PTSD, Arrival (2016), and the ethnographic lens

[cw for descriptions of symptoms of PTSD; spoilers for Arrival (2016)]

I share a lot about my mental illnesses on social media, in no small part because community of experiences is something which has been very very important to my overall ability to heal from trauma and thus address my more severe symptoms of PTSD.

One of the more severe symptoms of PTSD which I experience is flashbacks. While normally I’ll have a flashback every month or so, they don’t tend to be very visceral or “realistic” and it’s fairly easy for me to ground myself quickly. Unfortunately since Wednesday my flashbacks have been jarring (ie. they catch me off guard), and they are immediately visceral (which is to say that that they are whole-body experiences). The last time I experienced flashbacks in this way was 2012, and that situation took 3 weeks to reach full intensity whereas it’s taken approximately 2 days to reach (what I hope is) full intensity this time.

The only precursor required to experience symptoms of PTSD is a single traumatic event. In such cases where a single event has occurred there are various therapeutic modalities which may be considered, such as situational rescripting or exposure therapy (to name but 2). While there isn’t a number I can reference specifically, I can say that there are more years of my life where I experienced recurring situations of abuse than those where I did not. This means that “frontline” PTSD treatments just… aren’t effective for me. However generally I will go through periods of time where a single event or single time period (usually abouts 4-6 month blocks) will be more pressing than others. When I experienced a mental breakdown in Summer of 2017, for example, there was a specific series of incidents in Summer of 2013 which I would consider to be the loci of my symptoms.  Currently my flashbacks are focused across 3 distinct time periods, with various specific incidences attached to each. This is making keeping track of my triggers… impossible.

It’s important for [everyone with PTSD, I’d assume, but specifically here] me to avoid some triggers more than others. As such it’s really difficult for me to do things like watch new media (movies, TV shows, etc) because it can be dangerous for me to not be anticipatory. With that said: I HAVE to watch new media, because as someone who has experienced abuse over such a long period of time any media I consumed while in situations of abuse has the potential to be a trigger.

Difficult, right?

Tonight I’m watching Arrival.

[Image Source]
Quick refresher summary: Arrival is, essentially, a movie about what communication may look like with an alien species whose linguistic form is completely distinct from anything experienced on Earth. In an example of Sapir-Whorf hitting the audience over the head, the linguist (Dr. Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams) who comes to communicate with these aliens also gains the ability to experience time as the aliens do. This is to say that she begins to experience non-linear time, and subsequently experiences events in the future as though they were occurring in the present.

As a movie I know doesn’t contain any major triggers for me I’ve watched Arrival probably once every month or so since I first watched it in November of 2016, so I’m admittedly fairly familiar with the narrative. However it’s taken me until tonight to realize that the narrative is effectively a [likely accidental] metaphor for what it’s like for me to experience symptoms of PTSD (except, obviously, in reverse). There’s no “now” and “not-now” for Louise, but rather as she begins to understand the structure of the alien language there progressively becomes ONLY “now.”

[Quick side note: I’ve written about asynchroneity pretty extensively through my dysfluency tag, if you’re curious about other ways non-linearity can play out.]

Just as with flashbacks there is a collapsing of time, rendering experiences (not memories; experiences) out-of-order. This distinction between “memory” and “experience” is so important to note because while it’s relatively simple to cognitively express that time passes in a linear way, when it comes to PTSD it can become affectually impossible (as is the case with flashbacks).

Despite not having any anthropologists in it Arrival for me is an anthropological narrative. When it first came out linguistic anthropologists were abuzz about it, and when I finally got around to watching it myself it was within the context of a anthropological coursework. Media anthropology, and specifically the use of media-as-ethnographic-data, has become such an important aspect of my degree for a number of reasons. However specifically the use of an ethnographic lens in media analysis allows me to experience a closeness to material while still recognizing that I’m separate from said material.

Now I’m by no means saying that anthropological training is the same as receiving treatment for PTSD, but I am saying that my ongoing treatment for my symptoms of PTSD is absolutely aided by the fact that I’ve received training to enter and exit from participant observation and subsequently analyze my experiences as existing in a time period other than the one I currently exist in. PTSD for me is a disorder of overlapping experiences, and having the skills to (slowly, but surely) put those experiences back in an order–or, at least, to put those experiences in boxes of “now” and “not now”–is unbelievably valuable.

Shout out to Arrival for reminding me of that.


On sharing experiences

This is post I originally wrote on Facebook as an attachment to this article, with recognition that my Facebook profile has basically turned into a “Brieal talks about mental illness almost constantly” page (I’ve since deleted it there so I can post it here):

Sometimes (most times, honestly) I feel really ashamed for sharing so many articles, blogs, experiences, etc on the subject of mental illness because for as much as I share I only really share the tip of my personal iceberg. Mental illness and distorted thought patterns run SO deep for me, and my baseline for success on any given day is truly so so so low. Am I currently alive? Then realistically I’ve been successful. But because I scream about my more common/shared symptoms so much I feel like I automatically get placed in the “high-functioning” end of the mental health spectrum, despite that… being blatantly untrue. I’m really just loud lol

Please don’t idolize mine or anyone else’s adversity. Don’t idolize the people who reach out or work through adversity. Listen to our struggles, and respect that we’re whole people with complex experiences and skills, some of which may be masking deeper or less socially acceptable concerns.

tldr I’m very fucking depressed and it’s kicking my ass and I’m not a stronger person for experiencing this OR for needing to scream about it.

A tarot reading for schoolwork

As many of you have no doubt clued into in addition to schoolwork I’m also a practicing tarot reader. While I don’t often find time to do readings for myself, when it came to planning for my archaeogaming thesis I knew that subconscious insight would not only be invaluable but also that I needed to make time for it. To that end I would like to share a tarot reading and spread info I did for myself with respect to writing planning for my archaeogaming thesis!


  • What if: I become more critical (even biting) in my writing on the topic of archaeogaming?

Spread (keywords taken from Biddy Tarot):

  1. Past (What has brought me to this crossroads?)
    • King of Pentacles: security, control, power, discipline, abundance
  2. Present (How is this affecting my current ability to work?)
    • The Moon: Illusion, fear, anxiety, subconscious, intuition
  3. Future (If I continue on this proposed trajectory what will that look like?)
    • King of Swords: Clear thinking, intellectual, power, authority, truth
  4. How us this trajectory going to look or be experienced by me on a daily basis?
    • 9 of Swords: Depression, nightmares, intense anxiety, despair
  5. How do I make my project ideas a reality?
    • 7 of Wands: Challenge, competition, perseverance, defense, boundaries
  6. What is something I need to let go of in order to move forward?
    • 10 of Wands: Burden, responsibility, hard work, stress, achievement
  7. What is an example of how my project will change when moving forward on this proposed trajectory?
    • The Star: Hope, faith, purpose, renewal, spirituality


Looking at the first 3 cards as a small past/present/future spread wherein the past I’ve played it safe and currently that makes me especially anxious and overconcerned with how my words affect others. This discomfort is important for me to experience and learn in order to move forward with some Big Sword Energy.

Moving forward even though this path will aid in my growth toward being capable of criticism it won’t be easy to work through on a daily basis. The path to success here is absolutely addressing that I’m uncomfortable, and yet pushing forward. I need to let go of this idea that the burden of consequence is all on me as opposed to something which is co-produced through discursive community practices.

Moving through this difficult emotional aspect of the writing process will not only make my writing more intellectual in scope and presentation, but also bring my thesis closer into myself and my own thoughts. Subsequently it will become more individually attuned to my own thoughts and re/actions, as opposed to me regurgitating the thoughts of others.

Anyways I definitely think that regardless of the format self-reflective exercises are important when it comes to projects! They allow us to more accurately assess not only our needs and wants, but also realistically assess our own capability to follow through on the actions associated with said needs and wants. With this spread especially I feel more oriented toward being critical without being biting, whereas prior to this spread I felt compelled to uncritically address certain formative texts and thinkers as formative.

What’s your preferred reflection tool?

Writing Templates (!!!)

Hi all! It’s officially the point in the term when research essays and other major writing assignments are creeping close. To that end I figured it was time for me to post the writing templates I’ve pulled together based on my notes from the following classes (occasionally verbatim from the prof, which is why I’m listing them–ie. for citation and for reference that some of the questions are irrelevant/are ignoreable for different topics):

  • Archaeology of Gender w/ Dr. Katie Biittner
  • Anthropology of Language Revitalization w/ Dr. Sarah Shulist
  • Contemporary English and Anglophone Literature w/ Dr. Sarah Copland
  • Literature of the Later Victorian Period w/ Dr. Daniel Martin
  • Topics in Literary Theory: Dysfluency w/ Dr. Daniel Martin

I hate writing essays, so when I do write them I like to rely on a tried-and-true methodology for writing, which is what these questions provide for me at least!


Overall Responses:

Overview of theme/reading chosen

  • Why did I choose this reading?/Why am I choosing this topic?
  • How does this fit with course themes?
  • Intended audience/appropriateness for said audience
    • Defend why even within an academic book review there should be discussion of whether or not something is engaging
    • (ie because when something is more engaging it’s more accessible to a wider range of people!)

How will I be building upon (and hopefully be moving beyond) research already conducted on this topic?

Does this topic gesture toward a larger, more generalized phenomenon?

  • What are the implications of this?

What’s my thesis?

Chapter summaries/source summaries in general:

Reading title

Type of reading


  • Who wrote the chapter?
  • Does the introduction provide relevant information and establish a clear purpose?
  • Is there clarity of concept throughout?
  • What type of language is used throughout (ex. does the writer write in their language? are translations provided? what is the effect of these choices?)
  • Are any aesthetic objects/images used? Do they enhance or detract from the presentation of the chapter?


  • How is language endagerment/revitalization addressed or incorporporated?
  • Is the format catchy/clever? Is it engaging?


  • What methods/innovations/interventions does this chapter bring to the scholarship on language endangerment/revitalization?

Article/Media Review:


Research design

  • What is the purpose of this article?
  • What are the major questions being asked? Addressed? Answered?
  • How are they being answered?
  • What sorts of research were undertaken?
  • Which school of archaeology does this research fit into (culture-historical, processual, post-processual, cognitive, Marxist, etc)? Why?

If dealing with an arch site, describe the subject area.

  • Location?
  • Numbered or named?
  • Preservation of material – good or bad?
  • Are organic materials present?
  • Size?
  • What kind of site is it?
  • What do you know about the current environmental context?
  • What is its paleaoenvironmental context (ie when was it occupied)?
  • What cultural period or periods does the site or materials studied belong to?
  • What was found (ie artefacts, ecofacts, features, fossils)?
    • Also address method/s by which dates for the site or artefacts/features found were determined and implications of these dates (if any)

How is gender defined?

  • What sorts of language around gender are used?
  • Is this article relevant to the course and its themes?
  • Does this article contribute to class discussions? Why/why not?
  • Review the course objective–does this article contribute to your ability to meet these objectives?

What was the significance of the article?

  • Is future research or discussion needed or necessary?
  • What do you think about this article?
  • What more could the authors do to strengthen their arguments or conclusions?
  • Would future research be justified/required to strengthen the arguments made, to address the questions posed?
  • Do the authors have a bias that may influence what they have written?

How is the information presented?

  • Is it well written and organized, or poorly written and disjointed?
  • Are figures/charts/images included or are they needed/not needed?
  • Can you understand what the author is trying to say?
  • Are the sources used by the author primary/secondary/non-existent.
  • Are the sources diverse?
  • Are the arguments presented well supported?

What is your opinion of this article?

  • Did you like/dislike/agree/disagree? Why or why not?

Blog/Media Review:

Overall Summary:

  • How did I find it?
  • Was it something I read before the beginning of this class?
  • What was my initial impression?
  • What is my impression now?

Read/listen to at least three posts/episodes (observations – at least 3 paragraphs)

  • Note the name of each post/episode, and date published.
  • Provide a summary of the post/episode, taking note of as many of the following as possible:
    • Introduction
      • Is the introduction catchy and clever?
      • Does it provide relevant information and establish a clear purpose?
      • Does it engage the reader?
    • Content
      • Is there a clarity of concept?
      • Was correct grammar used throughout?
      • Do the word choices “bring the topic to life”?
      • Is the topic creative and original–does it have “personality”?
      • Is the information presented accurate?
      • Was the length of the post appropriate for the content presented?
      • Are aesthetic objects used which enhance the presentation of the post? Are they captioned or annotated to their original source?

Is the site easy to access? By whom?

  • Are responses/comments allowed, and if so do they contribute to the discussion/to your understanding of the topic?
  • Do links work?
  • Is the blog easy to navigate?
  • Is there an “About” page? Is it useful?

Thoughts and impressions (summary – probs 2-3 paragraphs; should address each post individually and also discuss content comparatively; use terminology from the course in this discussion)

Annotated Biblios:


  • What are my proposed sources?
    • What will be compared with what? Contrasted? Critiqued? To what effect?


Provide a summary of the article. Avoid using direct quotes.

Provide a critical review of:

  • The information presented
    • Strengths and weaknesses
    • Context – what is the purpose of this article?
    • Are the sources used primary/secondary/non-existent?
    • What are the author/s’ bias/es?
    • What are the credentials of the author/s?
    • Who is the intended audience?
  • How the information is presented
    • Is it well written and organized, or poorly written and disjointed?
    • Are the figures/charts/images included needed/not needed?
    • Is the author’s point easy to discern?

Provide a discussion

  • Take a position (agree/disagree/like/dislike)–why?
    • Regarding text
    • Regarding charts/figures/images
  • Does this source contribute to discussion/topics in this course? How? Why?

Research paper:

Narrowing/Refining topic:

  • People
    • Key figures
    • Culture
  • Place/s
    • Sites
    • Countries/regions
  • Time
  • Material/s
    • Artifacts
    • Ecofacts
    • Human remains
  • Theories/Methods
    • Sourced of data
    • Ethnohistoric arch.
    • Experimental arch.


  • Biggest concern?
  • Adjacent concerns?
  • Proposal
  • Wrapping up of concerns, if possible (actual body paragraphs)


Closing statements

  • What questions am I left with?
  • Are there any knowledge gaps apparent?
  • How could/should this source be improved?



[cws are used in headers above specific lists, but to be clear there are no details of any instances of abuse]

I’ve flipped back and forth on making this list, but after some thought I think it would be helpful for me to add my voice and experience to this discussion. It’s really difficult for me to vocalize the events proper (or to even be capable of remembering them all, honestly), but maybe by writing about my experiences in the aftermaths I’ll eventually be able to work my way into being able to express (with myself) a more complete narrative of my experiences.

While the hashtag is intended for victims-survivors of sexual trauma I have also included instances of emotional abuse as I feel they are important to understanding my narrative and experiences with abuse. Some instances/experiences of various forms of abuse, however, have been omitted for various reasons.

1 (cw childhood sexual abuse, incest, hospitalization):

  • I was 2, and thought what was happening was normal.
  • I was 3, and I thought that what was happening was how people loved eachother.
  • I was 4, and sometimes they read me bedtime stories.
  • I was 5, and they told me that my parents knew what was happening.
  • I was 6, and they told me my parents didn’t love me as much as they did.
  • I was 7, and I got so close to telling my grandparents but was afraid that they might say it was just how things worked.
  • I was 8, and I was scared of what they’d do to me if I told anyone.
  • I was 9, and they introduced me to what would later become my favourite band of over a decade, and my favourite TV series to this day.
  • I was 10, and when we played video games together sometimes I would laugh so hard I’d cry.
  • I was 11, and I got so close to telling my parents but backed out at the last minute because they took me to a police station and was friendly with the officers, so I (wrongly, perhaps obviously) assumed they knew one another.
  • I was 12, and they always knew what kinds of gifts I wanted.
  • I was 13, and they hadn’t hurt me in over a year.
  • I was 14, and they were mentally ill and had begun grooming me again (a term I didn’t know at the time, but understand that was my experience in hindsight). Despite that, however, my parents (not through me) found out about the abuse and reported it anyways. I lied to the police throughout 3 interrogations, and made myself out to be more confused than I actually was because I felt like them going to jail would have torn my family apart. I was hospitalized in a pediatric mental health ward because of the stress, and doubted anyone would ever take me seriously after that anyways. To this day my dad (who is actually very very supportive, and 100% believes I was abused) still doesn’t believe my abuser was who I tell him it was.
  • I was 15, and when the officer called to let me know that they’d be closing my file due to lack of evidence and I told him that I was doing fantastically (I was not), and had gotten over the whole ordeal (I likely never will) so I wouldn’t have to be interrogated again.

2 (cw emotional abuse):

  • I was 16, and thought I deserved what was happening. When my friends found out (it’s complicated, but not directly through me) they ostracized me for months and called me a liar. To this day none of them have let me explain my memories of the events.

3 (cw assault, attempted rape):

  • I was 17, and after telling my friends what had happened (a first!) they told me that I shouldn’t have gone to his house to begin with.

1 (cw stalking, doxxing):

  • I was 22, and found out they’d been stalking me for an unknown amount of time. They subsequently doxxed me. When I went to the police to report the officer told me that unless there was a credible threat against my life there was nothing they could do.

Today I’m 26, and I’m 22 sessions in on a specialized 15 session trauma therapy program. I haven’t been able to work in 2-odd years largely because of my daily symptoms of PTSD. I’m a barely functioning adult and struggle with basic tasks like remembering to take my medications every day despite excelling academically (when I’m able to remember to submit my assignments, that is). So many of us live with these pains. None of us should have to. Justice, restorative or elsewise, has not been served.

If you’ve made it this far: Thank you. Please, to your best abilities, have compassion and empathy for the victims and survivors in your life. None of us (as in: no one on Earth, regardless of their experiences) can do this alone.