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.

Ignoring inflation it cost $550 000 dollars to deal with my mental illness institutionally.

I read an article in the London Free Press regarding policing and mental health. In a survey Londoners were asked :

“What do you think is the most important crime-related or policing problem facing the community and London police?”

Mental illness replaced downtown safety/bar issues in the top five. Why do Londoners believe that mental health is a police concern? If physical health is not a police concern why is mental health? If diabetics deserve doctors from start to finish why wouldn’t people with mental illness? If we are ever going to view mental illness differently we need to insist on medical interventions rather than law enforcement interventions. Part of the problem is the widespread perception that mental illness is synonymous with dangerousness.

Less than 3% of violence is attributable to mental illness in the absence of substance abuse. If ever we notice someone we suspect as hearing voices or disoriented in their thoughts or actions or somewhat delusional we might cross the street. The truth is that on both sides of the street 97% of our vulnerability to violence comes from the people who have no mental illness. People with mental illness are more often the victims of crime than the perpetrator.

When we allow law enforcement to administer to a health concern it is little wonder that the health concern becomes stigmatized, related to crime and associated with violence. If the police escorted diabetics to the hospital we would all have similar impressions about diabetes. Consider what we visualize, assume, think, feel and understand about mental illness. Now imagine having similar perceptions for a cancer patient. It would be unfair to the diabetic person or the individual with cancer but for the mentally ill it is as it would be for others with other illnesses; a barrier to treatment and a difficulty of rehabilitation.

Five years of my life have been spent under 24 hour care 7 days a week in an institution. Ignoring inflation it cost $550 000 dollars to deal with my mental illness institutionally. If a tenth of that money was used for comprehensive treatment in my youth, I might not be writing this.

A mental health clinician paid $60 000 dollars per year could have treated me for one hour a day for 70 years.
If we continue to fund and access policing and correctional measures to deal with mental illness we will forever feed the wrong end of the cow.

We do not fight cancer by building more cemeteries.(King)

When I first started living in the community after the forensic hospital I saw a psychologist once a week, a specialized therapist once a week and my psychiatrist at least once a month. Those supports were needed initially and they would have been expensive but it was nowhere near the near $350 dollars a day it cost to keep me in an institution. People can be monitored and treated in their own homes.

I could simply say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure but people might miss the point.

We leave mental illness unanswered and instead we deliver services mainly in times of crisis. Figure out the cost of an ambulance, two police officers and a truck or two of firefighters to respond to a suicide call and with any luck deliver that person to an emergency room and possibly a psychiatric unit for an indefinite period.

Now figure out how much it would cost for a therapist to prevent it in the first place.

If the financial realization is not enough for you consider letting heart disease progress to the point where invasive measures were necessary. With every other illness we prescribe the greatest amount of medicine at the beginning because to let any illness worsen is more devastating, difficult and expensive to treat. The social costs are immeasurable.

If you were ask a child how she feels about her father finding the best treatment for his heart she would likely answer the same for helping her father with schizophrenia. The best medicine at the beginning is not rocket science.

We are stupid to continue as we do but we are wrong and inhumane to do nothing.

People line up to test their bodies but we flee the very thought of having to do so with our minds and emotions.

I came close to not being here a couple of times. The last and more serious time was before my since ten year struggle with justice. When I came to from my comma I was seeing perfectly clear double vision. My eyes cleared up within hours but I still keep a form of double vision.

Since I awoke that night I have survived solitary confinement, abuses, humiliations, abandonment, illness, betrayal, loss, terror, prejudice, stigma, hate, and poverty to degrees that would make them each significantly difficult on their own.

If I knew what I was going to be experiencing for over a decade I would have employed a method closer to a moving train. When I look at my experiences since my last suicide attempt I see great pain, untold sorrows and defeat after defeat. I also have the perspective to recognize the unique mixture of love and friendship that is woven into these experiences as well.

My best friend for a few years was a 330 pound forensic patient. Ed had been shot by the police in a fairly justified manner. Some people were afraid of Ed. He wasn’t pretty, sometimes smelled and had a huge voice.

Ed died about this time years ago. He was living in an apartment, practicing to get a new driver’s license and he drank coffee and smoked too much. I miss Ed but it doesn’t hurt much when I think of him these days. When I think and try to balance all the bad things that have happened with the good, I can’t. There is too much of each.

Maybe it’s like a marathon. People endure taxing the limits of their physical capabilities for a ribbon. People line up to test their bodies but we flee the very thought of having to do so with our minds and emotions. When I think of Ed he is so much more than a ribbon. I had to endure and struggle to subsequently meet many individuals. Ed was one and I am sharing the Eulogy I wrote about and for him at his memorial service:

His name is Ed and he’s my best friend. He’s been my best friend since he gave me his apple the first meal I had on the Fallen Angel Unit (Forensic Assessment Unit). At that time apples meant love and he gave me his. We didn’t say a word to each other as we ate our replica meals and I probably should have been afraid of his three hundred plus pounds but he gave me his apple. From that day on Ed has been nothing but generous to me. As I write this my belly is still full of the soup he made and shared with me in his apartment and my veins course with nicotine from the pack of cigarettes he gave me tonight. I visit Ed most days in the community. He has a small apartment and it is a great getaway for both of us. We are both weary of hospitals and nurses and cameras and crappy food and shared toilets and little or no privacy. Ed and I share more than meals, we share our experiences. We talk about what has happened to us sometimes, usually he more than me, but we share it in silence always. We sit together and know we have each been in Holes and siderooms and handcuffed and shackled, he more than me. Ed’s story spans twenty-five years; his last battle has been seven years. My whole experience with the law has only been seven years. Ed reminds me of how good I have it, literally at times.

When I was on the Fallen Angel Unit for my Assessment Ed and I would sit in the smoking room and rule. We were two that truly had our heads, or so it seemed to me, and we were both personable. Ed would give me his pouch of tobacco and let me roll cigarettes whenever I wanted. Every morning we would be the first two into the room. I would have a huge manic smile on my face waiting for him. We liked each other for some reason or maybe for no reason. I think because I don’t talk much and am fairly quiet Ed likes me. I am generous back to Ed. He has no wheels so I run the odd errand for him getting groceries or Thursday night fish and chips.

When I came to the Forensic Treatment Unit Ed would become one of my dorm mates. Ed would lie in his bed on his back and rock his head back and forth for about an hour. This was his stress reduction and I think he picked it up somewhere in his twenty odd years of incarceration. Ed was a good dorm mate; he always had food to share and a pair of shoes to sell.

I could write a whole book about Ed, he is full of stories. Ed spends his days smoking and drinking coffee and knows everything about everyone and if he doesn’t, he is not shy about asking. “Where are you going Brett?” “Where were you Brett?” What did you have for supper has to be one of his favourite questions. Sometimes I resent the invasion into my privacy as I don’t know how to be rude and say mind your own business. I also realize he doesn’t go anywhere or do anything so news is his only entertainment.

“Well you got out of here for the weekend, that’s the main thing, good for you.” Ed is always genuinely happy for me and any progress I make as far as privileges. He also gives me hell for not pushing for more. “When are you going to ask for ‘Live in the Community’ Brett?” “Soon” I answer. He says I should be out of here and we both know it is true but the system is what the system is. It is like a cold, there is no cure it just has to run its course.

Ed befriended me when I was most ill. When everyone else pulled away, Ed was my friend. I wasn’t aware of the fact that I needed anyone but I think he was. Ed didn’t look compassionate but he was. Ed lived in the present and appreciated things as simple as a cigarette, a coffee or a burger.

I have learned more about generosity from Ed than from any combination of people in my life. He really didn’t have anything but what he did have he shared. I was definitely on the receiving end of more meals and coffee’s than I was able to repay. I don’t think Ed kept track but I regret not being able to repay some of that generosity.

Ed used to call me every day. What did you have for supper Brett? Ed was a little preoccupied with food but it was one of his few pleasures. Food becomes a very important part of your life when you are incarcerated. Most days the high point of your day or a significant marker for time is a meal. To receive little or no satisfaction from that meal, undermines what little morale you can muster at times. I sometimes enjoyed telling Ed about my culinary habits when I shifted from eating out of a can to actually preparing meals. I think Ed’s cooking inspired me to do some myself. I’m glad Ed was able to eat what he liked in his final years.

Ed was an outgoing and friendly person. He knew many names and felt emotion for what he perceived were injustices in others circumstances. This is empathy. Ed was rich with friends and I was blessed to be one.

Ed seemed obstinate and defiant towards what he would deem as his oppressors, many who would say they were simply helping Ed but we don’t know exactly how Ed perceived things and it is his perception of events that coloured his actions. If a man feels truly wronged as Ed often did then it is in his right to pursue some means of remedy. Ed usually went within his rights and sought out legal avenues to remedy the wrongs he perceived. Some would argue he wasn’t always rational in these pursuits but imagine the emotion involved in defending your rights as a person. Ultimately Ed wanted autonomy, he didn’t want to be needled, literally, he wanted to be left in peace. I don’t find this to be anything but rational and it is unfortunate Ed is not here to enjoy the peace he now has. Ed has finally received his Absolute Discharge.

I have an apple for you Ed, somewhere, somehow I will get it to you.

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.

We Can Find A Limp In Anyone But Especially When We Use Our Own Gait As A Measure

I was checking out Twitter and clicked on a link to:

“6 Things That I Have Noticed About People Who Change and Recover From Mental Illness.”

I was excited by the prospect of change and recovery. After I battled with the Pop-Up screens where Barry Pearman was flogging his free book, the wind was knocked out of me. Barry’s first life changing “great stride” was:

1) They make their bed every morning.

Just before I was about to flush my anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers and anti-depressants down the toilet I thought about it for a minute. I started to wonder how many individuals Barry Pearman has seen change and recover. My next question was what the hell is Barry doing in all these bedrooms? Is he a sleuth or a slut?

According to Barry I shouldn’t “drift into the day” but like the Navy Seals who are renowned therapists in his world, I should start my day with “a drilled in positive habit.” I have had suicidal months and been immobilized by depression. It was not a matter of preferring to stay in bed; I in fact could barely get out. Had I owned a bedpan I would have used it. I have also been psychotic and my bed was as likely to have been a magic carpet as anything I would tidy and tuck.

Dear Barry,

If you are going to speak about mental illness please consider the vast array of degrees and diagnoses. What you consider positive may be worlds away from what I value or consider positive. I don’t make my bed for the same reason I do not do the zippers up on my pants when I fold and put them in the drawer. It is to me slightly illogical, a waste of my time and a pointless make work project. When I do not pull my sheets up and tuck them in each morning it enables me to refrain from pulling them back out each evening. You say illness I say efficiency.

I’m sure you’re sure I am destined to a state of illness but I personally look back at my life and see that I have “changed” my mental illness and I have enjoyed prolonged periods of recovery. Obviously this has nothing to do with making my bed.

I am as illiterate as you but in my estimation recovery is not always a destination. Further, it is my belief that recovery is a highly personalized process that can be different for each of us. I can look at another person with mental illness and “should” on them but their habits and efficacies can still qualify them as recovering or recovered. Some individuals with or without mental illness are comfortable to leave mustard on their shirts. We can find a limp in anyone but especially when we use our own gait as a measure. If any measure is to be used it must originate mainly in the individual. If an individual with or without mental illness is able to find meaning and arrive at whatever points of personal satisfaction they set out for themselves they are in no small way thriving. Is it “change” or recovery? I cannot answer that and neither “should” you.

Kind regards,
Brett

I Use Christ as a Benchmark and Pull Back the Arrow Once More

I was thinking about God and or specifically Jesus Christ. He was a remarkable figure and I in no way want to disparage or disgrace His Spirit or messages. Any who know me would assume that was a given.

To a degree I understand His sinless nature and I recognize that in giving His life I was spared. He should have been elevated and celebrated when He was alive but He died betrayed, abandoned and with something less than the dignity He deserved. That is part of the story and in no small way one of the reasons I am drawn to Him.

I was thinking, He was flesh and bone-a human-a man. My understanding is He knew what it meant to be human, excelled at it and was even exposed to temptation. At the same time “to err is human.” His sinless nature does not separate me from Him but in a subtle way it does. I take comfort that He understands my pain and struggles and I believe He is often a presence in my life. I was simply wondering if He really does understand me. He did not sin so possibly He does not know what it means to feel shame, guilt or regret. I think He knew and knows more about forgiveness than anyone before or after but did He know about extending forgiveness to self?

I’m not saying the story would have been better if when He hit His thumb with the hammer He threw it, cursed and kicked the cat but I would have been drawn to that as well. Maybe it would have made His sacrifice impossible or impaired it somehow but if I knew He said, “Wow, that was stupid of me” or “sorry I messed up, I did not mean to hurt you but I have.” “I failed there but I will do better next time.” That would have inspired me to do better as well.

Maybe it would relieve some of the pressure to do and be perfect. To never sin is a worthy aim but to miss the mark often hones the aim and creates efficacy. I keep trying because I do miss the mark. I would sit on my sorry ass if I hit it the first time. I do not throw my hands up and say “I have fallen short, it’s over, I am disqualified.” I use Christ as a benchmark and pull back the arrow once more.

I say and do the wrong things fairly consistently. I am a blind archer but in my heart I believe God finds satisfaction in my persistence. I have a conscience and I sometimes shake my head at myself but I also laugh at myself. I’m hoping God is so busy helping you that He doesn’t notice me. “What have you been up to Brett?” “Who me?” “Oh a little of this and a little of that-you know the usual.” “Maybe we should talk about that.” “Sure. I’ll pencil you in.” I hope Jesus and God get me. Humour aside, I do hope they watch me once in a while and say: “Well, at least he’s entertaining.”

With all due respect, thanks for making me think God.

Ontario Hospitals Need to Give Their Head a Shake

I wonder what goes through the minds of patients who are pushed off hospital property to smoke in the cold with the public driving by.

Am I to believe I am valued as a person when certain aspects of myself are banished? It is quite like making a child stand in a corner to contemplate their unacceptable behaviour. It becomes difficult to see the love and respect for patients when they are relegated to the road and rain coping as they know how and finding pleasure and escape in a cigarette. These individuals have serious and persistent mental illness and we are worried about them smoking? Privileged individuals are instituting their values on marginalized individuals. Some will never quit so I suggest we stop shaming them.

When I was a forensic patient I really didn’t want people knowing I was such. I found it humiliating having to ride in the “big white vans” because most people in St. Thomas knew where the “big white vans” were from. They were part of the community consciousness and on more than one occasion I heard the “big white vans” used as amusing putdowns.

Privacy is a premise of dignity. When I am placed beside the road like a pathetic pylon I eventually become recognizable to repetitive travelers and commuters. This scenario makes community integration difficult and it compromises patient safety. What if a prospective employer, landlord or lover recognizes me from standing beside the road five times a day? It makes what is already difficult more so. Will I find employment or a date if I am publicly exposed as belonging in a forensic hospital? Nobody deserves a scarlet letter let alone for an unhealthy habit. Are we compromising patient confidentiality by placing these individuals beside a public thoroughfare?

At the old forensic hospital a friend and I ordered a pizza on a summer’s evening. We decided to eat it at a picnic table in front of the hospital. We were well back from the highway but a car full of fools drove by yelling obscenities at us. Not all motorists are mature or well meaning. Some motorists barely know the meaning of a STOP sign but we expect they will comprehend and be sensitive to STIGMA? Forensic patients are prone to abuse and discrimination and placing them beside a road is nothing more than facilitation. Having these individuals within distance of garbage being hurled at them is dangerous and unfair. St. Thomas is fairly accepting of Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care but it only takes one.

When I become a fixture standing at the end of the lane leading to a forensic facility I become recognizable. If and when I am allowed to wander other avenues I am still recognizable. We might as well dip these smokers in orange dye to further accommodate their prospective discrimination. These individuals are already compromised and marginalized and I find it shameful that an organization with a mandate to assist them is in fact harming them.