Friday, October 23, 2009

I'm moving!

Hey Fellow Readers,

I'm in the process of shifting this blog over to Wordpress.

So please visit the new digs at

Don't forget to bookmark the new home!

See you in my new pad,

Monday, July 27, 2009

Two really interesting articles

Dear Science Enthusiasts,

I came across two interesting articles in online news today: published an article about schizophrenia and the prodrome, which is the "pre-conversion" phase of psychosis... before someone has that break with reality that is classically associated with schizophrenia.

The article basically discusses a pilot treatment program, and the reasoning behind the pilot.

Since I was treated in this phase, in the prodrome, I know from experience that treatment approaches geared towards treating in this phase can be very successful, and can prevent a lot of the deterioration in health that is so common when full-blown psychosis happens.

My belief, which come from my experience, and the experiences of a number of people I've talked to, is that "schizophrenia," what ever it is, is "around" in the brain long before people actually get help. In my experience with the condition, I was having clear symptoms, including hallucinations, for at least two years before I was able to find the language to be able to ask for help. So basically I was quite unwell for two years, being tired, feeling overwhelmed, having hallucinations, and I KNEW that something was going on with my health.

Anyway, I just wanted to get the word out on that bit of news.

Another article I came across in the Toronto Star has found evidence of a relationship between obesity and the immune system.

I thought this article was pretty interesting, since our immune system is implicated in so many things, and yet we know so little about how it works. Also, I think this article can bring some hope to people who are living with weight problems.

Just wanted to bring you all some good health-related news!
x's and o's,

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Canada: A Nation for ALL People

Dear Pride Supporters,

This article left my jaw hanging this morning... It's a Star article, describing the reactions of the Conservative party to a tourism stimulus grant that was given to support Pride Week, here in Toronto.

Pride week draws in millions of tourists who come to celebrate diversity and recognition of the equality for all persons. For some who hail from more "socially conservative" countries/regions, Canada is held in high esteem, and Pride week is considered the pinnacle celebration. I have a friend who runs a Bed and Breakfast, and his inn is full to the rafters before, during, and after pride. His visitors hail from all over the world, many of them being from our neighbouring US. During Pride week, bars and restaurants in the Church/Wellesley area are perpetually full of thirsty, hungry customers... the revenues from Pride are relied upon to turn accounting book ink from red to black. For the tourism engine in Toronto, Pride week provides a nice salvo to help it run smoothly.

Since I moved to Toronto, I've partaken in Pride week events every year. During Pride week, Torontonians who support Pride are encouraged to hang rainbow striped flags in their windows or on their homefronts. Honestly, I find it so overwhelming when I tour around Toronto during Pride week and see all those welcoming flags... It's like seeing a zillion little candles, welcoming weary travellers a place to rest in the dark hours of night. Somehow Toronto just feels more welcoming, safer even, during Pride.

Apparently, some of the "Social Conservatives" from Stephen Haper's Conservative party were incensed that a Federal grant was given to a cultural group that does not reflect "family values" and "pro-life" agendas. The article is below if you want to read it yourself.

Back in the day, "Conservative" in the political sense USED to mean economically conservative. Since when did political conservatism come to represent such ambiguous and arbitrary ideas as "family values?"

As far as I'm concerned, no government is allowed to dictate what happens in my bedroom. Furthermore, no government, sorry, no POLITICAL PARTY is entitled to decree exclusive ownership to the definition of morality, nor are they allowed to force me to live under the strictures of their definition.

I can make choices about my conduct and morality on my own, thank you very much. And if what I do is determined to be against the values of our vast, nature loving nation, as these values our etched out in our semi-secular laws, well then, try me in a court of peers and if I'm found guilty, just put me in jail. That's what our justice system is there for, to create a climate where ones conduct can be tried and judged against existing, writ rules, among their peers.

I'm adding this to my list of reasons NOT to vote Conservative. As if I needed more.

Incensed at the audacity of a minority of people within a minority government,

PS. Harper, pretty bold of you to let this kind of shit storm leak out of your office. You must be feeling confident lately.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Yer genez haz a Bermuda Tryangle!!!

Dear Triangulists, Complicators, and Complexifiers,

Life is complicated. The universe and its events are complicated. The world and how it works is complicated. The body and its integrated systems is/are complicated. The brain. Is. Complicated.

There's a group of people out there who believe that mental illness is "caused," "solved" and "resolved" by what I like to call singularities.

Let me give you an example:
Schizophrenia is caused by early childhood abuse. Or a cold mother. Or drug use.

These are examples of singularities... exceptionally uncomplicated causes for a very complicated condition of the body/brain.

Another example of singularity:
Recovering from schizophrenia means "finding" the "root" cause of your schizophrenia.

So the cause is blamed on a single event. And if we simply find the single event that caused a person's break, one could begin to recover... a singular approach to identify a singularity.

Another example of singularity:
If you solve the "bigger problem" (of childhood abuse, let's say) your smaller problem of schizophrenia will be gone.

More with the singularities, as in, all one has to do is fix the initial problem! Then the balance of the world (and one's interpretation of reality) will be restored. Wow. Miracle of all miracles! Problem solved!

If only it were that simple... If. Only.

If you missed the central point, I'll make it clear: I'm not one for singularities. I think that singularities as causes of mental illness, and the belief in singularities as solutions to mental health issues, is a crutch for our tiny human minds, which basically cower in the face of complexity. Shrieking like banshees, confused by too much information, our brains retreat into the darkness of feeble excuses, illogical rationalizations, and cooler places of simple comfort... all to avoid that horrific creature; triangulation... complication... complexity.

Indeed the world is complicated.

While astronomers and physicists try to account for much of the mass of the universe, which is currently unaccounted for, by the way, neuroscientists are searching for the causes of schizophrenia.

The astronomers and physicists have uncovered our newest sub-atomic bits, called neutrinos - invisible bits of energy, impossibly fast, and difficult to capture. An exciting discovery, these neutrinos are. They are bursts of energy that exist beyond what is materially visible, which pass through our bodies undetected. Things we cannot see. Things which may have an effect that we can never know.

Their addition to our textbooks fills in another section of the sketch we humans are creating about the scale and scope of universal events. Although the astronomers and physicists were hugely optimistc about the contributions of neutrinos in their accounting for that missing matter; their mass is too light. Simply put, there is another particle out there, so heavy, presently unknowable, which comprises much of our universe's mass. And so they search, for this matter that has no name except for Dark Matter. Dark Matter, the unseen, currently unknowable mass of the universe.

At the same time, in another field of research, neuroscientists are picking apart man's universe that is his brain, and they have found that genetics accounts for only 40 to 50% of the "cause" of schizophrenia. Coincidentally, most of these genes related to schizophrenia - mutations, duplications, and junky bits of genomic code - sit in the "Bermuda Triangle" of our genetic geography; on some godforsaken space of a single chromosome where a number of immune illnesses lie. Thus the genetic vulnerabilty for schizophrenia sits alongside a predisposition to an illness like Type 1 diabetes, for example.

(See this article for more information.)

Like the astronomers and physicists, the neuroscientists are still trying to find the "Dark Matter" of schizophrenia. What is that unaccounted for 50 to 60% "cause" of the condition? What is it? Where is it? How can we find it? If we ever find it, will we be be able to "save" people from it?

If we were incurious creatures, we would accept that the world we see is the only thing that exists. Our world would be simple, it seems, if we were unconcerned about way lay beyond our immediate perception and intuition. And yet our curiosity has led us to understand that there is a world of the impossibly small, and a world, apparently, of the possibly unknowable. Our world is, apparently, very complicated. How ever, then, could one believe in singularities as an explanation for anything?

It's complicated, but that might be okay,

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I'm naming him Rohllin...

Dear Graffiti Lovers,

More accessible art from the "mean" streets of Toronto:

I'm calling him Rohllin Graffiti: Harbord Street
Photo by Olivia

I'm calling this guy Rohllin. Don't know why. Just fits the art, I think.

To the street-scaper artists, I see your work... Please don't stop! I love it some much!

Wishing I had sum skillz,

The Company We Keep

Dear Company,

Last night was an interesting one. I love sleeping, mostly because I love the rewards of sleep: Dreams!

I had an interesting dream last night about friendships and their impact on our self-esteem and emotional inner-lives.

In my dream I was looking to eat lunch, and sat in a chic bistro/cafe, hoping to get a semi-healthy sandwich to eat. The bistro was full of attractive and well-dressed people, model types, who seemed to be there for some type of photo shoot. I had been sitting for a while, and finally caught the eye of a person behind the bar. As he stood behind the black lacquered bar, in his black button up top, he shouted over the din, "We're not serving food until dinner time. You'll have to come back later." It was only noon, and my rumbling tummy did not want to wait until dinner to be fed! I felt the many eyes of attractive, unconcerned people follow me out the door.

I was still pretty hungry, since I hadn't eaten, and left in search of another place where I could get some vittles. I walked down a tree-lined street, watching the sun filter through the green leaves and a French looking bakery materialized on the side of the street. I walked through polished pine doors, noticed a couple dining in the corner with their friend, and I inhaled the tantalizing scent of fresh baked goods.

Sitting at the counter, I looked over to watch the chef prepare mousses made of red, green, and orange pepper. In real life, I loathe peppers, but in my dream I admired his work and watched him as he did his art of cooking.

The chef told me that peppers were the main ingredient of the day, and that I could order pretty well anything I wanted having to do with peppers. I had to explain to him, regretfully, that I really hated the taste of peppers, and that they gave me indigestion. (This is true in real life!) He was at a loss for how he could feed me. I told him not to worry, that I just liked the smell of his shop, and that I would look around to see if there was anything I could buy to eat.

As I perused, the diners joked with me about my dislike of peppers, and I joked back, and we settled on chatting about the beautiful day. Behind the counter, I noticed a rack of baking. A pinwheel of croissant with parmesean/rosemary butter filling caught my eye, and I asked the chef if I could buy two.

As I was paying, the friend of the diners approached the counter to pay for her own meal, and began chatting with me. She was finished her meal and headed home to finish some work she was doing. Her and I left the restaurant together chatting away, and the couple shouted goodbyes from their tables, saying how beautiful we looked walking under the sunshine.

I felt warm and giddy from that interaction that took place in my dream. When I woke up, the warm feelings were still flooded inside me. And I thought of a simple but often overlooked lesson:

How we feel often depends on the company we keep. People can make us feel awful, if we spend our time with people who want to do that. Alternatively, people can make us feel amazing with a small amount of affection and congeniality.

Not an important post by any stretch, I suppose. Just a little food for thought... Choose your friends wisely. Make sure they love you and treat you in a manner that reflects that.

Warmth and sunshine to you all, despite these rainy days,

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Fun Stuff

To Urban Art Lovers,

Behold! A treat:

Foksy Graffiti: Kensington Market

Finding little treasures like this while I troll around town makes me smile. I hope you like it as much as I do.


Monday, June 8, 2009

The brain and the body unite!

Dear Dualists and Wholistic Leaners,

Some people think that conditions affecting mental health have a clear cause. Extreme versions of Survivor movement ideology and the anti-psychiatry movement, for example, support the notion that a harmful, violent world creates "manifestations of illness" in those who are sensitive. Persons who happen to experience serious traumas like physical abuse and sexual violence and who later experience a crisis of mental health, are often held up as examples that support the notion that a "harmful world" causes mental health problems or perceived problems of mental health.

I think it's a bit misleading to suggest that "physical" traumas, like sexual assault and abuse, are responsible for "mental" illness. This refrain has been repeated over and over again in psychoanalytic literature, has been absorbed and regurgitated by the Survivor movement, and yet it is such an incomplete picture of health and the things that can have an effect on health.

My observation has been that Survivor advocates (capital "S" in the extreme political concept of Survivor) tend to cling to the concept of trauma, reshaping the word to represent its most extreme; painting trauma always as malevolent violence, somehow always intentional (as is the truth in the case of sexual violence and physical abuse) or some type of mass-scale social subversion (big pharma plots ring a bell???).

And so in the Survivor literature, persons affected by mental illness are forever painted as victims of a social construct that is inherently violent, harmful, cruel, and indifferent to what it has created. Survivors were victims of a social construct that created the illness, then victims (to become survivors of) a system that was designed to overcome (entrench???) the illness that was supposedly caused by that social construct.

Sound complicated? It is, more than it has to be, I think. And it seems downright paranoid to me, and I'm prone to paranoia!!!

If we look outside of Survivor literature, and Survivor interpretations, there are actually many types of "trauma," besides any types of physical or sexual violence that a person and their brain can be exposed to. Some of these traumas are innocuous. Some of them are occur simply as a product of living and breathing. Poor nutrition, exposure to toxins, allergic reaction, major life change (whether positive or negative), severe illness, unfavourable/harmful social/family/relationship dynamic, access to opportunity or a lack of, a traumatic event (observer), a traumatic event (participant), a traumatic event (victim), etc... all fall under the definition proper of trauma.

It bothers me when conditions that affect mental health are explained to be a consequence of one event in some distant past... as if something as serious, as profound, and as life altering as a condition affecting mental health has such a simple solution. It's almost as if that one thing hadn't happened, all of life would be different somehow.

If only it were that simple... If only society would cease being "abusive" and "traumatizing," then everyone would be okay, seems to be the logic.

From what I understand, based on my education and experience, there is no "golden shield" protecting the brain from the varied and innumerable assaults of life. In fact, the assaults of life are, for the most part, predictable, and have predictable consequences. In truth, the reality is that the multiple and varied traumas of life don't cause "mental" illness in most people. So really, there isn't anything in the type of trauma itself that causes mental illness, the reality is that the illness lies in wait, like cancer, only to rear its head opportunistically, after an unknown number of cumulative attacks of unknown and likely unforseeable type. And because our brain is innately curious, seeking explanation for all things, and even creating explanation where none can reasonably be found, our brain (and blame) falls on the event that lies closest to our "break."

Because I find this thinking so reductionist, that mental illness can be pointed to a single cause, I'm left to wonder if this is a story we try to tell ourselves for our own comfort and sense of sanity. I wonder if these stories are a place to lay blame for the inherent vulnerabilities of our brain and brain/body relationship. Based on my knowledge and experience, the mind is primed to do things, and motivates us to do things, beyond our conscious control. Lacking conscious control over our minds is not something we are comfortable with, and absurdly, many of our daily routines are performed with little to no "conscious" thought or reflection. By Western rationalist standards, this assertion, that our minds have a consciousness beyond the reach of our own awareness, is tantamount to heresy.

An interesting bit; apparently Medieval monks believed in "mind over matter" so deeply that they were driven to castration when they had unwanted, surprise erections. In fact, castration was a "treatment" for unwanted erections. Since they could not control that bit of matter, then the solution for lack of mental control, clearly, should be to mutilate oneself, no? Out of sight, out of mind? Problem solved?

We want to believe our minds are impenetrable to the effects of life, that the mind transcends our daily routine, transcends the cumulative effects of stress; and yet even the bothersomeness of day to day details can be enough to affect a person's state of mind adversely.

What happens to the body, happens to the brain, and the brain will let the body know. The "inconvenient truth" is that our body's dependence on the brain, and the thinking brain we call the mind, makes us systemically, wholistically vulnerable. When our mind changes, our behaviour changes. If our behaviour changes, people think we have changed. And we, the changed, are forced to ponder that, and submit to the consequences of that.

But let's not be like the monks, misunderstanding the underlying issue; making associations where there are none; seeking simple solutions, potentially harmful solutions, that aren't actual resolutions.

Trying to bring it together, even if it's just for me,

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Mmmmm... Barbecued Kittens... Tasty!

Dear Readers of Sensationalist Newspapers,

I just want to make it clear that I am NOT a cannibal!!!

The newspapers have been spending a lot of time on the Tim McLean/Vincent Li tragedy, and have been painting Vincent Li, who has schizophrenia, as basically inhuman. It's true, the delusions and hallucinations that Vincent Li was experiencing as a result of his illness did compel him to do a very heinous and bizarre act, that fact cannot be denied.

The papers/press have invested a lot of time painting a mythological portrait of psychosis as it has manifested in the case of Vincent Li, and true to their sensationalist form, the press has spent zero words to explain that what happened in that incident was exceptionally rare. Indeed, they haven't spent any time at all discussing the actual crime statistics of persons living with a condition like psychosis. (Incidences of violent crime, committed by persons with severe mental illness, are very rare, rarer even than in "normal" populations.)

Sadly, because of distorted (should we call it deranged even?) media reporting, the public is left with a mistaken belief that a medical condition like psychosis will turn a person into a murdering cannibalistic zombies on a mission from some god. I don't want to leave the public with that mistaken impression, so I'm here to inform the public of the Truth of the Matter:

Myself, I'm not on a cannibalistic murder mission from god; I just like eating kittens. I find they're best roasted in barbecue sauce. After my meal of kittens, I finish with cupcakes, iced with ground unicorn horn frosting!!! Do you know how hard it is to catch a unicorn?

If we don't laugh, we cry right? Laugh. Hard. Then write your newspapers and tell them that you oppose sensationalist crime reporting.

Big love and kitten breath kisses,

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Care Effect

Dear Feelers,

Yes, I'm talking to you, people who feel, and I want you to ponder this post.

Throughout my education (I studied psychology at university) there was an enormous amount of discussion about something called the placebo effect. Let me explain this phenomenon:

When a person is unwell, and they go to a doctor to get medication for whatever condition it is that is affecting them, the expectation is that the medication will work to take away the symptoms of the condition, or that the meds will "cure" the condition. Sometimes, though, doctors have no cure for what ails you, and so they kind of throw a prescription at you, with both of you hoping it will work. You go home, take the pills, and lo and behold, a few days or a week or so later, you feel better. Was it the pills? If it wasn't the pills that made you better, what did?

What if your doctor gave you "sugar pills," tablets that look like medications, but are actually really just sugar, with no actual medicinal ingredients in them? What if these sugar pills DID relieve your symptoms?

When a person finds relief in their symptoms despite having taken a sugar pill, or a med that isn't intended to have an effect on their condition, that is known as the "placebo effect."

For some reason, I was taught that the placebo effect is kind of a bad thing. Let me give you an example to explain what I mean:

Depression is medical condition where pills are often prescribed to relieve symptoms. Surprisingly, if you look at the research on medications that treat depression, the studies show that the medications for depression are no more effective than a sugar pill. So basically, whether you take a sugar pill or a medication intended to treat depression, your chances of getting better are equal with both treatment options. (The caveat is that you have to think the sugar pills is a medication intended to treat depression, and your doctors can't intentionally lie to you.) And just for the sake of being a responsible writer, I want to make it clear that medications DO work to treat depression, and work BEST when they are combined with therapy as part of the treatment.

Often the placebo effect is used as a defense for people who take issue with using medications to treat conditions affecting the brain and behaviour (like depression). For people who don't want to or don't like to take medications, they generally say something like, "Well if people can get better on a sugar pill, why should a person have to take drugs? That's just big pharma trying to control us."

Another issue that the placebo effect brings up is the issue of personal control and power over the mind. Imagine taking part in a study on depression (assuming you had depression) where you were offered a pill every day. Imagine if you felt some relief of you symptoms over time, say six weeks, where you took a pill and had to measure your symptoms at the end of every week. What if at the end of six weeks, you reported that you feel pretty good, much better than when you first entered the study. Then, what if you were told that the medication you were taking was NOT a medication at all, but was a sugar pill. How would you feel? Conflicted? Duped?

People assume that we always have control over our minds; how we think, how we react, how we feel about things. I'm not sure this is true. In fact, I'm pretty convinced this is untrue, that we have control or will over all aspects of our mind.

I think the placebo effect is an interesting and subtle reminder that life has powerful undercurrents, and our brains, minds, thoughts, behaviours, respond to these undercurrents. One of the most underrated "undercurrents" is simple social interaction... talking to people, feeling like people like you, feeling like you belong among your tribe of humans.

Let's imagine that a person had depression. What are the symptoms? Lack of motivation? Feeling flat? Social isolation?

What is the effect of being in contact with people who are interested in hearing about what is happening to your body? What is the effect of being around professionals who understand the concept of "illness," that you feel unwell, unlike yourself, and that you wish you could feel like you did before? What does is the effect of being around a person who will listen to your worries and empathize with you clearly? What is the effect of simply being around people? Being cared for?

Placebo effect my ass; it's the care effect. And it's not a bad thing. We should all be able to benefit more often from the care effect.

Now should we prescribe medicinal pills in cases where a placebo is shown to be equally effective? I'm not sure what the answer is to that, but I know doctors aren't allowed to lie to their patients, and for a placebo to work, one needs to think it's a medical treatment. However, like in our example of depression, there is a treatment option that produces healthier people than taking a pill alone. So maybe we just need to rethink our concept of "care."

Popping my people pills,

Monday, May 25, 2009

Politik? Oh Canada, don't go there!

Dear Politicians,

We, the under-35 demographic of Canadians, would appreciate your attention.

We are concerned about a number of issues relating to:
- the disparities between wages and inflation
- the entry level wages of the labour force & white collar workers
- lack of benefits, including health, dental, pension coverage
- lack of accessible, affordable childcare for dual working parent families
- use of immigrants to meet labour needs

Health Care
- lack of accessible drug coverage
- lack of catastrophic/chronic condition drug coverage
- lack of specialized care for our ailing parents, lack of resources for their care
- refusal to cover specialized care/treatments for our children/future children
- imbalanced/unequal access to timely treatments for serious conditions
- lack of coverage for travel expenses that are related to treatments not offered locally

- when are you all going to get your acts together?
- where is our formerly transparent media?
- who is the government accountable to? and how can we learn of your transgressions if media lacks access (or if access is impeded) to your records?

National Parity
- divisive/dismissive attitudes towards specific groups of Canadians
- disregard/ignoring of Canadian culture
- lack of inclusion in Canadian culture (myopic concept of culture vs. a pluralistic concept)
- lack of investment in arts & culture & arts/culture education
- lack of investment in developing/identifying a collective national identity (we have far more in common than we do in difference!)

- lack of sustainable energy initiatives
- no commitment to sustainability in general
- no environmental accountability for corporations
- lack of community or local environmental resources ("green" info hubs for paint/toxic waste/electronics disposal, workshops on simple changes to reduce waste/consumption)
- lack of incentive for the public to overhaul their own homes and habits (tax rebates for cyclists?)

Now that you know my concerns, can you start talking to me? My grandmother is sick of the attention, frankly, and I'm getting impatient.

Your faithful dissident,

PS. President... erm... Prime Minister Harper: Stop with the divisive USRepublican style politiking. It's just gross, distateful, repugnant, low, base, and well, frankly pathetic. Aren't we better than that? Grow a pair and act like a man, a leader of men, if you will, instead of a school yard bully. (Yeah, I'm referring to your attack ads that are ickily McCainian in style.)

Friday, May 22, 2009


Dear Criers, Laughers, and Pressers of Grim Lips,

You ever just wake up one day and think, "I'm not in a bad mood. I'm not sad. I'm just not happy. In fact, I just feel like crying?"

Well, I wake up feeling like that, and today is one of those days.

I like to call them my "Tender Days."

On Tender Days, my insides feel as if they have been run through a cheese grater, and I feel like I'm pulpy, swollen, and would burst into a river of bodily fluids at the slightest provocation. In fact, on days like today, I'm known to cry at commercials, laugh and cry at the same time at a stupid joke, or sit on the bus trying to maintain composure as evocative thoughts loll around in my head.

In short, I spend Tender Days perpetually on the verge of tears, and every little thing, both kind and cruel, real or remembered, makes me weep.

So I'm feeling a little tender, and I've been weeping a bit as I cruise around on my daily run through the various media I like to read. I'd tell you what I'm tearing up about, but I really don't want to dwell, and you needn't depress yourself too.

I'm going to sign off the web for the night. I'll try to distract myself by baking some strawberry muffins. I'll give you the recipe to save for your own Tender Days in a coming post. Maybe they'll help you feel a little lighter too.

Crying over my cupcakes,

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Counting My Beans...

Dear Bean Counters, both of the professional and involuntary varieties,

I am an involuntary bean counter.

You see, lately life has been difficult. In the past year or so I've struggled enormously to secure stable employment, and in doing so, I have had some interesting - noteworthy, let's say - experiences. I've also learned a lot about "reducing expenses," but more on that later.

And so, being thrown into poverty, basically dependent on pocket change showing up whenever it wants (not often enough) and the goodwill of those who love me, has caused me to reevaluate life in general.

Since I haven't had work to define me or organize my time, I've basically had to spend a year convincing people that, yes, I am indeed making an effort in life, and that no, I don't sit at home all day laying on my duff and watching Soap Operas or Oprah.

So I spent a year working on long term goals, for the most part, that have little tangible yield, but that will eventually do something for me in the long run. (I have a five year plan, as opposed to a 5 month plan, is what I like to say.)

In this process, I've gotten an interesting glimpse into social priorities, and I've been able to compare these priorities long and hard against my own.

Social Priorities I have come across are:
- high income
- clear indications of material gain
- complete self sufficiency
- an active social life (with the ability to cover the associated costs for yourself and others!)
- "things" (yes, I said it, material goods that others can admire is a social priority)

My Priorities (after much practice and exploration) are:
- affectionate and mutually empathetic relationships with those I care about
- a capacity to learn and adapt this knowledge to suit my needs
- the ability to do what I can when I can, and to admit when I certainly cannot do a thing or an aspect of a thing

So what I have I gained from my evaluation of my priorities?

The most important conclusion I have arrived at is that my relationships with people matter simply because I need the people in my life for their support. Furthermore, I know my friends need me for the same reasons. It's interesting how difficult circumstances and an openness about them can inspire some unconventional conversations and strong acts of love. (Mind you, I've also had some of the opposite reactions, and have had to reorganize a few relationships because of that.) I'm feeling more secure in the relationships I do have, and much more willing to give people the benefit of the doubt if an ambiguous scenario presents itself.

While a number of people have voiced concerns about my apparent "inaction," I've actually spent many hours learning about various subjects: For example, I now know that vinegar actually really is an effective disinfectant, and that most household cleaners can be made from things in the cupboard and fridge. I know how to plant a vegetable garden, and I know how to create a rotating indoor garden so that one can have fresh greens and herbs at any time of the year. I also know how to make homemade fertilizer, and how to cure a diseased plant. I know a lot about caring for sick fish using just a few types of salt. I have also learned that store-bought baking can just never compare to the baking I have learned to make. I have also learned what career it is that I want to pursue, and I have a much better idea now, after some research, of how to pursue this career. Also, homemade iced tea, and fresh lemonade are delicious and deceptively easy to make... the mixing of tasty summer drinks has possibly become an art that we have lost touch with due to our preprepared/prepackaged everything.

By nature, I'm a people pleaser, and I have often said yes to things that have stretched both my energy and resources. Today, I know my limits a lot better, and I no longer feel ashamed to tell a person that their expectations are impossible for me to meet... so yes, sometimes even those small social graces like buying and mailing a birthday card can be impossible for a person who is stretched to the wire financially. And no, sometimes I can't even call on your special day because really, I can't even afford a phone, let alone the long distance charges. But if a person involves me in a thing I can do, or has an expectation that can be fulfilled, I'm prepared to do that, and generally I'm very happy about it. (Yes, I do want you to drop by my house on your birthday, and I will bake you birthday muffins that you will dream about and wake up craving!)

So this bean counting adventure of mine hasn't been all bad. And some good has come out of it too!

I'm working on a book which was inspired by "noteworthy" events of recent past. I'm working towards my career goals. And yes, finally, I found a modest job that is going to cover some bills and set my back on my feet again.

So do you want to come over for iced tea and chocolate cupcakes? I have some in the fridge waiting for you.

Scrumptuously yours,

Saturday, May 9, 2009

No one is safe from a sterotype...

Dear Trusted Adults, Carers of Children, Mothers, Fathers, Sisters, Brothers, and Friends,

Some less than light reading excerpted from the Globe and Mail (Click on the title to view the entire article):

Bullying in Childhood May Help Trigger Schizophrenia
By Paul Taylor

"Children who face relentless bullying from their peers are at elevated risk of developing psychotic symptoms by the time they reach early adolescence, a British study has revealed.

Previous research has shown that bullying can lead to anxiety, depression and even suicide. But the new study, by researchers at the University of Warwick, is the first to link bullying with psychotic symptoms, which include hallucinations, delusions, and bizarre and paranoid thoughts.

Essentially, the stress caused by severe and chronic victimization may be enough to push a vulnerable person over the edge, leading to full-blown schizophrenia, Dr. Wolke speculated.

He noted that stress spurs the release of cortisol, a hormone that might alter the developing brain. What's more, being treated badly can have long-lasting effects on the thought processes of an impressionable child.

Further research would be needed to confirm that bullying can be the spark for schizophrenia.

The latest findings, published in Archives of General Psychiatry, are based on an assessment of 6,437 young individuals.

About 46 per cent of the kids had been victims of bullying to some degree. The children who experienced a great deal of bullying tended to be the ones who were most likely to suffer from psychotic symptoms.

But Dr. Wolke emphasized that the odds of developing such symptoms must be kept in perspective.

"You have an increased risk, but it doesn't mean that most of the children who were bullied developed psychotic symptoms," he said in an interview."


And now to highlight how attributions are assigned to those living with mental illness, and to behold the appearance and evolution of stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination; from the comments section related to this article:

this is just my opinion from Toronto, Canada writes:
Could be a chicken vs egg issue. Maybe kids who are predisposed to mental illnesses tend to be picked on more because the other kids think they're 'weird'..?

Nature Lover from Canada writes: Not only that, but kids who have psycological disorders don't "get" the triggers that make them annoying, and they are poor judges of situations that could cause other kids to lash out at them. As much as we could "sanitize" schools with anti-bullying messages, the reality is that kids are just unformed adults who don't always behave in a civilized way. So if kid A is "bugging" kid B, be it verbally or physically, kid B may react chldishly to the situation, hitting back etc. I've seen this all before and the mother of kid A will jump in and accuse kid B of being a bully, when it was really kid A's behaviour that precipitated when went down.


And last but not least, a comment from sum crumb summarizing the reality/absurdity of what the hell is going on with these comments:

sum crumb, from Canada wrote: Interesting presumptions about children with potential predispositions to psychosis floating around... "weird"... "childish"... "annoying"... "poor judges"... will the value attributions associated with mental illness never end? And now we're laying these myths, labels, and stereotypes on children?

Speaking of bullies, remember how we call the adults with mental illnesses lazy, unmotivated, and social leeches? Isn't that bad enough? How about we just leave the kids alone (with the assigning of labels and misplaced value attributions), and rotate around this discussion of children and mental illness VERY carefully... preferably with a ten foot pole?

These are children afterall, and we do want them to have the rosiest, as unblemished as possible, future, no?

Labels are harmful, no?

Or have the bullies just not got around to understanding these basic facts of life yet?

(Thanks to the bullies who are flying their flags even here, on a topic like this. Do you people have ANY morals or sense of ethic?)


So I guess the final message is: Bullies never die, and ignorance lives on forever?

I hope we do leave the kids alone. Let's let kids just grow up and be kids? Let's not let little people (children) grow up and live forever under any of our misplaced and/or ignorant banners, huh?

Crossing my fingers that we cross the bridge to a brighter side, but not holding my breath,

PS. Why isn't anyone discussing parenting and intolerance to bullying? Are we really supposed to accept the "kids will be kids" mantra? Kids WILL be kids. Some kids will be nice kids. Some kids will be less nice. Other kids will be jerky kids. They will be the kids that their parents brought up... so this says something, I think. Something about parenting...

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sorry I haven't been around...

Dear Occupants,

Sorry I haven't been around (at all) lately.

I've been quite unwell since around Christmas, and have been dealing with finding a diagnosis. This is relating to physical health... no need to worry for my mental health, all is well in that department.

Anyway, for those of you who are still lurking, some love to cheer us all up:

Big Love,

Monday, March 23, 2009

I'm calling you out Globe

Dear Readers of Newspapers and Consumers of Media,

I have a lot of respect for the Globe and Mail right now, a Canadian news publication.

Now, I'm not normally one to go off trumpeting the merits of various media or consumer products, but the Globe truly is doing a good (or better) thing. Right now, the paper is running a series of articles on mental health and the issues that surround it. In fact, an entire section of their online paper is dedicated to mental health. It's called the Breakdown Series.

I'm not quite sure why they've picked up on mental health, since most media outlets spend a lot of time either provoking contention in events that involve mental health, or they simply ignore the greater (and more serious) issues for want of an outrageous headline.

But here they are, the grand Globe, a national rag, doing a series on the lowliest and least popular of all health (and social) issues. And they're even trying to be sensitive to boot, it seems!

But I have an issue with their most recent online article relating to mental health, and this is an issues that has appeared in more than one article, by more than one author. (I know, I know, I should never expect perfection... and maybe I should be grateful for the ink we have right now, but I'm not one for table scraps under any circumstances!)

In Patients' rights frustrate families, the ugly issue of nomenclature - what to call people with schizophrenia - rears its ugly head.

You need to understand, this is a highly contentious issue, even among people themselves who live with the condition. Apparently no one likes to be called "patient;" and "nutbar" or "frutcake" or "schizo" are certainly unacceptable. And so a zillion fairly inaccurate euphemisms have been conceived and parlayed into our language; consumer, survivor, mentally ill, person with lived experience, client, and on and on and freakishly on and on. A million and one ways to politically or not-so-apolitically say something without saying it: A person who has the condition of schizophrenia. (Keep in mind that many of the euphemisms I stated are also generic catch-alls for basically any condition affecting mental health, and many have nuanced connotations... also so many are misnomers in and of themselves and their usage that I could likely write a volume of books about misnomers in mental health.)

So what evil word did Picard, the author of the article, use to describe a person with schizophrenia? He used the modifier "schizophrenic" in the 6th staccato sentence of an article of considerable length. He used the word schizophrenic to describe Matt, and basically every other person who lives with the condition of schizophrenia.

To be fair, Picard first described the inspiration for this article, Matt, as a person "who suffers from schizophrenia." And that's nice. We get an idea at least, that we are talking about a person with a disease that is harming them, until we get to pretty much the next sentence which basically identifies Matt (and people with schizophrenia in general) as a walking-talking disease process. To be sure, Matt's not got an easy ride, based on the description of his current circumstances, but I find it unfair to reduce the identity of a person to a disease process... to reduce all people who live with this condition... to the limited concept of what schizphrenia is.

And we know that the concept of schizophrenia as a condition affecting health is limited... especially in our media. Mostly our media is concerned with conjuring up images of the negative mythology that surrounds this illness. The media myths suggest that people with schizophrenia are crazed murderers, unpredictable people, untamable monsters with no access to logic or reason, and... you get the picture.

Since the Globe appears to be interested in dealing with the social issues surrounding problems and conditions of mental health, I have asked the Globe to put their money where their mouth is; to make a clear committment to a cause that they themselves seem to support.

We all know that the mythology that is heavily circulated in the media exacerbates the public's negative (and in my opinion, harmful) perception of mental health conditions. And so here is my comment (more of a request) to them:

And the Globe and Mail can make a simple yet profound change by retiring the word "schizophrenic" to the annals of journalistic anachronisms that don't belong in a newspaper any more.

People have schizophrenia. They are not schizophrenia, and schizophrenia is not them. Furthermore, "schizophrenic" is not an accurate modifier to describe a human being... it says far too much about a health problem (and more to the point... the negative mythology surrounding a health problem), and far too little about the person who happens to have a health problem.

Let us put our proverbial money where our mouths are, dear Globe... if we are going to report on the social injustices of mental health care or lack thereof in Canada?

Unacknowledged and unarticulated widespread systemic discrimination is the foremost among those social injustices, and is the primary cause of the "secondary symptoms" of mental illness (the poverty, the instability, the homelessness, skewed laws, and distorted public perception among them).

So please, for the love of humanity, retire the word Schizophrenic. Be the first major media outlet to humanize, instead of sensationalize, this very serious condition of health.

My blog: addressed2occupant (dot) blogspot (dot) com

And so dear reader, what will the Globe do? Will they rise to the occasion of this challenge... to commit themselves to the social issues not only in the breadth of topics they cover, but also in the depth of how they write about the topics they cover?

We shall see.

Respecting the power of words,

Thursday, March 19, 2009



1. (esp. formerly) an institution for the maintenance and care of the mentally ill, orphans, or other persons requiring specialized assistance.
2. an inviolable refuge, as formerly for criminals and debtors; sanctuary: He sought asylum in the church.
3. International Law.
a. a refuge granted an alien by a sovereign state on its own territory.
b. a temporary refuge granted political offenders, esp. in a foreign embassy.
4. any secure retreat.

2. haven, shelter, retreat.

Asylum -
(as Inspired by the Shot Gun Sister, and Jon)

and hair
are not about love,
nor do they remind us of love.

Fair skin,
fine bones,
and soft lips,
belong not to the realm of love either.

The sister
who stands
shotgun in hand
staring down her sibling's oppressor.

Her twisted face
come around here
and you'll have no seed (or sword) to spare for love again.

(Love is fierce.
But not injurious.
And sister, you will be safe here.)

A million smiles,
glowing glances,
a wink across the air,
love resides in not one of these gestures.

A coat (for warmth),
an arm (for strength),
a shoulder (for tears),
it seems we are getting closer.

The husband
who stands
empathy at hand
while his wife shatters their castle.

Stand over her
he does;
as his love
stretches into an arbor (of vine and flower) to protect her.

(Love is asylum.
But has no constraint.
And wife, you do belong here.)

Big Love,

Monday, March 16, 2009

I don't *do* myths...

Dear Mythbusters,

We need you! Now! Fer realz!

Okay, we need to talk about psychosis and myths. We need to talk about those health conditions that make you lose contact with reality (psychosis as it relates to schizophrenia, severe depression, and bi-polar), and we need to talk about the myths that surround them.

Myth #1: People with psychosis are crazy axe murders.

The origins of this myth lie in two key areas: a) popular media; b) the heinously oversensationalized actions of people who are unwell.

Interestingly, the two origins of this myth conveniently play into one another. Popular media, like movies, for example, uses the medical condition of psychosis because it creates an alluring and seemingly complicated character that will do things that "normal" people would never do. And so axe murders are often described as psychotic, or insane, since it's just beyond comprehension that a person in possession of sanity would do such things.

When people with psychosis are in poor health, and are locked in the grips of a psychotic event, sometimes odd and even very unfortunate behaviour can happen... which tends to wind up in our news... over and over again, for any number of years following the event. Furthermore, since the behaviour of one in the grips of a psychotic event can be so unusual, this tends to make great fodder for semi-truthful, fictionalized tales, which supports the perpetuation of the mythology.

So, what is the truth? Are people with psychosis any more murderous or criminal than the regular population? Well, not really. The truth of the matter is that *most* crimes are committed by those who we would consider fairly sane people. However, people with psychosis still do commit crimes, at a fairly consistent rate with the rest of the population.

Can people with psychosis commit crimes that are motivated by their psychotic event? Of course. But you know how we can avoid that? By taking mental health seriously, and by ensuring that everyone has equal, compassionate, and appropriate access to preventative education and (if needed) timely treatments. (I'll discuss treatments and what I mean by this last sentence in another post, on another day.)

Just a last point about criminal behaviour and people: Crimes are more likely to be committed against us by people we know. The idea of "stranger danger" is a myth. And so the truth is that you will know, most likely, in some manner, the person who has broken into your home. Also, you are more likely to be assaulted, raped, and even murdered by someone you know and/or love than you are by a "crazed" stranger. Keep that in mind the next time you walk out your front door.

Myth #2: People with psychosis are possessed.

The origins of this myth lie in: Religion/Spirituality/Mysticism/Explaining the unexplainable by making up interesting tales that are not realistic given the information about the brain and its workings that we have today.

Okay, I'm not super religious, and I don't believe in spirits. I can understand that if you do believe in religion/spirits/ghosts/possession that this myth makes sense to you, since spirits are known to be pretty nasty, according to religious or spiritual lore.

But the truth is, psychosis is medical condition that has fairly clear symptoms, a pretty predictable progress, and a clear pattern in the activities and chemical actions in the brain. There is no definitive "test" for psychosis, but some tests will show unusual brain activity, and more refined tests (that are experimental and not used on people) will show problems with dopamine transmission. Furthermore, since medicine that deals with dopamine (and/or very good age-and-situation specific therapy) can help relieve the symptoms of psychosis, this gives us a lot of reason to think that this is a condition better treated by doctors, therapists, and loving families than preists or spiritual experts.

Consulting a doctor (or two, sometimes three) first, to rule out psychosis, would be more helpful than just attempting an exorcism or spiritual ceremony.

Myth #3: People with psychosis have access to "another dimension," "another world," "a different spiritual plane."

Origins of this myth: Religion/Animism/Shamanism/Mysticism/Delusional Thinking Itself (Yes, I said that one out loud.)

This myth is an interesting one, since it is heavily supported by some religious groups/belief systems. It is also supported by the condition itself, which can sometimes lean towards delusional thinking. (Delusions are what we call "false and fixed beliefs." They are beliefs that are not likely to be realistic, and they are beliefs that are held with a feeling of certainty, even if there is a lot of evidence to show they are wrong.) Furthermore, this myth is also supported by some older theories relating to mental health and its causes. (Perhaps I'll write more about this last point in another post as well, since I'm sure it begs for clarification!)

You know, I really wish that my psychotic event gave me visions of another world. I really wish it did. That would be a lot of fun, and it would make me a very special person who had a special view of life that others did not have access to.

But the truth is, my psychotic event really just gave me a lot of confusing and anxious feelings. What I think it did was mix up my memories and distort my concept of time, and spit it all out into the present like it was real and happening at that moment, with no order or clear logic that belonged to the context I was in. I was having thoughts and doing things that only made sense to me, and that sense of logic was next to impossible to describe to others, even though I did (and still do) understand it myself.

Confusing. Not fun. Not access to a new dimension. Definitely not "a vision." Really, I do wish it was a vision, since that would give meaning to an event that seems like it should be so meaningful.

I think my point is that the experience of psychosis can be very interesting, and can even seem insightful, but that mythologizing the "insights" or visions that come out of a condition of mental health can be very harmful. Many of us with psychosis experience painful emotions (anxiety, fear, suspicion, confusion), and feel disconnected from our loved ones when we first start to feel the symptoms of the condition. Things escalate and then our behaviour changes and people, our friends, families, and neighbours, find reasons to actively shun us for doing behaviours that none of us can predict.

Furthermore, in most cultures, a condition like psychosis has very serious social consequences. Even though a person can be revered for having visions by some groups, they are usually also feared (this is an interesting and tense paradox), and live on the fringes of society... Kind of like tigers in a zoo: fun to look at, interesting to interact with, but mostly unpredictable and fearsome, and thus always treated very, very carefully, and best if generally avoided.

In North America, we don't really think that people with psychosis have access to a special reality, and we just tend to think people with this condition are loonies or psychos or axe murderers... and so those of us with psychosis get pushed to edges of our social networks... this means, for us, fewer jobs, fewer friends, even being ostracized by our families. And really, all of that just amounts to a hell of a lot of loneliness and poverty and confusion for everyone involved.

This one is a harmful myth indeed. A soothing myth for the egos of some, maybe, but a very harmful one.

Myth #4: Psychosis is caused by a demanding and abusive world that won't accept people who deviate from what is "normal."

Origins of this myth: Early psychiatry. Reductionist environmental/social psychology.

Early psychiatry and even modern environmental psychology has invested a lot of time and energy trying to explain that psychosis is caused exclusively by the life and circumstances of the person who develops the condition. This is known as the Environmental/Social Model.

Another model is also trying to explain psychosis, this is called the Biopsychosocial Model. Before I tell you about the Biopsychosocial Model, I want to talk about one of science's Great Debates: Nature vs. Nuture. This is an important debate to talk about, since it will help us to understand why resolving this myth is important, and it will help us better understand the Biopsychosocial Model.

One of the big discussions that is happening in healthcare and mental health and psychology is what is called the nature/nurture debate. This debate is trying to pinpoint the origins of all kinds of things affecting people. On the "nature" side, we would bring up things relating to the genes (the traits that we inherit from our parents, like hair colour, skin colour, and on and on) and we discuss how a variety of things are caused by or related to our genes or our basic biology. On the "nurture" side, we talk about how our looks or behaviour or ideas are related to or caused by the places and people we grow up with.

And so if we were to take an issue like psychosis, the nature side would say: having an event of psychosis is a condition that is related more closely to the biology of the person who has it. We think this because psychosis can run in families; you are more likely to have a psychotic event if you have a family member who has lived with a condition related to psychosis (schizophrenia, severe depression, bi-polar). There is early genomic evidence that shows that psychosis (the psychosis that appears in schizophrenia) exists in a number of genes.

More support for the nature side says that psychosis happens when you change the dopamine levels; specifically, increases in dopamine amounts can increase your likelihood of having a psychotic event. And so changing the chemicals in the brain tells us that this is a condition that happens in the wiring/transmissions that happen in our heads.

For the other side, the nurture side, the debate tells us that people who grow up in certain environments or with certain life circumstances are more likely to get psychosis. In families where there is a lot of stress, there is also a tendency for more psychosis. And so psychosis can happen more often in families where a number of crises or tragedies occor, or when the family is poor and can't have the "stabilizing" effects of financial prosperity (talking about a stable supply of healthy food, a stable supply of medications for family members with health problems, access to supportive or even just higher education systems, stable access to transit to get to work or even to get to a doctor if needed!) In short, the nature debate tells us that those who are "assaulted" by life consistently, in terms of poverty, abusive or neglectful social/family conditions, food/necessity shortages, and unstable finances and housing, or just major life changes, are more likely to develop psychosis.

Well, here's the truth to this psychosis myth: In this case, both the nature and nurture debators win. Nature tells us that psychosis can be passed down through families. Nature tells us there are "genes" for psychosis, just like there are genes that mark cancer, just like there are genes that dictate eye colour. Nature tells us that we can change a person's brain chemistry to "create" or "take away" psychosis.


It gets complicated. The genes, science is thinking, become "activated" by a stressful environment. (Stress is translated by the body through a chemical called cortisol... A stressful event happens or even if you *think* a stressful event will happen, and your body makes more of this hormone, and then your body reacts to it by doing all kinds of things like having a faster heartbeat, feeling very hot or very cold, feeling nervous, and so on... more fodder for the biology discussion.) And so someone can be born with a "tendency" towards having this condition (the same way one can have a higher chance of getting a type of cancer because of their genes). But the condition may or may not come out, depending on the life circumstances/stressors/sensitivity to cortisol (stress) hormones of the person who has the genes.

And so people with a lot of stress in their lifetime would find these genes activated. And we're not just talking once in awhile work pressure stress, we're talking fairly consistent patterns of stressors. Stress that relates to uncertain living circumstances... stress that relates to being poor, like worrying all the time about food, medicine, and how to pay the next bill... stress that relates to big life changes, like going to university or even getting married... and you get the picture.

This blending of both sides, nature AND nurture, is called the biopsychosocial model of psychosis. It takes into account the traits a person is given to by their parents (bio), the environment and circumstances of the person (social), and even the person him or herself in terms of their age and experience and how they deal with life and its details (psycho).

Forever chipping away to find the truth and hoping these tidbits have helped a bit,

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I feel your pain, but this is unreasonable...

Dear Citizens,

There is an alarming situation arising in our legal system. The following is taken from

Family of man killed on Greyhound bus pressing for 'Tim's law'

Last Updated: Thursday, February 26, 2009 | 2:11 PM ET

CBC News

The family of Tim McLean is stepping up its lobbying efforts for victim protection legislation they call "Tim's law."

McLean, 22, was brutally killed aboard a Greyhound bus last July near Portage la Prairie.

His mom, Carol deDelley, has said Tim's law would put the rights of a victim of crime ahead of those of the perpetrator. The proposed legislation would prevent a person found not criminally responsible of a crime from being released into the community.

It would mean that the most violent, unpredictable people who have committed a crime would face incarceration for life, with no possibility of parole.

"I don't know what the outcome is going to be, but we want to inspire Tim's law to become a reality, to make sure that his life isn't wasted," said McLean's aunt Paulette Speer. "We want there to be more [support] provided to protect the victim and not the guilty person."

McLean's family is selling T-shirts, buttons and fridge magnets to support its effort to press the government for the legislation. The items are made by Speer and her husband, who operate a promotional product business in Winnipeg.

The family will sell the items at a rally in Brandon on Friday.

McLean was returning home from a job in Edmonton when he was stabbed to death by a fellow passenger aboard the bus about 8:30 p.m. on July 31, 2008.

Vince Weiguang Li, 40, of Edmonton, has been charged with second-degree murder. His trial begins March 2 in Winnipeg. The case was moved from Portage la Prairie because Li has received death threats.

At trial, it's expected the issue will not be whether Li killed McLean but whether Li can be held criminally responsible for the death if he was suffering from a disease of the mind.


I respect the family's anger and frustration with this situation. I respect also that the family fears that someone "will get away with" killing their young son. But I think, in their anger, the family has lost perspective.

If we imagine laws as rules that are meant to protect citizens, this law that the McLean family is advocating for does nothing to protect anyone.

Hear me out.

Central to the creation of the law is the idea that people with mental illness who have committed a heinous crime should be held accountable for their crimes by being incarcerated for the rest of their lives. Now, we aren't suggesting that these mentally ill people be incarcerated in jail; no, we are saying that they should spend the rest of their lives in a psychiatric facility. I have been inside a psychiatric facility, and honestly, it's not much different from a prison cell. Especially if you are not there willfully.

These are the issues I have with this law and its implications:

Number One:

Imprisonment is imprisonment, no matter where it occurs. Thus, under this law that is being advocated for, we are asking that a person with a psychiatric problem is locked away while we as a society throw away the key and proclaim that we are done with them. Essentially this is a death sentence, in a nation where we have decided that death sentences are immoral.

In Canada, a life sentence for a crime of 1st degree murder is 25 years to life, with a chance for parole at 25 years. Keep in mind that in this case the accused is being charged with second degree murder. A second degree murder charge carries a punishment of a life sentence with a possibility for parole at 10 years. We cannot disburse a lifetime of imprisonment with no chance of parole, ever, at all (essentially a prolonged death sentence), and proclaim then that our nation is death sentence free. This would be a legal paradox, and a national moral hypocrisy.

The paradox would exist in the fact that there would be a dualistic legal system where "normal" criminals get due process in a system that believes they can be rehabilitated, where a death sentence can NEVER be applied. (The death sentence being a life sentence without option for parole.) And "crazy" criminals would get punished by a system where a death sentence can be applied to them, and only to them, because of their mental health status.

Number Two:

Our laws are designed with the idea that criminal behaviour is rehabilitative. Thus we have designed punishments and in-jail treatment programs that help people to understand the harms their behaviour has caused. After they have served their time, we allow people the opportunity to go back into society to try to carve a new path. Sometimes we even let people out of jail earlier (on parole), if they have demonstrated a consistent pattern of good behaviour and rehabilitation.

Our mental health care system believes that people who have experienced a mental health event can be rehabilitated. In fact, there are many successful treatment programs that have enabled people who have had disruptive health events to find their way to a state of good health and to move on in their lives to be productive and community-oriented citizens.

The consequences of this law; lifetime imprisonment in a psychiatric facility with no chance of parole; contradits not only the philosophy of our healthcare system, it also contradicts the central philosophy of the Canadian legal system:

People who have committed crimes can be rehabilitated, our legal system dictates.

Science and mental health research tells us that people with mental illness can move on to healthy productive lives (rehabilitation).

So when a person with a mental illness commits a crime, how does the scope of the context change to dictate that the person is beyond our reach for rehabilitation? How can we begin to imagine that a person with mental illness who has committed a crime should be locked up in perpetuity with no chance for parole?

The implication of this advocated law is not that the person is the problem (as is the case with regular criminals where we believe that rehabilitation is possible, and where our "life" sentences potentially max out at 25 years). Implied in this law, is that the mental illness is the problem. In effect, this law is not punishing people, persay, it is punishing mental illnesses, and the people who happen to have mental illness. Which leads us to point...

Number Three:

This advocated law is flagrantly discriminatory.

In no other circumstance of health do we tell people that they should be treated differently because of their medical condition.

Mental illness is a medical condition that can have regretful effects on behaviour, but which can be relieved by medical intervention.

Why does having a medical condition allow our legal system to consider throwing its values out the window? Again, our legal system believes that criminals can be rehabilitated. Why does a health condition change the scope of this belief? Locking a person away in a psychiatric facility in perpetuity without the chance for parole is a declaration that the person is beyond rehabilition.

Mental illness can be rehabilitaed, medicine tells us.

Mental illness can even be prevented, research suggests.

Thus, the crimes perpetuated during a mental health event are likely PREVENTABLE.

According to our evidence from science and medicine, it would make more sense to consider laws relating to access to treatment.

If we are imagining that laws are created with the intent to protect citizens, then laws relating to treatment would protect citizens in two ways:

a) The person with illness would be protected from the ravages of an untreated medical condition.

b) All citizens would be protected from crimes that are perpetuated during a mental health crisis.

The advocated law makes no steps to ensure protections for any citizens. In fact, the advocated law entrenches not only the status quo of systemic discrimination, but further deepens the social marginalization of persons with mental illness and establishes an indefensible precedent for widespread systemic discrimination. After all, if our own legal systems are allowed to treat people with mental illness differently than every other citizen, then why shouldn't ordinary citizens follow the lead of our political/judicial systems?

Number Four (Last Point):

Our legal system already has a way to deal with issues relating to mental health and the law. If the accused is found not guilty by reason of mental defect or insanity or whathaveyou, he will be shipped to a forensic psychiatric facility where he will have to undergo a minium number of years in treatment. Furthermore, he will not just "be set free," he will have to prove that he has been rehabilitated, and if he is even let out, he will have to live a certain number of years under the combined watchful eyes of the legal system and his health care team.

So really, the accused will get the kind of treatment he needs, and he will get it where he needs it, if he is found not criminally liable due to his health condition. Under our current laws, the accused will be punished by a legal system that believes he is capable of being rehabilitated, whatever shape that rehabilitation takes.

This is the same right that all persons entering the legal system are entitled to. Having a health condition makes Mr. Li's access to legal rights no different from any one else's.

He just won't get the death sentence that this family is advocating for.

Respecting the rights of every Canadian citizen,


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"mental"... "health"... It's complicated. More than you think.

Dear People Who Are Concerned with Mental Health,

It's time for a break... to talk about language. We're going to talk about the word "mental" and we're going to talk about the word "health."

Let's talk about the word health, since that may be an easier bit to chew on right now.

The world is in an interesting place right now. We are very preoccupied, with our science and our technology, with changing the nature of human health - we want people to be as healthy as we can be for as long as possible. Today we consider disease, illness, or impairment as a lack of health, or as a state of poor health, or a state of "undesirable" health. No one wants to be sick, we think, since sickness causes pain and discomfort.

I agree that sickness causes pain and discomfort. I agree that some illnesses are so uncomfortable and so painful that cures are not only desirable, but desperately needed.

Furthermore, I think no one deserves to be sick. No one asks for poor health. Nor should anyone have to suffer poor health when a realistic means exists to resolve the health issue.


The truth of reality is that illness and infirmity and accident still exist. And to some degree I can't imagine any conceivable future where we humans will obliterate all illnesses, or where we would be able to "cure" or "resolve" all disabilities, or where we would be able to prevent all accidents. I can't imagine a world where humans would be perfect. And frankly, I can't imagine myself wanting to live in such a world.

Most of us believe somewhere deep down inside that illness is an unnatural state. We think, this is hurting me, this is a burden, it's not normal for such things to happen to people. Being unhealthy is not a normal thing to happen to me!

I often wonder where this line of thinking comes from...

You see, I think the opposite. I think that we people are extremely vulnerable, more so than most of the creatures who roam this planet.

I think that we just like to imagine ourselves as being invincible... so invincible that we should not be touched by the effects of biology, bacteria, viruses, and accident. And I think our technology instills in us a false sense of security; that we can overcome the effects of human vulnerability with a bit of science, a lot of ingenuity (and some luck).

I think these are the lies we tell ourselves when we step out the door to face a world of unknown dangers and strangers. These are the lies that help us crawl out of bed to face the threats of another day.

And I think, how arrogant of us, or perhaps how delusional of us, to think that we are beyond vulnerability. How arrogant of humankind, to think that we are above the effects of illness, accident, or whathaveyou.

Health, as it is conventionally defined, is an unnatural state, as far as I'm concerned.

And so let's redefine the word "health."

Health should not mean an absence of illness, accident, or infirmity.

"Health" as a concept should be: a state where a person is comfortable or has reached a place of relative comfort with the effects of their vulnerable human existence.

Let me defend my definition before anyone criticizes me for suggesting that it may be okay to allow a person to remain in a state where they are quite unwell with no support or relief. I really want you to know that I think all illness/accident/infirmity should be dealt with/treated/and supported. No one should ever live in pain or discomfort due to their health, especially if that pain or discomfort can be alleviated with care or support.

Let me tell you more about the spirit of where the definition comes from...

If we stopped thinking of health in terms of something you either have or don't have, then we might begin to imagine that all people, to some degree, have to live with things that affect their health. And I think that "health" placed on a scale is a more realistic way to frame the concept.

Really, can you honestly name one person who is 100% healthy in all respects?

I can't. All the people I know, in one way or another, live with things, like conditions, or diseases, or accidents, or even life circumstances, that affect their health.

And so thinking of health as an "either/or" concept - either you have it, or you don't - is simply a lie. It's just the wrong way to think about health.

When we think of health as either/or, then we come at an interesting place where we imagine we have to understand why some people suffer from poorer health. And then we wind up picking on people who are affected by poorer health. We think, "You are unhealthy (by my arbitrary standard). Why? What have you done to be unhealthy? Are you eating poorly? Are you doing unsavory things with your body or mind?"

And we use the concept of "health" to make people feel different from one another. We use health to discriminate.

And then we have to live in a world that is based on a false differential. We shape our world based on concepts of health that are either/or. Any person with a condition which affects their abilities can attest to the very practical difficulties of trying to conform to a world that is built for "healthy" people. Finding ramps for a wheelchair can be a problem. Some workplaces don't even have an elevator to ensure that people with mobility issues can get around. And these are just some of the most simple examples of the consequences of a society that is built around a narrow and polarized concept of health.

We use health to discriminate, when really, all of us are "unhealthy" in one way or another.

The things that can affect our health really do not discriminate. Disease, accident, and infirmity are what I like to call "equal opportunists." These scourges go after each and every one of us, in one way or another, with equal tenacity. Some of us are just better equipped, or have better resources to escape the ravages of these opportunists.

And so why not admit that health, or lack of it, is not black and white. There are a million shades of grey.

If we respected that all people have vulnerability in common, then perhaps our world would be a little kinder, a little more understanding, and a smidge more compassionate.

Perhaps, if we understood health as a matter of degrees, then we would build a world to accommodate all, instead of a select few who are able to skirt by pretending life is just fine and dandy.

I'm fine with that, living in the grey area. In fact, I'm more comfortable living with the knowledge that I'm vulnerable than I would be pretending I was invincinble. I'm more comfortable with this knowledge because I understand that I need to take care of myself, and that I may need to protect myself from the things (and people!) that would want to prey on my health. Understanding that I am vulnerable inspires me to take control of my body and the things that can have effects on my health.

Sadly, we live in a world where people imagine themselves to be superheroes. We live in a world of black and white, where really, we are all varying shades of another colour.

And I'm not so fine with that. I'm not fine living in a world that refuses to respect the human condition. I'm not fine living in a world that won't even accommodate the human condition.

Where are you on the scale of health? Black? White? Some shade of grey?

In good faith (and health),

PS. We shall talk about the word "mental" in the next post! Until next time!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sorry, the person you are trying to reach...

Dear Winter Flu, Viruses, and Blahs,

Please go away. I'm not here. If you call, I'm not picking up the phone. If you show up on my doorstep, I'm turning out the lights and pretending not to be home. You've showed up one too many times! You've outrun your welcome! I'm sick of you Bugs and Blahs! Be gone!

Readers, I've been sick for over a week now with a nasty virus that won't seem to let go, which is why I haven't posted in awhile.

Between the Winter Blahs and the Winter Bugs, I've been left dead-dog tired and brain-addled.

I'm going to crawl under my blankets now and take one more day off, and cross my fingers that I'll feel better tomorrow.

Hopefully spring will come soon, huh?

Wishing for signs of spring,

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Thoughts on Death

Dear Lovers of Life and Those Who Could Care Less,

Suicide is a difficult subject for some people. It is a touchy subject. It is often a divisive subject.

Understandably so. The notion of suicide, that one would have a desire to end their life here on Earth, contradicts the very nature of our existence. The simple nature of our existence is that we are alive; our breath reminds of this and so too does our uniquely aware sense of human consciousness. Most of us will attest to a strong desire to remain alive for as long as possible, some of us will even express a desire to prolong our lives if we become able to do so.

Some people don't feel a desire to live, for whatever reason, and this confuses those of us who eschew death. Those of us with a desire to live a long life wonder what it is inside of a person that could make them want to move on from Earthly existence. We wonder if a person who wishes to die has lived through some kind of tormenting pain, whether or not they've experienced immeasurable hardship, or if they simply feel unloved or unwanted.

I have lived through suicide. Not my own, mind you. While I have wondered what life would be like if I were not here, I have never felt a compulsion to end the life I have made for myself here on Earth.

I lived through the suicide of my father and I learned some things about this unconventional type of death.

My father died when I was relatively young. He struggled with a condition that affected not only his mental health, but also his livelihood, his life quality, and all of his relationships. Schizophrenia had consumed my father's life and he suicided after a short battle with this disease process. He left me and my young mother behind to cope with his death and the challenges it presented.

As I grew up through the transition of adolescence, I began to wonder if there was something I had contributed to his death. Stress made the symptoms of schizophrenia worse. Had I caused my father stress? Did he want to die because of me?

I wanted to blame myself. In fact, I looked for ways where I could implicate myself in his death. I also looked for ways to blame other people. I even tried to blame his disease.

But I had an epiphany one day, some months after I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, the condition I had inherited from my father. I realized that I had nothing to do with my father's death. I realized that no one really had anything to with my father's suicide. There was no cause. There was nothing to blame. And there really was no easy answer.

Having faced the same demons of mental health that my father had to confront, I came to understand some things about life. Moreover, I came to understand some things about death.

That pain alone would cause someone to want to die is a myth. It is also a myth that unfortunate personal circumstances or hardship would cause someone to end their life. It's a myth as well, that one would end their life because they feel unloved or unwanted. This latter belief is the most dangerous myth among those who survive a loved one's suicide, since it compels us to imagine that if only we had been more loving, we could have prevented a needless death. This latter myth is the one that imposes a deep sense of personal guilt and shame about suicide among those who are left behind.

In my experience, there is only one thing that keeps us humans holding on to this thread of existence that we call life: This thing is hope.

While some may scoff at the simplicity of this relationship between the desire to live and the desire to die, you need to understand the power of hope.

Hope means that you are able to fall asleep at night knowing that you will wake up to a *different* tomorrow. Hope means that not only can life change, but that you expect it to change for the better some time in the future. Hope means that you can trudge through a dreary present, if it will take you to a happier place in the days that follow today.

If you lose hope, you lose access to the promise of tomorrow.

When you are hopeless, your concept of the future becomes blended with demands of the present.

If your present is bleak, or overwhelming, and if you imagine the future to be nothing but more of the same, you begin to feel as though you are treading water, rather than moving on or along. While you tread water, you become exhausted, and may find yourself losing your will to live to see another day.

And that is what my father faced, I think. An immeasurable sense that tomorrow will be no better than today, whatever "today" looked like to him all those years ago.

Who wants to wake up with a feeling that their present circumstances are permanent? I know I certainly don't.

Admittedly, my current life circumstances aren't great. I'm still technically unemployed, living up to that wonderful statistic that dictates that about 80% of people with my diagnosis are unemployed or underemployed. I know that I will wake up tomorrow and have to confront the challenges of discrimination and social mythology. I know that tomorrow I may have to hear another story of a life lost to mental health problems. And I know that tomorrow I may ask, again, for meaningful support and an iota of understanding, and that again, I am likely to be ignored.

So why do I want to wake up to see another day? Well, I attribute my will to live to that hope. I know that tomorrow can be different from today. I know that the struggles I live with today aren't necessary, and that they are becoming more and more impractical as our treatments improve. I know that some day there will be social change, and that my struggles will be diminished. When that day will come, I don't know. But I know I want to be here to see it. And maybe I hope to participate in helping that day to come.

I hope that tomorrow will change and become better than today. That is what tethers me to this world. I think this is what tethers most of us to this life on Earth.

Would my father's circumstances have changed? I don't know. Likely, but he couldn't get close enough to that future to be able to see it.

Can I blame my father for his suicide? No. I can't blame my father for wanting to end his life any more than I can blame myself for wanting to live.

Do I think my father's choice to suicide was an easy one? Certainly not. My father understood that he was leaving behind his child and his spouse, and he indicated as much before his death. He knew he was leaving an extended family who loved him. He understood that he would be missed, and that all of us would be confused and hurt in the wake of his loss.

Was my father selfish in his choice to end his life? I don't think so. Selfish implies that my father would have imagined that his death was exclusively to his benefit. My father understood the consequences of his death, and had to weigh these with the life he was living. Frankly, I would think myself selfish to expect him to live a life that denied the truth his very pressing reality: that he felt hopeless and that he wanted to die.

My father's death was his choice. It was a choice borne of his circumstances, whatever they were, whatever sense of hopelessness they engendered. I understand the complicated feelings he had to endure while balancing out the things he had to live for with the sense of hopelessness that compelled him to end his life. At the end of the day, I respect my father's choice, despite the fact that I wish things had turned out differently for him, differently for our family.

My choices are equally borne of my circumstances. Thankfully, I have the benefit of hope and the promises of tomorrow to carry me through.


If you are a Canadian having thoughts of suicide, or if for some reason this post has made you feel uncomfortable, the Centre for Suicide Prevention has a list of local prevention centres and hotlines.

If you are a US reader who is having similar thoughts, 1.800.SUICIDE would be the place to call. is also a great place to vent about life and all its dirty details. (In anonymous secrecy, of course!)

Warm Regards,