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.

Gratitude

The electricity is out on my street this morning. Without realizing it, my routine revolves around volts and amps. Whether it is the coffee I drink or the furnace I depend on, many of my needs and most of my desires are dependent on things I cannot see.

I am guilty of not being grateful for the small things. “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” It has also been my experience that only when something ends or dies am I able to recognize the joy that saturated it. Whether it is the end of a friendship, love or a neighbour that moves away, in the midst of our days we sometimes fail to recognize or acknowledge the gift. When someone we love dies we can look back and see exactly what we had and what we will miss. It may be that we idealize the relationship or it could be we finally realize its value.

I remember being allowed my first drink in jail following the dreadful experience of being directed to go without food or water. I was in the semi-private toilet area and I wept. I was thankful but part of my emotion rose from the fact that in my thirty odd years I had never been grateful for a glass of water.

Following this episode I would pray and offer thanks to everyone who made my meal possible. I quietly thanked the farmer and even the steelworker who made the plow. My food tray was spotless minus the packet of salt on which I wrote my thanks to the inmates who worked in the kitchen.

It can be argued that I was psychotic but I do not believe one needs to lose touch with reality to be thankful. One needs only to look further into it.

 

How Many?

How many people from one group do you have to meet to form a truthful opinion of “them”?

If I know one Italian would it be enough?

If I knew 10 Catholics would it be enough?

If I knew 100 people with schizophrenia would it be enough?

Surely if my sample size was 1000 I would be able to form a clear picture of a group; or would I? Those thousand souls will always be comprised of individuals. Is it my duty to look past their idiosyncrasies and pull out commonalities? If I want to disparage them I must. I must look past the fact that they come from different neighbourhoods and communities. I must look past the fact that they are from different families. I must not be influenced by the fact that they have been exposed to a myriad of individual experiences. They may be shaped but it is in the form I wish to exploit for my prejudice.

We all have these little beliefs about groups. The Irish are ?, women are ? Homosexuals are ? For many the individuals who make up a group can only possess common traits. To look at individuals separately is too time consuming and not conducive to prejudice. To walk about with my head held high should not mean I look down on you.

I know of an individual who considers women to be worse drivers than men. Two minutes on Google or a phone call to his insurance agent would tell him otherwise but that would undermine the value of his stereotypical view. It is based more on his need to place his “type” above another. Knowledge sometimes means you must recognize your own shortcomings. This person may argue that he has interacted with well over a thousand women drivers but when we begin with a stereotype it clouds our perceptions. It’s like owning a new Toyota. Once you have one that’s mainly what you notice. You see what you know. A stereotype is similar in that the prejudice we “possess” illuminates our view of others. If the slow driver is female we shore up our attitude. If the slow driver is male we cast aside the anomaly. The male driver is misinformation which doesn’t fit with our worldview so we discard it.

The most interesting of stereotypes are those we hold when we don’t even know a single person from that group. This misinformation is passed between generations even. I am not pointing fingers as I have some of these stereotypes myself. How do we combat it? Some say we need education or exposure but do we see and learn something different or do we shore up old attitudes? How many people do you know who have been through the Forensic mental health system? Many of you can only point to me but I suspect you have ideas that fall far from me.

It seems as though stereotypes are a form of communication. When we say Homosexuals are effeminate we can share a common perception. If we were without prejudice and stereotypes how would we know what the other describes? If you mentioned something about the Irish and I didn’t own the stereotype that they are heavy drinkers I would know nothing about them. They would simply be a group of humans who happen to reside at a certain latitude. Heaven forbid that I should see and treat them as such.

Hair and a Long Snout

When you see the words forensic, criminal or bipolar near my name or face what does it make you think? Would you welcome me into your home? Would you let me watch your children? Would you stop and talk to me on the street?

Unfortunately we carry attitudes and assumptions based not on the specific situation but anything that resembles it. It is a shortcut to feeling secure. When someone is afraid of dogs it is unusual that it involves a specific breed. Anything with hair and a long snout will keep you at a distance.

Stigma is similar. It is an attitude held for everyone without making an informed decision regarding the specifics. We see the long snout and draw from our minds a series of barks. We do not trust or expose ourselves to the new information because it is safer to be mistaken and impoverished of the individual than it is to be exposed to the negatives the group has been identified with.

I was blonde when it wasn’t fashion and Dumb Blonde Jokes were plentiful. When we assume someone’s intelligence is co-related to hair colour we can chuckle at the absurdity. When we assume the mentally ill are dangerous or violent and that they should be institutionalized it has a direct impact on their treatment. Blondes weren’t being put back in school because people thought they were stupid. The mentally ill are affected by attitudes. If you cross the street what does an employer do? If you laugh at us what does the world do but laugh with you? If you close yourself off to the specifics of someone with a mental illness you may remain safe but you will be immersed in your own ignorance.

If you keep your distance from dogs you may never be bitten but you can be guaranteed you will never be licked.

Necessity

Is it human to seek despite what you have found? Even at the grocery store we don’t stop when we have what we need, we continue until we have everything on the list and then some. There is always one more record for the vinyl collection, one more place to visit or another gigabyte or pixel to be had.

Is it something in our ancestry; times of scarcity or are we being played? If compact disks weren’t marketed would we have any need to abandon cassettes? I won’t argue with the improvement but as necessity is the mother of invention I simply question the necessity. With all the “progress” in music formats why do audiophiles swear by vinyl? If vinyl is the pinnacle has the last 25 years of “progress” been for naught?

Without doubt some advances are clearly so (at present). I am satisfied that health care professionals wash their hands but how many people have been saved by Prozac and how many have died because of it?

Mental illness used to be locked in the attic or asylum; now it resides on the street or in prison. I fear we cannot see the forest for the trees. As we shake our heads at the past, so will the future at the present.

When mental illness is given the degree of respect we hold for physical ailments, change will be inevitable. Mental illness may not be locked in the attic but the window has only been cracked and the breeze of stigma still fills the room with its stench.

If I have cells in my brain that form a tumor I am one thing. If I have cells in my brain that chemically affect me I am another. We split much less than hairs and walk on the opposite side of the street.

We pride ourselves on our technological advancements but fail to see our compassionate stagnation. If only we valued new ideas, new thoughts and new attitudes as much as new products. If only we rushed out an obtained a new point of view as quickly as a Blu-ray. If only we could package and promote understanding and put ignorance to the curb with the garbage where it belongs we might see true progress.

The next time you reach for change in your pocket; ask yourself if it is the change you need to make.

Living In A Cave

I always marvel at people who have done something for decades. It could be an occupation, hobby or even a relationship. I can proudly boast to have breathed for such lengths of time but little else.

Is it some character flaw or am I inherently dynamic? Is it natural to be somewhat static or are we meant to be instruments and products of change?

If you look at technology and products, change seems to be an aim as much as a need to fulfill a present need. If you look at nature change seems to be part of the design. Mountains become hills, rapids brooks and trees soil. Death may seem to be static but a life lived carries forward in the hearts and minds of many. We ripple through the ages through family, friend and foe. A word spoken or a fist raised may weaken but does it die? If a poet inspires one person or a generation is it not somehow felt by the next?

Possibly, our notion that there is an end to something leads to carelessness. If you believe the gesture is simply that, it may be easier to be casual about it. If you believe it is a current that touches more than one shore, it may be prudent to be more tactful.

Have you ever scolded a child or pet? They are forgiving and resilient but what is said remains lurking somewhere in their minds. They may not cower at the next consonant but what do they carry into their futures beside your words and actions?

Some argue that the past is simply the past but I see my past as essentially what I am made of…it can’t be anything yet to happen. What I have seen, what I have heard and what I have experienced and felt have a huge impact on today. It may be something like coming out of a cave. The present experience of the outside is directly impacted by the former experience of being in the cave. Is it the brilliance of the light or lack thereof in the cave that causes you to squint and blink? Is the view actually unimaginable or has the sterility of the stone walls made it so?

We all live in caves of habit and routine. It could be the aforementioned occupation or hobby or something less productive. What we continue to do we continue to experience. How we react and act towards one another is a result of these experiences. Can we change anyone or anything without changing ourselves? The past will always reside in the cave but do you want the future to reflect those stone walls or the brilliance of what lays beyond?

21 Years !!!

The Conservative government in my country is participating in a misguided exercise to get “tough on crime.” It’s easy to fashion votes on such a platform but morally wrong to do so at the expense of your most vulnerable citizens. The only people “tough on crime” policies don’t appeal to are usually behind bars or a step away. I can forgive a government that makes easy political points but I am offended that they think I care not for those affected. The individuals affected are not criminals; they are the severely mentally ill and the families connected to them. They are referred to as the “accused” because they are not found guilty despite public desire.

This government proposes to enhance public safety by prolonging the incarceration and detainment of those found and proven to be Not Criminally Responsible. At present these individuals come before a panel of legal, medical and public members to determine a course of action suitable to both the public and the accused on an annual basis. The Conservatives by a sure stroke of political gain would have us believe that every three years is better suited to all involved. The government is interested in victim rights or so they say. I am of the opinion that in casting a net for political votes they will in fact create more victims than they will serve.

Don’t ever assume the laws you find attractive and sensible for “others” will never land in your lap. Hopefully, you won’t find yourself the accused at a Review Board hearing but you will know what prayer is if you happen to be that persons mother. The Review Board process is an excruciating and slow process as it stands now. I understand and am sympathetic to the prayer involved in being a victim of a crime but are you a victim of someone who is or was part of the Forensic System or are you a victim of someone who was outside of the system? Retribution can taint treatment. This law will do little to protect us from anyone on the street; it will only prolong the process that we subject the accused to. It is like taking a double dose of Viagra. It only succeeds in screwing you indefinitely. Will you thank Stephen Harper when you leave the building knowing your child will remain for three more years?

I had 7 annual hearings for a crime that probably wouldn’t have fetched 6 months from someone found guilty. Would you sleep better at night if it was 21 years instead of seven? I have conscience enough to find that fact alarming even outside of personal reasons.

It is easy to be indignant of another’s sins!

I know of a case where the accused stole a bag of chips. It is a fallacy perpetrated and perpetuated by the media that Not Criminally Responsible individuals are all murderers. It is also a fallacy that these individuals receive shorter sentences than those faced by the criminally sane. (Please read “Not Criminally Responsible: The Burden of Accusation and Popular Misconceptions” in my blog) I stand far outside of these fallacies and I am not an anomaly.

We need to listen to victims and their families but we need to remember the same brush with fate that delivered them to their suffering could have easily delivered them or a loved one to the confines of a Forensic Psychiatric facility. If you disagree please point me to the clinic that inoculates me against mental illness. This government agenda shows clearly that they care not about those afflicted with mental illness but more telling is the insinuation that the laws they impose will have no effect on themselves or those they care about. We are no more immune to being a victim than we are of being the accused. Those found Not Criminally Responsible received the same lessons in school. Their parents transferred the same morality and sense of right and wrong. For an array of reasons many of which are outside anyone’s control they became mentally ill. It is alarming to think we can improve society by increasing the segregation of the mentally ill.

We have a senator whose daughter was murdered. I am saddened by this but it is unfortunate the politicians whose lives are touched by mental illness are not as vocal. Let’s not forget the many moans of anguish amongst the shrieks of atrocity.

Any two bit politician can make a law that affects hundreds to appease millions but it takes a man to make a just decision.

“Please Sir Can I have Some More?”

I volunteered at a courtesy meal provided by one of the churches in our city. It was my first time and I consider myself an observer only. The saints are those who show up every time.

My job was pre-scrubbing the plates, glasses and cutlery for the dish washing crew. Jell-O was part of the menu so it wasn’t long before my soapy water was pink. The odd floating pea was of no concern but part way through the evening I was curious as to what percentage my rinse water was saliva.

Before I was inundated with 150 plates, knives, cups and dessert plates I was watching the first to be served. Many seemed to have a system. This was not a first for many if any. Their plates were placed at their table to ensure a seat. The food was quickly abandoned as they headed for the tables containing loaves of bread. The more seasoned could be seen feeling the bags checking for the largest loaves. It is bad enough that there are those among us in need of a meal today but to pre-worry about what might fill your stomach tomorrow is insult to injury.

We ran out of purple grape juice and it was substituted with the more expensive clear grape juice. It was a hard sell. What appeared to be water was passed by or sniffed with suspicion. Most refused the risk of filling their stomachs with anything less than calories.

There were more than a few who handed in their plates with the only thing on their mind being another. “Are there seconds?” “Please Sir Can I Have Some More?” It’s only gluttony when it’s not your only meal. God Bless those with an appetite and Peace Be Upon the hungry.

One of the guests was an accomplished pianist. It was a welcome spirit and easily worth scrapping plates and scrubbing utensils. I knew my place was in dishwater and not at the piano.

To be honest I worked hard but to be more honest I do not have it hard. I know where I will sleep. I barely think about the three meals that come my way and I am seldom with a plan for tomorrow’s calories. My fridge is rarely near a state of empty. Hell, I have a fridge – have you ever considered the disparity between not having something to eat and owning a $700.00 box to house an array of food?

I saw several plates with a fair bit of food scraped into the garbage but who says just because you are poor you have to like peas? I was happy to know there were people not desperate enough to accept everything dished out to them. I hope I can always retain my dignity and taste.

 

Nothing Remarkable

I know someone who equates being a Liberal with being a “homo”. I find it fascinating that politics of any sort have any association with sexuality but they do. One needs to be cautious making broad statements. I guess I take issue with this person because they use an ignorant and broad stroke in painting Liberals as homosexual.  This person is clearly a bigot and working from memory small minded. I might also add that they appear to be homophobic. It is a fact that homophobia often involves the fear that others might think “you” are gay. I can only deduce that there resides in this person’s conscious or unconscious a basis for this fear. It may be insecurity (this person is middle-aged) but why would their masculinity be threatened by even the stereotypical femininity associated with gays? My partner is very feminine. In no way does this take away from or threaten my masculinity.

Why would you deny dignity to someone because of what naturally pleases and excites them? We all differ in what pleases and excites us. Frankly, I am not bothered by these variances unless it involves children.

The first few times I noticed this person’s views I was offended but ignored it and thought it best not to bother. I knew this person as a child and throughout high school. At those times there was nothing remarkable about this person; clearly the same still holds true. They are essentially a pre-teen male without the knowledge and or experience to find value in their own masculinity and identity without devaluing others. When you look down on others you are in no way above them!

I enjoy differing opinions and especially opposing political views for the balance they provide. It is dangerous however to write someone off because of their political views or sexuality. It creates a vacuum where you are in danger of believing only your own rhetoric. This vacuum only breeds further ignorance.

The homophobic fear this person has could be put to rest with knowledge. Read a book, it might be written by a gay person; enjoy it regardless. Watch a movie, it may have a gay actor in it; enjoy it regardless. Take a drive or walk down the street, meet someone new, they may be gay; enjoy them regardless. Despite your closed minded opinions your world is full of and enriched by people who are in fact gay. Most often you will be oblivious to this fact just as they are oblivious to what makes your blood flow. Expand your horizons and you may find qualities in those you belittle that you could only wish to have. Another quick exercise, which I must warn involves modern ways, is to Google famous gay people. You will be confronted with a never-ending list of people you will never hold a candle to. When the sneer is wiped from your face, take a look in the mirror and make peace with the fact that you will never make a list entailing quality despite what you do with your boner.

20% off

I was at an auction today. I was standing in line to pay for my purchases – deals really. I had a good look at what other people bought. I saw boxes with puzzles and posters, dishes and trinkets, crappy art (though who am I to say) old chairs and barbeques I wouldn’t boil water on. One man’s junk is another’s treasure but I saw no treasure.

It became apparent to me that if one can purchase something for less than it might usually go for we gladly throw money and pee our pants all the way home until we are faced with the reality of where to put everything. Isn’t our world based on getting something for less? I can’t think of much that doesn’t come on “sale”. Aren’t we all drawn to 20% or even 50% off? If someone or something tells us we are getting away with more for less we take it; on credit no less. We borrow money to buy something that has seemingly lost some of its value.

I have three days worth of dog poop in my backyard. It’s a door crasher, 75% off; early bird special and while quantities last. Products may not be exactly as shown. Seriously, I’m giving this shit away! I imported it and be damned, I’m taking a loss on this product because I’m a caring capitalist- we’re rampant, just check your flyers.

Christ, You Can’t Wrap Remembrance Day ?

I just drove through downtown London and noticed the Christmas decorations are all up. It warms the heart to see wreaths and bows on the 9th of November.

I couldn’t help but compare our infatuation with “Christmas” and our remembrance of soldiers and others who have sacrificed. We have decorations up 8 weeks before His birthday so we can deposit His spirit in the bank. Maybe we should commercialize Remembrance Day so it gets a fair shake. Sacrifice is sacrifice. Maybe we should hoist blinking Poppies in September and have Remembrance bargains at Toys ‘R’ Us… but that would be crass.

What is the difference between a 16 year old lad laying down his life for mine on earth and Christ laying His down? There must have been a few relatively sinless soldiers. Maybe freedom has a different place in my heart because it was absent for a time. I’m grateful the twerp with the funny moustache didn’t succeed in telling us what colour our skin and eyes should be or what religion we should follow.

I would consider it a bad day if I had to drag my electric chair up a hill so they could fasten me into it. Wallowing in a trench for months isn’t a holiday either. Knowing for sure you’re going to be nailed to a cross would be stressful but weeks on end with bullets whizzing by your head with the same intention isn’t exactly comforting. What might either be like?

For parts of Canada we are given a statutory holiday in February. Here in Ontario it is “Family Day”. On the 11th day at the 11th hour many are only allowed to stop for one minute. Maybe it’s for the best since many would squander a Remembrance Day holiday. The mall has better parking than the Cenotaph and we would only succeed in dishonouring those who sacrificed.

Maybe 60 seconds is all we can stand. If we actually spent an hour thinking about what has been done for us in either case we would weep. It might be sacrilegious but for me sacrificing your life for someone else on earth means you’re a saviour. Lest I forget it!

I’m Thankful I Can Sit in the Front Seat When I Go Places

Happy Belated Thanksgiving (or happy ordinary day in the States)

This gratitude list is probably not like most you may encounter on the internet about this time. My list is in part hopefully just like yours. These may differ.

I’m thankful for daylight all day instead of the fifteen minutes at yard.

I’m thankful I can turn the lights off and on when I need.

I’m thankful I can eat with more than a spoon.

I’m thankful I can walk outside in every direction for as far as I like.

I’m thankful I can see trees and squirrels and traffic and birds and buildings and on and on.

I’m thankful I can dress in whatever I dare to choose.

I’m thankful I can eat mostly what I like instead of whatever they plop on the tray.

I’m thankful I can see and touch my family and friends whenever we choose.

I’m thankful I can experience hot and cold outside of the shower.

I’m thankful I can live with my pets.

I’m thankful I have control over the noise I experience.

I’m thankful I can eat when I’m hungry instead of by a clock.

I’m thankful I can communicate beyond a letter and stamp and without someone reading it first.

I’m thankful I can sit on comfortable furniture.

I’m thankful I have as much privacy as I need and want.

I’m thankful I can vote and enroll.

I’m thankful I can choose the channel on my TV.

I’m thankful there is a door on my bathroom.

I’m thankful I can brew real coffee.

I’m thankful my shoes have laces.

I’m thankful I can access my bed and pillow without someone’s command and key.

I’m thankful I can wear a watch or any form of decoration or declaration.

I’m thankful I can play cards for fun instead of to pass time.

I’m thankful I don’t have to live with 20 other people.

I’m thankful there are no video cameras surveilling me when I walk from the kitchen to the bathroom.

I’m thankful I’m not locked in a space where violence is probable.

I’m thankful I don’t have to wait to use the phone or for my medication.

I’m thankful my toilet has a seat and my toilet paper is two ply.

I’m thankful my juice doesn’t come in a foil topped cup.

I’m thankful I can see and manipulate my food before it is cooked.

I’m thankful I don’t have to rely as much on memories.

I’m thankful getting out of bed doesn’t involve the person on the bunk below.

I’m thankful the uniforms I encounter are from Tim Horton’s

I’m thankful that when I go beyond the walls of my home I am not handcuffed or shackled.

I’m thankful people don’t work shifts to watch me.

I’m thankful I can sleep with someone in my bed and my dog beside it.

I’m thankful I have a door people can knock on.

I’m thankful I don’t have to sign in and out or carry a notebook to record where I am.

I’m thankful anniversaries don’t involve the Ontario Review Board.

I’m thankful I can sit in the front seat when I go places.

I’m thankful you finished reading my thankful list.

The Digger

This piece was written while I was in solitary confinement; the Hole. If they wanted to threaten you, the Hole was referred to as the Digger. Many found any time spent here to be excruciating. In my psychosis I made peace with some of my time there.

I don’t look at what’s behind me in here, it’s just my ass. Most would not understand what I find entertaining in here. It is essentially everything. When they unlock my food slot a whole new world opens up for me. I can see light and hear things I am usually deprived of. I’m quite certain no one knows I’m here. I am unimpressed with the jail postcards. What parent doesn’t long for a glossy photo of their child in handcuffs or shackles? If this were an amusement park I could put my head in various cut outs. My friends would be amused to see my head poking out of the stocks or writhing at the whipping post. The Hole is visually boring, oh the good old days. It might be fun to have a cut-out of the Warden with his arm about my shoulder. If I wasn’t alone I might rally the others into forming a sculpture of the Warden at yard. We could pose in front of him or hang from his flabby jowls.

His rules are simple and we laugh at the comfort they provide. Without my mattress during the day I might not appreciate her at night. You devise ways to break me without knowing me. You expect me to pound on this door and beg for release but if I can’t be alone there is little hope for me. Dear Digger you complete me.

I Am Myself

I remember when popularity was all important. I used to cut my hair and wear certain clothes just to increase the odds. I played certain sports and hung out on certain corners. These days I am apt to not even shave. I do care what people think but I don’t go to bed worrying about pimples. Is it maturity or have I just let myself go? I don’t look for friends or tell jokes to be the center of attention. My mind lets me be more of what I want and less of what others want. Who and what I am does not change with the number of people who smile at me. If I have people around me am I greater than when I stand alone? My shoes are filled with the same flesh and bone.

Santa Claus

It’s less than 90 days until Christmas. I was thinking about Santa Claus. I remember believing completely in Santa Claus. One particular Christmas I actually saw his beard peeking beyond the door jamb of my shared bedroom. I was too stunned to wake my brothers and laid in some sort of mesmerized trance. I wanted to jump from my bed and say hello but I was perplexed as to what a good boy should do. Was it best to lay still and take in the magic of the moment or should I scream and involve everyone in the house?

Most would argue that it was the overactive and possibly sugared mind of a child but I saw what I saw. We sometimes discount what a person experiences or believes. Most of us are entrenched in a personal reality but your outward view is only more realistic to you because of what your experiences have coated your perceptions with.

My mind may have been filled with the magic and myth of Santa Claus but does that make what I saw unreal? When we stop believing in magic it can only disappear. We are all entertained by illusionists. Knowing there is more to the story does not cause the illusion to seem less real.

There may be no Santa Claus but I beg to differ. Santa Claus went out on the frozen pool at my brothers leaving footprints, sleigh tracks and hoof prints for my nieces. For that Christmas Santa left some magic which I dare say did not disappear with warm temperatures.

It is unlikely the same illusion would survive in my niece’s minds today but that is their perception. The interpreter is always part of the magic.

Puddles

I used to be naive about many things in life. I thought love was something I had to earn and search for. I would often concentrate my efforts on mirages. From a distance things seemed lush and I gravitated to the idea of quenching my thirst. I could be standing in a puddle but what I saw in the distance was where I thought happiness resided. Sometimes love finds us when we don’t even know we are looking. Other times it seems buried deep in the sand and we are without a shovel. We think we know the spot it is buried and flail away with both hands to uncover it. At times I have thought that the kind which is buried is more valuable because I have to work for it.

We often guard our secret gardens because none of us lives without the memory of some heartache. The usual result is atrophy. We rarely admit anyone for fear they will trample what is the core of who we are. As a result we have no one to help us care for our garden. Some things wither and others grow uncontrollably but the real loss is not having someone to witness its beauty. Our garden is useless unless we allow others to walk within it.

In some ways life is like being on a train. We don’t always choose who our fellow travelers are and it can be a relief to see some disembark. Others have the same destination; they can be family and friends or acquaintances and loves. At each station there are some who transfer with a different destination in mind. Seldom are we alone in the boxcar and many of us are fortunate to have many accompany us on our journey. I sometimes find myself looking at the stations we pull into and wondering if it wouldn’t be better to disembark. What do these people know that I do not? Is their path possibly the one I should be on? Where I find myself is always where I am supposed to be. It can be a place of suffering or of ecstasy. Without the one the other loses its meaning.

The importance of our gardens and our travels is that we share them. We can choose some of the individuals that accompany us but others are not meant to be a choice. They are a gift. We do not shop for our own gifts, they are simply meant to be graciously accepted. Sometimes we have no clue as to the worth of a gift. Sometimes we find little value in something so freely given. Sometimes it is difficult to recognize that we have been given more than we would have the audacity to ask for.

When the coat is thrown down in the puddle for us to walk on it does not mean the coat is worthless. It means the wearer finds more value in the steps you take than you possibly do.

I Learned

It’s Labour Day and one of the trees in my yard is changing colour. I don’t find this to be alarming but it is the starting pistol to future labour. I usually rake up 20 bags of leaves. By the end of this process I often question the cost and benefit ratio of shade.

Children will be returning to school tomorrow. They will have tans and tales. I don’t envy the teachers who are tasked with reeling in the freedom of summer. I was the recipient of years of formal education but there were many things I learned only through absence.

I learned that collecting pop bottles equals candy.

I learned that the public pool is louder than any playground.

I learned that siblings can be best friends.

I learned that the gravel pit is always open for swimming.

I learned that vegetables are more fun to watch grow than they are to eat.

I learned that playing the second movie at the Drive-In Theater is pointless to a 10 year old.

I learned that picking rocks is hard work.

I learned that bailing hay is harder work.

I learned that water is a magnet to flesh.

I learned that the can of beans on a hiking trip fares better than peanut butter sandwiches.

I learned that corn on the cob marks the twilight of summer.

I learned that proximity leads to friendship.

I learned that squirt guns are easier to empty than to fill.

I learned that it is best to be the first one off the Teeter Totter.

I learned that thunderstorms sound worse than they are.

I learned that flashlights are made for reading comics.

I learned that a tent makes a fine sauna at high noon.

I learned that trees are as fun to climb as they are to sit under.

I learned that Boomerangs land on rooftops as often as they come back.

I learned that it’s always worth the extra money to have your soft serve dipped in chocolate.

I learned that farmers’ tans are only funny on others.

I learned that my friend’s sister was more interesting than he was.

I learned that Popsicles shouldn’t be left unattended.

I learned that Speedos are an age appropriate fashion.

I learned that swimming in chlorine is as effective as any bath.

I learned that lawn darts hurt.

I learned that geography lessons hold little meaning on a bicycle.

I learned that root beer and ice cream are best served as one beverage.

I learned that more girls show up at the arena to roller skate than to play hockey.

I learned that the best plan is to not have one.

Normal

If I assume I am perfect, I will see nothing but fault in my neighbour. I walked out my front door yesterday and saw a sign in my neighbour’s front yard. “My Neighbour Is Normal.” I thought it was a little late coming but I was pleased by their opinion. It was like stepping into an alternate reality for a moment as I did not associate it correctly.
There is a beautiful building and park a block away. The building was once “the Normal School.’ I’m not sure what lead to its closure but I have always been disappointed I was unable to attend. It is becoming vulnerable to development and the community is rallying to have a say in its future. There are hundreds of signs up now but it is my neighbour’s that speaks to me.
To be accidentally recognized as normal was once a dream. When I would go on passes into town it was normal I sought. I wanted to shed the uniqueness of my life. I only wanted to drink a coffee among you. I only wanted to cut my grass and take out the garbage. I only wanted to find my food in a grocery store, not on a tray.
Now I live in a neighbourhood where “normal” is rampant and I am content to be immersed in it. I am normal, just ask my neighbour.

“Worthy of the pay….”

This posting is some more of my psychotic thinking. For entertainment purposes only.

“I only want to help. I mean no harm so someone simply let me know what to scribble on my sign.

You give us political views and publish budgets and agendas and offer them as gifts. You elect to keep much of what you do a secret. We only want to know what it is you devise behind closed doors. A child does not leave their artwork in a drawer; we gladly display the work we are proud of. An employee does not hide in a box the fruit of their toil; they want their employer to know what they have done to be worthy of the pay. You are employed as my representative; it is I who employ you, why do you hide your efforts from me?

Freedom of Information should not be and Act, it should be a Right! When we learn of your blunders without you telling us first, what are we to think? You cling to innocence but what seeps from your mouth is always more lies!

We need to think why the government and how the government voted that governmental business was something to be uncovered. Where is it written that our elected should carry out OUR affairs and business in secrecy? The enemy will always have secrets; all I ask is should our government also? If it is to the essence of by the people and for the people, why are the people not given eyes to see what it is you do for them?

I can carry the flag from my car window and even pin it to my chest but it is only you that wraps it about your body as armor. Why are you protected by the flag but not me? If I can serve and even die for my country you have no right to lie to my country.

You pound into our heads “more jobs” all the while not doing yours!

I am a flea on the ass of government!!!”

Clean Shoes

When I first landed on the Forensic Assessment Unit (FAU) I had hair and eyebrows; this constituted what remained of my sanity. There were a couple of nurses and a psychiatrist interviewing me in the visiting room. There was a camera on the ceiling to record my arrival. I was on a mission of love and was explaining myself and my mission. They seemed more interested in their notes than my lessons. I don’t recall if I was the Second Coming but I was certainly a disciple. The Forensic Assessment Unit was referred to as FAU and I immediately associated myself and those in my midst as residents of the Fallen Angel Unit.

There was a battle between good and evil on the Fallen Angel Unit. There were no balls of fire but rather traces of chalk. On the chalkboard in the dining area I would post messages of love and equations of affection. As cameras watched me float down the hall I would return to find only obscenities. Eventually a tiny Asian nurse removed the chalk but I don’t recall who had the last word. My mission then turned more verbal and tactile. I spoke to anyone slightly interested with compassion and sincerity and I literally gave one of the patients the shirt off my back.

When I was allowed into the fenced yard for exercise I would remove my shoes to keep them clean while I ran the dirt path on the perimeter. I was ordered to keep my shoes on for sanitary reasons but I failed to see the logic. When I returned to the ward I was the only one with clean shoes! Some of the nurses were quite exasperated by me. I wasn’t always meek and I was not medicated for easily handling. One of the male nurses who was most offended by my continual barefoot runs was watching me as I walked down the ward hall. I usually rolled up my pant legs past my ankles to save the only jeans I had. I bent down in the hallway and unrolled my jeans. I left small piles of dirt and debris. I looked at him and walked away.

My psychosis met further resistance when I shaved my head and eyebrows. As a disciple I was using one of the wards electric razors to maintain my religious devotion. The male nurse monitoring the morning shave informed me that the razors were not meant for people’s heads. I quickly pointed out that my face was part of my head. He was silently unimpressed but I assumed he was better informed.

Colour Blind

Psychosis and my psychotic thoughts have had a profound and lasting impact on my life. Some of these thoughts firmly rooted themselves and grew like trees while the rest were scattered and covered my world like a lush lawn. They endured like your beliefs and were no less ingrained.

I spent over a year with words, phrases, lyrics and gestures combining into a map of belief. Odd and even numbers confirmed messages while vowels, consonants and gestures of left or right guided me. Full words and conversations sent me in a thousand directions. When the lyrics of a song reach in and match your thoughts instantaneously, they can’t be ignored.

When you are psychotic, all events revolve around your thinking and everything becomes connected creating a reality as solid and based in factual events as that being experienced by anyone else. When something happens that doesn’t fit into your world it sometimes snaps you into a different frame of reality but usually it only causes a shift which can easily be meshed with your world of psychotic thought once again. It could be likened to not knowing you are colour blind. Someone may point out that your blue shirt is yellow but it takes much more to convince you this is so.

Thanks to anti-psychotics my associations and delusions have ended. However, it took time to erase the trails left by psychosis. I am unsure if most people recall their psychotic moments and thoughts but I do. Several were too terrifying to forget while others were all encompassing. If everything you saw and experienced pointed to the world being flat, nothing less than a paradigm shift would change your perception and perspective.

I can look at my psychosis as a simple illness but that does not change the fact that I was guided safely on a perilous journey. I was witness to sane people who were met with violence while I stood unharmed despite my behaviour. Today I blend more with my surroundings and words are often meaningless but my psychosis still holds meaning for me.

Eye of the Beholder

I am at the family cottage sitting on the picnic table at the edge of the pond. It’s not much of a pond at present. It is low in water and made murky by its clay bottom. My dog is taking dips and stirring up the goldfish only aware of her pleasure. I am otherwise alone here listening to music. I am rich.

I have seen uglier times. Perhaps that is why I have such an appreciation for these moments. I could wish for more but peace is not having things but appreciating things. I can recall peering through bars and a heavy metal screen a pencil would not fit through. I was witness to sunsets that although obscured, I remember still. Colour penetrates much. I have been witness to many great sunsets here on Lake Huron but the ones that penetrated the jail seem more memorable. I wonder if my fellow inmates saw what I saw. I believe the gift of the sunset is Grace but the ability to recognize its beauty is also Grace. Is the meal extraordinary or our present sense of taste? Is it what resides in us that allows us to interpret beauty and be moved?

Two people can taste a fruit but neither will experience the same sweetness. Perspective and interpretation can be gifts. I am at times grateful for people and experiences in my life but I forget to be thankful for perspective. I am richer when I can acknowledge the fact that beauty is in the eye of the beholder; beauty does not exist unless it is beheld.

Psychosis

To be the Second Coming of Christ can be exhilarating but also a terrible responsibility. Part of the problem for me was that I had no disciples. Knowing the story of Christ, disciples have their downside but at least they can attest to your miracles and share a meal.

My Garden of Gethsemane moment came while I was secluded in the medical cells. What you read here happened just like your first date. I remember it as you might. I remember what I could see and touch and what I was thinking and the emotions that resulted from all. I remember it better than my first date possibly because it was so real and intense for me; I did not plead for God’s mercy on my first date.

I waken in the night and hear nothing. No breathing, no snoring, no footsteps, no keys; the jail is lifeless. I begin to panic, my mind starts to somersault and I think the world is ending. I begin to pace. I hear only my bare feet brushing the cold cement. I start to pray, Lord save this world; nothing. I begin to plead with God to save the world; nothing. I pace with more panic. I pee in my toilet and put some on my head, I am desperate. I get down on my knees and start crying. I tell God I will give up seeing my children ever again if He saves the world. Still in tears I resort to the unpardonable sin, I curse the Holy Spirit. I know this will banish me to Hell and keep me from loved ones but it is my last hope, I curse with all my heart. My arms slash through the darkness as I throw every word I know into the night. I flush my toilet, an unpardonable sin in jail at night. Everyone on the medical range is awake. There are swear words and I grab my bars and scream at them about how ungrateful they are; I have just saved the world. The guard arrives and they lodge their complaints. Quiet once again falls on the jail and I am left to ponder what I have done. In the morning I am lead from the medical cells to the Hole.    It’s as close as they come to crucifixion in Corrections Canada.

 

Giving up the possibility of seeing my children in heaven was possibly more significant than it might usually be. I had not seen, written to or spoken on the phone with either of my children in over three years at the point of this story. When it seemed too painful to carry them in my heart; I looked and they were there. When it would have been easier to put them out of my mind; I thought and they were there.

I was not and am not well versed in the Bible. I had a friend who was a Born Again Christian before and during his incarceration. He was my only friend when I was sick or well. He was in his late 60’s and I made his bunk up for him at night. One of W.’s lessons was when he informed me that there is only one unpardonable sin. He warned me never to curse the Holy Spirit. He informed me I would not be forgiven in this life or the next and pointed out the verse in the Bible: Matthew 12:31-32

“And so I tell you, every human sin and blasphemy will be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And anyone who says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but no one who speaks against the Holy Spirit will be forgiven either in this world or the next.”

“They” Like Ice Cream Too!

Where does stigma come from? I’m sure there are answers and possibly more theories. I believe some stigma is the result of the assumptions we have of human behavior. To a degree in the west we believe that people have direct control over their fate and get what they deserve in life. (The Just World Hypothesis) To view poverty, hunger, oppression, illness and abuse as arbitrary is disconcerting. We have all heard the ignorant suggest that those who live in countries susceptible to famine should simply move. They assume their good fortune at being born in a democratic and wealthy nation was somehow personally determined. You are responsible for this as much as you are responsible for your height or eye colour. We like to know the cause of illness. To believe illness is indiscriminate not only goes against our worldview but it threatens our ideas of personal power and self-determination. Westerners are uncomfortable with powerlessness. Consider the lengths we go to battle male baldness. There are entire industries built to combat physical attributes. Acceptance equals defeat for some.

Westerners also value individualism. We value independence above all else. As such we assume individuals who have mental health problems can overcome their symptoms with nothing more than willpower. It’s all in your head is it not? The idea of responsibility I would argue is more pronounced in mental health than it is with physical health. We would be considered callous if we told the cancer patient to “pull up your socks.” The depressed person on the other hand is often told to snap out of it.

Is it possible that stigma is fear of a perceived threat; a threat to our person but also to our worldview. If mental illness is without cause it threatens our beliefs and elicits fear. It could be argued that as mental health consumers we are exposed to both the “flight” and “fight” responses to fear. We are avoided and segregated; even ostracized (“flight”) and we are often ridiculed (“fight”).

I am unsure of how to combat stigma but in overcoming fear, exposure is often employed. If those who have no experience with mental illness opened their hearts and minds to us they will be exposed not to a pathogen but to a human. As more people step forward, hopefully more will stand back and see us as human. As my Occupational Therapist is fond of pointing out “they” like ice cream too!

Keys

February 8, 2006

Keys; have you ever thought much about them? We seldom carry just one unless we pin them to our bathing suit at the Y.M.C.A. We carry them in our pockets or around our necks these days. Some people clip them to their sides, some spin them on their fingers and fidget with them, but have you ever thought about what they mean? I know what they mean- power. They say I have control over this set of doors or this vehicle or this classroom or this part of the institution. I hate the sound of keys. I learned to hate them in jail. Every time I heard keys it meant my keeper was coming. He was coming to wake me or take me to court or to feed me or deliver a new inmate or to order me back into my cell. It wasn’t all bad when my keeper came, sometimes she was good looking, for a guard, or she brought the mail or took me to a visit or as I said a meal. But she always delivered control.

If you’ve never been in jail you will not understand how loud keys can be and how attuned you become to them. Firstly a jailer’s keys are as big as your hand so when they hit each other or fumble in the lock you really hear the brass. Jails are empty of anything that absorbs sound so everything carries and seems louder than sound on the outside. Secondly when you’re in jail you always want to know where or when the jailer is coming. They usually do a “walk about” every half-hour (there are no clocks or watches in jail) and you could hear them coming from the keys hitting their sides. If you wanted to share a smoke or worse, you timed it well but still “kept six” or listened and watched for a guard as they could show up at anytime to deliver someone to or from court or the nurse or a visit.

The morning I came back from escaping to the Sarnia hospital, I opened the doors coming into the jail myself as they were electronically locked. I had a great sense of power to be able to open those two doors on my own. They were heavy but I know I flung them open as I shambled through cuffed and shackled in my hospital booties.

Now when I hear keys I still hear control. You see I still don’t often have keys in my hands and I have to turn them back in to people with many more keys than I. They have keys to my room, to outside doors, to medication drawers, to shower rooms, kitchens, etcetera. Even when I went to school I would cringe when the teacher threw her keys on her desk. I liked her but she had keys; keys to freedom like a car and a house and a mailbox, a bike, even the school. Not me, I had only one key, a key to my brother’s bike. But hear this, no one has felt as free and as happy on a bicycle as I have on many occasions on that bike. The bike is barely worth locking up but to wear that key around my neck is priceless.

Baptism By Fire

When I was a youngster my paternal grandmother was burning leaves in her front yard as was practiced in our small town at the time. My brothers somehow own the memory of the day when I fell into the fire. It is a tale they find amusing though I have blocked out the event and there were no scars to authenticate their memories. I guess it could be said I was baptized by fire. To my understanding this is, was and never will be something a person would seek whether your interpretation is religious or secular. One of its many meanings is reserved for soldiers who are literally trained by the fire of battle. It is basically a severe ordeal experienced for the first time. It will either kill you or make you stronger.

I was quickly immersed in a hell where my life was threatened by delusion at least and possibly in fact. For any who have experienced delusions they are only unreal in hindsight (if one is fortunate enough to be released from that perspective). To say I was terrified would be accurate. I sat at tables with criminals picking food from my tray as I was convinced to eat or drink would result in my death at the hands of my fellow inmates. I was witness to the screams of another inmate beaten by the hard plastic cups of his peers. The smell of the dreaded disinfectant they used on the blood was also nothing new to me. I was so thirsty at times I would quickly lick my hands in the semi-privacy of the common toilet area.

When they ran me off the Range for the second time because of my erratic behaviour, I was destined for the Hole. Here I could consume but I was also consumed. I had no anchor to reality and easily disappeared beneath my delusions.

Obviously, I have risen from this immersion in hell but what have I pulled from the ashes? I am not naïve enough to think my struggles are over but I am fairly confident I can withstand what might come my way. I have had much support from family, friend and professional in my years of treatment following this but I navigated the worst of my ordeal on my own. I don’t suppose a soldier looks forward to the next battle or the loss of comrades which is inevitable but they may have a sense of peace knowing the worst can be endured. It may be like the human immune system. When we are exposed to a virus we produce anti-bodies. Following our illness, exposure to the same virus is nothing. Interestingly, the modern word “immunity” derives from the Latin immunis, meaning exemption from military service.

Lock and Key

I have a small collection of antique locks and skeleton keys. I actually owned them before I was under lock and key so I don’t think there is anything subliminal but possibly they were prophetic. I pulled them from the drawer they were in and made a display. As I look at them I realize each key has the same purpose but all are slightly different. Are humans the same? Obviously we are each different but what interests me is whether we have a common purpose.

At times I have been caught up in the material. I was successful; I owned my own business and properties. I was ahead of my peers though I probably felt emptier. Losing all this, I don’t in any significant way feel less than those I see driving luxury cars. Possibly I have enough esteem that I don’t need that of a jealous neighbour.

I am slightly out of shape. The closest I come to a six pack is at the Brewers Retail. My hair is thin to non-existent in spots but again I don’t feel less than the nicely shaped and hairy people I come across. Possibly I don’t get my esteem from the follicles in my head or the size of my biceps. Some would say I was better looking in my youth but I’m fairly certain if this was a purpose to existence none of us would age and we would all have identical hyper metabolisms. The physical and material matters in my life don’t overly matter.

I have had many relationships. I have been a father, a husband, a lover, a brother, an uncle, a student, a friend and none of these. To procreate is a strong urge in humans as are other relationships but without this ability or the stature of being at least a friend, a person does not shrivel. I did not crumble and I am ordinary in every way.

Travel, entertainment or even thrill seeking are certainly desirous but looking at significant historical figures who ventured only within their counties without ever bungee jumping we can assume that despite being great, what we do for fun may have nothing to do with our greatness.

Toil or occupation whether paid or not can provide meaning but unless it is in the name of something we are not much different from Oxen. A beast can pull a plow but only humans can cultivate anything important. The seeds we plant will only sprout with attention.

These are some of my arguments regarding purpose; personal or weak as they may be. What then is our purpose? Does it have to be something greater than ourselves? Is it different for each of us or are we like my keys? If I am a key is it myself that I must unlock? When I unlock myself what comes out? Do we keep the same things under lock and key? Could it be that although I am less than wealthy and less than hairy I am in fact in possession of the same treasure? Do we not all hold the key to compassion, love, generosity, and empathy? Some people seem to have more of these just as some have more money or good looks. Possibly these individuals have used their key to open what many of us fear we do not have enough of to share. These contents are a little like the recycle bin; they will only be picked up if you put them out there. Your empty aluminum cans will never be made into anything new if you bury them in your backyard. Compassion can never heal or touch someone who needs it if it is left in your chest; literally.

Every lock has a key. Obviously I can only speak for myself but I am coming to understand that my purpose is to unlock and share what can’t be seen, measured or appraised. To some these things have no value in any way but when shared with someone else they can be priceless. Interestingly, out of the dozens of skeleton keys I own, none of them fit the locks. I guess that is what makes life interesting. Since we are all different keys I may just happen on someone who opens a lock I own. It is often a mystery as to what a lock protects but historically it is something of value, all the other stuff is simply stuff.Image

Time

I took my watch off this weekend. I wanted to get rid of my tan line and it was the only respectable thing I could remove. I have been without a watch for long periods. When you are in jail it is one of the identifying features to be removed. I suppose it saves the odd wealthy person from being mugged but outside of that it only succeeds in slowing down time which crawls at the best of time. I never heard an inmate mutter anything about time flying. “Wow, it’s been six months, where does the time go?” A season like summer can fly by if you’re a student but in jail or hospital it’s simply long and hot. When it is over often there is another season to endure.

When I was in the Hole, time did not exist in a fashion I was used to. Circadian rhythms were blocked out by the concrete surrounding me. The only cycle I knew was delivered on a tray and often did not coincide with any hunger. If I was able to sleep I would wake up and wait for a guard to peek through my four inch window. I would gesture to my wrist and he would hold up fingers. I would already have my blankets folded and be ready for a meal. Often it was three in the morning. I had no fridge to open to occupy myself with food. There was no TV and iPods weren’t even invented let alone allowed. There was no one to ask “are you sleeping?” in the hope of stirring another into my uncomfortable void. Usually I would vacuum. I always went barefoot and would walk around my 5 by 8 and brush crumbs and lint that collected on my feet into my toilet. I retain this habit and can often be found in my apartment brushing whatever might cling to my feet into my toilet or the nearest garbage. I have a cat and dog so the vacuum is always running. The entire jail slept while I ran my jail powered model. The guards would sometimes put me in different Holes and medical cells and I am certain it was in part due to my cleanliness. Some cleaning fell on their shoulders and it was delegated to me. I could write a housekeeping article on how to use toilet paper and water to make your “house” sparkle.

I digress. Back to time, rather than back in time. Without my watch this weekend I was conscious of how many times I looked at the pale skin on my wrist. I didn’t have my “friend?” to tell me things. Time tells us when to eat, whether we are hungry or not and when to sleep, whether we are tired or not. Time tells us when to come and go, whether we are ready to or not. It tells us when we can drive, vote and drink as though a day causes some miraculous shift in maturity. Time tells us we have plenty of it or not enough. It can change our behaviour from relaxed to stressed simply with a glance at some gears on our wrist. Time tells us how old we are regardless of how we might feel otherwise. Time tells us when to have children or to make the attempt. It can tell us we should be married despite happiness or whether we are in love or not. Time can tell us many things but maybe we need to listen more to ourselves.

Time is a measurement created by mankind but is it a measure of mankind? All life is seemingly moved by time but humans seem the only creatures bound by minutes. The sun rises on time and sets on time but there can be no time like the present to get your vacuuming done 🙂

Scars

I have a large scar across the muscle above my knee. At one time it contained thirty stitches to hold it together. It was a trauma that I have a total recall of. I also have scars that are less physical. I was sewn together by a great many healers, some professional and some who had no clue they were helping me to heal. Here as well I have total recall.

Eventually you have to remove the bandage and live with the scar. We have to step back into our lives and walk on. A scar can be a reminder but it shouldn’t keep us from what we aspire to. To leave the bandage on longer than is necessary may in fact make things worse. The more we try to protect ourselves the less we experience. After my emergency I went to my family physician to have my sutures removed. He was uncomfortable with my wound and thought it best to leave them in. It was my experience that the longer a stitch is left, the harder it is to remove. I returned home and removed them myself. I was fairly confident I wouldn’t open up again or fall apart. We are more resilient than we sometimes allow ourselves to be.

For me, recovery is not a return to the way things were any more than my physical healing leaves me without a scar. The fabric of my life, like the flesh of my wound has changed. I am fortunate that my scar on my leg like the other scars I live with don’t interfere with the majority of my functioning but I have been altered.

Every scar tells a story but they do not have to be the whole story. Scars of the flesh are miraculous. Without thought or conscious effort the body reconstructs itself. Through Grace some of my other scars have healed as well. It can be time and distance or simply the decision to live with the scar. We don’t have to stand still to mend, in fact going through regular motions is often more helpful. I pick at the scabs of my life like we all do but some wounds heal only when we let them.

Cicadas

With this heat wave the Cicadas have been screaming somewhere in my vicinity. They are an interesting insect. In some varieties the nymphs burrow into the ground for two to five years, some even seventeen years. They all come out like the Pied Piper was leading them somewhere. Their predators don’t have a life-cycle that coincides with theirs so they can survive to serenade you and me. I remember listening to them when I was in the hospital. My friend Ed informed me of their significance. Like insects our dark moments can be a prelude to a metamorphosis.

Off and on I spent a couple of decades in a darkness not of my own choosing. None of it seemed natural but possibly it was. I wasn’t joined by droves in similar circumstances. Had I been a Cicada I might have taken comfort in the fact that there were others buried with me. It often seemed to be just Ed and myself. I can’t argue that it was a prelude to something better.

Some of what I lost needed to be lost. When we are stripped of most of what we recognize, we are in fact given a gift. When we emerge we have the unique ability to make choices. As I was left with little I could choose once again what to fill my life with; I had the freedom to metamorphosize though many other freedoms were denied. I chose to surround myself with better people and undertake things that provided personal meaning. Hopefully my acts are less self-centered than they once were. I am more conscious than I ever was and attempt to occupy myself with endeavors that also benefit others. My bank account reflects this but money can sometimes be difficult to emerge from itself. Migrating from purchase to purchase can be like standing still. When you are beneath the “material” there is no view and subsequently little perspective.

I’m not sure I feel like something singing from a tree but I do not feel buried. To be embedded in turmoil and pain can seem like a curse in the moment. When I was able to emerge I cannot put into words how sweet even the air was. I was able to see and experience things I was unable to before. I remember my first trip into London after several years from home. The skyline was like New York, I was in awe and inspired. Obviously I wasn’t given much of a different view. Some of the people and places in my life were exactly the same as before I was submerged. In some strange fashion I did metamorphosize and in doing so I gained a perspective that was quite different. Some of my life is like getting a new television. The channels may be the same but the picture is a welcome improvement.

When you can’t see your children for over a decade every child you see reminds you of your loss. On some of my weekly passes I came into contact with a relative’s daughter who was the same age as mine. I had no idea what my daughter might even look like. In my sadness I was still able to share my life with this individual as I would have had she been my own daughter. Like the song says “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” We often don’t get the opportunities we would choose but we are given opportunities.

I could easily stare at the Hole I emerged from. I could curse the sky for what I lost and endured but that would only cloud what I have gained. I would not have a song to offer if I considered what I now have as second rate. I wouldn’t have chosen some of the people who are in my life but now that the choice is mine again I would not trade a single one.

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Spilled Milk

Mental illness often entails loss. Obviously there is a loss of health which can entail a loss of functioning. We sometimes cannot do the things we did in the past. I have personally experienced other areas of loss. Mental illness can displace us from employment, family, friends and community. We often lose respect from others and even ourselves. We suffer from financial losses and loss of overall status. Even freedom can be lost.

I had pointed out to me that when a glass is emptied of a liquid it is subsequently filled with air and vice versa. I have found myself empty and void of many of the things that filled my life. My friend pointed out to me some of the things that rushed in as my life spilled out before my eyes. I have had professionals enter my life that have sustained and quenched me in ways I could only have hoped for. The family and friends who leaked from my life have been replaced by others who in no small way nourish and enrich my life. I have experienced love and met many individuals only as a result of my mental illness. They have joined me on a journey that despite its pain I would not abandon. My glass is not filled with what it once contained but it is surely full.

Maybe that’s what they mean by “don’t cry over spilled milk.”

Home

I am officially home now after a dozen days away. I have seen family I haven’t seen in years and missed others who I have the privilege of seeing more frequently.

I am thinking about the saying “home is where the heart is.” My actual heart has been far from home at times but when I think about it, my thoughts were often found beyond the places I inhabited. I’m unsure of what actual presence I had among family and friends when I was unable to be with them. It would please me to know they thought of me half as much. It is interesting how when we are in one place our minds are in another. I get the idea of being present in the moment but there are times when to survive we must escape the moment and live where we cannot.

We all find ourselves in places we would rather not be whether it is in line at the grocery store or the waiting room of the proctologist. Maybe the sages who sit on rocks can find something meaningful to cling to when they are having their prostate checked but all I can think about is getting my ass out of there. There can be meaning in things that never happen or places we wish to be. Imagination is a gift and a tool. If I can make a fairy tale out of something unbearable I am no worse off than the one who actually enjoys the taste of jail toothpaste. I did embrace the puddles of sunshine rare as they were but it was what I carried in my heart and mind that got me through.

In jail it is forbidden to whistle. The story was that the guards would whistle as they led an inmate to the gallows. If you can carry a tune in your head, the wind across your lips and the sound in your ears can remain silent while the song rings strong. What we carry in our hearts is at times more magnificent than the scenes we actually play out. A melody in your heart can transport even the most withered soul to shore.