Grace, Grit and My Damn Brother Wherever the Hell He Is

I was once a forestry technician. For any who wonder what exactly a forestry technician does, we basically plant trees in the spring and spend the rest of the year cutting them down. It all made sense to me when I was paid but in hindsight had they hidden the chainsaws, spring would have involved less perspiration.

I am reminiscing because my brother and I did some tree cutting ourselves at the family cottage. It was a long weekend and we actually cut down two trees. I use the term ‘we’ loosely.

My brother and I each have our own chainsaws. Between you and me my brother doesn’t know how to use his. Although his is more dormant I was on this occasion thankful he has one. I was exhausted before we were even near shade. I spent the first hour pulling the chord on mine. It ran quite well but only for a few seconds at a time. I gave up when oil started oozing out of spots I’m pretty sure contain no oil. I found a part in the grass near my folly and I could find no place to reattach it so I surrendered. I’m a tree hugger at heart but by this point I could barely lift my arms.

I sometimes mock my brother’s abilities and equipment but on this occasion I openly embraced his much cleaner and operable saw. We installed my larger blade and chain on his saw and were ready for forestry. We scampered along the slope in front of the cottage next to the tree that was in age more weed than wonder. It grew on a 30 degree angle opposite of where we wanted it to fall and its limbs conspired with their weight in the same direction. It was half rotten at the base and I struggled to make a notch in the side I wished it to fall. I made a cut on the opposite side fully expecting it to transfer its angle and weight in the direction of my desire. In protest it leaned logically and pinched my blade and my brothers saw. My knees were shaking as I know the danger of twisted, leaning, half cut trees. I was soaked with sweat and seriously considered unbolting my blade and handing my brother back the portion he owned. He doesn’t get out much and had been practicing yelling “timber” all morning so I obliged his obsession.

I climbed the hill to the shed where I put my hands on two axes, a hatchet and a sledgehammer. To this day I am unsure of what my brother was doing at the time. If a tree can be obstinate this one was. I placed the axe into the wound the saw had inflicted prior to being pinched. I pounded it in with the sledgehammer until the saw was released. Again, I am unsure what my brother was doing at the time but I heard him exclaim that the saw was free. “Thanks for that.”

I was basically petrified at this point since there was little holding the tree up and I knew it could kick out or fall in any direction, the least likely being the one I wanted. I did a little more cutting with the saw but I was basically at a point a beaver would be ashamed of. A beaver would have enough sense to leave the rest to the wind but I could see the eagerness in my brother’s eyes. I grabbed the axe again and using the sledgehammer pounded it with all my might in the direction the tree was deciding to go. “It’s going…wait…wait… did you hear that?” my brother exclaimed. In fact the tearing noise was fully audible to me as well and did nothing for my trembling knees. I kept swinging the sledgehammer wildly and it finally started to fall in the exact opposite direction of our initial plan.

It was somewhat anti-climatic as it fell into the limbs of other sympathetic trees and landed on the uphill slope as though settling into a favourite chair. I started to limb and cut the trunk into lengths that will eventually warm my mother. I struggled in the mess of leaves and limbs as I maneuvered up the slope. I couldn’t see much for all the trees but in need of someone to pull cut branches out of my way I had to again wonder where my brother was. I finally sawed a path to the top of the hill where the deceased tree had stretched. I stood on the cottage deck and took in the new view. It was only one tree but the view was entirely different. It only took two hours of fiddling, fear and frustration to see things differently. It all reminded me of the many other things I could not see at times in my life. The barriers and obstacles I have had to get past. I would like to say I have removed them myself but many have only been overcome by grace, grit and my damn brother wherever the hell he is.

RE: Vincent Li and Tim McLean. Compassion isn’t a dart we throw it is a net we cast.

I spent the weekend battling on Twitter. I don’t often Tweet but there was much ignorance I felt compelled to refute. Vincent Li who was found Not Criminally Responsible for a very disturbing and tragic incident is in the process of being granted a progression of freedoms in his treatment and rehabilitation. It needs to be clarified that these measures will themselves be measured and monitored. It is also important to understand that Mr. Li has been assessed by several psychiatrists who are in agreement as to the status of his mental health. Most importantly the individuals who contribute information and make decisions on that information have and always will ensure that public safety is paramount. Paramount.

I am not an expert in law or medicine. I have some information about each but my specialty is what it means and feels like to be caught between the two. If you want the definition of psychosis you can ask a doctor. If you want to know what the experience is like, you can ask me. If you want to know the intricacies of Not Criminally Responsible ask a lawyer who specializes in such. If you want to know how those processes affect an individual, you can ask me. I don’t consider myself an expert by any stretch but few know what I know. My journey is far removed from what most experience and I believe that is where my use is found.

Unfortunately, people with opinions often have no desire to hear from someone who actually knows something, as it interferes with their ignorance. Opinions have value but when their basis is ignorance they become water balloons without water; completely ineffective and they go nowhere.

I heard the voices that are incensed and incredulous over the appearance of the case. In my estimation most of these individuals are using headlines for a measure and as a basis of knowledge from which to form and progress their opinions. If a person looks only at the atrocity they can only make basic conclusions.

The severity of the offence is not the indicator of recidivism. If a person stabs another twice they are not twice as likely to re-offend as the person who stabs once. It is an asinine assumption and a distortion of logic. The brutality of the offence for which an individual is found Not Criminally Responsible has no bearing on their prognosis or recovery. The absence of blood in no way determines the effectiveness of medications and the presence of blood in no way determines the efficacy of treatment and rehabilitation.

Tim McLean who is the deceased in this case is clearly a victim. He was simply a passenger on a bus. However, there is more than one victim. We have to consider the families and friends connected to all involved. We have to consider witnesses and first responders. We have to consider communities. We also need to consider Vincent Li himself. Mr. Li is a victim of a mental disorder and a victim of public backlash, stigma and hatred. He no more asked for this event than anyone involved. To be a monster to a nation as a result of an illness is a weight that must also be measured. Mr. Li did not choose his illness and he is quite likely near the front of the line of individuals who would wish the event never occurred.

People confuse psychosis with psychopathy. They are two vastly different states and it is unfortunate they are phonetically similar. It is the same as confusing dentistry with dysentery. Psychosis and hallucinations are Axis 1 disorders while psychopathy is Axis 2. Twitter was awash with words like psycho and I would direct those people to the internet to actually find out the meanings and intricacies of mental disorders. Knowledge is power and slang is pathetic and painful.

I was disappointed to uncover the extent of hatred and intolerance that exists in Canada. People seem to embrace the biblical “eye for an eye” mentality all the while ignoring the New Testament and specifically the red letters attributed to Christ. I guess it is easier to cast stones. Possibly people gain a sense of self righteousness and can forget their own faults. An “eye for an eye” does not bring peace or restore the order of the universe. The universe is unfair and unjust. Just ask a child with a distended belly in a third world nation. People seem to believe the world is just and they become quite worked up trying to make it so through mental manoeuvrings. An “eye for an eye” leaves two people blind and it only expands suffering. It is rather imbecilic to think that suffering can relieve suffering. It is also a little sadistic to find peace in anyone’s pain.

Many individuals seem to think that Vincent Li may be better but Tim McLean is still dead. My sympathies go out to all involved but Tim McLean will be dead no matter what happens to Vincent Li. There is no logic in that argument or revelation and nothing that is done will alter what happened to those involved.

People were flying off the handle saying maybe Mr. Li’s psychiatrist who assessed him should have him as a neighbour. The fact is Mr. Li was assessed by several psychiatrists who came to the same conclusions. The general public and even Members of Parliament like Shelly Glover think they should be the ones assessing and that their opinions which originate from newspapers or less are the only assessment tool needed. We need to allow those who are trained and knowledgeable care for the community and Mr. Li. Despite the brutality of the offence Mr. Li is considered low risk and has been assessed and is being monitored. Few of us could say the same thing about our neighbours. No one is immune to mental illness and it does not discriminate. To an extent we are all capable of atrocity if we become ill to the point Mr. Li was. If you disagree please point me in the direction of the magic water you swallow to prevent mental illness.

I was called a douche, a jerk, a scumbag, a murderer advocate and was told to go hang myself. All were desperate and illogical attempts to overcome the disparity of being confronted by someone found Not Criminally Responsible and who is intelligent, logical and able to disseminate information, form relatively sound opinions and coherently craft them into Tweets. I got a little saucy myself but being the Not Criminally Responsible individual in these arguments I tempered my responses. I came to the somewhat biased opinion that I would rather have me as a neighbour than these scary and somewhat unstable twits. I have been tested and proven not to be a psychopath or sociopath but these individuals cannot claim the same. I don’t much care what they Tweet from their parent’s basement but I am concerned that they interact with others in person and that they are probably allowed to obtain firearms and most terrifying; can vote.

I came to the edge of being insulting and was uneasy with where I found myself. I am one of only a few who to a degree represent individuals who have been found Not Criminally Responsible. I do so not always out of desire but more so out of duty. There are many days I wish to be more ordinary and forget what is past. I realize though that my abilities, experiences and gifts are meant to be shared. I have near total recall of most of my psychosis and as much as it is a curse to remember all of that, it is somewhat rare and it would be a loss not to explain and share with others in an attempt for us all to understand each other. I don’t have fame or popularity to promote my causes. I am involved in the unsavory aspects of mental health: Not Criminally Responsible, the Canadian Criminal Code, Board of Review hearings, courts, police and corrections. Possibly I could let some of this slide if Clara Hughes jumped in but she’s busy on her bike.

I told one individual to “say Hi to everyone on his paper route.” I felt bad that I might be misinterpreted. I have every regard for individuals who support or supplement their income from delivering periodicals. Unfortunately, the 140 characters allocated by Twitter did not allow me to explain my meaning. When I was growing up teenagers delivered newspapers and I was implying that this individual was a child in his thoughts and arguments.

I think it is fair and acceptable that I get a little saucy. I don’t believe that since I was found Not Criminally Responsible that I need to portray something meek and gentle. I am and we all are many things. Part of my point is that I am no different from anyone and I posses characteristics that many and most humans posses. In a way being sarcastic and cheeky is an exercise in illustrating my ordinariness. I grew up with three brothers so I was born and bred to stand up for myself. For years I was unable to do this as I was in jail or hospital. If I had no voice I would be skinnier than I am. I traded barbs with my brothers as an exercise of intellect and debate and it was an ingrained and somewhat socially conditioned form of love. We did not hug each other though we do now. Instead we insulted each other as a form of attention and we found affection, comradery and even respect in its often humourous arms.

The one individual who seemed quite engaged in trying to enrage me gave up when I asked him his real name. He was calling me “champ” in some attempt to belittle me and I told him “my name is Brett and I do not hide.” My full name is attached to my Twitter account. This child was Tweeting from behind his mother’s skirt and when I said to “step up or shut up” he implied that I was threatening him. I reassured him and told him he couldn’t “hide and speak” and that I simply wanted to know if he “was a mouthpiece or a man.” He did not give his name which confirmed he was in fact just a mouthpiece. He was a noise originating from the area of the head but not the brain necessarily.

People were arguing that if Mr. Li misses a dose of his medications he will buy a bus ticket and repeat his actions in some form. Medications are important but only a fraction of the treatment and rehabilitation Not Criminally Responsible individuals receive. Further, these individuals are monitored and know themselves the importance of their medications and the other aspects of their treatment and recovery. In the case of Mr. Li there are a series of supports in place and extended that were not present at the time of the offence.

People think Mr. Li should be locked up forever and worse. Punitive measures do not alter the cause of the offence when the cause is mental illness. Treatment and rehabilitation of the individual with the illness is not only humane and progressive, it is the only successful and logical approach. Mr. Anonymity was trying to argue that all criminals should be medicated and why was Mr. Li so special? Firstly, Mr. Li is not a criminal and secondly they have not discovered medications for greed, stupidity and evil. As you might conclude it was draining attempting to inform such moronity. If I had to do it again I might just walk away as many of these individuals used their opinions as a shield to information. However, some of what I was saying was getting out there and their deflection did not mean I did not reach anyone. I am also pleased that there is a lasting public record of their stupidity. Maybe eventual embarrassment will guide them towards a book.

People were using the grief of those involved as a basis and argument for their hatred, ingrained ignorance and intolerance of people and circumstances they have little basis of knowledge in. People think they are being sensitive to victims and compassionate but compassion isn’t a dart we throw it is a net we cast.

You Say “Healthcare,” I Just Shake My Head and Cry

I have no “craving” to return to the issue of smoking on hospital properties and it seems a lost cause but I will. Let’s just consider it a “bad habit.”

I was on hospital property myself yesterday. When I left the architectural brilliance and heat of the building itself I noticed a gentleman in his 70’s hunched over in a wheelchair. He appeared to weigh something near his age and seemed somewhat compromised. I imagine his struggles are profound even within hospital but he was attempting to smoke in the wind and cold about 40 feet from the hospital entrance.

It has been minus “21 Forever” here in Ontario and yesterday was no exception. No exception seems to be part of the problem. This man was breaking hospital rules and even the old rule of not smoking within 60 feet of a hospital entrance. I don’t imagine he had a rebellious heart or complete disregard for rules, I think he may have been unable to make it off hospital grounds and the temperature itself may have been a further hurdle. If my ears nearly freezing are evidence of anything his wheelchair wheels may have been frozen.

There needs to be more communication between agencies in the region. When the Health Unit and police agencies issue a cold weather advisory and warn people to stay inside it may be prudent to apply this information to hospital staff and patients. It may even be important to ensure that 70 pound patients in wheelchairs have a safe and suitable place to smoke. Maybe the blankets were being laundered but this gentleman was under dressed for what I barely endured with half the exposure. This individual is unlikely to quit smoking in his 70’s or in his proximity to illness. It may be a bad habit or a long time pleasure.

We can all be proud of moving in the direction of a “Smoke Free Ontario” but my grandfather shouldn’t be run over in the process. He wasn’t my grandfather or I would have brought him home from the illusion of healthcare he was enduring. He is however someone’s grandfather, “bully for you.” I hope some idiot or at least the compassionate committees who have brought us this far find satisfaction in such an individual being tortured in the guise of health and healthcare. If you think smokers are going to hell it is no less sinful to expose them to anything similar here on earth. Perhaps we should pray on this.

I wanted to take a photo of this poor gentleman but I did not want to remove my gloves which he was without. I also respect patient confidentiality and it would have been a blurry shot as he was shaking so hard. Oh well, the rightless wretch will soon be dead and we will not be so uncomfortable in our conscienceless ideals. The grandchildren who attend his funeral will no doubt find peace that his last days were dignified and comfortable. They will hopefully find comfort that he was “exposed” to the most advanced and compassionate healthcare available.

I’m not saying hospitals are being heartless but providing a wheelchair becomes ironic and disingenuous when a 70 year old patient is allowed to suffer from exposure and near frostbite. I was in the same elements for a shorter duration and in an appropriate winter coat and I couldn’t wait until I reached my frozen car. This gentleman was under dressed and unable to access proper shelter or even stamp his feet to provide a sense of warmth.

I don’t know how we get around ridiculous rules but I would suggest those who are making them spend 6 minutes in a wheelchair, in a jacket, in minus 20 degree weather. It may provide enough exposure to uncover enough empathy to enable true compassion if not sense.

Her hands were huge and I often marveled at the contrast between red painted nails and a bale of hay being hurled about.

I’m not one to gossip for I know its sting. My step-mother was a sheep rancher or shepherd depending on your latitude. She was a remarkably physically hard working woman even into senior years. She had the misfortune of hands larger than most men. She wore gloves to my father’s funeral and I found nothing but comfort and strength there.

I was doing a flooring job in a stranger’s home and two people were talking about her and finding disgust in her thick fingers. I listened to her being belittled on not much more than her hands. Those hands helped deliver lambs, those hands bottle fed orphans. Those hands nourished and comforted my father, brothers and self. Her hands were huge and I often marveled at the contrast between red painted nails and a bale of hay being hurled about. It was a childhood paradigm shift. Femininity could be included with the strengths I was then aware of.

To be thick of finger is a badge of honour in my world. I was and I know many people who toil with their hands. Many layers of my flesh are a slowly built temple to tasks I have accomplished. I used to even have calluses on my knees. Today one of the few to remain is on my finger. It sits next to my pen as I think in ink and clarify among the bits and bytes that connect and confuse.

In case you’re wondering if I stood up and defended my step-mother, I did not. I knew the individuals would know my father’s name if they knew her. I left them my business card.

Gratitude in the Gravy

I am beginning to take Thanksgiving and similar holidays for granted but I still consider them granted. I have had dozens of such days denied in the past. I was a turkey in a cage wishing and wondering about the real ones steaming on family tables. I had occasions of special meals delivered on plastic trays and the flavour was not lost on me but it is family and friends that provide the true seasoning and season.

We had our turkey and cranberry on Sunday. My digestive system seemed to defy probabilities and several pounds of gravy and goodness all but vanished. By 9:00 PM I was hungry again. I popped a pair of Eggo waffles in the toaster which seemed like putting whipped cream on a Frisbee but I like Eggo’s. I hadn’t had an Eggo in about a year and as I waited for it to toast I started to reminisce. The butter on my knife and bottle of real maple syrup reminded me of the days of substitution.

Grocery shopping used to be calculations and unfulfilled cravings. After I met my wife, her wage bulged the budget and foods I longed for made it past the checkout. Grocery shopping became an exciting excursion and a measure of happiness. It was more entertainment than expense and added to creativity in the kitchen. These days grocery shopping is still a pleasant experience but as I bag perogies and produce I walk away wondering which is infused with precious metal. I am grateful we can afford avocados but I wonder about others for whom a healthy diet is unaffordable.

I ate my Eggo’s and thought about days without but I smiled because I have in fact been given a gift. Had I not done without family gatherings and grocery luxuries I would have not licked the maple syrup off my plate.

Dear God, Thanks for Thanksgiving and please consider my syrupy smile gratitude for groceries. Amen

Catherine Zeta Jones

An anti-stigma campaign I follow on Twitter sent me a message that “Actress Catherine Zeta Jones has been living with bipolar for several years and rejects any stigma attached to it.” Easy for her to say. It was further Tweeted that Catherine Zeta Jones says there is “no shame in seeking help.” For someone with fame and finances this might even be true.

For Catherine Zeta Jones, mental health stigma and treatment are vastly different from the experiences of many who also suffer from mental illness. For her being open about her diagnosis and experiences is at least unintentional personal publicity. As they say: There is no such thing as bad press. In the case of celebrities a personal persona and public appetite is created and nourished by being a news story. It would appear that Catherine Zeta Jones has thrown herself in front of an oncoming car for the benefit of many but I would argue that the car has already driven by. The lack of blood and guts, spell evidence.

Catherine Zeta Jones is portrayed as some patron saint of bipolar but what has she really risked? Stigma is at a point that it is rarely rolled out for the famous. I am not inferring that there is no such thing as stigma but little if any cuts through fame and favour. Call me cynical but these revelations don’t seem to affect these individuals beyond increasing their brand, public persona and popularity.

If I’m depressed in bed or manic at the mall, am I apt to seek help or find relief in Catherine’s revelations? The rubberneckers look but the rest of us are too busy trying to survive. These celebrities don’t give interviews in their underwear next to dust bunnies; they follow a loose script in their personal libraries in Bermuda. Speaking of which, what meds do I take to find myself in Bermuda with a maid?

I think “Catherine The Great” has been a source of conversation around mental illness but I would argue that her battle with stigma is similar to Don Quixote who mistakes windmills for giants and charges at full speed. My suspicion is that stigma is a word, for Catherine Zeta Jones. For many stigma is no windmill but a true giant. It affects self image, personal and family relationships, employment and status.

When I think about bipolar I don’t envision a person like Catherine Zeta Jones who uses overpriced shoes for bookends because they’re too cute for closets. In my world people with bipolar have their shoes taken away so they can’t asphyxiate themselves with the laces.

I imagine Catherine’s experience with mental illness has been challenging and difficult but in the scheme of things we are talking about First World problems in comparison to Third World problems. Did she have to wait six months to see a psychiatrist? Were the chairs in the waiting room plastic or leather? Did she have to wonder if she could afford her medication? Was she worried about missing work? Did she have to resort to disability assistance to feed herself?

I’m waiting for one of these famous sacrificial lambs to tell us about their hemorrhoids. That experience is the same for us all and if I knew Catherine Zeta Jones used “Preparation H” I could actually hold my head higher at the pharmacy. There’s little fame in swelling so I shall suffer in silence.

Laying Eggs, Lifting Lumber and Other Painful Moments

I went to visit my mother and step-father today. Being a quadragenarian makes one susceptible to the company of septuagenarians. I don’t know about others but such terms make me feel like something with a pin through its back on a specimen board. Earning my grade 12 diploma in my thirties obliges me to borrow obtuse and pretentious phrases but in my heart I mean forty and seventy.

My mother mentioned she had a couple of errands in town and since I had ingested a meal I felt obliged to assist. Our first stop was a TSC store which is a farm store. I like TSC stores. My roots are rural and I have pleasant memories when I can browse work boots, pellet guns and fencing. Mom wanted to pick up some chicken feed for her several hens. I was there just to check things out but I found myself next to a 50 pound sack of chicken feed. It suddenly became clear why chickens produce more poop than protein. I’m fairly logical and literal and I stood in disbelief at the size of the bag. I was expecting something about the size of an egg carton. If what goes up must come down then it stands to reason that what goes in should come out. Apparently I had failed agricultural arithmetic.

I looked at my mother. I looked at the feed and again looked at my mother. I waited for what seemed like minutes expecting her to grab the bag and get on with it. She didn’t budge. She mentioned that she usually uses one of the carts which were in the vicinity. It was a subtle challenge and I grabbed the bag and awkwardly threw it over my shoulder. It became a bad idea about halfway to the checkout. I struggled with the weight and my legs were wobbling. I bumped into the display of garden seeds and frantically searched for my mother. I have never wanted to pass an object as much since I was running down the football field in high school with fierce athletes on my heels. Like then I was on my own. I suddenly didn’t want to be at TSC. Normally I would be cursing but I kept telling myself there are eggs in butter tarts and biscuits. My mother is an exceptional cook. I wanted to explain she could obtain the same results with store bought eggs but I needed to save what little breath I had.

I made it to the checkout sweating profusely. I wanted to ask the cashier why the damn batteries were near the door but the 50 pound sacks of cat, dog and chicken feed were in the back corner. Fighting back tears of frustration I asked the woman if they guaranteed that my dog would lay eggs if I fed this to her. Not missing a beat she retorted with “not in writing.” It seemed she was trained to deal with difficult customers.

I was spent but we had to make a stop at the local lumber store. I like lumber stores. Trees are one of the few things that smell good when they’re dead. I entered the store without trepidation as I know they have employees who load your larger purchases.

We backed up near the loading bay with our slip of dead tree which is used to inform the yardman that you want more dead tree. I turned the car off and looked at my mother. She didn’t budge. I flung open the door. “Seriously?” “This is ridiculous and repetitive.” I met the yardman with curses on my lips and we nearly ended up with lattice and a bag of cement. I finally sputtered darn board and he clued in and climbed the shelving to fetch some barn board. I couldn’t quite understand why he was making money sliding two boards off a shelf while I had to drag it across the parking lot to the car. I pinched my hand between the boards which sent me off on a tirade. “She probably wants me to cut and nail this crap as well…I’m in hell.”

Joking aside and as lazy as I am there is a degree of defeat in doing favours for my family. I give up on any sense of balance when I look back at all the jail visits and court appearances. I can’t compete with lawyer’s fees, canteen money and a roof over my head. There have been so many meals and forms of love that can’t even be logically listed.

Chickens are like children. We put bags of food into them and usually end up with more crap than accomplishments but love isn’t logical. Like an egg it forms naturally and sustains, fortifies and is often made into something nearly as wonderful as my mother’s butter tarts.