Olympics

With the Olympics upon us I have been thinking about competition. Is it part of being human; something innate or has it been cultivated? Some would argue that co-operation is the main reason we did not die on the savanna. If this is true, at what point did it become advantageous to be competitive if it has? We may have never made it to the moon were it not for competition  with the Russians but how has the moon helped humankind? Simply put, is the world a better place when the Chinese throw a javelin 18 inches further than the Americans?

Competition does bring us together. We gather in arenas, fields and gymnasiums to participate in competition or witness it. Though we gather we also separate from each other. The parents from one division sit apart from those of another. Our children associate with others in white, yellow or black. Is it any wonder we see and draw lines when our skin is different as well?

We once shared with other tribes and they us. Neither knew when the need would strike. In an age when countries cry out for relief from oppression and hunger, we gather and watch elite athletes riding horses over fences. I’m not saying we should butcher the horse and feed the hungry but if it was my horse and you were my starving neighbour what does it say about me if I don’t?

No doubt competition arose in times of abundance as it continues today. Hunters honed their skills which were entertaining and invaluable during the hunt. If this is where competition was born why did our ignorant ancestors have enough sense to see everyone was fed? Would the hunter have the esteem of the tribe if they shot at targets while the village sat starving?

I wont get into the dollars that go into each athlete and each medal but we are trading huge currency for trinkets and national pride. I may be solitary in my thoughts but I would find more pride in my country if it reached further into opposing nations and stood not on a podium but on the back of a truck tossing bags of rice. Couldn’t we keep the competitive spirit alive if we had elite athletes attempting to throw that bag of rice the furthest? We could set up hurdles between villages and if you find the idea of eating horse distasteful we could fly that same horse not to a stadium in England but to a country where it could pull a cart with something people actually need.  Enjoy the Olympics and don’t forget to share a Coke.

In the spirit of competition I will be checking out the comments section for the most creative and original sport we can come up with for Third World Olympics.

Keys

February 8, 2006

Keys; have you ever thought much about them? We seldom carry just one unless we pin them to our bathing suit at the Y.M.C.A. We carry them in our pockets or around our necks these days. Some people clip them to their sides, some spin them on their fingers and fidget with them, but have you ever thought about what they mean? I know what they mean- power. They say I have control over this set of doors or this vehicle or this classroom or this part of the institution. I hate the sound of keys. I learned to hate them in jail. Every time I heard keys it meant my keeper was coming. He was coming to wake me or take me to court or to feed me or deliver a new inmate or to order me back into my cell. It wasn’t all bad when my keeper came, sometimes she was good looking, for a guard, or she brought the mail or took me to a visit or as I said a meal. But she always delivered control.

If you’ve never been in jail you will not understand how loud keys can be and how attuned you become to them. Firstly a jailer’s keys are as big as your hand so when they hit each other or fumble in the lock you really hear the brass. Jails are empty of anything that absorbs sound so everything carries and seems louder than sound on the outside. Secondly when you’re in jail you always want to know where or when the jailer is coming. They usually do a “walk about” every half-hour (there are no clocks or watches in jail) and you could hear them coming from the keys hitting their sides. If you wanted to share a smoke or worse, you timed it well but still “kept six” or listened and watched for a guard as they could show up at anytime to deliver someone to or from court or the nurse or a visit.

The morning I came back from escaping to the Sarnia hospital, I opened the doors coming into the jail myself as they were electronically locked. I had a great sense of power to be able to open those two doors on my own. They were heavy but I know I flung them open as I shambled through cuffed and shackled in my hospital booties.

Now when I hear keys I still hear control. You see I still don’t often have keys in my hands and I have to turn them back in to people with many more keys than I. They have keys to my room, to outside doors, to medication drawers, to shower rooms, kitchens, etcetera. Even when I went to school I would cringe when the teacher threw her keys on her desk. I liked her but she had keys; keys to freedom like a car and a house and a mailbox, a bike, even the school. Not me, I had only one key, a key to my brother’s bike. But hear this, no one has felt as free and as happy on a bicycle as I have on many occasions on that bike. The bike is barely worth locking up but to wear that key around my neck is priceless.

Baptism By Fire

When I was a youngster my paternal grandmother was burning leaves in her front yard as was practiced in our small town at the time. My brothers somehow own the memory of the day when I fell into the fire. It is a tale they find amusing though I have blocked out the event and there were no scars to authenticate their memories. I guess it could be said I was baptized by fire. To my understanding this is, was and never will be something a person would seek whether your interpretation is religious or secular. One of its many meanings is reserved for soldiers who are literally trained by the fire of battle. It is basically a severe ordeal experienced for the first time. It will either kill you or make you stronger.

I was quickly immersed in a hell where my life was threatened by delusion at least and possibly in fact. For any who have experienced delusions they are only unreal in hindsight (if one is fortunate enough to be released from that perspective). To say I was terrified would be accurate. I sat at tables with criminals picking food from my tray as I was convinced to eat or drink would result in my death at the hands of my fellow inmates. I was witness to the screams of another inmate beaten by the hard plastic cups of his peers. The smell of the dreaded disinfectant they used on the blood was also nothing new to me. I was so thirsty at times I would quickly lick my hands in the semi-privacy of the common toilet area.

When they ran me off the Range for the second time because of my erratic behaviour, I was destined for the Hole. Here I could consume but I was also consumed. I had no anchor to reality and easily disappeared beneath my delusions.

Obviously, I have risen from this immersion in hell but what have I pulled from the ashes? I am not naïve enough to think my struggles are over but I am fairly confident I can withstand what might come my way. I have had much support from family, friend and professional in my years of treatment following this but I navigated the worst of my ordeal on my own. I don’t suppose a soldier looks forward to the next battle or the loss of comrades which is inevitable but they may have a sense of peace knowing the worst can be endured. It may be like the human immune system. When we are exposed to a virus we produce anti-bodies. Following our illness, exposure to the same virus is nothing. Interestingly, the modern word “immunity” derives from the Latin immunis, meaning exemption from military service.

Can Mental Illness Be Fashionable?

I have through conversation with a couple of other bloggers entered into the discussion about how psychiatry can be relative. I am using specific examples but it is not my intention to make light of or be dismissive of any disorders or the people who struggle with them.

Part of the discussion on my part surrounded a friend I have who deals with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). He has no formal diagnosis (admitted to me at least) but is clearly so. He seems not to view himself or his “impairment” as psychiatric in nature. Does the fact that I view him as having OCD make him so? Does his denial make him not obsessive/compulsive? If he was in a room with a psychiatrist would he be considered as having OCD? If he was in the same room with a mechanic would he have OCD? I brought up the fact that in the past he may have simply been considered eccentric. Should we be alarmed that there are no more eccentric individuals? Eccentricity seems to have been diagnosed out of the vernacular. In our age of “there’s an app for that” have we arrived at “there’s a diagnosis for that” and subsequently “there’s a pill for that.” How have pharmaceutical companies influenced psychiatry and mental health? In pushing pills do we push diagnoses?

It appears to me that to a degree psychiatry can be specific to time and place. A behaviour exhibited on a psychiatric ward will certainly be checked off a list of symptoms in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM). At the shopping mall it may not even be noticed.

Part of what drew me into conversation was the fact that not long ago homosexuality could be found in the DSM. It would appear certain disorders can be cured by a shift in popular opinion. I’m not sure what I would think of myself or psychiatry if I was one day discharged from a psychiatric hospital because a new edition of the DSM came out. I guess it would depend on how many rounds of electro-shock I was exposed to.

I was also wondering about anorexia nervosa. My knowledge is limited but my understanding is that it was rare 60 years ago. Once society and psychiatry caught wind of this condition it became almost epidemic by comparison. Interestingly, it continued to be rare on other continents but seems to have spread with the adoption of western psychiatry and the DSM. Early cases of anorexia nervosa appeared without the typical aversion to becoming fat, confounding the argument of the changing societal ideal of beauty. The best example of what I am trying to arrive at is Lady Dianna’s disclosure of her struggle with bulimia. I don’t know the statistics but there was an increase in cases of bulimia which followed. It is often explained that others are more comfortable with self-disclosure when a celebrity comes forward. We might ask whether people find an avenue for their discontent paved by popularity. Where does one get the idea to take laxatives?

If a diagnosis is unheard of does it thus remain?

As the hysterics of the 1800’s disappeared other conditions took their place. Could it be that the pain is universal but the pandemic is always shifting? Will the disorders that plague society today become oddities in another 150 years? Is mental illness unaffected by popular thought and psychiatry itself ? Are we susceptible to taking something that disturbs us deeply and attaching the symptom of the day? If I was from another part of the world with a culture specific condition would I be disregarded by western psychiatry and the DSM-IV?

I’m glad psychiatry changes. In the past I may have been a good candidate for a lobotomy. It can send a strange feeling through your body to know how your symptoms were dealt with even 50 years ago. We look back and shake our heads but never consider that another generation will do exactly the same at what we consider to be science. I may not be around for it but I will not turn in my grave as disorders continue to wax and wane.

Lock and Key

I have a small collection of antique locks and skeleton keys. I actually owned them before I was under lock and key so I don’t think there is anything subliminal but possibly they were prophetic. I pulled them from the drawer they were in and made a display. As I look at them I realize each key has the same purpose but all are slightly different. Are humans the same? Obviously we are each different but what interests me is whether we have a common purpose.

At times I have been caught up in the material. I was successful; I owned my own business and properties. I was ahead of my peers though I probably felt emptier. Losing all this, I don’t in any significant way feel less than those I see driving luxury cars. Possibly I have enough esteem that I don’t need that of a jealous neighbour.

I am slightly out of shape. The closest I come to a six pack is at the Brewers Retail. My hair is thin to non-existent in spots but again I don’t feel less than the nicely shaped and hairy people I come across. Possibly I don’t get my esteem from the follicles in my head or the size of my biceps. Some would say I was better looking in my youth but I’m fairly certain if this was a purpose to existence none of us would age and we would all have identical hyper metabolisms. The physical and material matters in my life don’t overly matter.

I have had many relationships. I have been a father, a husband, a lover, a brother, an uncle, a student, a friend and none of these. To procreate is a strong urge in humans as are other relationships but without this ability or the stature of being at least a friend, a person does not shrivel. I did not crumble and I am ordinary in every way.

Travel, entertainment or even thrill seeking are certainly desirous but looking at significant historical figures who ventured only within their counties without ever bungee jumping we can assume that despite being great, what we do for fun may have nothing to do with our greatness.

Toil or occupation whether paid or not can provide meaning but unless it is in the name of something we are not much different from Oxen. A beast can pull a plow but only humans can cultivate anything important. The seeds we plant will only sprout with attention.

These are some of my arguments regarding purpose; personal or weak as they may be. What then is our purpose? Does it have to be something greater than ourselves? Is it different for each of us or are we like my keys? If I am a key is it myself that I must unlock? When I unlock myself what comes out? Do we keep the same things under lock and key? Could it be that although I am less than wealthy and less than hairy I am in fact in possession of the same treasure? Do we not all hold the key to compassion, love, generosity, and empathy? Some people seem to have more of these just as some have more money or good looks. Possibly these individuals have used their key to open what many of us fear we do not have enough of to share. These contents are a little like the recycle bin; they will only be picked up if you put them out there. Your empty aluminum cans will never be made into anything new if you bury them in your backyard. Compassion can never heal or touch someone who needs it if it is left in your chest; literally.

Every lock has a key. Obviously I can only speak for myself but I am coming to understand that my purpose is to unlock and share what can’t be seen, measured or appraised. To some these things have no value in any way but when shared with someone else they can be priceless. Interestingly, out of the dozens of skeleton keys I own, none of them fit the locks. I guess that is what makes life interesting. Since we are all different keys I may just happen on someone who opens a lock I own. It is often a mystery as to what a lock protects but historically it is something of value, all the other stuff is simply stuff.Image

Time

I took my watch off this weekend. I wanted to get rid of my tan line and it was the only respectable thing I could remove. I have been without a watch for long periods. When you are in jail it is one of the identifying features to be removed. I suppose it saves the odd wealthy person from being mugged but outside of that it only succeeds in slowing down time which crawls at the best of time. I never heard an inmate mutter anything about time flying. “Wow, it’s been six months, where does the time go?” A season like summer can fly by if you’re a student but in jail or hospital it’s simply long and hot. When it is over often there is another season to endure.

When I was in the Hole, time did not exist in a fashion I was used to. Circadian rhythms were blocked out by the concrete surrounding me. The only cycle I knew was delivered on a tray and often did not coincide with any hunger. If I was able to sleep I would wake up and wait for a guard to peek through my four inch window. I would gesture to my wrist and he would hold up fingers. I would already have my blankets folded and be ready for a meal. Often it was three in the morning. I had no fridge to open to occupy myself with food. There was no TV and iPods weren’t even invented let alone allowed. There was no one to ask “are you sleeping?” in the hope of stirring another into my uncomfortable void. Usually I would vacuum. I always went barefoot and would walk around my 5 by 8 and brush crumbs and lint that collected on my feet into my toilet. I retain this habit and can often be found in my apartment brushing whatever might cling to my feet into my toilet or the nearest garbage. I have a cat and dog so the vacuum is always running. The entire jail slept while I ran my jail powered model. The guards would sometimes put me in different Holes and medical cells and I am certain it was in part due to my cleanliness. Some cleaning fell on their shoulders and it was delegated to me. I could write a housekeeping article on how to use toilet paper and water to make your “house” sparkle.

I digress. Back to time, rather than back in time. Without my watch this weekend I was conscious of how many times I looked at the pale skin on my wrist. I didn’t have my “friend?” to tell me things. Time tells us when to eat, whether we are hungry or not and when to sleep, whether we are tired or not. Time tells us when to come and go, whether we are ready to or not. It tells us when we can drive, vote and drink as though a day causes some miraculous shift in maturity. Time tells us we have plenty of it or not enough. It can change our behaviour from relaxed to stressed simply with a glance at some gears on our wrist. Time tells us how old we are regardless of how we might feel otherwise. Time tells us when to have children or to make the attempt. It can tell us we should be married despite happiness or whether we are in love or not. Time can tell us many things but maybe we need to listen more to ourselves.

Time is a measurement created by mankind but is it a measure of mankind? All life is seemingly moved by time but humans seem the only creatures bound by minutes. The sun rises on time and sets on time but there can be no time like the present to get your vacuuming done 🙂

Scars

I have a large scar across the muscle above my knee. At one time it contained thirty stitches to hold it together. It was a trauma that I have a total recall of. I also have scars that are less physical. I was sewn together by a great many healers, some professional and some who had no clue they were helping me to heal. Here as well I have total recall.

Eventually you have to remove the bandage and live with the scar. We have to step back into our lives and walk on. A scar can be a reminder but it shouldn’t keep us from what we aspire to. To leave the bandage on longer than is necessary may in fact make things worse. The more we try to protect ourselves the less we experience. After my emergency I went to my family physician to have my sutures removed. He was uncomfortable with my wound and thought it best to leave them in. It was my experience that the longer a stitch is left, the harder it is to remove. I returned home and removed them myself. I was fairly confident I wouldn’t open up again or fall apart. We are more resilient than we sometimes allow ourselves to be.

For me, recovery is not a return to the way things were any more than my physical healing leaves me without a scar. The fabric of my life, like the flesh of my wound has changed. I am fortunate that my scar on my leg like the other scars I live with don’t interfere with the majority of my functioning but I have been altered.

Every scar tells a story but they do not have to be the whole story. Scars of the flesh are miraculous. Without thought or conscious effort the body reconstructs itself. Through Grace some of my other scars have healed as well. It can be time and distance or simply the decision to live with the scar. We don’t have to stand still to mend, in fact going through regular motions is often more helpful. I pick at the scabs of my life like we all do but some wounds heal only when we let them.