Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "Brush Yourself Off"

This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls, inspired by the "making someone smile" square in my 6-1-16 card for the Cottoncandy Bingo fest. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Officer Pink thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This is mostly fluff, but Turq being Turq, it contains some sensitive stuff too. Highlight to read the more detailed warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features PTSD, self-criticism, sensory issues, Ansel trying to cope with his chosen but sometimes still disconcerting body changes, Turq struggling to deal with personal interactions, do-it-yourself physical therapy, Turq's peculiar shapeshifting-induced body images, trial and error with body brushes, China is bottom-ten because reasons, and other challenges. There is detailed description of tactile activities, so if you get a lot of vicarious effects from that, make sure you're in the mood for it. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before moving onward.


"Brush Yourself Off"


Turq fretted over his body
and over his behavior
and over his body's behavior.

"Listen," Ansel said to him,
"a lot of bad things have
happened to you. It's not fair
to expect that it won't affect you.
What you need to do is find ways
of dealing with those impacts."

"I know," Turq said glumly.

"That means pick yourself up,
brush yourself off, and move
forward," Ansel said. "It does
not mean pick on yourself."

Turq scratched at the scars
on his forearm. "I guess."

"I wanted to let you know that Ethan
is dropping by today," Ansel said.

"I don't know if I can handle
that," Turq whispered, tilting
his chin toward his chest.

"No pressure," Ansel said with
a smile. "If all you can do is stay
in the same yard with him, that's
better than bolting into the woods."

"And if I can't even manage
that much?" Turq said.

"Then we'll know where you're at
today, and we can try again
another day," Ansel said.

Turq shook himself a little.
"Why's Ethan coming here?"

"He's got an idea that he thinks
will help both of us," Ansel said.

"But there's nothing wrong
with you," Turq said.

"Right, because freaking out
over someone touching my hair
was perfectly normal," Ansel drawled.
"I've gotten more sensitive, and if I
don't integrate that somehow, it's
going to drive me nuts."

"I'll try to stick around," Turq said.

The waiting made him jittery,
but he stayed in the yard and
he stayed in human form, until
Ethan arrived with his teleporter
like an escort on a gentleman's arm.

"Morning, Ethan, thanks for
coming today," Ansel said.

"Any time," Ethan replied,
waving off his teleporter.
A large canvas bag printed
with some inspirational quotes
swung from his right hand,
full of mysterious items.

"So what did you bring?"
Ansel said, fizzing with curiosity.

Turq hung back, but that
was okay; Ansel could
ask the questions for now.

"Brushes," said Ethan. "There
are whole therapy exercises that
rely on brushes, but people use them
for other stuff too. They can stimulate
the lymphatic system, remove dead skin,
spice up the bedroom -- all kinds of things."

"Really?" Ansel said, leaning forward.

"Sure, I was talking with another healer
about it and he gave me some ideas,"
Ethan said. "You can get a therapist
if you want, or you can just try things
yourself to see what works for you.
There are spas that brush people
just because it feels fantastic."

Turq drifted closer, and Ansel
turned to ask, "Do you mind
if we use the gazebo for this?"

"It's your place," Turq said.

"Yes, but I've been sharing it
with you, so it's polite to ask
before barging in," Ansel said.

"It's okay," Turq agreed.

So they sat down in the gazebo,
although Turq stayed near the door.

Ethan poured out a whole heap
of brushes, some with handles
and some without, made of
natural or synthetic bristles,
wood or plastic backs.

"There are therapy brushes,
like this one," he said, pointing out
a white brush with fine nylon bristles.
"They're specially designed for skin.
Really soft hairbrushes like those
meant for babies can work too."

Ansel picked up the pink one
and tested the bristles. They were
so soft, they probably wouldn't control
even his silk-fine hair, but they felt
pretty good against his hand.

Turq rocked back and forth,
almost reaching then pulling away.

"Want one?" Ansel asked, picking up
a pretty blue brush. "I could throw it."

"Yeah," Turq said, spreading his hands.

Ansel gave it an easy, underhanded toss
and it landed neatly in Turq's grasp.

"Is that one a shaving brush?" Turq said.

"Yes, it is," said Ethan. "I've got
a few horse brushes in here, too,
then other textures like sponges and
bathing mitts and stuff. I even brought
fur, velvet, and feathers in case you
like lighter touch. Plenty of people
want to have a range of intensity from
really soft brushes to stiffer ones."

"That sounds like a good idea,"
Ansel said, testing the texture
of some other brushes. "So how
is this supposed to help us?"

"Well, there are some fancy protocols
for therapy, or dry brushing which is simpler.
There are other kinds of sensation play too,"
Ethan said. "My suggestion is that you explore
a few different brushes and vary the pressure
to find what feels good to you. Be careful if
you try brushing over your front -- it can make
some people feel queasy or like they need to pee."

"I like having my tummy brushed,
when I'm furry," Turq said quietly.
"Even in human form, I like being
rubbed or tickled there -- well,
not so much tickled now, but
when I was little I liked it."

"Try it and see what works for you,"
Ethan encouraged. "Usually people
prefer firm strokes, but it can be
overwhelming for others and
they need a lighter touch."

Turq turned the brush over and
over in his hands, testing the bristles.

Tentatively Ansel tried brushing his
forearm. "Oh, wowwww," he said.
"Turq, this is amazing, you gotta try it."

"Stroke toward your heart," Ethan said.
"That's a dry-brushing technique, so it
follows the flow of your lymphatic system.
The therapeutic model uses longer strokes,
moving in different directions, to help
your body connect with itself."

"Yeah, I definitely need that,"
Turq said. "My stupid body
can't even remember how
all the parts go together."

"Be gentle with yourself,"
Ansel reminded him. "Your body
has been through a really rough time."

"I'm no expert, but I've seen some of
the patterns," Ethan said. "Try going
from your wrist to elbow, then back down,
then up to your shoulder in long smooth strokes."

Turq tried it, but had a hard time keeping
the rhythm, and the sensation itself
seemed to distract him from the strokes.

"This is harder than it looks," he said.

"Sometimes it's easier if another person
does the brushing for you, but not everyone
can tolerate that," Ethan mentioned.

"Oh, do me," said Ansel, holding out
his arm. "I want to compare that
against doing it for myself."

Ethan took the pink brush and
went through the same motions,
while Ansel made blissful noises.

It was like massage, and yet not;
like brushing his hair, only not quite.

At first it was almost too much,
his whole skin waking up and
twitching from all the stimulation,
but soon it settled and felt soothing.

"Keep it up for a couple minutes,
it gets more relaxing," he told Turq.

Turq focused on that task.

"Want to try a different brush?"
Ethan asked, waving at them.

"Sure," Ansel said. "Do they
feel different between the ones
with natural or synthetic bristles?"

"Let's find out." Ethan stroked him with
each brush, naming the types of bristles.

"Too scratchy," Ansel said
of the boar-bristle brush.

"I brought that one for your hair,
not your skin, in case you wanted
something to stimulate your scalp,"
Ethan said. "I just thought it would
make a useful comparison against
the softer brushes, so you could
put them on a spectrum."

Ansel reached out and started
sorting the brushes in order
from softest to stiffest.

The shaving brush was in
the middle, but he liked tickling it
against his palm. He used to do that
with his grandfather's shaving brush,
back when he was a little boy.

"So ... how's it supposed
to help?" Turq wondered.

"Some people find brushing to be
soothing," Ethan said. "Long strokes
can help your body 'connect the dots'
from one place to another. If you tend
to feel twitchy about being touched, then
safe touches can remind your brain that
it's not something to panic over."

"Yeah, it's like ... my body and brain
get into arguments a lot," said Turq.
"Sometimes I really love being touched,
and other times I can't stand it."

"It's okay if one of the things you need
is just being able to say no, and have
someone take that for an answer,"
Ethan said quietly. "I can do that.
I've done it before, I can do it again."

"Yeah, it helps when I can say no,"
Turq said. "The rest of this is just ...
I don't know, maybe. It's hard enough
just staying in human form."

"You don't like being human?" Ethan said.

Turq shook his head. "It doesn't
feel like me anymore, as much as
some of the others do," he said.
"It doesn't feel as good, period."

"Okay, what feels different?"
Ethan asked, watching closely.

"I like being the caney, nothing
bothers me as much then," said Turq.
"The only one twitchier than the human
is the deer, and I mostly save that one
for running. But I need my damn hands
for ... just about everything. It's maddening."

"It sounds like the traumatic stress bothers
you more in human form," said Ethan.
"That stuff can really curdle your brain."

"Yeah, tell me about it," Turq said.

"I think you're getting more benefit
from being furry than most people
do from antidepressants," said Ethan.
"You're re-learning what 'comfortable'
feels like. That's a big goal in recovery.
So if this is working, keep doing it."

"You don't think I should ... try
to be human all the time?" Turq said.
His face had a pinched look that
made Ansel wonder who'd said
that bit of nonsense to him.

"Turq, I don't care whether you're
on two legs or four," said Ansel.
"I care whether you're happy,
or at least not hurting."

Ethan nodded. "Look for things
you can do that make you feel good,
or at least, help you feel less awful."

"Brush me?" Turq said,
offering Ansel the brush.

Ansel took it and stroked
the soft bristles upward from
Turq's wrist toward his elbow.

"Gah," Turq said, pulling away.
"No. That's wrong."

"Okay. What's wrong about it?"
Ansel said. He examined the brush
for possible snags or allergens.

"You were messing up
my fur," Turq whined. "You
brushed it sideways."

"Oh, I see," Ethan said.
"The patterns for humans
don't always follow the grain,
because we have less of a pelt."

"It still feels wrong," Turq said,
rubbing his hand over the spot.

"May I try brushing with the grain?"
Ansel asked, lifting the brush.
There was nothing in it that
shouldn't have been there.

"... okay," Turq said,
and settled back down.

Ansel brushed him gently,
carefully, paying close attention
to the direction of the hairs.

"Hmm," Turq said, and then,
"Hhhnnnggg. Oh, that's nice."
He flopped across Ansel's lap,
just like he did in furry form.

Ansel gave Ethan a grin of triumph.

Ethan flashed him a thumbs-up
in reply. This was working.

"Is it good?" Ansel asked Turq.

"Mmmyeah," he said with
a sloppy smile. "Not as good
as when you're brushing the caney,
but better than when you're just petting
the human with your bare hands."

"Is that how Turq usually talks
about himself?" Ethan murmured.

"Yes," Ansel said. "It's not like
every form is a separate person,
but each one definitely has his own
personality and a different perspective."
He lifted the brush to switch sides.

"I just like how it feels when my body
isn't bothering me," Turq said.

"That's good," Ethan said. "It's great.
One of the common problems with PTSD
is that it kills the capacity to feel pleasure.
You can still do that, so you're ahead of
the game. Keep up the good work.
It should help revive your awareness
of other positive feelings in life."

"Uh huh," Turq said, rolling
to present Ansel with his belly.

"Over your clothes, or under
your clothes?" Ansel asked.

"Over, it's too cold to go
bareskin," Turq said.

"I think I need a stiffer brush,"
Ansel said, sorting through
the offerings on the bench.
"How's this one feel?"

"Fiiiiiiine," Turq said.

Mindful of Ethan's warnings
about possible drawbacks,
Ansel used small, light strokes
over Turq's belly and kept most
of the attention on his shoulders
and along his upper thighs.

Turq wriggled against him,
making happy, wordless noises.

It felt so good to see him happy.

"Turq, may I take a closer look,
passive scan only?" Ethan asked.

"Okay," Turq said.

Ethan swept his hand
just above Turq's body,
then said, "Could you sort of ...
try to let me see you? Right now
you look pretty hazy to me."

"Hmm," Turq said, closing his eyes.
He curled his hands as if holding
some kind of wheel over his chest.

"Oh!" Ethan exclaimed. "That did it.
Have you done some energy work before?"

"... yes," Turq said, giving him a wary look.
"I'll tell you, but don't spread it around, and
especially don't tell the Chinese government
because they're a bunch of whackjobs about it."

"Okay?" Ethan said, clearly baffled.

"We'll be discreet," Ansel said.

"My m-- my foster mother, her family got
run out of China for practicing Falun Gong,"
said Turq. "So she taught it to us kids, because
it's a good stretchy exercise and it's relaxing.
Andeana was way better than me at it, but
I just liked spending time with Mingxia."

"You may have gotten better than
you realize," Ethan said. He patted
the air above Turq. "You're definitely
able to affect your own energy. It's not tidy,
but most folks can't do anything with theirs."

"I'm not much," Turq insisted. "You should
watch the masters doing this. They're so good,
you can almost see the energy moving. But it
doesn't turn people into soups, it just makes
them good people in good physical shape."

"Yyyyeah ... the bottom-ten countries
such as China really don't like anything
that can level up supernary skills," Ethan said.
"It seems like Falun Gong could be one of
those. No wonder China went apeshit."

Ansel frowned. "It would make far more
sense to encourage such practices,
to cut down the envy of superpowers.
You want the perks, you do the work."

"Then you're smarter than China,"
Ethan said, "and we need that openness."
He turned back to Turq. "You're doing
better than before. I think that you're still
healing slowly over time. Just keep it up,
and you should come through all right."

"I hope so," Turq said. He looked down
at where Ansel had returned to brushing
his bare forearms with the blue baby brush.
"This reminds me of a moving meditation,
only I'm not the one doing the moves.
It feels a lot like that, though."

"Have you done much meditation?"
Ethan asked. "Some people find that
it helps them with mindfulness."

"I've done a little, but not much," Turq said.
"It's more of a Tibetan thing than a Chinese one.
We don't talk much about the Tibetan helpers,
those are some really sad stories."

Ansel and Ethan shared a look of concern.

"We won't pry, if it brings up bad memories,"
Ansel said, "but if you need to talk about it,
then I'm willing to listen whenever you're ready."

"Mostly I'm trying to get my brain to where
I can live in it without wanting to crawl
out the window," Turq said.

"Okay," Ansel said. At least
the brushing seemed to help
Turq stay calm and focused.

Eventually Turq rolled off his lap
and asked, "You wanna turn?"

"Sure," Ansel said. "I like this pink one,
and the white therapy brush, but not
the scratchier ones in the bunch."

"Except the shaving brush," Turq said.

"Except that," Ansel agreed, grinning.
He was glad that Turq had been
paying enough attention to notice,
a hopeful sign of social engagement.

Turq took a few strokes, then hesitated.
"It's hard for me to tell what I'm doing
when it's not my skin," he said. "Is this
okay? Too hard, or not hard enough?"

"Gentle strokes, but not so light
that they tickle," Ansel coached.
"Do it like you did my hair."

Turq followed the directions,
making soft smooth strokes
along Ansel's forearm. "Better?"

"Yeah, that's good," Ansel said,
his eyes fluttering shut. "Maybe
try the connecting strokes. I like
those, but I can't do them myself."

Turq brushed him from wrist to
elbow, back down to wrist, and
then all the way up to his shoulder.

"That is heavenly," Ansel said.
It felt different than the brisk strokes
moving toward his heart or the soft ones
that followed the lay of his body hair.

He could feel ... something else ... too,
when Turq leaned over him and moved
the brush in those long easy lines.

It wasn't quite like the descriptions of
energy-sensing in the SPOON handouts,
he thought, more like glimpsing something
from the corner of his eye, but with
a touch instead of an image.

Honestly, Ansel didn't care.
It just felt good, the brushing and
whatever Turq might have doing, all of it.

"It's been twenty minutes," Ethan said.
"That's a good time for a first session."

"Aww," Ansel said as he sat up.

Turq started packing everything
back into the canvas bag.

"Wait, why don't you keep the blue one?"
Ansel said. "Then you can brush yourself
even when I'm not around to help. Are
there any other brushes you like?"

"I like the therapy brush too,"
Turq said with a fond smile.

"There are duplicates of that style,"
Ansel said. "How about you take one,
and I'll take the shaving brush. Then we
have two each, and the rest to share."

"You can keep the bag, too, I have
plenty of those," Ethan said.

Ansel wasn't surprised that Ethan
frequently ran short of supplies, the way
he gave stuff away -- but then he was
working with deprived clients more often
than not, so they needed the help.

The time Ansel had taken extra shares of
leftover items from the department during
an inventory day -- with the Chief's blessing,
once he knew they were for a street healer --
Ethan had been shocked by the bundle of
space blankets, emergency ration bars,
and random first aid supplies.

"Thanks," Turq said. "It was really nice
of you to bring us stuff. I wish I could
do something back for you but ..." He
shrugged. "I'm not much use yet."

"I've got it," Ansel said. "Police favors
are valuable, and Ethan has my card."

"Turq, just focus on getting better
first," Ethan said firmly. "You can
worry about doing me favors later."

"I guess," Turq said, shuffling in place.

"Jump up and down a little bit.
Flap your arms. Stamp your feet,"
Ethan suggested. "Joint compression
can help you reconnect with your body,
too -- it's in some of the therapy stuff."

Turq gave a few desultory hops,
then he left the gazebo and
bounded around with more vigor.

Ansel stepped down to the yard,
where he went through a quick round
of the calisthenics he liked from work.

He hadn't quite finished his routine
when his vidwatch chimed, but he was
certainly revived enough to trot up
the stairs and retrieve lunch.

The stew was hearty with pork
and a mix of butternut squash,
potatoes, carrots, onions, celery,
and even apples with a side of rolls.

When Ansel came back down the stairs,
Ethan still lounged in the gazebo but
Turq was lolling on the brown grass.

"Lunch is served," said Ansel.
"Brush yourself off and come eat."

Turq and Ethan both perked up
when Ansel set out the crock of
stew and the bowls, along with
enormous crusty rolls twisted
into knots and stuffed with herbs.

It was delicious, the meat falling apart,
the vegetables tender and savory-sweet.

The recipe said it would serve ten, and
Ansel had brought six of the big rolls,
but amongst them they finished
more than half of the crock.

Turq was eyeing the last roll,
but he'd already undone both
the button on his jeans and
the rope he used as a belt.

"Why don't you save that one
for later," Ansel suggested. He
wrapped it in the dishcloth that lined
the basket and handed it to Turq.

"Thank you for taking care of us," Turq said.

"You're welcome," Ansel said.
"Thank you for accepting it.
I like making people smile."

"I will always accept delicious food,"
Ethan said with a satisfied smile.

Turq's answer smile was smaller
and slower, but that was okay.

Ansel knew it had farther to come.

* * *

Notes:

"I'm satisfied and proud of the things I did - even the bumps and the bruises that I've had on the way. You fall down, you get up, you brush yourself off and you keep going. And that's what we're doing."
-- Gucci Mane

Stressful events can cause emotional trauma. Turq's general twitchiness is a symptom of that. Here are some tips for coping with traumatic stress.

Canvas bags are available from various sources as reusable carriers. This one has some inspirational sayings.

Sensory Processing Disorder includes a range of challenges from sensory-seeking to sensory-avoiding. The symptoms can vary widely, and often overlap with many other conditions that can cause numbing or hypersensitivity. There are ways to cope with SPD or similar complaints. Turq and Ansel both show different types and levels of challenge in dealing with sensory input from their changing bodies.

A sensory diet can help people deal with more kinds of stimulation. Here is a sample that can be customized. Notice that this is the kind of normal stuff children used to do all the time, at will, which has been changed into a medical protocol requiring expert assistance to implement. If you simply allow children to explore vigorously on their own in an enriched environment, they very rarely develop these types of problems. However, people can run into similar issues for very different reasons, such as Turq's medical abuse or Ansel's voluntary body modification. Similar solutions may work across many different cases. Know how to create a sensory diet with multiple ways to moderate the senses.

Therapeutic brushing is one type of sensory regulation technique. Here is one pattern for it. This technique can reduce touch aversion and improve sensory integration, but it has its pros and cons. Dry brushing is a cosmetic technique. Spas often offer this service, advertising the health benefits, but a lot of people do it simply because this type of pampering feels good to them. Once again, it takes something perfectly normal (brushing and stroking) and moves it into the clinical realm. By all means, if you're having problems you can't solve on your own, consult an expert if you can find a good one. But mammals are all wired to do this stuff for ourselves and each other, and most can do it without assistance, so don't let anyone make you feel stupid about your own body. Special nerves in the hair follicles make it pleasant to pet or be petted, which including brushing. Do what feels good to you.

Brushes can be made with many types of bristles. What matters is finding one you like. The official therapy brush has soft synthetic bristles. Scroll down this page for a complexion brush. Here are the blue and pink baby brushes. You can find brushes in a range from soft to stiff. There are also bundles of different tactile objects.

Sensation play includes a wide variety of activities which many people enjoy, not just kinky folks. Engage the senses with such things and fur and leather or ticklers and pricklers. There are guides to sensual toys and tutorials for sensation play. It can be erotic, but can also be platonic as presented here.

Taking care of yourself includes being gentle with your pain. Ansel is pretty good at this, but that's because he learned how and makes a point of it; he has the usual heroic tendency to short himself if he doesn't pay attention to self-care. Turq and Ethan are still struggling with this stuff. Here are some good ways to take care of yourself.

Self-compassion is an important emotional practice. There are meditations and other techniques for improving it. Handouts on techniques such as soothing touch can help.

PTSD is notoriously difficult to treat, and it can cause symptoms such as touch aversion and skin hunger -- sometimes at the same time. Medical abuse can also raise issues over painful or conflicted touch. Supportive friends and family can help with the healing process. Understand how to reconnect with your body after trauma. Compare the differences between Turq, who is a wreck and doesn't always know how to cope; and Ansel, who's been handled rudely a few times and usually knows how to handle it.

Anhedonia is a muted or absent ability to feel pleasure. It is a prevailing symptom of PTSD and also appears in abuse survivors.

Calisthenics are bodyweight exercises that require little if any equipment. Here are some general ideas on using calisthenics and fitness tests for SWAT teams. Ironically, the more physically demanding jobs such as police work make it difficult to stay fit by soaking up time and energy needed for a regular exercise program. T-American police departments customarily schedule workout time on the clock for officers, either daily or several times a week depending on their program. Standards are consistently higher than in L-America, but it's not a hardship, because T-American folks are more active on average due to having many more opportunities and places to move around. While the preparatory exercises are similar, the tests are more involved for T-American cops -- let alone the BASH teams -- containing a lot more job-related tasks. Here are some exercises that rely on your own bodyweight. This quick workout video for beginners has lots of nice joint compression. Think about how to plan an exercise program for yourself.

Falun Gong is variously described as a religion, philosophy, or exercise program that is much persecuted in China. You can read about the exercises or watch a video of them.

Enjoy recipes for Pork and Squash Stew and Twisty Herb Bread Rolls.

Making someone smile can improve mood. Here are some tips on how to make people smile.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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