The Skin We’re In
Last week, I absent mindedly reached down to pick up a bag of mealworms from the ground. I hadn’t noticed that the bag was covered with fire ants. Within seconds, I dropped the bag as I felt the unmistakable piercing stings all over my hand. I brushed the ants off as quickly as I could and ran inside to run my hand under some cold water. The pain did not subside. Instead, I felt the fire spread up my arm, across my neck and shoulders, and down my back. Looking down, I noticed that my feet were red and swollen and after another minute, I was unable to stand. Clearly, I was having a severe allergic reaction and needed to go to the Emergency Room.
By the time I arrived at the ER, my feet were so swollen that I couldn’t put my shoes on and my whole body was covered in hives. Thankfully, I wasn’t anaphylactic and I could still breathe. I was expecting to be given some oral medication and/or an injection of antihistamines and sent home. Instead, the nurse hooked up me to an IV and told me that I’d be staying put for a couple of hours. Had I known that I would be administered high doses of Benadryl and Dexamethasone, I would’ve stayed home and used the stash from my equine first aid kit. I’m kidding. Kind of.
As I lay in the hospital bed, the adrenaline of the past twenty minutes began to subside. I felt a wave of exhaustion crash over me and I surrendered to the heaviness. For the next 48 hours, all I wanted to do was sleep. As I drifted in and out of my antihistamine induced haze, it occurred to me that my body’s systemic reaction was a parallel for what’s happening in the world.
I’ve never had sensitive skin. If anything, my skin has been pretty hard wearing given the extreme temperatures that I’ve worked in over the years. It’s weathered sun and snow with equal resilience despite my lack of care for sunscreen and moisturizers. Lately though, I’ve noticed that I’ve been getting more allergic reactions. In the last 6 months, I’ve noticed that each time I get an insect bite, my skin has responded more acutely with cellulitis, contact dermatitis, or rash/hives. It’s like my tolerance has decreased with each bite and my body is fighting back harder than before.
On an embodied level, my system has been subjected to constant attack in small doses. While these were troublesome, I’ve managed to live with them. I’ve learned how to fight back in small ways, to soothe the pain and search for healing. Occasionally, I’d have to bring in some additional help of antibiotics to fight infections. And while the threat of a deadly reaction was always in my awareness, I had managed to avoid any direct confrontations. And I wasn’t aware that my body had reached capacity to cope. This last attack resulted in, literally, a firing up of every fiber of my being in mass protest, screaming out for a reset to equilibrium.
Here, I feel the parallel with what’s happening in the world in full force. We have ignored the signs for too long. We’ve patched things up with duct tape and baling twine, and while those fixes can hold up for a while, they too will inevitably fail. 2020 has been a year of climatological, meteorological, biological, and geopolitical disasters. The wildfires of the US West Coast bookend the bush fires of Australia in January. Combined with tornados, hurricanes, derechos, flooding, and earthquakes around the globe, Mother Earth is screaming for change. The global pandemic of Covid-19 is now exacerbated by the onset of flu season. Over 1 million people have died around the world from the coronavirus. Add to that the return of the bubonic plague and the discovery of a brain-eating amoeba in the water in Michigan, it feels like nature is launching its own biological warfare against the human race. Politically, there is ongoing civil unrest across the world. Pro-democracy riots in Hong Kong, protests for free speech in the Philippines, and in the US and Canada, the systemic uprising of Black communities against life threatening police brutality, saying enough is enough, hoping that this time they’ll be heard.
Humanity needs a reset. If only there was the equivalent of an IV to soothe the pain, reduce the threat, and offer some reprieve. But returning to equilibrium is not the goal. Like the protestor’s graffiti on the Hong Kong subway declared “We can’t return to normal, because the normal that we had was precisely the problem”. We need a new world. As Sonya Renee Taylor says, “We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature”. This doesn’t mean that it will be easy. What this is asking is for each and every one of us to take a stand in some way, however small that might be.
Here at The HERD Institute®, I am taking action to increase diversity and inclusion to our field. I am committed to increasing training access to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. We have a scholarship fund in place and we are also offering BIPOC folks discounts on tuition. We have revamped our Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy Certification to make training more affordable and accessible. I am collaborating with various organizations within the equine facilitated industry and in the equine industry in general at events to promote cultural competence and anti-racist education. I believe that every action counts. Because if an ant can trigger a full-bodied systemic response, imagine what we can do together.
So, what can you, personally, do as a way of contributing to a brave new world?