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.

Volunteers

It was my honour to be the guest speaker at Elgin Middlesex Detention Center this evening. It was a dinner and awards banquet for the many fine people who volunteer there.

For me it was like entering jail for the first time in a way. Everything was pleasant but I had never been in the front door. It was full of the same uncertainty. What’s beyond that door? How long before this one opens?

The gymnasium was decorated and had a theme; there was live music and great food. A lot of time and enthusiasm went into honouring the volunteers. When I went up to speak I felt somewhat small. Prior to my words, awards were given for years served. Thirty-years are a tough act to follow.

I had intended to write some words specific to the volunteers but had a speech land in my lap weeks before. A family friend returned a stack of letters I had written years ago from a correctional facility. I spoke words I wrote years ago with a voice I hope conveyed the same gratitude.

October 19th 2002

Dear friends,

I am including a copy of a speech I delivered. I ended up speaking in front of 200 people. The Volunteer dinner was an even bigger deal than I imagined. It was all amazing to me. I was among people who don’t dress in orange but more importantly didn’t seem to be bothered that I did. I was eating olives, deep fried veggies, bacon wrapped pineapple and sausages. It was a smorgasbord of special foods I won’t see again for half a year. They even brought in the Honour Guard. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I first saw them. I thought it was six OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) wading through the reception area.

How is it that a jail becomes a place of contemplation, transformation and insight?                Volunteers.

What astounds or confounds me most about volunteers is that we are not judged. You give your time to the barely sober, the unsuccessful, the lost, the poor, the uneducated and the lonely; there are no exceptions. You include us in your lives and share your experience, strength and hope with people who sometimes have none.

Why do you give of yourselves? Is it some moral duty or obligation? I can only guess it is a form of love; a love and respect for yourselves, a love and commitment to your community and love and compassion for us here at Ontario Correctional Institute.

Volunteers break our isolation from the world and give us a glimpse of what we can look forward to. You provide a link with normalcy and the outside as well as with reality and the future.

Collectively what goes on here is amazing. Lives are saved and many more are changed to a point where we can progress in health within society. What you do here has no ending. You will never see how I am with my children or how I treat family and friends. To those of you who have spent years as volunteers I am very much inspired. To have not grown tired of our stories, to see the same attitudes once again and yet walk forward with hearts to help. As a group we are in dire need of an example – thank you for providing one.

With your help I am not ashamed of myself or discouraged by my mistakes. I can see that these mistakes have been an important factor in my life`s progress. I would have loved to forgo some of my journey. I would have gladly turned away from my problems and denied their existence. You have helped me confront myself, to see myself. To see the warts on the man I was and the light on the man I am becoming.

By talking and sharing I heal. You make my experiences more real by listening to them, and give me something to contrast them with. You lead me beyond myself. Equally important you show me. You show me what it means to give, to be human. You lead me with your example. I can see now that my purpose in life is collective, it is community not individual. You have helped me with a new view of life; insight by insight.

I`m not sure how you view yourselves but I think a principle of physics applies here. It is that the greatest effects come from the smallest causes. We are in critical moments of our lives and some days everything hangs on what to you may appear to be a mere nothing but from which great things spring. Volunteers are the hidden sources, the smallest causes. I have had the good fortune to find my own guilt and have gained a sense of spiritual dignity from it; a sense of acceptance. I now believe the saying `Nobody can fall so low unless he has great depth. I am inspired to do my best.

I have some peace in here that I never had on the outside and am free in ways I never have been before. How is it I can find this in jail?      Volunteers.

The greatest gift to give a man is to give him Grace to live again.

Thank you for your time; thank you for your efforts; thank you for your Grace.

Can You Feel The Spinning Top?

I have been turning spinning top toys on my wood lathe. I am planning on taking an assortment West when I visit my niece and nephew.   My nephew is quite young and considering distance and exposure I am probably more stranger than kin. West is a plane trip so there are few visits.

In my mind I only met my great-grandmother once. I can still picture the rocking chair and sense the dimness of the corner she was near. What I recall most were her hands on my young face. She was blind for much of her life but I see lessons only a disability could teach.

I have learned that each face is different but we all feel the same. Rough, cold, smooth, sticky, hot and sharp feel the same to us all. Hunger, sadness and laughter are common experiences as well.

When I spin a top I can’t take my eyes away other than to glance at my watch as I time the odd good throw. I smile somewhere deep inside if not outwardly. I hope what I have shaped with my hands will touch my niece and nephew the same way. I hope they smile. Several of the tops are made from a discarded but well loved railing post. I picked it up for free and knew I wanted to use it for making tops. I told the woman who gave me the post that many hands would continue to touch this piece of wood.

I learned that we touch more than we see. The things we do and words we convey, even a simple gesture may seemingly touch only one person but like my great grandmother’s hands or the railing post how we make someone feel spins in perpetuity.

I hope to leave some sort of impression on my young niece and nephew. They won’t carry my picture or remember the words I have spoken to them but if I can connect them to the magic, suspense, and laughter that fly from a spinning top I think it might be like me running my hands over their faces.

Fathers

 

I helped a good friend put up an above ground swimming pool. He is not a wealthy man but he possesses many qualities worth stealing. He has a good heart and a sense of humour worthy of an hour drive.

My friend was pleased when we were finished but mainly for his children. I’m sure he can see the work and cost but a father sees more. A father can see forms floating and diving. A father can hear the splashing and screams of pleasure. A father feels the clinging hands at the thought of swimming with flesh and blood.

A father remembers his so it is easy to be one.

The Limestone Remains: The Care Continues

St. Joseph’s Health Care delivered an open house and official closing for the hospital that has housed thousands including myself. What would it have been like to be stationed there or employed there? I was legally obliged to be there which interfered with my perspective. I wonder at the impression the building made on others. When you are allowed to move freely through a building it has a different impact than when you are locked in.

I was surprised to see so many members of the public. I saw strollers and canes. I am pleased the public has no apprehension in entering these facilities when they are empty. I am hopeful it lessens their apprehension regarding the occupants.

The closing ceremony was very moving and meaningful. I was near the back as we proceeded down the hallway and out of the building. Lights were turned out and the doors slammed. I was in tears for part of the long walk down the hall. I was crying for people I know and for those I knew. I was crying for what I lost and for what I have gained.

I was given the honour of lowering the hospital flag. I wanted to keep the flag so I could scream to heaven to my good friend Ed – “we have captured the flag!” I realize there are no sides to this battle but it all seems like a victory for those who struggle with mental illness.

I know Ed is smiling down at the efforts of so many.

Thank you St. Joseph’s Health Care.

Dreams

Aside

Image

It has been an exciting and terrifying week for me. I was given the opportunity to speak at the opening of Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health. The audience included the premiere and health minister. To have been included was an honour. Sitting here today I am mindful of the fact that the very building we came together to celebrate sits in the path of where I circled hundreds of times on my bicycle. When I was not permitted to leave the hospital property I circled it on my brother’s bike.

Those days my dreams were to visit my brother’s home or ride my bike to Port Stanley. If you told me back then I would be included with dignitaries I would have fallen from my bike laughing. Maybe the lesson is to keep pedaling as you never know what’s around the next corner.

I would still be circling that hospital were it not for the staff. My progression from being a patient in the old facility to speaking at the opening of the new one involved the efforts of many. Some staff are obvious in my journey but I had the privilege of dealing with people who patients often don’t encounter but whose talents are felt throughout the system. You don’t need a stethoscope to demonstrate compassion, care and respect.

My terror was to be speaking but also my involvement with the media. I don’t know about other forensic clients but I have often been inclined to hide from the world. I don’t know how much is the stigma I actually feel and how much is what I imagine. Maybe it’s like an obvious birthmark; people do notice but not as much as we think. It’s hard to pull up a turtleneck to cover up your mental illness and involvement with the law. Coming out to my community in a visible way isn’t something I would have chosen to do a few years ago. There have been many times I only wished for anonymity. Again, you never know what’s around the next corner.

London Homeless Coalition

“King’s College Reaches Out to City’s Homeless.”
This is the headline provided by Londoner, a weekly newspaper that makes its way to my front door. I am interested in homelessness and read it.
“A few students from Kings University College are collecting donations to help with a memorial addressing issues of homelessness and the need for affordable housing in the city.”In conjunction with the London Homeless Coalition, students are raising funds for a memorial that aims to provide a space to remember those who passed away due to homelessness.“The memorial – a large uncut rock – will be located in Campbell Memorial Park.” The memorial will cost $ 15 000. So far, the London Homeless Coalition has raised $9 500.”
It is my belief that we do need to raise awareness regarding homelessness.
It is my belief that students can be the heart of community action.
It is my belief that there are many fine people who work hard fighting homelessness on its many fronts.
What I can’t believe is that a $15000 rock is what anyone (either dead or alive) who experiences homelessness would want you to do with $15 000 dollars. I think they might say buy us some candles so we can walk down the street in their memory and feed us with the rest.
The poor souls who lose their lives each year because of homelessness need to be recognized. Maybe that is the key to action but why don’t we have a little march and feed someone while we can.
I don’t even know where Campbell Park is but I would think a bronze umbrella would make a better memorial. At least the homeless could huddle beneath it to keep dry.
If homeless people need rocks, they can find them in their shoes!
I’m sure I have insulted more than a few people. My aim was to make us think before we insult the homeless. This government is as uncreative as any other. Let the only real hope of the homeless be a hand that feeds them. Londoner`s have been able to dig in their pockets for a fair chunk of change. Let it be a chunk of “change. “