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Thinking and Discharging About Ebola

Re-evaluation Counseling encourages us to “hold everything up to the light of discharge.”

I was invited to lead a Regional1 gather-in on discharging about the Ebola crisis. (This Region offers discharge gatherings in “rapid response” to major world events.) I got some Co-Counseling sessions on my feelings about Ebola and contacted a Co-Counselor I knew in Ethiopia for his perspective. I asked him how African countries that weren’t the most directly impacted were being affected by Ebola and about the media representation there. His response included the comment, “Yes, Ebola has become a significant concern throughout Africa, but the international media also tend to portray an exaggerated version of the facts on the ground.” This seemed like an important point.

Since this recent epidemic, news reports have restimulated people all around the world—with horrifying statistics, wrenching stories, photos of victims and health-care workers suited up in bio-protective gear, condemning refutations of official information, and accusations that medical resources and survival supplies are being withheld. (I like the suggestion that we read about Ebola in sessions!2) I’ve noticed that when people are feeling scared or urgent, they tend to eagerly, maybe even competitively, offer facts, and more facts, from news magazines, the Internet, television, everywhere—sometimes in a point/counterpoint debate—rather than offering listening. Information is important, of course. But as we know in RC, listening and discharge are also greatly needed. And they are the resources that we RCers can best offer each other.

At the gather-in, we discharged on the following:

Our personal histories of illness. These will have a huge impact on our feelings about an epidemic, whether or not they include a contagious condition.

The history of other epidemics, such as polio, HIV, and the flu. My great uncle was one of the few survivors of the “Spanish flu” of 1918. This became a family story and seemed to affect our family’s relationship to illness. Since I work in the disability community, I know many people who contracted and survived polio. They have talked and written about their local towns’ fears and irrational actions. We all have these kinds of stories, from generations back, which affect our thinking and our relationship to illness and recovery. Just imagine the backlog of undischarged feelings we must have about all the diseases that have influenced our cultures and literatures, such as the bubonic plague, leprosy, typhus, cholera, smallpox, and yellow fever. Have we had many sessions about these? At the gather-in, to lighten things up a bit, I brought out my old Cooties game3 from the 1960s, which I’d run across4 while cleaning out a closet. I believe that in U.S. culture children have used the word cooties to client with each other about their parents’ fear of all kinds of diseases.

Where and among which populations anepidemic has occurred. Epidemics are often associated with the places and populations in which they first emerged and become connected with certain oppressions. HIV and AIDS, for example, are associated with the Gay community, even though they’ve had a bigger impact on the broader heterosexual population. The centuries-long history of colonialism and racism in Africa has affected the global reaction to the Ebola epidemic. In our work on Ebola, we need to discharge on racism and colonialism.

Our feelings about the health-care system and its political and economic context. These feelings will get restimulated when we read about the response, or lack of response, to the Ebola crisis. The U.S. health-care system is deeply distorted by profit and triages resources in an extreme way, often putting health-care workers in confusing and compromised roles. Most of us have been perplexed, if not mistreated, by the health-care system. Many of us who were born in hospitals have early hurts connected with health care and health providers. We may also have unreasonable expectations that health care should have already cured many complex health conditions.

And grief. Grief is a natural human reaction to the death of our close beloveds. A related feeling is horror—the shocked way we feel upon learning of many deaths or people dying in terrible ways. When we read about the deaths of people we never met, and imagine the loss of those people’s lives and the grief of their loved ones, it restimulates our own losses. I speculate that horror is a combination of grief, fear, and powerlessness. We may feel helpless in the face of others’ suffering, tangled with guilt about our distance or privilege. Our grief is deeply affected by “mental health” oppression, which discourages or prevents us from using the discharge and re-evaluation process. When my grandmother died when I was five, I was told that I didn’t need to understand, that I shouldn’t think about it. This left a distress recording for me of “I can’t think about death.” I believe that we are always struggling on some level with our earliest losses, including from birth and babyhood. Regular sessions on these losses can help us think with more clarity about other people’s deaths. Without “mental health” oppression, perhaps we would as readily join in crying with others as we join in contagious laughter. (Ah! Good contagion!) Grief discharge would be a positive experience; it would feel good to discharge our distress and reclaim our thinking.

The gather-in participants shared their thinking and experiences. One spoke of the impact vaccines had had on her sense of safety in childhood. Some who had had serious contagious diseases discharged about the isolating quarantine. One participant imagined a world in which people cared about each other enough to reopen hospitals standing empty in Western countries (because of being unprofitable) and fly in anyone ill with Ebola for the best-possible care. Someone else suggested that our whole society, connected and integrated, could function like a body martialing resources for the body parts that were in pain or distress.

The Ebola epidemic is challenging all of us to think and discharge in new areas. We are all leaders. With enough discharge, we can contribute our thinking to challenging areas like travel bans, international health-care economics, and how environmental and health-care issues intersect. We can reach for clarity and offer good listening to others who are caught up in their confusion. We can imagine and reach for a world that works for everyone.

Marsha Saxton
International Liberation Reference
Person for People with Disabilities
El Cerrito, California, USA
With input from Dagnachew
Wakene, Bob Gomez, and others

1 A Region is a subdivision of the International RC Community, usually consisting of several Areas (local RC Communities).
2 See previous article.
3 Cooties
4 “Run across” means found.

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00