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,