30,000 feet

One of the strangest things I saw while in Newfoundland was a United cemetery and Anglican cemetery “side by each” but separated by a chain link fence. The Catholics were buried on a beautiful hill in town. Apparently a fence wasn’t separation enough. I was unaware that there were at least three heavens. It got me to thinking about how we draw lines and build fences between ourselves. I’m writing this on a plane at 30,000 feet and there is a curtain drawn between first class and economy. I’m not sure what this fabric blocks out but we weave our differences everywhere we go. We will all put our heads between our knees and kiss our asses goodbye in the event of a catastrophic event. These events seem one of the few times we realize we are each flesh and bone, tears and wind. The rest of the time we we draw lines.

Economy – First Class        Protestant – Catholic    Albertan – Ontarian

University Grad – High school drop out       Child – Adult          English – French

Hockey Fan – Soccer Fan                Rich – Poor                             Virgin – Stud

Musical – Tone Deaf                         Black – White                    Cyclist – Runner

GAP – American Eagle                     Classy – Crude                    Owner – Renter

Near sighted – Far sighted                Fat – Thin                           Swimmer – Sinker

Canadian – American                   Gay – Straight                           Married – Single

Rural – Urban                                   Sibling – Only child                     Pretty – Ugly

Right handed – Left handed         Sophomore – Freshman              Brunette – Redhead

Military – Civilian                          White collar – Blue collar            Teacher – Nurse

Leader – Follower                         Literate – Illiterate                      Funny – Boring

Popular – Outcast                          Amateur – Professional          Punker – Preppy

Tattooed – Ink free                           Vegetarian – Carnivore         Mentally ill – Normal

Politician – Honest

I’m sure one could write a whole book out of the lines we draw between one another. Some provide identity while others simply offer differences. Differences to be judged by and differences we can push one another away with. They are often differences we don’t understand or put into perspective. I love the saying ” we all put our pants on one leg at a time.” Most of our differences are not important enough to actually change us. Most of these differences are simply a way to paint each other into corners where we make the decision of whether to care about each other. But when the ship is sinking it’s a good idea to cling to each other. Death is the decider of difference and when you’re dead none of it will make a difference. As far as heaven for different religions I just hope they are connected like the oceans because there are some fellow passengers I wouldn’t want to have a fence to climb to be with.

Symbiosis

We had the pleasure of touring and old Basque/French/English bastion here in Placentia Newfoundland. We also had the pleasure of knowing our guide whose services seemed above and beyond. On a rugged path through the forest between forts he pointed out the moss which grew on some of the trees. He mentioned symbiosis and how we depend on each other. Without the tree to cling to the moss would not exist.

As alone as we sometimes feel, we do depend on others for our existence. The tree does not think about or even notice its relationship with the moss. As humans we have the ability to foster and encourage growth in those around us. Even as we are connected we sometimes don’t have the perspective to see how what we do and say impacts and carries forward in the lives of others. I would probably only be known as the idiot who rides his bike all winter were it not for certain individuals. On one of my rides a vignette formed in my mind. When I returned to the hospital I immediately put it to paper. Soon after I shared it with the hospital chaplain. He saw merit in it and approached me later for my permission to have it shared by another therapist who was convening a group therapy session. The only thing about me that had been shared in years was negative. Had the chaplain simply said “well done” or “I like it” I would have soon forgotten about it. Instead I began to write. I began to tell my story and illustrate some of my experience with words. I ended up with a book. My stories were a form of entertainment for myself and another patient and I had no intention of sharing beyond family.

In walks another individual. After I was living on my own in the community my best friend during my forensic journey passed away. I used a portion of my book in a eulogy I delivered which this individual was present for. He pressed me several times to share more with him. I had no intention of sharing it with him but eventually I emailed my book. He thought it was worth sharing and organized my first speaking engagement.

Anyone can write a book and we can all speak in front of a small group but for my withered soul these were David and Goliath moments. For someone who was just as apt to be naked and writing on walls it was an “about face.” I’m not sure “about face” is the correct figure of speech but my gaze was turned upward.

These two individuals saw in me and my efforts something worthy of sharing and through their small acts and words my life has changed. Like the moss, I was allowed to grow at their sides. I might not have survived let alone thrived without them. When we see and cultivate worth in another they have a harder time denying it in themselves.

“Half Crazy” “Extremely Unstable”

I was having breakfast and noticed a gentleman across the diner wearing a hat that said “Half Crazy” “Extremely Unstable.” I’m assuming he wasn’t and was trying to be cute, funny or simply ridiculous. To actually be considered as such is not overly funny. Maybe I’m a little sensitive but I do find humour in my own plight because it gets me through. When others find my experiences funny it just gets to me.

I can never understand those who ridicule and joke about mental illness and those afflicted. Instead of sharing your derision why not share your secret? Possibly you remain quiet about your secret because you intend to patent it. You could market your secret seasonally even. I find the holidays especially difficult when I’m dealing with delusions. You could run commercials and hide your gift in Cadbury Easter Eggs. The rest of us could scratch our heads wondering how you got the gift inside. One in five would gladly pay to know what specifically you do to avoid mental illness. Please let us know what it is you eat or ingest to keep mental illness at bay. What Yoga moves can I practice to prevent mental illness? What is this secret you obviously possess? What shopping mall should I go to so I can purchase your immunity? It would be swell if I could pick it up at a garage sale. Used is better for me, many occupations seem off limits to me so money can be tight. Hopefully it fits into the shopping carts some of us push our lives around in or could I borrow your SUV? Maybe you and the many others who share your immunity can organize something like a blood donor clinic. Maybe it is something I can plant in my yard. Can I cultivate what you so assuredly posses? What will you charge for your secret? Do you take personal cheques? Maybe you keep it like some family recipe whose ingredients are only to be shared by those whose blood you share. It would be nice if you could open a drive thru. The one in five could order a “Double Double” dose of your formula. I sincerely hope it isn’t too complex. I have already been getting by using an array of medications and therapies. Please let it be a prayer or a pill.

Possibly you enjoy the disparity of power. You in your Birkenstocks reading the Globe at Starbucks and me mumbling to myself and or cursing at the sky down by the tracks. Is my plight not enough for you? Why do you add salt to my wounds?

This is all in jest obviously; if you had this knowledge, this power, there would be no need for you to take away what little I posses. There would be no need to label and denounce the mentally ill. There would be no need to stratify society by health or wealth because you would possess both. Still, it would be nice to know your secret to at least have health. Just imagine how popular you would be if you could help us dodge dementia, depression and delusions. You wouldn’t have to tell your stupid jokes; we would already be eating out of your hands!

If you do not posses compassion enough to share your immunity, have the decency to keep your misconceptions under your hat or at least off of it. Either that or wear one that says “Half Liver” “Extremely Jaundiced.” But that would be in poor taste wouldn’t it.

The Ant

I just brushed an ant from my patio table. I looked down at where I thought it might have landed. I did not see it and assumed it fell through the deck boards. I suddenly realized it might never arrive where it once was. I’m not sure how long an ant lives but it is a possibility.

I have been brushed from where I once stood. Unlike the ant I was quite aware of the fact. I felt the sting of my landing and had a clear view of where I had been. At first I only wanted to return to where I once was. I longed for most of what I was and had. Living without, my gaze eventually fell on other points. Like the ant I started my journey over. I can’t say I simply brushed myself off. I had many people help me to my feet and point me in directions I could not see. I am unsure of my destinations but I am satisfied with where I find myself most days. I could still have my eye on where I was but it would only interfere with seeing where I am.

What’s the Difference?

I was reading the story about the armored car heist in Alberta. There were no fancy headlines like those reserved for Vincent Li. Apparently we find it comprehensible that someone would murder three individuals for a little over 300 000 dollars. Possibly we can relate to crime for financial gain, while crime due only to a mental disorder is foreign. Could we fathom doing something we wouldn’t normally do for financial reasons? What would you do for money otherwise not attainable? It may be totally foreign for most of us to commit any crime but if it is for profit there seems some rhyme to it.

What does it say about us as individuals and as a society? Why can we comprehend someone whose value of life equals roughly $100,000 per person? Murder under any circumstance is abominable yet we only demonize the person suffering from hallucinations and delusions. The headlines that follow Vincent Li years later are “Crazed Bus Butcher”. “Baumgartner Nabbed at Border” follow the individual who is likely criminally responsible for three deaths and another seriously injured. This person seems to be in full possession of his mental faculties yet he avoids demonization by the media and possibly the public.

Why do we allow someone who knowingly murders for paper, dignity of sorts yet strip those who suffer from a mental disorder that same dignity? Should we hold the media to higher standards? Call a spade a spade and I will still buy your paper. Distort the facts and you are a sensationalizing letch. Are those whose occupation it was to distribute money to machines not worthy of our outrage? If we are going to spit on someone, greed as a motive for murder might just be worthy of it. Possibly we don’t want to demonize something that we could fathom ourselves? Is there an amount you might murder for?

It all seems senseless and Mr. Li did perform an atrocity but the courts and medical profession have proven and deemed him Not Criminally Responsible. Why is that so hard to disseminate? If Mr. Baumgartner is responsible in act and under the law should we not hold him accountable to the same extent we mistakenly hold those who are factually “not” accountable? If Mr. Li killed for an amount of money would it be comprehensible? If Mr. Baumgartner killed because he was ill I would expect headlines such as “Armored Car Abomination” or “Twisted Treasure Terminator.” We can understand one scenario because we would all do certain things for money under certain circumstances. The thing you have to realize is we could each do any number of things under the powers of a mental disorder. My outrage flies in all directions and my sympathy to those affected by both individuals.

Fool For A Client

I was clearly psychotic for much of my time in jail but I was at times in complete possession of my intellect. I might have looked and sounded bizarre but I made sense at times as well. I was at a disadvantage because of my illness. I was taken advantage of by certain inmates and often disregarded by the authorities. As much as they deny you in jail you also maintain certain freedoms. My case was still before the courts so I was allowed to cast my political ballot. I was in the medical cells at the time so I’m not sure what voter turnout was but I possessed my usual political will. I was resigned to the fact that none of the parties was overly concerned with me as an individual or population but it is a vote I will always remember. I was stripped of most of what makes a citizen but I stood tall with my golf pencil in hand.

About this time I was quite displeased with my lawyer as was my family. I was doing my best to dodge his services but he dragged me to court every other week to pad his pockets. It was a several month battle to have him removed from my case. The authorities in the jail were advised that I was representing myself; by myself. I did have a fool for a client but I was given a privilege above my fellow inmates. I was allowed access to the institution copy of the Canadian Criminal Code. After I filled out a form I would be locked in a lawyer’s room with my disclosure documents and the big book. I was a whirlwind of activity. Within a few weeks my papers were in tatters and filled with notes. My golf pencil had no erasure so I would use my shoe to erase my previous episodes of lawyerly notations. I was often in a panic looking over what I had written. Each time I would read the Canadian Criminal Code my defense would change. One day I stumbled on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I had never read them before. I couldn’t see any help for me in them but I read them intently.

During this period I was spiritually charged as well. Any time I had access to a phone or a pencil and envelope I would reach out to religious leaders in the community. I had regular visits from a Baptist minister, a Catholic priest, a Muslim Imam, an Evangelical minister, the institutional minister and several lay-people from the community who offered religious guidance. Sometimes when Reverend X. was at the institution she would take me to her office in the basement and we would smudge. I learned to love the smell of burning sweet grass and was always moved by the ceremony and gesture.

To add to my religious education I got my hands on a copy of Malcolm X and started copying the customs he described involving his conversion to Islam. One of the guards was also a Muslim and I looked to him for guidance. One day I waited with my breakfast. When he came to the bars to collect my food tray I asked if I was permitted to eat. There was ham on it, he nodded and I woofed it down.

I didn’t have a clear idea what I was through all this. I even had some knowledge of Judaism to throw in the mix. One thing that became clear to me was that I shouldn’t be eating meat. I asked a guard if I could change my diet to Vegan. “You’ll have to fill out a request form.” I did and was denied. I asked to see a lieutenant. I was again denied. “I want to speak to the Warden.” “You’ll have to fill out a request form.” I did and within days he was standing outside my cell door. I made my request. “It’s jail policy that you can’t change your diet after being admitted.” “It’s not a security issue” I said. “If you had requested a Vegan diet when you landed here I wouldn’t have a problem.” “But it’s part of my religion.” “What religion is that?” “Well I might be Jewish.” “You’re not Jewish.” “I have a new religion.” “I don’t recognize your religion so as I said you’re out of luck.” “I have the right to practice and follow any religion whether you recognize it or not.” “I can even follow no religion.” He walked away.

Jails and those employed in them are overseen by the Ombudsman. If an inmate has an issue he or she can ask for a “Blue Letter”. It required no stamp which furthered my excessive correspondence and unlike our other mail it could be sealed to escape the censor system of the jail. I filled out a request form and asked for a “Blue Letter” and filled it out. About a week later I was notified and given a number to contact the Ombudsman by phone. The woman asked me if I had exhausted all internal measures. “Yes”. She said she would look into it. The only other person who knew of my battle was Rev. X. After another week or two I was again asked to call the Ombudsman. The woman was quite pleased to inform me that the Ombudsman had sided with me. I had the right to follow my religious conscience. I could practice any religion or no religion. It was my first victory as a lawyer. The Reverend came to my cell and was clearly pleased as well.

I was punished for taking things beyond the institution. The kitchen gave me some kind of meatless cabbage rolls three days a week. As much as I hated them they did have a certain sweetness:)  I could have created some havoc within the jail by passing on my knowledge to my fellow inmates but being a lawyer I steered clear since there was little money to be made. I never held it over the Warden. When I regained the majority of my sanity he went on vacation for a couple of weeks. He had a habit of walking around the entire jail and checking to see that our pillows were left in our cells when we were locked out. I saw him come around the corner and walked up to him with a huge smile and said “welcome back”, it was my jail too.