Mental Illness Is Next Semester

It was brought to my attention from a learned friend that the University here in London has run into some publicity. The University of Western Ontario newspaper, the gazette, published a cartoon with words to the effect “Why are you so happy?” “My brother was really depressed, but he finally hung himself.”

My neighbour hung himself as did his sister. I had a relative commit suicide. Two good friends from my hospital years killed themselves. There were more but I was less familiar with them. Therein lays the problem, familiarity.

I can recall coming out of my 30 hour coma and my brother saying quite the opposite.

One of my first thoughts to this was why this was not considered as offensive as the chants condoning non-consensual sex with a minor that we have come to know through other places of higher learning. Are there actually people on talk shows defending this cartoon and its publication?

The defense of or minimization of this cartoon is in fact stigma. We don’t condone sex with minors but we condone making fun of minors who commits suicide and therefore infer those who have similar thoughts are laughable at best.

I read a comment in response to the cartoon from someone claiming to have suffered from depression. They saw humour in it. It can be a blessing to have depression that does not involve suicidal ideation. It is also a blessing to be on the side of mental health that has you on a message board making opinions. We need to consider the student in her room. The one who although beautiful and bright is unable to see her place, success or happiness in this thing called university. To her friends seem to belong to others and her isolation is found in crowded hallways. This young woman needs our help not our laughter. When she sees a publication representing her peers and the university community in general making light of the very thoughts in her head, she can only hang it in shame. She keeps quite, she masks, she isolates and her wounds become infected by our very words.

Crazy, out of it, best let be, she internalizes our attitudes and they become fuel for an ever unfavourable opinion of self. She becomes slang, she becomes a put down, she becomes a joke.

For those who see no error; no foul, it may be constructive to self reflect. It is possible your attitude of indifference or acceptance is stigma itself. To not be offended about this cartoon raises more questions about the self than about any larger argument. A joke is not funny because someone calls it a joke. If it was a race, a sex or even a sexual orientation, students would have signs about the campus. Mental illness is next semester or an elective at best.

You can call me thin skinned but as likely we have grown thick in apathy. It was only a cartoon, there must be larger fights; maybe so but you have to stop the dog from digging before you can fill in the hole.

There was humour in the underage sex chants, no one meant any harm. A nation said no. An institution said no. If we are to combat one of the worst side effects of mental illness we must again say no.

We can be forgiving of all this. We are all learning, students more so. We need to impress on our students that the pages they write on are empty if not saturated by their humanity and the fine things they already know. To make grades is a worthy aim but if respect, love and compassion are left in lockers they are only ink on a page. We all make mistakes but if compassion, love and respect are woven into them, they can never be called failures.

I drive by the University of Western Ontario most days. Hope walks past my car when I wait at the light. The young men and women I see carry the cures, the solutions and they are being carved to make the decisions that will shape a future that I may reside in and surely my blood. We can be disappointed in what is instilled in a generation but the responsibility belongs to us all. How can we expect our children to have the discretion to not make light of the suffering of an illness when we laugh at the same jokes?

I suspect this news will not hit the funny bone of the roughly 4000 Canadian families who are affected by suicide each year. We can only hope they are too busy running fingers over old photographs to see this story.

It is not my place but it seems to me if resignations were in order at universities where chanting was heard, the same might be in order at a broader distribution of offensive utterances. As a solution to the very stigma they spread, those responsible should step aside. Your peers can only have respect at your active acknowledgement that mental health stigma is wrong; unacceptable.

Lend Me Your Ear

I was thinking about idioms. Fair game for an idiot. I thought maybe mental health stigma is a series of idioms. We all have little messages floating about in our heads. It could be “a dime a dozen” or “a picture paints a thousand words” but it is as likely to be “schizophrenia equals dangerousness” or “depression is anger turned inwards.”

It’s all nonsense if you shift your perspective. A dime a dozen means easy to get but scarcity can be just as costly. Ten cents for a dozen seeds would seem precious to a man feeding his family. Why do we cling to only the one meaning?

A picture paints a thousand words insinuates the visual is more descriptive than words. As a writer I am biased but I put forward the challenge for any artist to paint what I say with these 600 words. Take your time.

“Schizophrenia equals dangerousness” is statistically false.

And “depression is anger tuned inward” only makes: “happiness is anger turned outward” as true.

We assume the world is full of absolutes as our very bodies swim in flux upon a spinning object.

Impressions and ideas are filtered through knowledge, experience and emotion but we assume it drops cleanly in our laps. Many of our ideas are fouled by knowledge, experience and emotion. It is often only a version. I share my life with a Doberman Pincer. It is usually with me 24 hours a day. If anyone knows her, I do. My favourable opinion of her is clouded by my emotions such as love…I literally kiss the mess. Others see her differently. People sometimes cross the street and I had one couple following us stop in their tracks as she did her business. They could have passed but that would have lessened the distance. Their ideas of a Doberman were filtered through what? A photograph, a movie, TV show or headline? We can stand back and see who is more informed as to what a Doberman is. I have lived with her, taken food from her mouth and had her obey only a motion or noise I make. She is More Bark Than Bite.

Watch a film with a character suffering from schizophrenia next to a real person also afflicted and it all seems like a cartoon. I wonder what is worse, to live with the illness or have a world blind to your humanity and very feelings. You wonder about the idiom and why it is not called a contradiction.

There is a large difference between an idiom and mental health stigma. Only one hurts. Only one bestows suffering upon those who suffer, only one demeans and only one pushes people away. When we see someone with a limp, we notice. When we see someone with mental health symptoms we form opinions and ideas. Pity is replaced with prejudice. We rarely gossip about, point at, laugh at or discount the person with the limp. What slows us from learning that it is offensive to do so with a mental symptom? We must see more than consonants to make sense of a word as we need more than a word to make sense of an idiom. Schizophrenia, depression, bi-polar, OCD or ADHD are not idioms. We are not meant to take meaning from only these single words. They must be linked with descriptors such as son, daughter, aunt, father or sister. These illnesses are deserving of a shift in perspective, they are worthy of more consideration and expanding respect.

I apologize as this was written Against The Clock. It is probably All Greek and like Beating A Dead Horse but we’re All In The Same Boat and are equally vulnerable to having the same Axe To Grind. If I have offended, keep in mind there is a Method To My Madness.

Realigious

I was looking over some jail letters I wrote years ago. My mother, an aunt and a family friend saved all the letters I wrote during my confinements. It’s interesting to read my observations and perspectives. I saw much more than bars when I was behind them. I learned lessons that the same time in school may never have yielded. I wrote the word “parity” and its definition on January 16, 2002. “A state of being equal and a theory in physics that any substance and its mirror image counterpart have the same physical properties.” I would like to argue against this theory as any mirror I stand in front of has less hair and more weight than I know I posses but I see its truth. A rock in front of a mirror is nothing more or less than itself. It has cracks and has no reason to deny them. It will not lose stature as a rock if it reflects flaws.

I am not always pleased with my receding hairline but it is mine. I can still smile with it, I can carry a conversation; it really doesn’t take away from who or what I am. When I can recognize myself as I am; full of warts but fine thanks just the same I can be who I am. It is more reflection and less deception when I can see myself as light and dark. When we see our true substance and the mirror image as the same it in fact creates “parity” itself. “The state of being equal.” If I see myself as I truly am there is no maneuvering into being better or worse than others. We are all the same.

There is little need to be anything in solitary confinement; the Hole. Whatever you are is all you live with. There is no need to say or do anything to alter your position as there is no one to posture for. I often crawled about my small space scratching notes on my papers and upon the walls and floor. My life had more importance than any time I was a free man. There was nothing to fear in nothingness. What would fester in your mind if it had nothing to occupy it? What if there was no phone, computer or company? Who and what do you connect with when you are the one and only for days, weeks or was it months? When it was just me most of my thoughts had spiritual significance. Realigious experiences and perspectives are often a symptom of mental illness. Maybe some are but wouldn’t that make God crazy?

“Shotgun”

I remember when I was finally transferred from jail to the forensic hospital. As I exited the jail handcuffed and shackled I was at first struck by the open space. Being transferred is usually pleasant and a little like watching a movie. You see and hear things you are unaccustomed to. Green grass or the sound of tires on pavement. There were several jail nurses sitting at a table outside on break. I bowed my head and thanked them. They did what they could.

I climbed into the kennel of the transfer van. It was basically like being a bean stuck to the inside of an empty tin can. I didn’t have much of a view and can recall no landmarks. I knew I was heading to St. Thomas but did not recognize the fact until we parked.

After I left college and my lifelong dream of being a Conservation Officer, I applied to several police forces. At that time there were many more interested in police work than were ever hired. I did have one interview. It was with the St. Thomas Police Force.

I should have been more specific when I prayed to ride in a police vehicle in St. Thomas. I should have specified it was the front seat I was interested in. I’m pretty good at reading people and I sensed that the two officers who transferred me would be unappreciative of me yelling “Shotgun.”

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

Richard Kachkar did kill Toronto police Sgt. Ryan Russell. Which of us from either side of the issue should question the verdict a jury is reaching or has reached? They have ingested all the evidence. Their knowledge of the facts goes far beyond what most of us ascertain from the news.

When a Toronto Mayor speaks to the media about a case before the courts and essentially does his best to influence anyone, we must begin to ask for whom else will he cry in the streets? If my son is murdered within his walls of jurisdiction will he tell us all what to think?

Consider the number of actual facts in your head Mr. Ford. What is your knowledge of mental illness? What is your knowledge of forensic psychiatry, were you present in court to hear all the testimony? I’m making assumptions but given the odds I suspect Mayor Rob Ford may not be in possession of many facts. We all know Sgt. Ryan Russell, one of Toronto’s finest, was murdered. We are all saddened by it. To use your good name to further some personal view is at least inappropriate. Will the Mayor be waddling up to the media for all our court cases? I would think not. Possibly he can stand back as he should and agree with the daily process of law.

Why wouldn’t he assume the truth would prevail?

Why wouldn’t he first assume the court system is working?

Why wouldn’t he assume the whole process of legal representation, medical testimony and judicial direction was followed to the point of fairness we all agree on?

I must trust in the jurors finding. I may not agree with the finding but protest has no influence on the process. I must also be comfortable with the fact that any error in testimony either professional or otherwise was brought to light. If being a juror and your contributions are held in contempt by society they will start making decisions that are closer to public sentiment and further from the truth.

We have to ask ourselves if someone acts out in some tragic incident only because of being influenced by delusional thinking we want to punish or enact some form of revenge on them. Any of us could be one of the numbers of people who get into struggles with the health of their brain. The monsters we see reflected in certain news circles are in fact men and women who have a mental illness. Were it not for this illness you would not know them. It is doubtful if any would crash with the law if they were healthy.

It is fortunate we are talking about a very small percentage of people because there is no immunity.

We can turn to the government to create some law more “just” but in your rush to do so I would not recommend running to the government with knowledge of only one case. If your disagreement comes from little information or biased information you might hope your fellow citizens don’t go running to the government to change something they don’t completely understand.

It’s time to turn and heal.

Solitary Confinement

I have changed the header image on my blog. I wanted to find an image of solitary confinement. As prisoners we refer to it as the Hole or the Digger. I have written about it but reference to it does little to provide a realistic impression.

I couldn’t find an exact replica of the confines I called home off and on for months but this one comes close.

The Hole I resided in was smaller. The Hole I resided in had no raised bed; only a mattress on the floor. I was made to drag my mattress from my cell each morning and left with only a blanket. At night I was permitted to drag it back in. The Hole in the photo has a stool and raised desk area; these too I was without. The mirror on the wall was also missing. The stainless steel toilet sink combination is identical. When I was permitted to shave and shower I was taken to the medical range. The “window” you see in the photo was also absent which though minor may have given the impression I was not alone. For “security” reasons I lived under a 24 hour light. My Hole was cleaner when I wasn’t writing on its walls but it too had no wallpaper border.

ManyPRISON___Solitary_Confinement_by_AKRadish forensic clients spend time in these confines. I am familiar with one who spent a year in isolation but was allowed his mattress and a checker board. Obviously he was spoiled.

I share this image not for your sympathy but in the hope it will elicit outrage. The Hole is Corrections Canada’s response to severe mental illness.

Bill C-54 will find more individuals suffering from severe mental illness abandoned to these confines. Please have the courage to stand by my side. It is our only hope in leaving the Hole empty as it should be.

This is Canada; this is shameful. We yelp about stigma while our feet are soaked with the shame of abuse. I can forgive and forget someone who calls me “crazy” but those who torture the mentally ill will never pass from my mind.

 

Help From the Hill

I spent some time on Friday trying to ascertain how I might become involved with Bill C-54. I did receive some guidance from my Member of Parliament’s office (see Curriculum Vitae) but was essentially directed to the Minister of Justice. This is where I began. I called Minister Rob Nicholson’s office (613- 995-1547) to get more specific answers. Since Mr. Nicholson also has a constituency I made the mistake of not calling the Justice Department he heads. Interestingly, the first answer or rather question was “What is Bill C-54?” It’s not really their shtick so I wasn’t surprised. I was advised to call the Ministry of Justice as they could answer my questions. I did so. “Could you give me some more information on Bill C-54?” “I don’t think that’s a Justice Bill…it’s not ringing a bell…just a minute.” The Justice Department can be forgiven for not knowing what Bill C-54 is. There are 360 Bills before parliament presently. This includes the 33 introduced by the senate. The majority are sponsored by individual MP’s. The Minister of Justice has introduced 8. I would be unable to keep 8 Bills straight so how can I expect someone who is paid to. Once it was confirmed that Bill C-54 was in fact a Justice Bill I was directed to a website where I could peruse the Bill itself. “How do I get involved in the processing of Bill C-54?” “You’ll have to ask Parliament of Canada.” “What is the next step for this Bill?” “You’ll have to ask Parliament of Canada.” 1-866-599-4999 pulled me into an automated loop with a busy signal through which I was eventually put on hold for 10 minutes. I ended up with a more cheerful voice who spouted off the next 8 or so steps for the Bill. “How do I get involved in the processing of Bill-C-54?” “You would have to get in touch with Minister Nicholson’s office.” “I spoke to his office and the Justice Department.” “I’ll connect you.” I got the office answering machine as visions of secretaries hiding under their desks flashed through my mind. I felt I had made enough of a pest of myself and was conscious of taxpayers’ dollars; besides I had an appointment to bang my head against the closest wall so I left no message.  Maybe we need a Canadian embassy in Canada to help citizens when they need to interact with their own government?