A transcription of the episode, provided by a comrade who desires to see more accessible anarchist content:
S01E04 Aine on Isolation, Loneliness and COVID-19
Live Like The World Is Dying
0:00.0# (Introductory music)
0:16.8# Margaret Killjoy: Hello and welcome to Live Like The World Is Dying, the podcast that focuses on, well, what feels like the end times. I’m your host, Margaret Killjoy. This week I’m talking with Aine, a member of the Jane Addams Collective out of New York city. The Jane Adams Collective is an anarchist collective that works on mental health issues. It’s mostly mental health professionals who work on… Basically developing forms of self-therapy and… That are applicable to when people don’t have access to traditional therapy or don’t want the hierarchical model of traditional therapy. They also have done a lot of work and written a short book about mutual aid and trauma and basically the… How trauma comes up in disaster situations and what we can do about it. So I’m very excited to have Aine on the podcast. I know I promised that this week I was going to talk to a friend of mine who just came back from the autonomous regions of… Northern Syria and I have that interview done but I feel like this particular one needs to go up as soon as possible. One result of my own self-isolation is that I don’t have access to my usual recording space. I actually live off-grid without real internet and without electricity so sometimes I have limited access to certain things and the place I normally record has someone living there who can’t really have people over right now. So I apologize in advance for the audio quality of the interview. But I think it’s absolutely worth hearing anyway and I… I hope you enjoy it.
2:00.0# Margaret: Before the interview gets started, I just wanna say a few words on my own about mutual aid and this particular crisis. I think that one of the things that we’re watching happen is the failure of national-level governments to keep us safe but an incredible amount of work done both on the international level and at the local level to… And on the individual level to try and keep each other safe during… During this crisis. And I think in a lot of ways that’s a natural pre-figuration of what society probably should look like where… Experts on an international level are able to advise local infrastructure about how best to act without actually having the power at the top. Instead having the power at the bottom, we can keep each other safe. And the other thing I wanna say is that… I’m… I’m cooped up right now but a lot of people aren’t. A lot of people are out there working their jobs either because they have some shit service class work job where their boss won’t… Shut down the cafe and during a pandemic, or people are out there working at day shelters for homeless people, or working in health or delivering food or working in the other… Essential things that… That we need in order to stay safe as a society. And not only does my heart and… My heart go out to people who are doing that work, but I also want to suggest that in a society that we hope to build, hopefully that most dangerous work, that front line work is something that people can cycle through. People can come in and out of. This isn’t… Really my own idea, this is coming from someone I care about who… Works at a day shelter and realizes that people will die if they stop going to work. So they still go to work. But it is an awful lot to deal with right now and I hope that whatever happens, none of us really know what’s going to happen, I hope that we’re able to, not just cheer on people who are doing that kind of work, but figure out how some of us who are capable can step up and take some of the burden off of those people and maybe cycle people in and out of certain tasks. I don’t know, something to think about. Maybe I’m completely off base, I don’t know. But anyway, here’s the interview and I hope you get as much out of it as I did.
4:39.4# (Musical transition)
4:52.2# Margaret: So, welcome to the podcast. If you want to introduce yourself with your name, your pronouns, and any political or organizational affiliations that you want to mention.
5:04.7# Aine: Yeah, my name is Aine. She/her. I am an anarchist and I’ve… I’m in Jane Addams… the Jane Addams Collective. It’s a radical anarchist mental health collective that’s been around about five years. I do a few other things and do work out of the base in Brooklyn as well.
5:26.7# Margaret: Okay. Do you want to… So I… I put out a call to try and find basically… Anarchist or radical mental health professionals to talk about… What’s been going on right now in terms of… I know myself, I know I’ve been practicing social distancing for a couple weeks already and obviously the number people doing that have… Has just been going up. And of course that is a… Even for an introvert like me, not the easiest thing in the… In this world. And so… I guess I wanted to talk to you about that. About the effects of social distancing and how we can manage them.
6:09.7# Aine: Absolutely. And that’s particularly important considering we’re already sort of behind in terms isolation. There’s been a growing loneliness epidemic in the last… Few years. Partly due to capitalism but due to other things as well, that’s sort of… Set us at an off footing here. Like people have fewer friends and reliable social connections than they used to do in a lot of meaningful ways. Often through no fault of their own but it… The social distancing probably feels more onerous when there’s already a lack of genuine social connection. And the anxiety that… The virus, while also very scary and a problem, is… A face for people’s anxiety about other existing collapse in their own lives as well. And it’s a very notable and present face. So it’s really easy to think of that one thing as the problem when it’s showing the inefficiencies and the breakages in centralization and hierarchical responses to things.
7:15.2# Margaret: So what do we do about it? So what do we do… For someone who’s listening to this podcast who… Is going to be practicing social distancing? I guess what I want to talk to you a little bit about that and then I also wanna talk to you about people who have to… Who aren’t able to practice social distancing. People who… Do social work or healthcare work or… Just basically… Are continuing to be in high-risk situations. About how to manage that kind of fear and anxiety. But I want to start maybe with… With the social distancing aspect.
7:52.8# Aine: Absolutely. In all of the… Obviously the necessity of having… Reducing the risk collectively for communities spread of the… Of COVID-19 is pretty reasonable. A lot of the social things that one would do to try to maintain their sanity in a stressful time of any sort apply pretty broadly here. Trying to actively maintain, at least virtually, the connections you have. It’s very easy to get into an “out of sight, out of mind” sort of a thing when you’re alone… And especially when you’re lonely. And that sort of perpetuates itself, so even if you’re making a point of reaching out to, “Who do I know around here, who do I know who might be doing same thing.” And since you’re not physically able to be around people if you’re doing the ultimate version of the isolation. Having those connections across broader distances, like to your family across the country if they’re there somewhere. It doesn’t need to be your next door neighbor either. Some sense of connection and someone to talk to is super vital. And if you don’t have as many of those, finding… There’s a fair number of… Other ways to try to build new connections, at least technologically. I’m not a huge fan of them but if you’re very lonely they are helpful sometimes.
9:15.4# Margaret: Can you give me an example, even though you’re not a huge fan of it?
9:19.2# Aine: Yeah. Any of the… The centralization of all the websites and message boards where it’s like you can go on a thread about something or go on Reddit or find a Discord chat room that has interesting people in it who you can talk to about the things you care about. Those can be outlets. But I think they’re useful to an extent and they can reduce some of the degree to which you feel isolated or lonely. But a lot of times the… Nature of technological distance sort of leaves something that’s qualitative about human interaction out of it. And though you can abates some of your loneliness as far as knowing that someone is listening to what you’re saying and interacting with someone, there’s a lot of aspects of what we need out of human interaction that are physically interpersonal. Even if you’re not touching someone, having someone there, seeing their gestures, getting an idea of… Those things are very different when they’re mediated through a technological lens. Particularly one that’s organized and designed for the purpose of developing capital or servicing ads.
10:23.8# Margaret: Yeah, that makes sense. Yesterday one of my neighbors… I live rurally and someone who lives on the other side of the hill as me, we met at the top of the hill and me and their kid just basically sat 6 feet apart and talked about our lives. And it was very strange to have this…
10:46.5# Aine: Aww, that’s so adorable.
10:48.7# Margaret: Non-connected picnic of sorts, but… So would… Would you say that one of the reasons… So you say that you’re not as excited the technological solutions, is that also… Is there a difference between reaching out to that people you already know technologically versus the kind of… Message board, forum type of connections?
11:11.2# Aine: Yeah, yeah. There’s both a difference in knowing what kind of information you can get from someone, what your relationship is like is very helpful in those situations. Like, you don’t always go to the same people for one kind of problem. And… But beyond that, it’s… When you’re communicating with someone on the phone or on a messageboard or something, part of the effort that you’re doing is modeling that person in your brain. And literally building a version of them, not necessarily picturing them unless you’re super visual. But having an actual… That cognitive process of seeing, imagining the person you’re interacting with and their specificity and who you are in interaction with them. It takes up as much as the other normal social things. It’s why having a hands-free device to talk on phone while you’re driving isn’t any safer. You’re doing the same cognitive tasks.
12:10.5# Margaret: Oh, interesting. Okay.
12:12.5# Aine: Yeah, yeah. So it… Since it’s a bit more tiring, it’s a bit… It is just literally cognitively more difficult to communicate remotely because we need be conceptualizing the social relationship we have and the person that we’re interacting with in order to build social solidarity and do some of those things, which is possible but limited through technology.
12:37.1# Margaret: So… Do you have… So if you’re practicing social distancing and you’re not completely self-isolated, are there other things to do? Basically you’re just saying make sure to try and keep up with your friends.
12:52.9# Aine: Yeah, yeah. And…
12:54.8# Margaret: Sorry. Go ahead. No, go ahead.
12:57.1# Aine: Yeah. And obviously there’s… Depending on where you are, because there’s a lot of differences. In an urban it’s very difficult to avoid people anyway. I live in New York City and if I feel extremely lonely I can still go to one of the open coffee shops or go to the library and stay six feet from anyone. And just not touch anything and wash my hands. And be slightly more at risk. But I’m also an able-bodied, super healthy, 30-year-old that’s not… I’m not in one of those cases where I might be more isolated. The people who are able to physically get out, if not while trying to reduce the degree to which they’re exposing themselves or someone else to contagion, those people have to be checking on the sorts of folks who can’t. Actually, Zoe said it when they were on your podcast as well. The people are more at risk, who don’t have the ability to… Quit working or don’t have the ability to leave their homes or are particularly immuno-compromised. The people who are able to check them probably should. If you know people like that in your life, instead of waiting for them to say, “Hey, I need help” maybe see how they’re doing. Because there’s a lot of people you might know that you haven’t thought about. Like, “Oh this person might actually need help right now.”
14:17.3# Margaret: Yeah. I guess that gets back to what you’re saying about avoiding the, “out of sight, out of mind” kind of mentality.
14:24.1# Aine: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, even if it’s just thinking about, “What is my social network?” In the terms of preparedness for disasters, on the average, any person regardless of inclination could do it. The first thing is like, “Okay who are the people I know? What do they know how to do and how can I help them how can they help me?” I know people who if there were some serious medical emergency I could talk to them but… I also get a couple of texts a week from a friend who’s extra anxious about something. There’s sort of a… Everyone has these different skills and thinking of your social networks partly as like social infrastructure is helpful for preparing for these things. Because to a certain degree some of the informational public health and supportive infrastructure that’s at the higher… More hierarchical level is replicated by resource sharing and mutual aid. If you’re thinking of your relationships in that way, but oftentimes it’s just like, “Oh yeah, I know my neighbor.” Not like, “Oh, my neighbor might need some help too.”
15:34.6# Margaret: Yeah, one of things that I… I’ve talked to a couple of people I’ve interviewed about… Is basically the importance of agency during crisis and this is a particularly interesting one because in some ways, the lack of federal response, at least in the United States, and I know also in Britain it’s even worse I think, has kind of left this hole that is being filled by mutual aid networks that are cropping up. I’m wondering if there’s anything like that going on in New York City that you’re around or… Basically how mental health can plug into… Mental health work can plug into mutual aid in crisis.
16:17.2# Aine: Yeah. There’s not a lot going on that I’m aware of. I’m certain there are things happening. I’ve seen more internal to the groups I’m involved with. People supporting each other and provide advice about if someone’s been sick, coming and bringing them food and that kind of thing. But as far as like mental health responses, the nature of this crisis has been making me think a bit about resiliency much as Zoe was talking about in your previous podcast. And the Jane Addams Collective released a book, more of a pamphlet, about mutual aid, trauma and resiliency. And one of the focuses there was about the way that we respond to crisis and mass crises and these sorts of things. And obviously there are things that we can do now to help vulnerable people and mitigate the worse parts of this. But a lot of the things that are the most useful are long-term and preparatory. For trauma or for preparation for a public health crisis. And generally it’s… That idea of resiliency is a collective and social idea. You’re having to build these things as a group. And part of that’s because the way that we tend to respond to crisis and the way that we put urgency on things is very short-term. That’s a broad generalization but it seems to be fairly accurate.
17:45.4# Margaret: That we jump from crisis to crisis rather than…
17:47.7# Aine: Yeah. Yeah, we’re great at that. Yeah, and it’s at the cost of things that we are building that are useful… That are useful in the day-to-day but also are… Have the seed to being something that’s self-sustaining or… Survival programs and that kind of thing. If more of those are up and running just on a daily basis, then the need to create them suddenly when some disaster occurs is a lot less present. You just need to prepare them for the specific thing that’s happening.
18:19.1# Margaret: It seems like that’s often a problem that we also run into. Not just… Governmental structures that aren’t prepared for crisis but even as anarchists or even in horizontal structures we often are jumping from crisis to crisis. But I think there’s a… It’s hard to maintain… It’s hard to maintain counter-infrastructure when the traditional infrastructure is working and meeting people’s needs and also suppressing any counter-infrastructure. So I wanna give ourselves the credit to say that in some ways it’s… It’s a very uphill battle to try and maintain counter-infrastructure when… When it’s not crisis.
19:02.1# Aine: Oh absolutely. And the… Anything good will be crushed by someone unless you defend it. So… It’s definitely an uphill battle. But some of those smaller connections that we don’t think of as infrastructure are building blocks for that. The affinity group is mostly mythical in my experience of the world. But collections of people who are willing to do things together do exist more frequently, in my experience. Like sometimes those connections, if we’re actually examining and then thinking about the way that we relate to each other and what are skills needs and risk assessments as a collective are. Those smaller connections can be built into something more useful. Because the lack of a strong social connection and even just strong mental health infrastructure, like being able to talk about your problems or the way that organizing in general is not really open for people who are mentally ill. There’s not really a place to be kinda crazy and even if you’re pretty sane-passing, it’s not super easy to not have those things interrupt your ability to be part of a collective working on some of those things. So a lot of these things, while they’re… Obviously more obvious now and more immediately pressing and all of that, but one of the most important ways to resist that, like crisis and emergency and continually having our hopes smashed by the difficult situation that we’re all in. I don’t know, it kind of requires co-opting a bit of that… That politics is personal. It’s like that Embrace song. “Your emotions are nothing but politics?”
20:59.5# Margaret: So… Okay, so if one of the main things that we can be doing is… It’s this beautiful and interesting irony, the main thing we can do is strengthen our interpersonal connections… While practicing social distancing. Are there things that you can suggest to people who… Like, say you’re someone who is more at risk or are most fully isolated, or are cut-off from communication? I know that I… I only have limited electricity where I live and it’s not too hard for me to imagine spending some time where my phone isn’t working or something like that. What are things that people can do to basically keep themselves… I don’t want to say keep themselves sane, but keep themselves from having their mental health deteriorate when… When social connections aren’t available. Or are less available.
22:09.8# Aine: Yeah, and for some people that’s absolutely going to be true. Findings social connections is hard and harder then it’s ever been in a lot of ways. But there are a lot of… Some of the standard… Self-care advice. It’s limited but finding coping skills and things that are helpful for you. And also having an idea of when that might be done. Like having some finality to it. Normally you need to be in isolation for 14 day if you think might have it. And you probably… You might isolate yourself longer if you have particular vulnerability to respiratory illnesses. But finding one… Regular sleep is always really helpful even if there’s no one around it’s important to at least try to have the same amount of sleep every night, even if it’s not the same times. That can go pretty far away, along with finding things that you actually enjoy doing. Fighting off boredom is pretty hard. And boredom and loneliness go together pretty well. They really kind of stoke each other. So… Obviously you don’t wanna just be sitting trying to entertain yourself all the time. Like take up knitting. Unfortunately a lot of it’s… Really personal. Trying to find things that are useful for you or that… Or somewhat distracting from your least pleasant thoughts and inclinations is useful in the short-term but that’s not good long-term advice.
23:44.5# Margaret: So video games is not a long-term solution. It’s a short-term solution.
23:47.5# Aine: Right. But if you wanna play them for the next 2 weeks, please do. Yeah. Yeah, ’cause it’s like if you don’t have the social connections that would help reduce what is ultimately a socially indicated problem, like psychological distress, then you aren’t going to be able to solve the problem. You can mitigate it and cope with it and make it less onerous to deal with. But it’s going to be like a reaction to the symptoms rather than something that’s actually radical and gets to the cause of the problem. But coping skills, grounding skills, finding entertainment that you like, if you can physically go outside without exposing yourself to a bunch of people, nature is awesome if you can find it and get it… Yeah.
24:36.8# Margaret: Yeah, that’s the thing I’m lucky about. I… I sometimes wish I had running water or consistent internet or… For listeners, we had to navigate this interview based on the fact that I can’t go to the recording studio I normally go to because someone who lives there is immuno-compromised and so I don’t have internet at home enough to… To do any kind of interview. So this has been kind of fun just set up. But the one upside I have is that I literally walk outside my front door into the woods. And can go… Hiking through the woods if I want. I don’t know whether I would trade that for easy access to video games or not. Maybe if it was only a week I might. I might prefer video games for a week. But longer term, nature might be better.
25:33.0# Aine: Yeah. I have access to unlimited video games and I’ve gotten bored of them.
25:39.1# Margaret: Yeah, you don’t really get bored of nature. It just isn’t like as wildly distracting or entertaining.
25:46.0# Aine: Right. You can be bored in nature, but that’s about it.
25:49.3# Margaret: Yeah. So… So one of the things that I had learned when I did… Cognitive behavioral therapy was this idea… And you’ve brought it up and I just wanna talk about it a little bit more, get you to talk about a little bit more, is this idea of picking a deadline. Knowing… As a coping skill, like “I just have to get through this for the next x length of time.” or something. Is that a healthy coping skill or is that an unhealthy coping skill?
26:16.8# Aine: Yeah, it’s… So that’s kind of the thing. The whole unhealthy, even that dichotomy, like all binaries, is pretty bullshit. It’s useful sometimes and it’s not useful other times. It’s kinda like… It’s not terrible if someone has 1 drink but if they have 20 it’s a problem. Coping skills are kinda the same way. So it is really helpful when there is something real in the world that is presumably finite. Where you can just be like, “Okay, I just gotta make it through the next 14 days, see what the world’s like and make a new decision then.’ Can be… Help belay your anxiety if there’s actually going to be anything different about the world in 14 days. But if you’re like, “Oh my depression be better in 14 days.” I don’t know, dude. So it’s sort of a… It’s useful and a lot of the anxiety, I think, that’s happening now, and in general, is about uncertainty and lack of control. Even though state national government… The hierarchical response is a controlling one, partly because… They’re trying to reduce uncertainty and make things more legibly organized or… Basically hide the disorder that is under all these things. Less effectively than they used to, thankfully. But a lot of the controlling nature and that tendency to try and to reduce uncertainties is one that we also have cognitively. And to a certain extent, thinking of these thoughts as something that we can control and that we can really master is a… A problem in and of itself. A lot of alternative… Or newer therapies, third stream therapies. Like acceptance commitment therapy or dialectical behavior therapy have sort of a… Different theory of thought than cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy, the interventions do work so I wouldn’t shy anyone away from it, but the actual… Belief about how thought works that it’s structured on is inaccurate. ‘Cause thoughts kind of just happen. Most people have had the thought, like when they’re on the subway platform, “Oh, I’m gonna jump in front of that train.” It doesn’t really mean anything. And most thoughts are like that. And to certain extent, anxiety is about trying to control those thoughts. Or believing they’re truth. Like that you’re connected to them in some really real way. And this is something that both from a therapeutic background and from personal experience I have… A particular interest in. I had severe OCD and a large portion of that was about… Specifically OCD is about controlling what’s going on. You’re trying to do very systematized ritualistic controlled and precise things, to control things that are completely unpredictable and impossible to do anything about.
29:17.6# Margaret: I mean, that’s… It’s interesting to bring up OCD stuff, I don’t… It’s not something that I struggle with particularly myself but I… The other day my land mate caught me spraying down the handle to the bar in the communal space with disinfectant and he looked at me and he was like, “We just need to make sure that we don’t keep doing this… Once it no longer makes sense.” And… And that’s… That’s a worry that I haven’t had to process too hard yet. I’m just kinda tryna get through this next chunk of time with… I’ve also pretty… I’m not as concerned for my own health in this particular environment but I believe very strongly in not transmitting it to people who are more vulnerable. And also I’m incredibly medically anxious so I know… Even though I’ll be physically fine if I get COVID, I will struggle mentally very hard. And so I… What are some… Do you know any good coping skills then for not letting… These, in my head, neural pathways cement themselves? These… These things that we might do during crisis like social distancing or disinfecting everything. How do we prevent them from becoming unhealthy habits later?
30:44.8# Aine: Yeah. One of the most useful things that I’ve found is… It’s pretty similar to something the Stoics used to do which was negative visualization. And more or less the idea of a memento mori is a version of the negative visualization. But for almost every…
31:05.1# Margaret: That means “remember that you will die”, right?
31:05.7# Aine: Yeah, yeah. Like you have a jar of marbles and you take one out of the “days I have left” jar and throw it into the “days I have already lived” jar every day, or something like that.
31:17.0# Margaret: Woah, that’s intense.
31:16.8# Aine: Yeah. Well, it’s calming in a certain way. Reminding you that this is finite and that these things do matter but you also can’t do anything about it. That marble’s going to… That day is going no matter what you do. And acceptance in that regard. In dealing with… In CBT, ACT, any of the ways that someone would deal with a phobia to something or OCD, generally exposure is part of that. And the mechanism by which that’s helpful is the fact that it forces you to accept that worst case scenario. If you’re getting exposure therapy for harm obsessions, an extremely common thing with people with OCD where they’re extremely worried that they’ll harm themself or someone else. They never would but it’s… Very common. Effectively you have to desensitize yourself to… And accept the possibility that you could do that. I wasn’t able to drive for about a year because I thought I would drive my car into the center divider and kill a bunch of people. I can drive now but only because I have hundreds and hundreds of times imagined doing that and just accepted the consequences. So, in this instance, for the disease stuff, take the precautions you need to now while it’s obviously reasonable and necessary because we don’t want to… Say “I’m not gonna get it” and go and get a whole bunch of people who wouldn’t be getting sick, sick. But as far as your own personal risk, to assert and accept to a certain extent, go through in your head, “Okay, if I did get it, what is the process? What’s the worst case scenario?” And if you’re prepared for that then anything else is fine.
33:07.6# Margaret: Okay. So my habit of every time I get on an airplane I accept my own death. That is a…
33:14.9# Aine: Yes.
33:15.4# Margaret: That’s a reasonable thing.
33:17.2# Aine: That is exactly what I mean. Yeah, every time I get in a car.
33:20.5# Margaret: Okay. Well what’s interesting is with my own experience of self-therapizing with this kind of tactic, is that for a while I couldn’t drive because of my anxiety, because I would imagine… Well, I just couldn’t control everything that was happening. Like if there was suddenly something in the middle of the road I couldn’t stop in time so when I did drive, I would drive like the grandma I’m destined to be minus the children part. And I wouldn’t be able to go fast because I wouldn’t… If I went fast I wouldn’t be able to control everything. And so for a long time I… I… For a long time it was a much more conscious thing and now it’s back to unconscious thing. Now I don’t… I don’t worry when I drive anymore. I haven’t been able to reach that same thing with flying, I don’t know if I ever will but…
34:16.3# Aine: Yeah, yeah. I definitely know what you mean. That’s almost completely analogous. Because it is that lack of control. It’s the same reason some of the most ineffective responses to the virus have been made on a national level. You wanna control people coming from Europe even though that’s kind of pointless. Those kinds of things are just… “Hey, let’s control this as much as we can.” We can’t do anything about it, it’s very uncertain. We’re not very good at dealing with uncertainty and accepting it is a huge boon to one’s mental health.
34:49.7# Margaret: Yeah, that makes sense. Just accepting that… I think about… Doctors having to do triage or whatever. Doctors having work at all where they accept the fact that they will kill patients by accident. Takes a particularly… Good understanding of threat assessment, risk mitigation or whatever. Can you talk a little bit about the Jane Addams project that you work on?
35:27.8# Aine: Absolutely. So the Jane Addams Collective has been around in different iterations for about 5 years. We’ve done a lot of different projects. One of the bigger ones was developing a mutual aid self-therapy, which is an alternative therapy model that isn’t a hierarchical… Doesn’t require a therapist, that can just be done by 3 people, 3 or 4 people. And we’ve done workshops on that where we’ve taught people how to do it. We’re… A book about it called “Mutual Aid Self-Therapy” is coming out fairly soon. It’ll be on AK and stuff.
36:04.9# Margaret: It’s actually my… It’s sitting in my inbox to lay out.
36:10.9# Aine: I know this.
36:12.0# Margaret: Yeah, I’m just admitting this to the audience. If the book is taking too long to come out, audience please write me and yell at me.
36:20.6# Aine: And I mean you could also write us and yell at us because because we took so long to get it to you. But yeah… So that therapy model, we’ve tried it in a lot different iterations and we hammered out… It’s most useful if it’s used by a lot of people and collectively in something that’s accessible as easily as possible to as many people as possible because access to this kind of thing, not everyone can afford a therapist and if they can your therapist is a snitch anyway. So… It’s sort of… There should be something else. This may not a replacement for therapy but it’s certainly helpful and the hierarchy of dealing with a therapist is not there. But that’s one thing that we do. We also … While we were working on making MAST more usable by people who weren’t us so we wouldn’t have to teach people in our… Physically go and teach people every time we wanted to transfer that knowledge. We wanted to make it like anyone anywhere could do it. While we were trying to do we realized that the… We we needed to address trauma in different ways then we were addressing other psychological problems. So in our examinations of that we also wrote a small, very small, book called “Mutual Aid, Trauma and Resiliency” which is about collective responses to traumatic events and building both individual and collective resiliency. A lot of the… I probably should have just read from that and picked some of those tips for what should you do to deal with things when you’re alone or with people. But that’s also built out of the fact that that is a collective thing that needs be prepared for ahead of time, much like any kind of crisis like this. So that’s a… How we think one could do that in terms of reducing the rate of post-traumatic stress so that the traumas that are inevitable to occur in the process of organizing or living are at least not going to eventually metastasize into PTSD.
38:31.5# Margaret: Do you have any… Do you know enough of it off the top of your head to give some… A basic overview or tips or anything like that, about mutual aid trauma response?
38:43.2# Aine: Yes I do. I knew that I’d had it open here for a reason. Basically our whole model was based around the idea of resiliency. Which is both something individually and collectively that helps deal with trauma. And individual resiliency is oftentimes like… Some of those ability to deal with crisis sort of things. And like a lot of the nature of trauma often involves your expectations about reality have been broken. Like for instance people who are… Who have… Strong political inclinations. Like regular people caught up by a horrible dictatorship who were tortured have higher rates of PTSD then revolutionaries who were caught up by that same dictatorship and tortured. They both experienced trauma from those experiences because they’re terrible but one of the fundamental differences is that the person who is fighting the regime didn’t have any illusions about what was going to happen to them. It was just as horrible but their worldview wasn’t broken. They didn’t have to completely reassess everything they understand about… They never had the thought, “Oh, I know government does that sometimes but they’d never do it to me.” And the same thing’s true for other traumatic events. Like if you’re in a group that does a lot of protests and demos, there are certain kinds of things that you kind of know might happen that you could prepare for and think about. If you do anti-fascist work there are other kinds of things that are even more trauma, potentially, inducing that you should think about. But… Let’s see, I have more Confrey ones ’cause that sounds useful. Okay, so a few of the things that are really useful individually in dealing with any crisis and change in general, but specifically for trauma is being able to detach and conceptualize problems. So that negative visualization thing I was talking about is little bit of being able to distance yourself from the horror of the thing you’re worried about. Because you’re conceptualizing it in a more constructed way that’s separate from its emotional strength to you. Self-determination, I think you already have talked about that a little bit. How taking agency and not just relying on what’s around you to… Actually knowing you can do something about it, even if it’s just calling your friends or not freaking out too much. And altruism which… Obviously, harder now. It’s what we’ve been talking about. But… Yeah. And a lot of those things play off into collective traits as well because they build into, if you have people who can support you and building a sense of safety, because dealing with trauma and post-traumatic stress in a treatment sense is usually focused on building a sense of safety in which to go through the trauma. So you’re removing the extremely negative feelings so that the person actually can process the horrible things that have happened. And that safety is a social factor. You can build that in a group and oftentimes trauma’s tendency to cause mistrust in… Especially if it’s sexual trauma or someone assaulted you or something. Those kinds of traumas cause you distrust the same social mechanisms of safety that would give you resilience against future traumas. So building a sense of collective safety is also about material support. You feel a lot safer if you can pay rent or you know if someone will help you out if you can’t. But there’s a lot of that collective building of it is really hard to do in the moment because we’re… If you’re chasing the crisis and the crises are constant so I’m not quite sure how we get out of that just yet, but…
42:50.5# Margaret: Well it sounds like… One of the things that… Mutual aid groups that I’ve been keeping track of or participating in to some small degree… The kind of immediate sense is how do we make sure that the most vulnerable are kept safe? How we make sure that our immuno-compromised and elderly friends have food that arrives and how do we make sure that that food is safe. That’s… That’s the… The most immediate thing but then the thing that people are already starting to talk about doing is… Also everyone’s freaking out because everyone’s out of work and… It’s funny, I have this album coming out and I have to pay a mastering… An audio technician to master it. And then I’m like, well this is the… The last money that I might see for a little while. And… But it’s also maybe the last money that she’s gonna see for a while and… So the people are starting to talk about that. How do we meet our needs? How do we… Maybe mutual aid response to this is going to have to start looking like, even from a mental health point of view, knowing that if someone tries to evict you for your unpaid rent that a lot of very angry people will show up. Of course that also gets very complicated because do we wanna have these large gatherings?
44:22.7# Aine: It might be more of effective if the landlord is afraid he’ll get sick.
44:26.2# Margaret: That’s true. God… I keep thinking about “Masque of The Red Death” and I can’t decide… I think I’ve mentioned this probably even on this podcast before. The Poe story about all the rich people that go and hide and… From the plague and all die of the plague. Anyway…
44:46.7# Aine: Yeah. Just desserts.
44:52.0# Margaret: So… Can you talk a little bit more about MAST and… Which is not necessarily related to this particular crisis but I think is one of the most promising projects that I’ve heard anything about over the past several years. Can you give a bird’s eye overview of it or is it dangerous to give someone half the information of how to therapize… And also can you talk a little bit about why people should believe that you all are… Basically, I know that it’s put together by a bunch of medical health professionals with years and years of experience but if you could talk about that as well. That it’s not just some stuff some people made up.
45:30.3# Aine: Yeah, totally. To be fair, it is stuff some people made up. But I can attest to our authority, at least in topic if not in power. But… Okay, so MAST itself, we cannibalized from a lot of different existing therapy models and have worked on them in different iterations. So in the development of MAST we’ve had different open houses. I think we’ve had… We’ve had a few of them. We’ve had at least 10 over the years. Probably more, but I haven’t been there for all of them. And effectively the… Over that time we’ve found which things worked in the context of people actually doing it. Which things were easily understandable by people who weren’t us. And more and more ways to take our hands off of the wheel so that it was something that was done by people themselves rather than someone having the knowledge and authority… By de-facto. Like tendencies, leading things… So a lot of the stuff that we take from, we take some things from CBT, some things from narrative therapy, and some things from DBT and other different therapy models. But basically this has been a trial and error process that we’ve been doing with the last over 5 years of actually doing therapy with small triads. So the actual therapy is we have triads of people, which obviously is 3 people. And to reduce the hierarchy and make it easier to do this process, generally each person has a turn as the narrator, as the person who’s talking about what they’re dealing with and trying to resolve their problem. And the two other people are supporting them. And both of them are trying to help get the person to recognize something that they wouldn’t be able to without someone else poking at them a little bit. And each will take turns doing that. So everyone’s in every role, everyone is a supporter twice and a narrator once. And to a certain extent the process of knowing what cognitive tools or therapeutic tools, they’re all in the book and they’re very simple. Which ones are used, knowing that someone using one on you really does subvert that hierarchy to a certain extent and makes you feel like, “Oh, right they’re… I would have told someone to do this, I just didn’t know I needed it right then.” So collectively useful done in groups of 3 or 4 generally, and focused on reducing hierarchy and… Autonomy. There’s a few different phases to it and we have some more specific ideas behind its mechanism of action. But before I get into those, if I do at all, the Jane Addams Collective itself has done a whole bunch of different things but… About half of us are licensed therapists or social workers. Almost all of us work in the field except for me now because I don’t have the heart anymore. At least not to do in this context. And all of us have had a lot of experience. I don’t know, collectively probably… 50 years of experience working in different mental health settings. And all of us have been anarchists for fairly long times, Smokey longer than most of us.
49:17.7# Margaret: Smokey’s been an anarchist longer than a lot of people I know have been alive, so…
49:22.9# Aine: Yeah. I didn’t wanna make them feel bad… But… So we have some sort of cred… Also, important to note, in the next year, starting in next year’s somewhere around February, March we’re planning on opening a community mental health clinic. And part of that is because some of the things that some of the infrastructure that we need to deal with mental health crises, just the world collapsing, are not there and one of the best ways we can do that is by trying to provide access to mental healthcare in the way we know how. So we’ll have more details about it in the future, obviously. JaneAddamsCollective.org. But we’re planning on actually putting some of these things more directly in practice, in a clinic setting. Also operating on non-hierarchical models and being more community focused then a therapist’s office where you just drop in.
50:28.0# Margaret: Okay. Well, we’re… Do you have any final thoughts about… About mental health response to the current crisis or anything that you wanna shout-out or talk about?
50:42.6# Aine: Yeah. Check-in on your sad friends. If you know anyone who’s got a tendency towards… If you haven’t heard from someone in a little while… Even if you don’t think you know anyone like that, you certainly do. If you haven’t made a point of trying to figure out the… Who around you might need something? You might get some help and some social validation out of that too, but helping people and reaching out to people who might need it is… It works almost better than people reaching out you. As far as validation and… A lot of people might need help, think of the people you know who might.
51:22.4# Margaret: Yeah. Alright, well thank you so much being on the podcast and thanks for all the work that you’re doing and… Yeah. Thanks so much.
51:31.3# Aine: Yeah, thanks so much for having me.
51:32.6# (Musical transition)
51:35.1# Margaret: Thanks so much for listening. I… I hope you enjoy it. I’m open to feedback, my email address is email@example.com and I’m open to suggestions for the show of course. You can find me on Twitter @MagpieKilljoy or Instagram @MargaretKilljoy or Facebook at Margaret Killjoy, all that crap. I also support myself through my Patreon, I kinda wanna keep that. I’m not tryna shout that out so it’s super hard right now. I do need it to live but everyone needs work to live unfortunately in the system we live in and that’s getting very hard for a lot of people right now and so I’m not tryna go super hard to hawk that. But if you want to, you can support me and I would greatly appreciate it. If you make less money then I make off of Patreon then contact me and I’ll give you all my content for free. In particular, I would like to thank Chris and Nora and Willow and Hoss the dog and Kirk and Natalie and Eleanor. You all really make it possible for me to keep up this work. So thank you. And just remember, it’s not institutions that keep people safe. It’s us that keep people safe. And I don’t mean, not the people who are in the institutions, I mean all of the work that is done by institutions is actually done by people. Governments don’t build cities, workers build cities. It’s not the organizational structures themselves that do the work, it’s the people that do the work. And so when the status quo is disrupted, it’s important to remember that we still know how to grow food. We still know how to do medical work. We still know how to organize ourselves and each other. And that’s not going to go away any time soon. So even in time of self-isolation like this we need each other and we can help each other. And yeah, let’s… Let’s all keep each other safe. Thanks so much.