“having no social capital or economic power relegates valuable and dynamic individuals to situations and communities where…”

For those living with serious and persistent mental illness, interpersonal relationships can be fragile at best. The reoccurrence of symptoms can undermine if not destroy what is already precarious. Occupation, relationships, healthy activities and even housing can be disrupted. The energy expended in rebuilding the basic elements of existence leaves little in the way of motivation or resources to devote to self-directed social inclusion and patients can become dependent on formal interventions and services which can highlight and perpetuate powerlessness and the perception of such. 

Feelings of worthlessness and exclusion are in a way simply a mirror of how society inadvertently and outwardly segregates mental illness and addictions. Having more than one alternative available for social inclusion becomes difficult when finances and housing are barriers themselves. Safe and affordable housing is one key to ensure that individuals with mental health difficulties are able to invest in communities outside of the ‘psychiatric community’. New hospitals are designed to be healthy and beautiful spaces but community housing here in Canada often falls far short. If community planners could incorporate housing that is integrated, affordable, safe and healthy, patients would have more opportunities to develop relationships within social mainstream and the effects of stigma and stigma itself would be lessened. Supportive housing can become or simply is ‘stigmatized housing’.

Mental health patients form relationships among themselves because of common experiences but economic similarities are also predominant in determining social mobility. This can be an effect of stigma but it also perpetuates stigma as individuals with serious and persistent mental health difficulties are inadvertently quarantined from spaces and situations where the general population could witness their humanity and gifts. 

Economic factors often impede recovery, social inclusion and the formation of a positive identity. The financial limitations that a disability income imposes leaves fewer options and opportunities for experimenting with interests or forming friendships outside of the ‘psychiatric community’. Individuals are often relegated to housing and facilities in areas which are substandard and exacerbate mental health difficulties. Individuals are at times forced to navigate neighbourhoods where addiction, crime and violence are more prevalent. Gentrification often disposes and quarantines this vulnerable segment of the population. 

A disability income can become a barrier. It can be a safety net when illness is predominant but in times of equilibrium and remission it can undermine self-determination and it accentuates weaknesses. A disability income tethers a persons identity to that disability. In a culture where identity is synonymous with what employs a person, to answer with ‘I have a disability’ is a mantra of defect, defeat and disgrace. In social situations where a person might find connection, having no social capital or economic power relegates valuable and dynamic individuals to situations and communities where this is not a concern or it is accepted if not expected. Economics can be exclusionary and gaining independence is complicated by being a dependent.

Workplace exclusion is basically societal exclusion. Without gainful employment the ability to contribute financially to self-care and opportunities of community, social inclusion or interpersonal relationships is undermined. This form of societal exclusion also undermines an individuals ability to contribute financially to society and fractures a sense of belonging or contributing. Financial restrictions lead to a dependence on traditional healthcare services and furthers a dependence on these social supports and the community offered there. Limited employment opportunities and or dependence on social services limits an individuals exposure to healthcare workers outside of psychiatry; for example a massage therapist or a yoga teacher. Being able to contribute financially enhances self-efficacy, self-esteem, self-determination and social status which in turn enhance wellbeing and leads to the confidence required for social activity.

Disability support can become a ‘sentence’ as much as a service. Opportunities for self-improvement, social integration, social mobility and even relationship status become limited and can lead to a further withdrawal from activities and excursions into mainstream culture. ‘Money can’t buy happiness’ but by confining individuals with mental health difficulties and or addictions to the poverty line; self-determination, social status, self-efficacy and self-esteem stagnate. The seriousness of these factors is that they perpetuate and exacerbate underlying difficulties which is costly socially and economically for all citizens.

The Non’cents’ of Police Mental Health Strategies

When I first became involved in the Ontario Provincial Police Mental Health Strategy I was a well written mascot for individuals who come into contact with the criminal justice system as a result of mental health difficulties. After pouring my heart and story into a gathering of Ontario Provincial Police (O.P.P.) officers, service providers and community stakeholders I was invited to lunch by one of the O.P.P. “brass.”

We ate at Boston Pizza so funds could stay within the “ranks.” I asked this individual why don’t the O.P.P. have specialized officers like they have officers who are trained in S.W.A.T.? “It would de-escalate the situation if an officer entered the situation with “N.U.R.S.E.” written on their bulletproof vest, I said. No, we want healthcare agencies and community stakeholders to step up he retorted. They are better equipped and we are a police agency, healthcare is not our mandate. This all made “cents” and my only other question was if there was a statute of limitations on perjury. He seemed to prickle at the question. Possibly he thought I was asking for myself but answered, No, but it’s not something we normally pursue.

I made the 8 hour round trip to O.P.P. Headquarters in Orilla a few times so people being paid could bounce acronyms off my brain and to be traumatized by uniforms, locked doors and training scenarios where I could imagine myself and people I have met over the years shot to death. The main take away for me was to make sure I keep at least a distance of 21 feet from armed officers as anything less becomes licence to kill.

About a year later I had a couple meetings at the London O.P.P. Detachment and the plan was for me to travel across the province except for Thunder Bay to different detachments to help promote the Ontario Provincial Police Mental Health Strategy. I was starting to go “off script” and received one last phone call.

I was told how the O.P.P. was now visiting mental health consumers in the community and escorting them to doctor appointments and such to instil in these individuals a sense that two uniformed officers at your front door is a good thing. I asked, “what is the salary of a police officer?” “I’m not sure” was the reply. “Well, I’ll tell you, it’s around $60,000 out of the gate.” “Two mental health workers (without uniforms, guns and specially painted cruisers) is about half that.” “Why not have twice as many mental health workers do the same thing?”

For those who are unfamiliar with the difference between mental health workers and police, only one imagines themselves as such which makes all the difference. 

If the O.P.P. and other police forces in Canada do in fact want better mental health outcomes for citizens either specialize or stand down. Until then, like the individual mentioned after buying me lunch with his constabulary credit card: “We’ll let the Queen pay.”

Taking The Long Way Home (Trigger Warning: Deals With Suicide)

 

I don’t usually talk about suicide. Some people believe if we talk about it we may trigger someone who is vulnerable. I committed suicide once and have made a couple of attempts. Thoughts of suicide have consumed enough of my days to compile into years. It comes in waves and can last for months.

I was counselled to commit suicide twice by my x-wife. Once all my medications were handed to me in a grocery bag. I returned home having not carried out her instructions as it was only months since I had died in the back of an ambulance. I told her “I will not abandon my children.” My medications were then presented to me in a cereal bowl as I was having a cigarette in my garage. I was told it would “be easier this way.” It certainly would have!

By refusing these requests I found myself in over a decade of suffering and segregation, it continues today. I lost my children, my freedom, my home, my possessions, my clothes, my eyeglasses and most of my sanity. My x-wife did not want anything near an equitable divorce and so decided on a divorce by cops. Her lies and those of others culminated in her being the irrevocable beneficiary of my life insurance policy. This was a blessing at times as I clung to this world only to prevent her from further wealth.

My plan for a time was to canoe out a mile or two into Lake Huron and capsize my canoe after wrapping clothesline attached to cement blocks around my body. It was my belief that my x-wife would have to wait several years for me not to be considered a missing person. I also thought this would save my family a degree of grief.

The reason I don’t speak about suicide is that I am susceptible to confinement when I am honest about it. In places I have resided and offices I visit, to feel, think or express that depth of hopelessness is a “clause” to losing your clothes. It would probably be helpful to share my suicidal ideation with therapists but to be a danger to self in a building I have no key for is to risk my freedom and self determination. To be suicidal in an institution for me just means in the moments I am not, I am infantilized if not humiliated.

Sometimes I don’t want to surrender my thoughts of suicide. They are somewhat of a companion and a form of escape. When I am suicidal, I can dream that my anguish will cease. Those moments are horrendous in and of themselves but the surrender portion takes less energy. Sometimes these thoughts come from depression, sometimes they tear at me through psychosis and sometimes they would be your thoughts in the same situation.

I sometimes speak to God in these moments. Recently I begged Him to just take me. I was in bed and weeping. “I can’t take any more” I don’t want to see any more” “There is nothing more I want to do” “Please just take me.” Tears were tracing my temples as I begged to be released from my suffering.  

Maybe God doesn’t show His face because He wants us to see others. Maybe He wants us to serve instead of seek. Maybe He wants us to find our humanity and the humanity of others before we transpire and transpose into something else.

I’m not sure what draws me back from the edge of suicide. I wonder if it is a power outside of myself or some small flicker in myself that I ultimately wish not to extinguish. When the thoughts are milder, I find strength in some part of a song or a faint memory of goodness.  When I need mercy and I’m beyond all I can take, beyond surrender and even beyond defeat, I defer death until morning. Its a bad habit, but it makes breathing easier.

When I surface, I sometimes see my worth. Sometimes I see that I have a purpose. Sometimes I see that it is my brokenness and suffering that are my gift. Sometimes I don’t want people to have to travel for my funeral and leave with nothing but questions. “Why did he give up now?” “Why didn’t I see, say or do?” Sometimes I don’t want to pass my pain onto others. Sometimes I don’t want to leave a mess or be found with shit in my pants. Sometimes I see that to throw away a second chance would probably give some doctor the opportunity to give me a third which would be harder to swallow.

Sometimes I can trace my suicidal thoughts to specific losses or pain. Sometimes I can’t escape the loops of traumatic experiences. Sometimes it is anger or even rage. Sometimes it is shame. Sometimes I simply think too much and feel too much. 

We sometimes judge those who have made attempts or been successful. It is not for us to shame an individual who is incapacitated to the extent of not noticing what is worthwhile or for an inability to find what we might see on the surface.

Usually when I’m suicidal, all I see is the worst in my circumstances, people and the world. It’s like wearing an old raincoat that doesn’t breathe. My perceptions repel that which makes most things thrive and I am drenched by my own manoeuvrings. My efforts and small solutions are basically more discomfort and I am soaked in sorrow.

My wife pisses me off by showing me that unconditional love crap. She cooks and keeps a schedule which makes it hard for me to get worse. In my flight from life I do dumb shit all the time. I use humour, answer requests to speak, grow plants, talk to my dog and therapists with less hair and recently I applied for a distance education course. I won’t hear back for a few more weeks, so bridges will just be bridges until the end of August.

If you can’t be well, be here.

London Joint Mental Health Research Day: Mental Illness Stigma

The following is an excerpt from a keynote panel I participated in with Dr. Heather Stuart on Mental Illness Stigma on June 21, 2018.

I think when we use the word stigma it can be a disservice. It becomes a boogyman for those who find its flavour and it seems a less harmful substance for those who administer it. I was not even familiar with the term stigma in the 1980’s which may be why I prefer the term shame. I think we all experience or have experienced different forms of stigma for various reasons. What makes mental health stigma so dangerous is the uniqueness of the experience. I can identify with psychosis, depression, mania and more but those terms seem trite to the realities of such and the comradery of other forms of stigma do Not exist for me. 

I recently visited an optometrist. The lenses are switched and we are asked “better …or worse?” When healthy I strive to choose that which offers a clearer view. When I am unwell I start choosing the lens that Feels correct. My stigma and stigmatism frustrate but it becomes familiar. I recently asked myself, which is greater; self stigma or societal stigma? The image that came to mind was a terrarium. Societal stigma exists and acts upon the individual but that which fogs the glass most are the processes within.

To me stigma is a veiled judgement but in my sensitivities I can see the hearts and forms as they maneuver to safer spaces. My father and step mother had a sheep farm. Sheep wander to graze but when the border collies are pushing them where the shepherd calls; they follow the same path. The pasture areas were a series of pathways. They lead to the barn, the pond etc. These pathways illustrate two areas of significance. One is mine. My mind has many pathways that lead to points of pain. I see or hear things and I am faced with the very things I seek shelter from. The other relates to stigma. When we are presented with a mentally ill person our minds travel well worn paths.

We also compartmentalize. A sheep farm is often a system of segregation. The ram is sometimes left in a paddock, the male lambs are eventually shipped off. The ewes that have lambed are left in the open area of the barn and orphaned lambs are brought into the farmhouse.

In caring for and processing a sheep herd the farmer uses ear tags with identification numbers to manage genetics and tend to the herd. As sheep are cared for sometimes the tag on the ear is of no use so the farmer uses a big grease pencil to mark the nose or back of the sheep that have been cared for. The mark is a way to keep track of feet trimmed or which ones have been inoculated etc.

Stigma is similar but at times with less planning, purpose and on levels we are not conscious of. The labelling; the branding marks of stigma allow the one or the group using the grease pencil to flee to the pond, the barn or some point of psychological safety. We are sheltered from our fears and we can nourish and replenish our perceptions of self. It allows the mind of the marker to safely segregate and build fences around misconceptions, misunderstandings and the unusual.

 

“Auld Lang Syne”

I finished a granite sink. I made it multidimensional because I have never worked with granite and I don’t have the tools. I used a skillsaw with a 4 inch diamond blade to cut the sink out and a hacksaw blade to square the corners. It probably took me longer than people who have laser saws with sliding tables.

As is often the case with Forensic patients there are not many people to witness your struggles. Only a few family members and some therapists can confirm the fact that there were many months that I would disappear from a conversation and stare at the floor. It made fellow patients uneasy and those familiar with me questioned why. I have been told that it was a Dissociative state and or symptomatic of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Maybe you can appreciate that I now finish too many sentences and thoughts but they are conversations and ideas I left in hallways and Treatment Rooms.

I spent more than a few sleepless nights imagining living on my own in an apartment with a private bathroom, light switch and lock. Granite is good. It is significant that I speak publicly but only as far as having episodes of being non-verbal and non-responsive.

I remember my first speaking engagement at the University of Western Ontario School of Occupational Therapy Welcome to the Profession Ceremony. I was back in my seat before I finished my last paragraph. Speaking was the last thing I wanted to do but I kept doing it. I can see now the my Advocacy has been a form of Occupational Therapy but as I spoke at the Grand Opening for the Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care I was wide aware of the fact that the fathers and daughters who would reside there lived with me at the old facility to the south.

To make a long story longer the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) recently awarded a documentary film maker as one of 150 Leading Canadians for Mental Health. John Kastner made a series of films about Forensic Mental Health and Not Criminally Responsible individuals. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) John Kastner “has courageously and expertly told the stories of people who have committed crimes while mentally ill. Through his films, he is educating Canadians about the complex issues surrounding the Forensic system and giving voice to the people involved in it.”

I admonished John Kastner about speaking for Forensic clients and assuming being there is the same as being there. I assumed he figured that since he filmed the accident that he was a survivor. I’ve witnessed worse and realize Mr. Kastner was focused on similar outcomes.

I had forgiven and forgotten John Kastner but the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH); an organization that has Forensic facilities, has gone out of their way to perpetuate, promote and praise the paternalization of Not Criminally Responsible (NCRMD) individuals. Not Criminally Responsible individuals are a marginalized population but the secret is that most NCRMD individuals tell their stories every day.

We pass you in the grocery aisle. We applaud our children at the same school plays. We sit next to you at the hockey rink

Maybe making a movie about Forensic Mental Health and Not Criminally Responsible individuals living successfully in the community would be too much. Maybe that footage would humanize too much. Maybe that footage would de-stigmatize too much.

I was having a tougher winter than usual in 2014 and I was practicing a presentation I gave at Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario. I was reading and re-reading to myself out loud for days. The stories I presented included some traumatic and painful scenes from my life. I was as close to suicidal as many are able to mention. I spent my monthly income on travel, lodging and food to speak to the students and faculty. Why?

So I can use my voice.

So I can demonstrate my autonomy.

So I can tell the story of a person who has “committed a crime while mentally ill.”

So I can educate “Canadians about the complex issues surrounding the Forensic system.”

“For the sake of old times.”

Mayor Matt Brown, Councillors Maureen Cassidy and Mohamed Salih and Integrity Commissioner Gregory F. Stewart

I received a $60.00 parking ticket a few weeks ago. I am blessed to be living in a new subdivision and up until a few months ago we had no sidewalks and our driveway was clay with engineered big stones. This winter my car tires froze in the ruts a couple of times. I’m still working on the property and am making use of a trailer. There are several new homes nearby and several hundred townhouses being constructed within 500 feet.

My car was partially parked on the new sidewalk and I have received notice of impeding conviction. The sidewalk is unfinished a couple of hundred feet around the corner so I’m not sure who I was endangering or inconveniencing. I always park the car in the drive as there is heavy equipment placing dust on my TV and I am cognizant of the inevitable snow plows. There are construction trailers littered along this street weeks at a time but I don’t see any fines fluttering from those windshields.

I called the city and mentioned my predicament but the lady said I had come in person to explain. I asked if she would pay for my parking fees but I think she was offended. Being institutionalized more than most of my neighbours I have an aversion to such excursions. I might wait and see what the collection agency has to say but in the meantime I have a few things to say about City Hall and company.

I am uncertain of the fairness regarding my infraction and what was dealt to the mayor for his indiscretions. For those of you unfamiliar with London Ontario, our mayor had an extramarital affair with the deputy mayor. As punishment both took a paid leave of absence.

London has an integrity commissioner who looked into the affair but nothing happened. Gregory F. Stewart from Donnelly Murphy law firm is among other things paid $250.00 per hour to investigate complaints and alleged breaches of the code of conduct for members of council. Mr. Stewart found that Mayor Matt Brown and councillor Maureen Cassidy’s affair broke council’s code of conduct but stated that any deeper investigation would only uncover “salacious details” and would be unnecessary.

I repeat: for $250.00 per hour London’s Integrity Commissioner decided while investigating possible breaches of conduct that to “investigate deeper” would only uncover “salacious details”. Hmm. But what if a complete and professional investigation actually uncovered further breaches, conflicts etc.?

Mr. Stewart has no power to punish or fine people (it’s not like he’s a bylaw officer) and as some have stated he is toothless. That needs to be fixed after we fire Gregory F. Stewart and are fully reimbursed for fraudulent fees. The next Integrity Commissioner should have integrity and hopefully balls if not brains.

I don’t think the mayor and company should be fined sixty bucks or anything cruel and unusual but what irks me is that Londoners paid for them to flirt at work. I imagine, though I haven’t investigated that Londoners paid for a few romantic meals and possibly a candle. Gregory F. Stewart’s fake fees are the chocolate on the pillow. Sweet!

Three down one to go. Mo Salih is a councillor and the newest member of the Police Services Board. He is quite popular on Twitter and fairly full of himself. With all the sexual harassment and assault claims in the news he has taken to Twitter in support of alleged victims. Great. His last troublesome Tweet basically said I believe her and her and…AND Her and HER. Great. This is worrisome. Firstly not all victims are female. Secondly as I pointed out to Mo Salih most legal systems consider the accused to be innocent until proven guilty with clear and consistent evidence.

People are being convicted by the media and the public and lives are altered if not ruined. I don’t give much credence to statements made to the media before a sworn statement is made to the authorities. The code of conduct some city officials have difficulty with includes following the letter and Spirit of the law. The spirit of the law is presumed innocence.

As a councillor making laws and holding an official and authoritative position Mo Salih has undermined the justice system. If civic leaders are finding guilt what message does the accused take away. Neighbours will be just as judgemental and prejudiced. Having Mo Salih on the Police Services Board is detrimental to justice. His position includes influencing the objectives and priorities of the London Police. Mohamed Salih is also a prominent Muslim in London and from the Sudan. Normally this is irrelevant but for newer citizens in London and or individuals with a similar faith Mo Salih is a visible example of behaviour. In essence Mr. Salih has contaminated the jury pool. If only one jurist thinks Mohamed Salih is correct or just, they may vote or influence to the detriment of justice.

I think Mohamed Salih needs to at least relinquish his position on the London Police Services Board if not his council seat. Noticing this breach of the code of conduct I wrote a letter to the Integrity Commissioner. Hopefully Mr. Stewart reads it before this. Four!

I have until the 22nd to argue or pay my fine. Maybe by then I will be the only idiot at city hall.

Take care because I don’t!