So I am currently reading a book for the class I TA for that is titled The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collisions of two Cultures by Anne Fadiman.
This book sent me into several anxiety attacks while reading it. I kept having to stop reading and do something else. I almost took extra anxiety meds to help me calm down, because I was getting close to a panic attack.
This book is extremely frank and detailed to the point that it feels like you are right there with them. With this Hmong family who are refugees trying to understand how to balance their beliefs and culture with Western medicines so that they can help their baby who has a very bad form of epilepsy.
The author accurately depicts every emotion that was occurring throughout this child’s life between the parents and the doctors and the child. She even describes in great detail the condition of the child during some of her fits and the extreme amount of medication that this poor child was on. I was stressing out for the child because the cultural barrier was to great for either side to breach it in order to save the child.
But anyway… it is not a light read in terms of the emotional toll. So only read it if you are prepared.
I came across a really moving passage though that I wish to share:
“The Lees [parents of the child] politely submitted to my questions about Lia [the epileptic child], often answering at length, but they also had their own agenda, which, as Nao Kao [the father] once put it, was ‘to tell you about Hmong culture so you can understand our ways and explain it to the doctors.’ Their favorite time for these cultural lessons was about 10:30pm, after they’d gathered conversational steam for at least four hours. One night, just as May Ying [the author’s translator] and I were getting ready to leave, Foua [the mother] decided to explain soul loss to me. ‘Your soul is like your shadow,’ she said. Sometimes it just wanders off like a butterfly and that is when you are sad and that’s when you get sick, and if it comes back to you, that is when you are happy and you are well again.’ Nao Kao added, ‘Sometimes the soul goes away but the doctors don’t believe it. I would like you to tell the doctors to believe in our neeb.” (The word neeb, or healing spirit, is often used as shorthand for ua neeb kho, the shamanic ritual, performed by a txiv neeb, in which an animal is sacrificed and its should bartered for the vagrant soul of a sock person.) ‘The doctors can fix some sicknesses that involve the body and blood, but for us Hmong, some people get sick because of their soul, so they need spiritual things. With Lia it was good to do a little medicine and a little neeb, but not too much medicine because the medicine cuts the neeb’s effects. If we did a little of each she didn’t get sick as much, but the doctors wouldn’t let us give just a little medicine because they didn’t understand about the soul'” (Fadiman 1997: 100).
I am definitely not of the Hmong culture… but this excerpt brought me to the attention of my current treatment plan for my OCD. I know I have talked about this a couple of times, but it really brought to light how much my therapist and I have both been relying on the medication to heal me…. when in fact… I think it is my soul that needs healing. My therapist, I think, has a hard time realizing what is going on underneath the surface within me, so therefore, he thinks that I am so much better than I actually am. But I am not… I am broken.
Maybe my soul has wandered off like a butterfly.
Maybe I do need more spiritual things in my life. I know I need to go back to church, to pray more, to have more quiet times talking with God. I think I also need healing through my family and healing of myself.
I need my soul back. And obviously the medicine is not the answer, or the only answer.
I need to learn how to catch the butterfly that is my soul, but I am not sure how. I think though I need to start with forgiveness. Forgiving myself in terms of knowing that this truly isn’t me… these thoughts… “It is my OCD.”
Perhaps in my year hiatus from academia, I will once again be able to find my wandering soul and bring it back to me… In hopes that I will be whole once again and…perhaps if it is not too much to ask…happy.