binary of “well”/“not well” or “sane”/“mad” or “functioning according to capitalist standards”/“not functioning according to capitalist standards”. While I’m all for resisting capitalism and not defining wellness or worth according to levels of productivity, I also happen to be a person who copes (and literally survives) by functioning. That is my way of resisting feeling like shit. This doesn’t mean that I think I’m better than (or more well than or healed than) people who are not high-functioning, simply that my way of working towards wellness and healing happens to look pretty high-functioning.

This also does not negate my experiences or the validity of my healing process.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been able to access many years worth different kinds of therapies. Maybe it’s because I was medicated for a few years. Maybe it’s because I have some wonderfully supportive, stable people in my life. Maybe it’s because my number one priority is my healing process (even when it may not seem like it). Maybe it’s because I’m a capricorn. Maybe it’s because it’s just the way I am. Maybe it’s because I was brought up in a WASPy, upper middle class, white family, and not being high functioning simply was not an option. It’s probably because of all of these things that I am a high functioning mad person.

Regardless, my experiences and my healing process are valid, even as a high-functioning mad person.

This is a survivor’s love letter to my (current) sex life and how i got there and it contains discussion around consent, sexual assault, death of a parent, compulsive sexuality, self-objectification, sex work, and my healing process around sex. 
When I was growing up, my mom was, like, the pioneer of sex positivity. She was always straight up with me about sex. She told me that she had always enjoyed it, and that, one day, I probably would too. She was right. Two weeks before my sixteenth birthday, I had slow, clumsy, missionary sex with my boyfriend and I thought it was the most incredible thing in the entire world. It satisfied all of the things I craved: passion/intensity/being in the moment/being the centre of attention.

I kept waiting for mom to be well enough so that I could tell her about it and have her actually comprehend. She died 4 days before I turned sixteen: January 1, 2007. I spent the next couple of years feeling pretty fucked up and using sex as a distraction. If you were in a band, I was going to fuck you. It was compulsive. It wasn’t a healthy coping mechanism.

I had this friend who was very emotionally manipulative. He was also a pretty good distraction. I was making out with him one day and he took off my clothes. We were naked, and he was on top of me. I said, “wait, I’m not ready for this” and he didn’t stop. I didn’t say “no”. I remember thinking: holy shit, he’s inside of me and I don’t want him inside of me. Time froze. I was watching myself from outside of my body. I couldn’t move. All I could think of was: I need this to be over now. I finished him off. It was over. I smoked a cigarette. Frozen. 

It wasn’t the first time I wished that I (and the boys I was surrounded by) had a better understanding of consent. There was the time when I was fourteen and the cutest boy whose brother was on my brother’s hockey team told me he wanted to tell me something to took me outside and pushed me up against the wall and stuck his tongue in my mouth. He thought it was passionate and romantic. I felt violated because I had thought that he had actually wanted to talk to me. There was the time I was fifteen and my boyfriend told me that all of his friends girlfriends suck their boyfriends dicks and that I should do that too because its just what peoples’ girlfriends did. And I wanted him to like me, so I did. There was the time that I was three and my grandfather took me to the fire station where he worked and one of the men there…well, you get the point.

I told you this part because I want you to understand how I got to where I am, and why it is something that feels so significant to me. 

When I met my partner, I was legitimately shocked when he waited until I said, “you know, you can kiss me if you want to” to make a move. It felt like… I didn’t know what sex was until I fucked him. I felt safe, and in that safety, I felt capable of genuinely exploring my sexuality. Lucky for me, he was very excited at that prospect. When he made a bunch of money off a movie he was in, he took me to a feminist sex shop and spoiled me with toys I didn’t even know how to use. We did shit that made his “pervy” promiscuous bandmates squirm when they heard about it. And I felt safe.

Almost eight years later, our sex life is still going strong.

One thing I should probably tell you, if we’re gonna talk about me and sex, is that nothing gets me off more than objectifying myself. This is different than being objectified, because it’s something that I consent to. I want to the be the desired object in the context of my lover and anyone else who I choose to let observe. On my terms.

For a while, I moderated a blog of nudes selfie-style photos. I always took them myself, I chose what was posted, and I moderated the response from behind my computer. I was able to be intentional in the way I chose to display my body as a sexual object. It turns me on to feel desired, but it turned me on even more knowing that I was the one who had the power to display it the way I wanted to. And I felt safe.

In the last couple of years, I’ve also delved into camming. Again, I liked being able to objectify myself on my own terms. However, the men (yes, specifically the men) who choose to interact with people in that context have a tendency to be pushy about what they want to see, and seem to feel as though they’re entitled to act this way because they’re paying to watch. I don’t like that part, so my involvement with camming is limited for that reason.

Most recently, my partner and I have expanded our sex life to include a beautiful woman who I both love to play with, and love to spend time with. Our relationship is very different than me and my partner’s relationship, but it’s significant to me. And significant to my sex life. With her, it’s a whole different kind of pleasure. And I feel safe.

I feel blessed to have multiple relationships in my life now where I have power over how I experience my sexuality in a way that allows me to fulfill my deepest desires. I am grateful to work through these kinds of relationships with people who are committed to being honest and open and communicating every step of the way.

But the reality of the situation is that too many people, especially young people, do not communicate consent verbally. Too often consent is implicit. Just because I got naked with that boy when I was seventeen, doesn’t mean I wanted to have sex with him, but he thought that’s what it meant. And I should acknowledge that there are complex gendered components to all of his that I could talk about for days, but that’s a whole other essay.

I’ve found, in all of my various sexploits, that, aside from being straight-up fucking mandatory, communicating wants and needs and desires and boundaries is incredibly sexy. What better way to get what you want out of your sex life than telling someone exactly what you want them to do to you or what you want to do them and receiving explicit confirmation that that’s pleasurable and satisfying for them too?

I’m grateful for the perspective I have, the way I’ve experienced different power dynamics in relation to my sex life- even the ones that have fucked me up. Because it got me here, to this incredible place where I feel so good in relation to my sex life. And feeling good in the moment is enough on it’s own.

There’s something to be said
For the pain of knowing
What you want,
Putting in so much
That you lose the rest of
yourself,
And being rejected
Over and over and over
And getting back up
To put in more
Than you ever had to
Begin with
And finding that what you wanted
Doesn’t feel
Like it was for you
After all.
There’s something to be said
For dreaming and working
And not being seen
And finding that
You were never made for
That dream.
(Or the dream was never made for you)
You were made for
The challenge.

CW: death (feat. lyrics by Dashboard Confessional)

I remember her body
tiny and frail
convulsing in my arms
still pretty
still in this physical world
back then.

I sang to her

“she smiled in a big way”
her dry, thin lips unmoving.
“quiet in the grasp of dusk and summer”
it was late December,
but she was quiet.

“you already lost”
as she faded from me.
“when you only had barely enough to hang on”
it was true.

“she made you better than you were before”
I wanted it to be so.
“she told you bad things that you wished you could change”
and I grew up
so young.

“she said, nobody here can live forever”
And she died a couple of days later.
“Some things tie your life together
With slender threads,
And things to treasure,
And days like that should last and last and last”

he came home
I was already awake
he didn’t have to say anything.

my brother,
silent,
hugged her body.

I,
frozen,
touched her hand.

my suddenly too-big body
vibrating
I drew in a deep breath
cold air
scraping against my insides
inflamed.