Hi, I’m Hima Batavia - a writer, cultural producer, artist, and community organizer based in T’karonto and the great infinite. This newsletter is a space to write liberated futures into being. You can learn more about me, my social location, and this newsletter here.
For the last few months, my hair has descended into a cobweb. It’s not for a lack of washing it - though admittedly the frequency is lower than pre-portal. And, it’s not in the absence of spending way too much money on lathering hair soap that is organic, paraben-free, and vegan, has tea tree extract from the Cape York Penisula, and a minimalist bottle with the bewitching promise of a potion.
Prior to our shower floor becoming a Shoppers Drug Mart shelf, my scalp started peeling about a year ago. At first, picking the scabs forming on the mid-back region of my scalp was an unconscious, self-soothing habit. Dazed on the couch, my hand would involuntarily reach for my neck. Before I knew it, my hand was grazing its nails across my nape, momentarily reconfiguring the skin from its static state into sensational bliss until it entered a forest of hair follicles, parting them into lanes. Now tilted, my hand used its fingertips to lowly scan for a desert of loosely held, rugged skin across the scalp terrain. Sometimes, the skin was already dislodged from the scalp, requiring the precision of a seamstress to thread it through the mane to safety.
Soon, scalp picking became another gross habit, the ones we all do, but never talk about; the ones that are satisfying in part because of our salacious desire to do things that are unacceptable and subvert the apparatus of respectability politics. Sheets of skin follicles were now more likely to be found resting on the arm of the couch, besides my laptop on the work/meal table, and on top of books stacked adjacent to our mattress-on-the-floor bed, usually accompanied by a strand of half grey-half brown hair. It was easy enough to ignore a dry scalp when it became part of a primal grooming routine, no different than a cat licking itself clean. When I did remember to ask my doctor about it, she threw me some steroid cream that offered some temporary relief.
It was only when my hair strands began to clump like overcooked spaghetti, no matter how much I washed it and how many products I used, I thought: wait a damn minute, something is not right here. After manically google searching, taking blurry pictures of my crown, and comparing them to alarming google images, I self-diagnosed myself as having scalp psoriasis and retreated into a silent nervous breakdown. The irony is that ‘silent nervous breakdowns’ is likely how I got psoriasis in the first place, according to the science of knowing myself.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that mistakenly attacks your skin cells, of which the cause is not fully known. This, along with ADHD, and the early onset of grey hair, suggests two things to me: ‘genetics’ as a cause of illness is code for intergenerational trauma and my body has been in fight or flight non-stop for 30+ years. About two years ago, it hit a threshold, slowly breaking down into malfunctions. The treatment for psoriasis is usually topical solutions (like steroids) and a recommendation for lifestyle changes - like yoga and meditation to reduce the stress that began the mess in the first place.
This is the loop that racialized and marginalized communities live on: experiencing physical and mental breakdowns from the stress of living within traumatic circumstances, and then treated with a prescription to reduce the stress without any material changes in these conditions, and then re-experiencing stress from the cultural, economic and social barriers to reducing the stress. It’s why wellness is often considered an industrial complex - because it refuses to contend with the systems that make us unwell, to begin with, opting for lifetime treatments.
Even after years of ongoing healing work that has transformed so many prickly parts of my experience into neutrality, acceptance, love, and creativity, the catalysts of my stressors have not changed much, which can make me prone to retraumatization. Perhaps what is more disconcerting is that when you hold stress and trauma in your body for so long, it becomes normalized to be uncomfortable; the discomfort melting into your contours. I constantly wonder how it feels to feel what I feel in someone else’s body. Is anyone walking around with the relaxed flesh of being in a sauna? If so, I would like to know!
When you’re faced with a minor health issue these days, the process goes like this: the Internet will poke your fears, a doctor will address your symptoms, an influencer will share their before and after story, a naturopath will boost your organs, and a therapist will address your trauma - if you can afford any or all of these options. Ultimately, you are the sense-maker, triangulating the data while holding the reality and politics of your body and lived experience, which can become hugely overwhelming. At least for me.
Last year, Leila Janah, the founder of Sama died at the age of 37. I had met Leila once in passing when I lived in India years ago. In international development circles, she was the quintessential example of a social entrepreneur. Her company, Sama, trained young folks in countries across Africa and Asia on tech skills, and made the connection to opportunities in Silicon Valley, with the theory that dignified and living wage work was the best way to lift people out of poverty. Like many entrepreneurs, Leila was charming, impeccably dressed, stilled any room she walked in, and kite-surfed for fun.
When she was diagnosed with a rare cancer called Epithelioid sarcoma it catalyzed what sounded like a deep healing journey of sharing her vulnerability and receiving care, while acknowledging that her emotional and mental stress and aggressive style of business-building may have led to a chronic suppression of her immune system. During her one-year battle, she remained fiercely optimistic on IG, vowing to Buddhist vipassana practices, reconnecting with the Gayatri Mantra, releasing past anger, blame, and hurts from a challenging upbringing, and actually making and spending time with people.
Her death hit me hard - which is always a strange experience because while I did not know her, I certainly looked up to her and followed her story for years. In a similar vein, my favorite vegan chef, Sophia Roe, had a mini-stroke last week at 31, posting on IG with the caption, ‘so stress can really kill you.’ When I think of racialized women and non-binary people, I never worry about our capacity to create, speak truth to power and care for whole communities against all odds, but I do worry about our health. About the invisible impact of layers of trauma, prolonged deregulated nervous systems, cultural guilt and familial needs, nights of sweating in grief and living within the awareness of violent systems, and how that festers and manifests as physical pain, disease and legions, and energy depletion when you least expect it. ‘While we all want to move beyond trauma, the part of our brain that is devoted to ensuring our survival is not very good at denial,’ Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk describes in his indispensable guide, The Body Keeps Score. The stressors amplify when the body is unwilling to deny trauma, but the mind has created all these micro-nuanced ways to cope — that can be especially hard to detect amongst high-functioning folks, according to Dr. Bruce D. Perry, who co-wrote the book ‘What Happened To You: Conversations On Trauma, Resilience and Healing,’ with Oprah Winfrey. Dissociating, checking out, getting confused, dreaming, and reverting to people-pleasing, are all ways the body learns to regulate the nervous system when it has experienced trauma. Perhaps I am projecting the severity of the toll of trauma, and certainly finding the evidence for my own inners fears of having an aneurysm from hypervigilance, but all the evidence is showing that healing needs to evolve from an option to an imperative human right.
Tricia Hersey founded The Nap Ministry in 2016, but her message of ‘Rest as Resistance,’ really caught wind this last year as burnout became irrefutable. Through performance art pieces, and collective napping experiences, Tricia believes in rest not only as a divine right but how we awaken and return to our tenderness.
I believe that the powers-that-be don’t want us rested, because they know if folk rested enough, they’re going to figure it all out and overturn them and the entire system. Keep them numb, keep them zombies, keep them on the clock. Continue to degrade their divinity. Because once they know they’re divine, they will not deal with a lot of shit. When I say sleep helps you wake up - it helps you wake up to the fact of who the fuck you are. And they don’t want us to know that.
It’s this kind of provocation that makes the fight for paid sick days for working-class communities even more egregious - because while rest will wake us up, abolition will free us. The politics of rest are similar to self-care because it has to contend with who, how, and in what conditions? Rest is often the antidote to our ‘busyness culture,’ and the age of overload and immediacy, but this narrative rarely includes the exhaustion of ongoing trauma and grief. My privilege affords me rest, and even then, deep rest and the ‘act of doing nothing’ by turning off my mind, having space from the electromagnetic waves of digital consumption, being timeless, and abandoning adaptive coping mechanisms means it’s not always within reach. Yet, qualifying our privilege will only get us so far towards systems change that includes class solidarity. There is no right way to rest, but currently, rest is only a right for some.
The pandemic portal instigated a beautiful reconnection with rest that has catalyzed what feels like a monumental exodus from institutions by women and non-binary people of colour. I’m not exaggerating when I say almost every conversation I have with friends and collaborators centre around leaving a job or adjusting post-leaving a job, exercising an ancestral determination to rest, spaciously create, reclaim agency over time, write their own story, and surrender to being and emergence. ‘I love what I do, but not like this - not in this structure,’ a woman in my book club shared. Along with these desires are a simple and absolute refusal to further accommodate the handspun threads and residue of patriarchy, white supremacy, and colonialism that dominates the leadership and decision-making of institutions. Just yesterday, I received an email from a collaborator that read: I am reaching out to let you know that I am leaving *the company* due to its severe issues surrounding equity, diversity, and inclusion. Leaving can be a privilege, but sometimes it’s not a choice to keep your integrity unscathed. Sometimes you just have to wildly and madly trust yourself.
This threshold we’ve come up against, in the personal and collective body, has birthed a cultural shift within the middle and upper classes. Folks are more likely to cite the state of their mental health with less caution, casually drop the names of their council of therapists and healers in a conversation, and receive insurance benefits to cover these services. Even more, legislation and research are rapidly evolving to bring plant-medicines and psychedelics into mental health treatment - which if done right and with the expanded compassion of psychonauts leading the space may trickle down across economic class, even if through recreational use. Healing infrastructure is the recognition that all spaces can be healing when imbued with the intention of healing. Because healing happens while we are living; triggers being messages of what needs to be acknowledged, felt, and given the medicine of rest. If we answer the call of triggers, it will invite us into a new rhythm of living. If we couple our healing with meaningful systems change, we reduce the risk of living in the loop of retraumatization.
Health conditions will bring us to the edge of our fragility, but they are almost always a call for transformation in care; a return to being in a relationship with your body. Your flesh suit whose single desire is to hold you through the human experience. My body started to fling chunks of skin off of it to say, ‘hey friend, pay attention to me.’ In the past week, I have massaged my scalp more tenderly than perhaps ever. Slowly rotating African Black Soap into this cranium and spraying tea tree oil three times a day across the wisdom lines of my head. I probably have to give up gluten to heal my gut and liver - which is one of those loving/annoying whispers that have been lingering on my shoulder for a long, long time. But, I am more committed to slow living and pleasure activism than ever. One day at a time.
Until then, find rest wherever it opens yourself to you. I mean it(!)
Wednesday, May 26 @ 7:30PM | Calender Invite
Next week, I am so excited to be in conversation with creative event producer, Natasha Singh and Founder of Monumental, Zahra Ebrahim, on our personal journeys and evolving relationships with the great outdoors as people of colour. This past summer, Natasha took up long-distance bike riding as a way to reconnect with her body, and Zahra is launching a campaign that is advocating for more BIPOC leadership within outdoor adventure spaces and narratives. My relationship to the outdoors is so intertwined with rest, so the timing is seemingly divine. See you there.
Reading: Maya Angelou’s memoir, ‘I know why the caged bird sings,’ who exemplifies carefree creativity.
Making: This coconut blackberry polenta cake by Sophia Roe.
Cheering: Palestinian Journalist, Ahmed Eldin, and his wickedly honest and hopeful interview about the weakening of Israel’s propaganda machine and the impact of social media on the uptake of radical language, which is bringing a new perspective to the ongoing struggle of colonial occupation in Palestine. Continue to resist, continue to pray, continue to believe change is possible.
Actioning: The Palestinian Youth Movement is continuing resistance marching this Saturday @ 3pm, starting at Yonge and Dundas in Toronto. Last week, there were easily 20,000 people, young and old, that took over Nathan Phillips Square, shut down Bay Street, and occupied space with the undeniable power of the people.
Reflecting: On expressions of power and power analysis as presented in the ‘Toolkit for Cooperative, Collective, and Collaborative Cultural Work’ by The Institute for Expanded Research, PowerCube, and a paper written by Lisa VeneKlasen and Valerie Miller called Power and empowerment.
Key definitions the work introduces:
Power over: involves taking it from someone else, entering into a win-lose relationship, and using it to dominate and prevent others from gaining it.
Power to: is the unique potential that every person has to shape their life. When based on mutual support, it opens up possibilities for joint action and power with.
Power with: is finding common ground with different interests to build collective strength through solidarity and mutual support and into equitable relationship
Power within: is a person’s sense of self-worth and self-knowledge, the capacity for hope, and the ability to recognize individual differences while respecting others. It affirms the common human search for dignity, freedom, and fulfillment.