This sections is primarily concerned with journalling some reflections on the study as the research project progresses. I am hoping to use this space to thus consider the impact of the research on me and any significant experience/thought during the study. My hope is to refer back to this section when I come to writing up the findings and in particular; the reflective paper I am expected to produce as part of my thesis.
March 3rd 2019
As you may know, there has been no viva…not yet, due to a double postponent. I have to say this has been really tough, I was ready and rearing to go last December but it could not happen. I feel I have distanced myself from the thesis, perhaps as a way to manage the disappointment. We are almost there though. I am not too anxious although I do have moments when nerves hit me. On the whole I feel quietly confident. I am re-reading all the entries on this site as part of my preparation and reflection process. It’s been really helpful memory wise. But things to feel distant, perhaps part of the processing again.
October 3rd 2018
I have less than 2 weeks to produce the draft for the complete thesis. Subjectively it feels as though I am about 70% there. Maybe 75%. I have 10 days AL ahead to concentrate on finishing. I know I will do it because really, I rarely not finish what I start! Regardless of how much efforts I put in. That’s a constant which feels reassuring right now. I anticipate not to sleep much next week. I can work very long days 12, 15 even 18 hours, if needed. I have done this throughout most of my studies. See how I am relying on past behaviour to predict what I hope will happen 🙂
It is just a draft at this point. But of course feedback should correlate with independent assessment during viva.
Nerves have not hit yet. Not properly. I know they will.
At this point I just want to be done with the course.
August 30th 2018
I have as of today analysed 10 interviews. It feels like a monumental achievement. I have been thinking about the impact of the study and the reduced grasp it seems to have on me. I am not at all sure why. Perhaps it is the pressure of the submission deadline approaching, perhaps it is due to desensitisation. In any event it is notable, that the sense of anxiety in relation to engaging with the data, seems to have mostly gone.
I have now hit 200 separate incidents of racism and racial injustice. 200. So I expect to finish with at least 250. I am both surprised and not surprised. I think I was naïve to believe I would be able to provide a thorough analysis and categorisation of each racist incident and to even believe I could come close to participants recounting every single act of racial injustice they remember experiencing/witnessing.
It is an impossible task. Perhaps it would be a lifelong undertaking. When I contrast the volume of these experiences with the support participants received, the starkness screams, the urgency of the situation becomes inescapable and there is a sense of anger. There is a sense of incredulity too that such experiences have received so little empirical attention in a context where black people remain the most over-represented group within psychiatric systems in the UK. And the most likely to experience psychological distress. There is most definitely a growing sense of anger in the background. And sadness too.
I am still attempting to at least identify and categorise racial injustice event/processes/incidents to hopefully append in a table, wether I am able to do this, will largely depend on time and also size of the appendix…It may be that I simply submit a few pages as an illustration.
I am still being approached by people wishing to take part who I have to turn away, I think this is an outcome in and of itself. Perhaps this also points to unmet needs and that perhaps people want to speak about their experience.
August 13th 2018
I have as of today I have carried out the analyses of 6 interviews. I have started to identify some master/dominant themes, which I wish to document. I have decided not to remind myself of the themes that I had struck with me post interviews so as to try and ground this new list of themes as much as possible, in the data. The below is pretty much based on number of entries/how dense a theme is appearing so far…(and may still shift).
Updated list of themes:
-The integenerational context including the impact of historical atrocities, the intergenerational context of coping strategies, stories of mothers suffering (under the weight of white supremacy), repetition of trauma patterns within families, trauma being passed down generations.
-Appeasing whiteness. This is a theme which has featured without exception (so far) in each of the interview analysed. It is about the various ways the participants feel they have/had to behave around white people or navigate white systems to avoid racism and racist violence. Such strategies include lowering your voice, avoiding discussing racism, being deferrent or compliant and, putting up a mask to be palatable.
– The internalisation of white supremacy, through for example, self-hatred/low self-esteem, internalisation of assimilative expectations and of Eurocentric beauty standards but also parents (linking to the intergenerational context) encouraging children to ‘not rock the boat’ or to expect/accept to large degree racial injustice, often through fear.
-Lack of support for racism related distress or trauma neither within statutory services or from parents, disturbingly, even the participants who had support in the form of therapy did not receive support in relation to painful experiences of racism since they did not feel safe enough to discuss them with their therapists; the couple of participants who attempted to; reported being pathologised for doing so.
-the sheer volume of racist & race related injustices reported. In 6 interviews I have now identified 91 individual racist act/incident/process. These are the incidents that participants could bring in the space of a time-limited interview, therefore the stuff that was cognitively salient. They encompass different life domains & different classes of racism.
The incidents reported varied from being called the N word, to being presumed dishonest, to seing your father chased by racists down the street, to having one’s work appropriated, to being restrained unecessarily, to being spat at, to being offered white prosthetics breasts, to not being helped with pain relief/be expected to cope with debilitating pain, to being over medicated with psychotropics, to being told to go back to where you come from, to having information at work withheld, to being accused of lacking ‘objectivity’, to being called paranoid when discussing racism, to being avoided on public transport…
-Intersectional differences in terms of type of racial violence experienced. Race x disability/ill health, race x social class, race x immigration status, race x queerness (most participants’ intersections also include gender); different patterns of injury, responses and of course vulnerability seem to be becoming apparent.
July 21st 2018
I’ve seriously been struggling with avoiding the research data. Had (clinical supervision) yesterday realised how this paralleled participants’ trauma journeys. I initially rather unkindly believed this was a matter of motivation. Maybe it was both. Avoidance of trauma related material/stimuli is a core response to trauma; so that’s interesting. It does not make it easier to deal with but it helps making sense. My reflective paper, it is still the plan, is around vicarious trauma in researchers & parallel processes…in the research processes. So still planning to take a fairly analytical stance. Could not have picked a more suited topic right (update posted on Twitter on July 21st 2018).
March 21st 2018
It is almost a month since I last wrote an entry and to be fair this is mainly because I have not been carrying out much research activities. There is strange sense that everything, every, thing that could shock or distress me has been heard. And, that no further data is needed. Of course I could never know for sure. But it is odd to experience an intuitive sense of ‘being there’.
I guess that internal sense of saturation links with a feeling of containment and peace. This is an odd thing to experience in relation to research, not something I expected or have experienced before. I do not think this is something that has been theorised, it might be purely idiosyncratic but perhaps, it is not.
In the month or so that has gone by; it seems some emotional processing has taken place. This break (there was about 20 days between interview 11 & interview 12, then just 3 days between interview 12 & interview 13) seems to have settled things emotionally; somehow.
In that interim I have thought and continue to think a lot about the issues raised within the interviews. I have initiated conversations about them too. I guess in that regards, one may argue that I have indeed started analysing. I guess one may also argue from a vicarious trauma perspective, that I have started to recover or heal. One thing is for sure, the emotional grasp of the study feels much less powerful.
It is difficult to avoid formulating when you are a psychologist. For now, it is almost as though the data is being processed at a different level of consciousness; also perhaps more intellectually and more conceptually. This is very interesting because there appears to be a parallel process in how participants coped with their experience of racial trauma and, my experience of the study processes. Every participant without exception, has said something about formulating and, how making sense of their experience of racism was central to their healing journey; that it minimised the impact racial injustice had on them. Its grasp. In fact this realisation has just hit me as I wrote this entry.
Many issues have stayed with me, some unexpectedly. For transparency and reflexivity purposes, I will attempt to record those issues below, the issues/themes or questions which have stuck prior to starting the formal data analysis. I also think these offer important insights into the study and into my own processes.
Here’s what has been playing on my mind:
– issues of intergenerational trauma and the transmission of race related wounds within families
– how intelligence in black boys may make them vulnerable to racism
– how therapists and psychologists struggle to work therapeutically with racial injustice
– how formulating and making sense of one’s experience has helped every participant cope with racial injustice and racism
-how racial traumatisation seems to start in childhood
-how very little support participants got as children to help them navigate racial injustice and cope with racism
– how black children may learn/are socialised to suffer in silence when they experience racism
-how parents seem to struggle to have conversations around racism and how this seems to increase vulnerability to racial trauma in the sample
– how most participants say they found the interview therapeutic and healing but also at times, challenging and distressing
– how blackness and disability/poor physical health intersect appearing to increase risks of racial trauma
– how blackness and queerness intersect also possibly increasing risks of racial trauma (though it appears much less so than disability x blackness)
– how racism and racial injustice at work may harm, seeming to be doing the most psychological damage
These are the issues that have recurrently come to mind and stayed in mind and continue to play in my mind. The residues of the interviews prior to the analysis, one may say. Of course the analysis may shift things or bring to the fore more significant issues, but for now this is what sticks.
February 21st 2018
I have now interviewed two men. I have been trying to consider gender differences in how I may have responded and in relation to the interview process. The only thing that I noted which seems potentially significant; is that I somehow felt the interviews with the two male participants felt less emotionally demanding than many of the interviews I carried out with women. I am not sure wether there is a pattern here or not and, I may need at least another male interviewee to be more confident. If there is a pattern, the only thing I am wondering about for now are issues of identification. Specifically wether it may be that as a woman; I more easily connect with the experience of other women or female presenting individuals, if so; this could have important implications re: vicarious trauma. I may at a later stage explore what the literature suggests but I seem to remember identification with trauma victims is one mechanism which is central in vicarious trauma.
February 19th 2018
This has been a difficult day in terms of the research process. I have carried out two further interviews over the past few days and this evening was number 7, the last so far. I think number 7, was the toughest to date. I struggled with not tearing-up. And at times, I was very close. Trying to reflect on what exactly might have touched/hooked on me; I am not 100% sure beyond at this stage. Perhaps the sheer volume of traumatic experiences which were recounted to me. Only a couple of reflections come to mind; first that the participant appeared particularly cut off from her feelings. She was mostly jovial and often smiling when sharing extremely painful and disturbing experiences (and was aware this was a defense when I reflected this back to her).
I wondered wether I may have been holding and containing difficult feelings for her; feeling the distress she would not allow herself to feel. Maybe too; there was something about hearing about the intergenerational effects of racial trauma and racism on three different generations of women. It was also weighing that as shared within the interview; as a 17 year old; in hospital for depression; she was offered and given ECT. Offered ECT before psychotherapy. This stood out in the sea of racial injustices & violence the participant recounted and triggered an intense anger response within me. I actually had an image of me; knife in hand, stabbing my desk as she spoke.
I was nonetheless, very aware of the need in me to remain ‘in character’ (to remain in the role of the researcher, however problematic that notion could be; if critically unpacked). I am now starting to rethink numbers in light of my self-care; wondering wether I should go beyond interviewing those I have booked already, should I feel so distressed again. I am also wondering whether these interviews should be done by white people to reduce the risk of vicarious re-traumatisation. I am fully aware of the potentially problematic dynamics this configurations would reproduce and; the inevitable impact of any data obtained. I do want to document that I was tearful after that interview.
February 10th 2018
Today I conducted my third interview and something quite curious happened. In the middle of the interview; towards the second half, I became aware of a little pinch on the back of my foot. As I touched it, my hand felt wet and so I looked at it. It was covered in blood. The croc I was wearing was also covered in dark, half dried blood. I have no idea how I cut myself. I did not feel much pain nor did the cut appear deep so I was taken aback by the amount of blood. I immediately started to think of the symbolism; of me doing this research on racism & trauma; being in the mist of a research interview and sitting there bleeding, pretty much unaware until I felt the pinch. It just occurred to me now, I think I became aware of that pinching sensation as the vignette was discussed and the participant was distressed. I was bleeding as the participant was distressed.
This thought took me to my work in Yarl’s Wood. In Yarl’s Wood, many of the suicide attempts were public. I remember one in particular incident, I did not witness but which was recounted to me by clients and staff…a detainee had tried to kill himself by lacerating himself publicly with a blade and started bleeding profusely. I remember discussing this in supervision and again reflecting on the symbolism of the blood and the sense of collective ownership in the distress this individual was displaying.
Something I learnt from group analysis, is where the distress manifests is not necessarily or at least not exclusively where the issue lies. A bit like a headache may signal kidney stones or something. So it’s interesting, dynamically at least; that as my participant was distressed, I was bleeding. This is very rich. In the same way a single resident bleeding himself publicly represents a lot more than just an attempt on his life. Perhaps something about the blood of the collective, something about a collective wish to die. Something perhaps here too about the shared trauma; the collective wound. I really don’t know. Something else I have realised, is that this sense of heaviness; of numbness I experienced after the first two interviews seems to have lifted.
Febyary 9th 2018
This is my first entry. There is something quite exposing in sharing one’s personal reflections on the research process of a study that is on-going. In fact, a study that has just started. It feels self-indulgent, somewhat. And, there is also a fear that I might appear less serious a researcher for being open. Despite the fact that reflexivity and self-reflection are central to qualitative enquiry. I am facing these anxieties head on. I have decided to make my reflections public. Partly in the interest of transparency, partly to commit myself to the process of regular reflection. Partly too, to do what I am asking of research participants; that is to share. And to be open. And to be vulnerable. I have no particular agenda as to where the current writing will take me.
I am not so sure either what I will end up covering or concentrating on. I only know that I am committing myself to regularly sharing key reflections on the research process, whatever they are. And interestingly; over the past few days; I have struggled with verbalising my thoughts and feelings following my initial data collection. The interviews were dense and felt intense. It does not feel as though I have yet processed what was going on. I am only noticing and noting that it felt as though I could not quite get to grip with what I was feeling following both interviews.
This led me to think about the impact of researching trauma charged phenomena. I wondered wether my responses were mirroring the dissociation which often occurs when we are faced with traumatic situations or events. I wondered wether there was something protective or defensive in feeling almost blank or numb. Or unusually short of things to say or think or feel. I was curious as this is not a familiar place for me. I have not engaged yet with the data I have collected. I felt it was important to sit with the aforementioned experience. To wonder about it. To document it. Hence; this entry.