The Dance of Decay

I enjoy wood turning. I learned a few skills in the basement workshop at the hospital I lived in. It was a reason to get out of bed when I most wanted not to. I use different chisels these days but it is a similar passion. My mother was a potter so I grew up watching things spin. I think what most impresses me is how pressure from one point affects the entire sphere in an instant.

I have shown people my wood turningImage skills and most cower in the furthest corner as I tame a lopsided piece of wood that due to speed and momentum is capable of walking a six hundred pound lathe across the floor. I recently had a rather large piece break through the ceiling and I suddenly considered my teeth.

Most days I turn rotten bowls and vessels. I am humble enough to admit that some of this is my fault but in fact I often start with rotten wood. Some of my disasters are due to the weaknesses in the wood itself. When a piece rolls across the garage floor I curse the monkey with the tool in his hand but I am seldom surprised. As often as not, it is just as things are going well; the final cut, the last grit of sandpaper.

I am learning but it is a fool’s pursuit. One day I only walked away with one of six attempts. The rest is special firewood. One would wonder at my brains or laugh at my skills if they looked only at my failures. I have gained skills on each bowl that flew past  my face shield. Without my failures I would in many ways be less.

I should have learned on some easier wood but there is magic in the dance of decay. The struggle creates brilliant colours, lines and patterns. Nothing I could do with the best lathe and no tool in a (wo)man’s hand could copy, match or compete with what nature itself does. I attempt a pleasing shape and burn my fingers sanding out my gouges but all I really do is uncover the dance of decay.

A Message From “OUR” Prime Minister

I have been so busy thinking about how my bank account will swell with this EU Trade Agreement I didn’t take a close look at what Stephen Harper said in the Throne Speech. It all sounded really good as I polished my Brian Mulroney bronze bust but upon closer inspection something seems rotten in the state of Denmark.

“Canadians are rightfully alarmed when violent offenders found Not Criminally Responsible for their actions are released into our communities.”

In fact Stephen, Canadians are alarmed because many are misinformed. It does nothing to help when the government attempts to enshrine stigma into law. The damage is staggering. Shame on you if this is simply a political opportunity to play fiddle to your base whose view of justice is Right but not necessarily so. To ignore information and advice and proceed with this Bill only shows your disregard for people who hold no political promise for you. The mentally disabled.

The existing system for dealing with those deemed not criminally responsible was recently endorsed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin. She must be a Liberal eh Stephen. Either that or she actually understands the existing system.

What I find most disturbing about the Throne Speech is your ostracization of the mentally disabled in only one sentence. If you open your mouth and this comes out I can understand your obsession with control of information. Less said Stephen. “Our communities” has the ring of exclusion in a speech I thought started out with something like, “Consider this: we are inclusive. We are 35 million people gathered from every part of the world. We welcome the contribution of all those who inhabit this land—from the first of us to the latest among us.” If one is not found guilty of the crime it can only be their mental illness that would exclude a person from a community.

The communities you refer to Mr. Prime Minister in fact belong also to those afflicted by serious mental illness. The unfortunate consequence of a crime motivated by a disorder of the mind has never and should never exclude those involved. No illness or disability should make someone less than the rest of “us”. These individuals come from “our” communities and with care and caution many fully return.

If we have “our” communities or they are withheld even in language from the mentally ill we needn’t worry about all those words about discrimination in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

According to the Supreme Court of Canada’s Section 15 jurisprudence, the equality guarantees of section 15 are aimed at preventing the “violation of essential human dignity and freedom through the imposition of disadvantage, stereotyping, or political and social prejudices, and to promote a society in which all persons enjoy equal recognition at law as human beings or as members of Canadian society, equally capable and equally deserving of concern, respect and consideration.” (Iacobucci J. in Law v. Canada, [1999])

Most individuals found Not Criminally Responsible are legally disabled, often permanently. Mental disability is included in the Equality Rights. When I hear prejudice from the Throne Speech, when I see stigma in your most measured words I fear for everyone I know involved in mental illness. You represent my country Mr. Prime Minister. I hang my head in shame. You may think it only a slight to violent offenders but in fact your words pierce everyone who is touched by mental illness.

I don’t know if the Governor General would have to be in the Senate to apologize for the throne speech but Stephen, you might want to text him again.

You are “our” prime minister. If you don’t want mental illness in “your” community I suggest you vacate 24 Sussex. The delusion is yours Mr. Prime Minister.

As an Aside:

“The Court Challenges Program was first established in 1978. It was designed to provide legal and financial assistance to Canadians whose voice would not otherwise be heard by the courts. It was believed that in order to assure the equality rights of all Canadians, it was vital that Canadians, regardless of situation or financial means, have the ability to challenge government laws and directives on constitutional grounds. Without this protection, many Canadians would be voiceless when confronted by an unconstitutional action by their government – for them, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms rendered an ineffectual piece of paper.

This seemed to be of little concern to the Conservative party when they cancelled all funding for the program, on September 25, 2006.

In the House of Commons, Stephen Harper responded indignantly to questions about the program’s cancellation, saying that his government “intends to behave in a constitutional manner,” and that they “do not intend to adopt unconstitutional legislation.” But can Mr. Harper make the same guarantee for the governments that follow his? Why cancel a long-term protection that was functioning perfectly well, at very little cost?

Does it make sense to remove all the fire extinguishers from a building, reasoning that “We have no intention of starting a fire”?

Harper’s Conservatives have a history of not handling well the questioning of their authority or judgment, whether in the House of Commons or in the courts. When confronted, they would sooner silence the opposing voice than debate it. One might ask, “Is it wise to trust the intentions of a government that behaves in this manner?”

CBC Documentary ( Doc Zone) Not Criminally Responsible

Last night I watched the CBC documentary on Not Criminally Responsible. I hope many people watched it in its entirety to see forgiveness and the transformation of both the victim and the patient. To be caught unaware in a delusion and end up in the reality of jails or nurses is an unlucky event for all involved. No one calls out for these events. On some scale it is similar to a lightning strike. To be struck by lightning does not hold out any more promise of the same happening again. One could consider Forensic mental health care as getting off the golf course.

In a very measured and cautious way most Not Criminally Responsible individuals find themselves regular people again. The underlying perception that these individuals are susceptible if not likely to re-offend is faulty. For some it is their first exposure to intensive mental health care. One of Sean Clifton’s nurses said he saw an “amazing transformation in the gentleman”. I have seen symptoms I would have considered hopeless diminish and disappear. One of the gentlemen I was in hospital with for months had benign but unusual obsessions and references to reality. One day I saw him in the hall and spoke with him, usually it was only nonsense but on this occasion he clearly saw what I did and I could recognize his speech and he mine. There seems to be a link in some people’s minds between a psychopathic mind and one affected by an Axis 1 mental illness. Psychopathy is considered presently to be untreatable and is diverted away from the Forensic System.

The violence in our communities is seldom tied to mental illness but for many minds that is the main connection made. I heard the other evening from someone more than capable of deciphering medicine and math that roughly 3% of violence in society is attributable to mental illness. I dropped out of biology, never took chemistry, was held back in math and ran in boredom from physics but that piece of information means that roughly 97% of all violence is committed by persons with no mental illness.

I’m not sure why our concerns lay with the 3% outside of misconceptions and stigma. CBC did a nice job on one case but to call the show Not Criminally Responsible is like holding up a cup of water and calling it Lake Huron. I realize one hour would have detracted from certain important aspects but if I consider the news story from the perspective of someone who knows little about Forensic mental health I might consider I have seen Lake Huron.

When calling a story Not Criminally Responsible I would expect to find broader information. It was an interesting story but only slightly representative. One can find themselves in custody for a wide variety of charges. Many Not Criminally Responsible incidents do not make it to the paper let alone the front page. For someone who knows little about this specialized area where medicine and the law intersect, I might think Not Criminally Responsible is proximal to violence.

In fairness and clinging to the title of Not Criminally Responsible this documentary failed us all by providing nothing for contrast. An opportunity to inform fell to the need for entertainment. One of Sean Clifton`s nurses from the Brockville institution he called home for eight years highlighted this fact when she said Sean was “one of the illest (sic) we’ve had through”. The CBC ought to know that even when doing a show on Not Criminally Responsible their coverage should be responsible. Canadians deserve no less.

The Throne Speech

The throne speech will be delivered momentarily. I have a cold turkey sandwich at the ready and my PVR is programmed to catch each word that slides from the conservative political machine.
For the mathematically challenged, it represents the voice of the majority. For the politically alive each word comes on the heels of yet another proroguing of parliament. Democracy is sweetest when you can put your foot on its throat for political gain or to avert responsibility.
The senate is a perfect backdrop for the politically uninspired conservatives. I would choke on words of fiscal responsibility to the middle class as my tongue flapped in a chamber void of it. Smoke and mirrors will not work as each consonant passes through the ghosts of Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy. It is not yet November but lest we forget.
The conservative spin is all over the news. Industry Minister James Moore tells us the conservatives are “not the party of big business” but rather that of the middle class. Politically motivated words such as these lose their meaning as the prime minister and any cabinet member who can spell oil migrate regularly to the United States. Is it really the little guy they are concerned about as they weld together their platform for dirty oil? We may never know if Canadian scientists continue to be muzzled by a political party. Keystone will run through and be processed in the backyards of every Canadian. Stephen assures us there is little risk of environmental catastrophe but the process is just that. Does Stephen Harper rewrite and tear up environmental protections in the name of the middle class or because it paves the way for fiscal responsibility to oil executives? We should be able to find out from scientists but the foot rests on their throat as well. Stephen thinks his job is to manoeuvre rather than lead.
If this government thinks my importance as a citizen is as a consumer, I fear I am not only misunderstood but clearly misrepresented. As Canada nears it’s 150th anniversary we need to reflect. When political strategists find a foothold in the minds and hearts of Canadians, we need to consider the fact that its basis is in reality. If Stephen Harper finds votes in a “consumer first” agenda, the shame is shared. Phone bills, banking fees, credit card charges and bumped flights need to change but if a nation makes it front and centre we have been losing much more than money.
One would think that 150 years would be sufficient to care for and protect our most vulnerable citizens. Are we a progressive nation if those without phones, tv’s or vacation destinations are not part of the political “blue”print and agenda? If compassion does not reside at 24 Sussex it becomes a Bed and Breakfast for hollow ambitions.
If my concern is to watch and talk for less or have my seat assured on a flight, I am blind and mute to my fellow citizens and my seat is empty.
If our identity is found in prosperity rather than in equality and concern for those without voice let alone a phone, we need to recharge our smartphones. If compassion has turned to consumerism 150 years becomes an accusation.

Mental Illness Awareness Week 2.0

Aside

In writing, success is at times measured in publication. If this is true I have recently stumbled into some success. I am sharing a link to an article that anyone who has heard of mental illness can relate to.

I would also like to give credit. If you find the article lengthy the blame rests with me. I was asked to write a piece about mental illness with a certain focus. At the suggestion of my Occupational Therapist over a year ago I had done something similar. It was a file on my computer that I hadn’t hung much worth on. I sent the editor about 15 to 20 pages that I only hoped would give her some suggestions about what I could write. Masterfully quick, I was returned something that was readable. I was in awe. It was like being at a magic show trying to figure out “how the heck”.

If you haven’t the time to finish the article, please find its end and the name of the editor. It belongs to one of the finest people I know.

Mental Illness Awareness Week

It is Mental Illness Awareness Week.  It’s an opportunity to consider what the world might be like for someone living with mental illness. Awareness is an effort. We can put posters up or paint a bus but if it is viewed from our usual perspective it is paper and paint. We need to recognize that mental illness is illness. Some people believe they are far from mental illness but there are recognizable aspects in many mental illnesses. If you are unfamiliar with depression consider your own moments of sadness and apply that understanding to the situation of those who are familiar with depression. Empathy is not knowing the struggle necessarily, it is simply the recognition of it.

I often find myself pointing out the negative in an attempt to alleviate it. I was at a dinner the other evening. It was in part a fundraiser for mental health care. I was a little out of my element. An hour into this knowledge I found myself in front of enough silverware to confuse an octopus. I prayed not to drop a fork as it would have a specific name unfamiliar to my tongue and mind. I think I made one of those faux pas when I poured my salad dressing from a bowl with two pouring things and a nice spoon. I’m a tradesman at heart and went with efficiency over elegance.

As I said, we were looking for money to make change. I was looking for a couple of friends who were volunteering at the event. The only person in the room I recognized was the retired chief of police. I was hoping he came close enough that I could confide that I believed myself to be the only one among a thousand who had been behind bars. I thought it likely that he was the beacon of this knowledge and could confirm my suspicion.

It was a successful evening and I felt honoured to be included in a room with so many generous people. As I was finishing my meal with my remaining fork I caught a glimpse of one of my friends as she scurried about selling tickets. I saw a sermon. My two friends spend their days applying their knowledge and abilities to further the cause of mental health. Their compassion and fine qualities are revealed by their volunteerism but easily seen in its absence as well. I saw in the glimpse of my friend the many people who do so much for mental health. It would be a lost cause if not for the personal contributions of so many.

I would like to welcome Mental Illness Awareness Week with thanks and gratitude to the many who contribute.