I am a broken leg. I am appendicitis. Sounds a little weird. What about she is pancreatitis or he is heart disease? Still sounds a little off. Let’s try she is bipolar or he is schizophrenic. Why does this sound acceptable or recognizable?
All of the afflictions I used have a biological basis. None of them are contagious. They all impact a life and those connected to it. All can be treated to varying degrees of recovery. The only thing that separates the mental illness is that it involves the brain. Mental illnesses are sometimes treated chemically. Why do we make a distinction when the brain is treated surgically. If a person has a brain tumor we do not say she is a brain tumor. A tumor makes an impact on a persons life and those around them. With treatment there are varying degrees of recovery for both the chemical and physical. Why is the tumor considered more physical? Do we not treat the tumor with chemicals at times? It all gets a little confusing why exactly our language is sometimes used differently for mental illness.
To flag an individual with a label seems natural on the tongue but what are we really saying? Why do we say Jimmy is bipolar? Why does Jimmy say I am bipolar? When we say it this way are we at least in language stripping Jimmy of all the other aspects of his life? Jimmy`s illness is not completely him. He has a reality and imagination that could be shared by many. He has a misfortune that could be also be shared by many but no matter where you place him he will always posses many of the same qualities as you.
No one asks for a mental illness any more than any other affliction. When individuals seek a diagnosis it is only so we can be helped. We don`t read through psychiatric magazines or tabloids to choose our symptoms. I have what I have. Please speak to me and about me in terms that we for some reason reserve for physical ailments.
The brain is located on top of our bodies but we hold mental illness below all else.
Your words might not reach me but they reach someone.
At one of my presentations a law professor asked me if I thought the Ontario Review Board treated me fairly. I smiled at him and said the last time they dealt with me it was indeed fair; I was granted an Absolute Discharge in December. There was applause which made me feel that finally even strangers were in support or at least were happy my struggles had ended.
It did make me think. To answer the question better I would say “yes”. They have a job to do and a real balancing act. To protect the public but at the same time to offer conditions which are the least onerous to me, the accused. I think the public won out on a few Dispositions as I never considered myself a threat to public safety. I often pictured myself as stable and I certainly had no plans that weren’t peaceful. I simply wanted to get on with my life. I wanted to reconnect with my children, live independently, find meaningful occupation and maybe even love. The Ontario Review Board essentially prevented most of this for years but I don’t look at it as an injustice. I merely paid the price for others who may have been similar in diagnosis and circumstance who needed the law to conform to, or who had provided reason to be overseen. My duty now is to prove to society that the decision of the Ontario Review Board was correct. My pursuit of life was more important and significant than any risk I posed. At the same time I hope to provide positive statistics and precedence to others who are in similar circumstances. I hope that by thriving and living peacefully despite my past and diagnosis that someone else may be granted the benefit of the doubt. In reality I wasn’t granted an Absolute Discharge; I am still connected to my actions and my past. What I was granted was the benefit of the doubt. Without a doubt it feels incredible.
In my late teens and early twenties I worked for the Ministry of Natural Resources. I spent several of my seasons in Kapuskasing. I was mainly involved with fisheries and wildlife but I had some knowledge of forestry imparted on me. I was once told how they obtain pine cones from the trees in their propagation plantations. I never saw it but they apparently had a machine that ran down the rows and cut into the trunks of the trees. The trees reacted to this injury as though they were dying. They immediately started the process of producing fruit (cones).
What do we make of the injuries we suffer from life?
I drove through a dust storm today. I can’t recall ever seeing one. It was less than a mile thick but it was quite dense. I somehow felt like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. My dog was in the back of the car. Would the Wicked Witch of the West appear and say “I’ll get you my pretty and your little dog too”? I made it through and returned to where I was earlier parked. I had dropped some family at an appointment and sat reading the paper. The car shook every so often with the stronger gusts and it felt as though I was not exactly stopped. The dog was sleeping as we sat alone in a graveled parking area. Every once in a while the car was pelted with grit. I thought about moving but I kept thinking about the people living in the dust storm and the person who was coming home to a large tree laying across their roof. There were worse places to be.
When I was eight or so I was hiking with a friend. On our way home we stopped at a shack on the outskirts of town. There was a couch and not much else inside. We had matches which any outdoors man would not be without. We started playing with them and started a small fire on the couch. We panicked and ran the few blocks to my friend’s home and informed his father of the fire. My recollection was that he was unconcerned so we headed back to our handiwork. In the meantime someone had called in the volunteer fire department to extinguish our couch. I remember talking to the firefighters and one of us said we saw some big kids run off into the bush. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed my father, the editor, with his camera around his neck. He had followed the sirens for a possible story. I don’t recall any reference to the episode at the family dinner table so I assume our story convinced even the media.
The episode always stayed as a memory and in my innocence as a psychiatric patient I disclosed the story to a doctor at some point. This reference became a permanent part of my history and when they compiled my list of behaviours and sins it was included for the Board of Review to see that I had been a fire setter as a child.
I really don’t see myself as such and I resented the sociopathic connotation it carried. I often wondered if my partner in crime was ever considered a fire setter. Was his involvement drawn out before people who determined his suitability for re-entry into the community or had he simply forgotten or kept quiet? I rather doubt the incident had any further impact on his life and I wonder if the same information fell on hands outside of the psychiatric profession it would have any meaning at all.
I do like fire, whether it is a pile of brush or leaves or a simple gathering of beach wood at the lake but I have my doubts that it is any more pathological than anyone else on a camping trip.
What makes it pathological is not the act, not the person, but simply the profession.
I went out to the mall yesterday to purchase a shirt. I haven’t been to a mall in well over a year. Things looked the same and I was lost as usual. Many of the stores were for fashion and I kept looking at the mannequins. They seemed more muscular and toned. For the first time I noticed the legs of the females mannequins had muscles and definition; in my memory they were shapely only. They looked great but I had to wonder if the change was a reflection of what is actually out there or is it the magazine ideal. Part of why the mannequins stood out was because they were displayed in groups. I have seen groups of women but I can’t recall ever seeing all of them with the same body type. There are individuals who could more colourfully take the place of the mannequins but I have seen and met more women with a body type that differs. I’m not sure why we advertise to the majority using the minority.
How do you explain depression to someone who has never experienced it? I recognize it and feel it but even I have a hard time making any sense of it. It can be numbing, like some sort of anesthesia that allows you to see and be very conscious of everything in your life but you don’t feel any of it. You see your children but can’t find that very small spark that would normally bring you out of yourself to engage with them without immense effort. The same could be said about any friends or relatives, you see them if you can manage it, but you can’t relate. This quicksand spreads throughout every aspect of your life. Hobbies lose their flavour as do movies, music and sunsets. Stress only weighs on you as you are sinking in your world of quicksand. Work and responsibilities are slowly plodded through at best.
Everything in your life can be good; money, family, friends, employment and status. You can have it all but it’s just something that happens to you, nothing sensational or pleasurable cuts through the anesthesia. If you have experienced it before you can remind yourself that “this too shall pass” but like a passenger on the Titanic you’re more apt to believe everything in your world is sinking.
Rather than flailing in the quicksand which only seems to further your descent, you start thinking about taking one last gulp of air and giving in to the inevitable. Like someone jumping from a high rise fire, it seems better to hit the ground and end it quickly than to stay and melt into nothing.
I have had a love of nature for as long as I have been conscious of it. When I was a teen my friends father was an outdoors man. He took us fishing, I knew he hunted and I was included at times on his trap line. Some of it was brutal but it was part of how I was interacting with nature. I was allowed to help on the portion of his trap line that ran through our farm. One day my friend and I were helping and his father had to go back to the vehicle. He had shown us before but he told us what to do. We set our own drown set. When he returned we were rather proud, everything seemed done as necessary. My friends father waded into the creek to test our drown sticks. He was not impressed. He admonished us in his gentle way then took each stick and rammed them into the creek bed with all his might. I could copy his effort but never his strength. I still needed to attempt this feat because it is by practice that we gain strength.
I came across an older gentleman weeding his front lawn. He seemed not overly impressed by the battle. I mentioned that the lawn looked like he was doing a good job. He said “well, you should see the backyard.” I laughed, “no one see’s that except you.” I wished him well and walked on.
Sometimes we take great care of what others see but neglect what is hidden.
If I have the impression that you are not just here for occupation but that you have my interests at heart I can learn to trust you. It sometimes comes as little comfort to know you are a professional when you seem not to hear and understand me. If you listen to what I express and attempt to help me express what I am unable to, you will be better equipped to assist in my recovery. I say my recovery because it is not your perception of where, what and how I should be that is important. If I am comfortable with where I find myself it should be no less important than where you find yourself. How can you respect me if you do not respect my wishes of where I am or may want to be? It is only inside me where the idea of recovery should reside. You can offer me choices but the success or decline of my recovery may have little to do with you or it may have everything to do with you. This can be your choice.
I was at a hockey game and sat behind an older man and woman. The game was exciting and close and I was unaware of them for the most part. I was drawn deeper into the game than normal by my brother’s friend who was unafraid of vocalizing his excitement at close calls. The overtime goal was one that seemed to involve a little more individual effort than some. When the puck hit the back of the net I sprang to my feet and screamed and clapped. The couple in front of me embraced in a kiss.
It is sometimes easier to love in victory than defeat. There were fans not far behind us who made themselves known when our opponents scored. I wasn’t looking that way as “we” scored but I doubt if any of them embraced in a kiss.
One of the previous tenants who lived below me was named Grace. We were familiar but not to the extent where we became involved in each others lives. I was living on my own in the community for the first time since being released from the Forensic hospital. I’m not sure about the majority of Forensic clients but I had few friends and was somewhat isolated. This old house has no soundproofing other than what the wood floors muffle. I could hear Grace’s phone and her voice but no words. I could hear when she left the apartment or entered but I often didn’t know which. I could hear her on many occasions coming into the house around 11 pm. I would usually be in bed as I liked to get an early start in my dance with sleep. I wasn’t always conscious of it but when she came through the front door it was like a blast of air as she entered my vacuum.
I have no idea where Grace lives these days but I assume she is amongst us. We often have a presence in a person’s life that may be slight but can still be important.
I had one good friend when I was in the Forensic hospital. His name was Ed and my head and heart are filled with memories of him and our time together. We were quite different from each other in many ways but we had common experiences. I learned much from Ed and more in his passing.
Ed was an ordinary man whose life involved extraordinary events and circumstances. Ed had faults, some which were obvious. What I saw behind what would obscure the view for some, was a normal, compassionate, empathetic, generous and decent man. I remember him because of the impact he was making in my life at the time. What I hold in my heart for him is best described as love. What I learned from his life I am attempting to put into action to reflect more of the good that he passed onto me.
Ed taught me to persevere and stand up for yourself even when you know you will lose. Ed taught me to share with others even if you do not have much yourself. Ed taught me that any time spent with someone you care about is precious in the end. Ed taught me that there is more to be had in a persons eyes and voice than in their physical form. Ed taught me that sitting in silence can be as memorable as words. Ed taught me that love is more recognizable as it disappears. Ed taught me that tolerance is a key to relationship. Ed taught me that even as I was struggling there were people on my path to help me. Ed was my friend but he is also a lesson.
I was at a hockey game the other night. I love being one among thousands who I at least share a passion for my city and its namesake hockey team. We are proud of our team and many wear at least their colours. We all share in their goals and victories but also in their pain and penalties. We can see the justification for their celebrations and reason in their injustices. When we leave the arena in either victory or loss we return to our lives.
What team do we support in our lives? When we have no jerseys to determine our allegiance who do we side with? Do we side with our kind or do we draw lines in our lives like those on the ice? Is our allegiance to a country, a flag, or do we draw lines behind even these? Is our allegiance to a city, or a neighbourhood? Is our allegiance to our family, to ourselves or to something greater than any of these? If we can share in the victories and losses of any of these is it not possible to share in all of these?
If you believe you are only a body, you must then agree that your entire life, everything you know and have experienced is only the result of electricity and chemicals. If what I know and feel, the love I have known and the pain I am learning from is somehow only chemical and electrical I will accept it but I can only look at it reasonably as a complicated gift.
I’m uncertain enough of the universe to acknowledge that I am unlikely the center of it. Where do I look to acknowledge the gift of the love I have known and the pain I am learning from?
If there are instances where it seemed an event unlikely to happen somehow did, you could cock your ear to the Universe and ask if someone said “Hello”.
I was out for a walk this afternoon. I came up to a young woman who was using a metal detector. When I got close enough I stopped and said “Hey, if I throw a coin in the long grass do you want to see who can find it first?” She laughed and thought I might win. She showed me her detector and what all the information on the display meant. It was indicating there was something four inches beneath where we stood. I asked if she had a shovel and she pulled a hand spade from her back pocket. She told me it was her first day trying the detector. She seemed to look at me for advice but I could only recount a time in high school when I lost a ring while swimming in a gravel pit. It was a gift so we rushed to my friends house and asked his mom for his detector. We rigged a plastic bag over the head so we could use it underwater. When we returned to the gravel pit I entered the water with the detector. I spotted my ring on the bottom. Where we were swimming had settled down and the water was clear again. I’m not sure what the meaning of these events might be but one truth could be that some of what we seek is always there it just seems to not be because we are blind at times. There have been times in my life when I could see nothing but my own pain. I remember a night or two in the Hole which were hopeless at best but I have been able to reclaim the things in my life that hold meaning for me. Many of these things I was in possession of all along I just could not see them in my suffering.
I should have stayed to help dig up the boulevard but I wished her well and continued on my walk.
I saw three children riding their bikes along the road. As they rode by with smiles on their faces I noticed one was Black, another Asian and one was White. I was smiling as they rode by me.
After supper I started to think about why the encounter made me smile. I started thinking about how Canada is multicultural and we all seem to get along despite our differences. My next thought made me smile. I realized those children probably don’t even recognize they are a race among three.
When did I start to see someone as different from me because of race? I have had the pleasure to know people from several different races. I find many of these individuals beautiful to a point where I don’t see race. I see a face; a face with the ability to laugh, frown, smile and cry.
Whatever colour you see someone as, don’t let it cloud over the faces we all share. The face you see is in no important way different from those who are in your immediate. We all have places for eyes and places for noses and mouths. Everyone you meet has a face different from your own. Everyone. Why do we pay attention to the differences that point to race?
The only person who has been present in my life with any consistency is me. I may not understand my illness and I may not understand how it affects my behaviour but I am the person who has access to a history you may not know. That history may help in my recovery, so let me share in the decisions regarding how it is best cared for and encourage me to share in my treatment. We sometimes cannot reason as well as others but we are seldom stupid. There are no more unintelligent people under psychiatric care than running loose in the general population. This might be a reason to respect me. It could also be a reason to include me in my treatment. Many decisions would benefit from client input. We could uncover fears at least so we can not only keep our units safe but make the client feel safe. Some have been abused or traumatized, don’t add to it or assume it is minor.
I usually give money to people who are surviving on the street. It may end up in the liquor store but it is not my choice how others live. It is my choice as to whether I help my neighbour. I was in a plaza this afternoon and on my way out I noticed a man sitting in a wheelchair or scooter. I was driving and there were cars coming in as I approached the street. He had a towel over his lap as it was a drizzly day. I also noticed he had a container in his hand. I was slightly flustered. I was committed to driving but the coins in my pocket were calling out to me. Could I somehow swing closer and have my passenger get out to pass some money to this man? I put my eyes back onto my driving and exited the plaza. My next stop was Goodwill, I had some clothes which didn’t fit any more. As I left Goodwill my mind returned to the plaza. Should I drive back? I took the shortest route home.
I’m sure the man doesn’t want to sit outside of the liquor store on a rainy day. Why did I not go out of my way for this man? Why didn’t I stop in front of the liquor store? Do I really care if someone has to wait on the street for a minute while I do the right thing? I was more worried about horns than I was about this man.
Am I so different from this person that I can’t see him as a neigbour? I’m sure we are similar enough for me to understand his need. What separates this individual that he wouldn’t be worthy of my assistance? He is more disadvantaged by all appearance than I am. Other than that I think we are the same. He had parents, possibly siblings and even friends. He has been educated in some fashion. He has the same need for food and shelter. He has thoughts, emotions and possibly dreams.
Because I see him as my equal I feel guilty. Because I treat him as a stranger I feel shame.