Verseday The First

I plan to post a poem every Thursday, because why the heck not? Here is the first:

Canadian Authors One Should Avoid Whilst Suffering From A Mental Illness

I was born to read
Said mother, indeed,
That the doctors and orderlies gasped
In the hospital room
I emerged from the womb
A novel in infant hand, clasped

From Munsch to Lee
To Ms. Montgomery
From Korman to Gilman and back
From cover to last
I worked my way past
The Canadian library stacks

But I grew up and learned
As chemicals burned
And twisted inside of my brain
There are authors Canuck
One should censor like fuck
If you check in the box marked “not sane”

Margaret Atwood, to start
May be close to my heart
But her prose is decidedly cynical
Every character doomed
She should not be consumed
By depressives, once diagnosed clinical

And Rohinton Mistry’s
Indian histories
Are oftentimes deeply distressing
So if my Seratonin
Is busy re-zonin’
I’d rather zone out the depressing

Those paranoid
Should clearly avoid
The writings of Naomi Klein
Her Doctrine is Shocking
For brains that are balking
And No Logo’s no pal of mine

And then in no hope-land
We find Douglas Coupland
Who writes on most any old topic
What unites all his work
Is a riveting quirk
That turns every word misanthropic

And you can be certain
That Cohen and Berton
Will bide their time haunting our sleep
And while Mowat and Richler
May write the odd tickler
Even they can’t avoid getting deep

If I had it my way
Then one Thomson Highway
Would only write limericks and jokes
And Findley and Davies
Now dead in their gravies
Would chat just like regular folks

Neurologically broken
This author has spoken
These writers, to me, are now static
Though they may be brilliant
I’m not that resilient
When I am not right in the attic

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Retweet This (or Things You Can Do In Real Life To Help People With Mental Illness)

This is the first time I have ever written two blogs in one day. It turns out, mental illness – and how people talk about it and react to it – is important to me. Shocking, I know.

Again, I just have this picture. I need to take more sane selfies. Srsly.

Again, I just have this picture. I need to take more sane selfies. Srsly.

Let me start by saying that I don’t fault people for participating in the #B*llLetsTalk hashtag. There are folks who are still dealing with the fact that mental illness exists, that they might have one or that people they love might have one. We are awash in misperception, so I suppose having a day where people talk about it has benefits. That does not dissuade me from being critical of the problems with the day, foremost being the branding of my disability by a massive corporation – a corporation that may benefit far more from the association than those with mental illness do.

However, since we are talking about it anyway, I’ve decided to take advantage of the conversation to offer some suggestions of things you can do to help a person you love (or even like…we’ll take the help where we can get it) who has a mental illness. Keep in mind that these are the ideas of one human brain. I do not speak for all people with mental illness, although we do have magic mind meld powers. Kidding. Our powers aren’t magical. We do it with robots.

1) Do your reading, but don’t believe everything you read

There’s a lot of information out there about mental illness. There’s a lot of good info and a lot of dated, biased or poorly researched info. I recommend a balance of mainstream research by reputable organizations and first person stories. Some of what you find will be scary and some of it won’t match what your friend is living with, but information is power and normalizing mental illness will mean you are less apprehensive and questioning when supporting your friend.

2) Help with the basics

I cannot stress this enough. When I was at my worst, it was the basics that fell away. I couldn’t always clean my house. I didn’t cook (I can’t really cook anyway, but it was much worse.) What helped? Prepared meals. A haircut. Someone coming over and helping me do my laundry. I came home once and a group of friends had painted my kitchen. I know it sounds weird, being so personal, but personal was what I needed, even though I couldn’t admit it at the time. Drive your friend somewhere so they can save some energy for healing. Buy them a relaxing CD. Visit them for a quiet tea. For the most part, we are crappy self-advocates. Ask us what we need, respect us when we can’t take your help, but be ready to help with the basics. That’s what keeps us alive.

3) Help your friend find the door

When I am at my worst, I hermit. I isolate myself. I cut everyone off and cocoon away. I sometimes literally hide under blankets. During one of my last major depressions, a group of friends made an effort to try to get me out of the house. It could be for a minute or two, sitting on my porch, but damn it, it was outside. This allowed me to set progressively larger goals for getting out into the world, with the safety net of a friend if something went wrong (which it sometimes did.) By having a friend along for my perilous adventures in reality, I was able to claw my way back from nothing to something. It was a dedication I will always be grateful for.

4) Give them a piece of you

I have talismans. They have no actual power, except that they come from people who love me and when I hold them, they are a tangible reminder of that fact. In the course of my illness, a few have stood out. A handmade diary from my sister, a polished stone from my friend Lisa, a comic strip by my friend Ty, a book from my ex-boss. Each of them were given to me in a moment when I needed to be told that I mattered and each of them did exactly that. As time has passed, I have collected small talismans all over my house. If I need to know I am loved, I can look at them and see it evidenced in physical form, something I can hold or experience. It’s a powerful feeling.

5) Know your limits

As an ally, you can’t do everything. I get that. If you can’t support us, support our support system. Be there for our partners, kids, parents or friends. Help them do the hard stuff by just being there. Listen to their frustrations, make sure they eat, take them out, be their friend. Accept that, sometimes, the only way we can get out of where we are is with the help of professionals or other people with mental illness or even time. Sometimes, you can’t help, but that doesn’t mean you should walk away. Do what you can. Do your best. Know we appreciate it. This is a team sport (I figured this was better than a war metaphor. Mental illness as battle is so overdone) and as was so eloquently summed up in the epic film Grease, “If you can’t be an athlete, be an athletic supporter.”

So yes, I’m on the fence about how much this teleconversation is really bringing to the table. Pretty celebrities are not the face of mental illness anymore than the other end of the spectrum is. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. If we are having a conversation about mental illness, I’d like to think we’re past just acknowledging that it exists. I’d like to think that we want to know how to help, without having to retweet an ad. The answer can be summed up in two words: Be there.

Bats In The Bell-fry

Hey everyone! It’s crazy-people Christmas, if Christmas was started by a massive corporation who was obligated to create a funding initiative as part of the approval on their merger (aka #B*llLetsTalk.) Every year this day comes around and people spout a few facts about mental illness, some money is made by a company that gets massive positive press out of this venture and some money goes to organizations working to either help the mentally ill or help eradicate mental illness.

Weirdly, I already had this picture (sans text.) I did not need to take it for this blog. Why? Because I am apparently crazy all year.

Weirdly, I already had this picture (sans text.) I did not need to take it for this blog. Why? Because I am apparently crazy all year.

Then there’s me. A person with a mental illness who deals with it every day and has no hashtag. Hrm, if I had a hashtag, though, that’d be pretty cool. #HeatherIsCrazyAllYear. I like it.

I am cynical enough to dislike being branded by a big company, especially when the reasons behind the initiative are so murky and so clearly tied to them, rather than the groups they fund.

That said, it does get people talking. And who am I to ignore a chance to help explain what it’s like to have a mental illness?

Here goes:

Having a mental illness is isolating. When I was hospitalized the first time, I discovered just how uncomfortable my illness made people. Even the love of my life, my dear partner of now 18 years could not find a way to regularly visit me in the hospital. Mental health hospitals are frightening and contribute to the isolation of the mentally ill. I wouldn’t want to visit me there. I’m pretty sure there are nicer and more inviting prisons.

Having a mental illness is unpredictable. Committing to long term plans, making far reaching decisions – I suck at it. I’ve gone back to school and I can’t guarantee that I can commit to a full program. I could be fine today and tomorrow I could be back where I was in my early 20s. I can’t say where I’ll be in a month or two. Heck, I can’t be assured of a day or two.

Having a mental illness is devastating. I mean it. I lose parts of myself whenever it strikes. I’m not the same person I was before my mental illness developed – or worsened. I’ve had symptoms since childhood. I don’t know who I would be without it. There’s a phantom me. An alternate universe me. She taunts me with high school finished and university attended and children had and books published and so many other desires unfulfilled.

Having a mental illness is not a one day thing. It is not a brand. It’s not a popular hashtag. It’s an unpopular one that people ignore because it’s just not that cool.

It’s me. And I’m crazy all year.

#HeatherIsCrazyAllYear

Done Waiting

When I was a child, I liked a song by a group called Edward Bear. It was called Last Song and, coincidentally, was one of the last songs the group recorded together. You can listen to the rather pretty ditty here. Summary? A boy waits two years for a girl and finally decides that, despite his abiding love, he’s done waiting. He will make one last effort, his last song, and he will stop waiting for her.

My mother was probably also not fond of the fact that they were clearly hippies.

My mother was probably also not fond of the fact that they were clearly hippies.

While I enjoyed this song, my mother despised it. Every time it played on Oldies 1050 CHUM, the only radio station welcome in our apartment, my mother would make the same essential comment:

“If he really loved her, he wouldn’t give up.”

My mother loved movies from the 40s and 50s. The sort where love won out and the patient and good woman was always rewarded. If I am being honest, I loved those movies too.

In these movies was hidden one of the defining lessons of my childhood. When people hurt you – when they break you and leave you or force you to leave – it is up to you love them still and to wait.

Earlier this week, I was sitting in front of my SAD lamp, sipping some very good coffee and thinking about a conversation I’d had with someone I’d just met.

Through a series of mental dance moves, my brain cha-cha-cha-ed to thoughts of a friend that I lost touch with last year. We had been very close, but there were things about me he could not accept and, I’m sure, challenges I brought to the relationship. In the end, he stopped talking to me and that, as they say, was that.

Except it wasn’t because, unlike in the song, I am still waiting. Not just for him, but for other people too.

I am waiting on my family. I am waiting on my parents. I am waiting for I’m sorry and I love you and I see the value in you.

My waiting is not passive. My waiting involves constant self examination. What is it about me that has been rejected? Can I fix it? Am I good enough yet? Do I deserve to be invited back in? My waiting is draining. It is depressing. It uses me up.

Never, until this week, did I ask the question, why am I waiting?

I am nearing 40 and have never entertained the notion that I may not want them.

(but that is not even to be said, intones the whispers in my head. what right have you to think that you are anything but a rejected and flawed human? how presumptuous to assume that the person missing out is not you…)

220px-Pompeo_Batoni_003

The Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni. With hugs.

What does a body do when it is not waiting? What does a person do when they are not supplicated in preparation to more than forgive, but to celebrate their return home? I loved the story of the prodigal son growing up. I loved the idea that patience was a virtue and it would be rewarded. With hugs.

I feel almost silly that I’ve traveled so far into my life and never once asked myself why I am waiting.

So, as of now, I am done waiting. I am writing it down because I know this is important. I know it is something I cannot forget or let pass without imprinting it solidly on my brain. If I put it here, then hopefully I will not go back to waiting.

Waiting is not moving and I’m tired of standing still.

The Missing Scene From Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

1in6 works with men who are victims of sexual assault,

1in6 works with men who are victims of sexual assault,

**Dude, spoilers already. Spoilers.**

On March 11, 2014, the Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode Yes Men aired on ABC. In it, a male character, Agent Grant Ward, was mind controlled by an Asgardian named Lorelei. While under her control, they had sex.

Quite a few writers have been quick to point out that though it was filmed as hawt sex, it was actually exactly rape. Ward was mystically roofied. He could not consent to sex because he was not in control of his consent.

For folks who may argue that he sorta wanted it (ick, to start with) there’s a scene earlier where a man named Jimmy makes it very clear that he loves his wife and has no desire to go with Lorelei. Lorelei then puts the whammy on him and, his free will removed, he does the opposite of what he has just declared he intends to do. The same holds true for Ward.

Despite the music and the angles and the body mashing, despite the fact that it was filmed as a sex scene, it was a rape. Afterward, when Ward’s sexual partner Melinda May finds out about the assault, she punches him.

So what do we have? A man raped and assaulted in the same episode.

Which brings me to the missing scene.

Ward’s character (SPOILERS, SERIOUSLY) turns out to be a bad guy. Ooh. Aah. He’s locked up in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s basement, where he’s been visited by Skye. And Coulson. And Fitz. Maybe the cleaning guy. Who knows.

In happier days. Really, this is them being happy.

In happier days. Really, this is them being happy.

What’s missing? A scene with May. They banter back and forth, it gets heated and she lays into him for all of the lies and misuse. He’s been suicidal. He’s been torn down. This is the moment where Ward calls her out. Not only did she attack him right after he’d been raped, essentially punishing him for being assaulted, but she showed no compassion toward someone who had their will subverted and their body violated. Ward may have betrayed his team, but then, his team clearly didn’t see him as a person to begin with. Even with Ward freed from the basement, this scene could still happen.

But do I think this it will? Nope. The current social narrative says men can’t be raped by beautiful women. It says that men who are raped won’t feel violated like women do. It says that men are so sexual that on some level, they always want it. Honestly, I hope Whedon and his team introduced this story line so they can turn it on its head, but I’m not optimistic. It was treated so lackadaisically when it first occurred, that I doubt it’s building to something more.

What do you think? Will Ward show any after effects of the assault? Will May ever be called out on her abuse of her lover? Will it ever be called rape on the show? Share your thoughts below, while, of course, being respectful.

When Falling Short of Forever Does Not Mean Failure

Eternal love. Till death do us part. Forever and ever, amen.

Love...me...

Love…me…

God, no wonder so many young couples are opting out of marriage. Marriage may very well have the worst marketing team since Burger King. The idea is that a marriage that ends is a failure. A coupling that starts, and does not reach a death bed, is a throwaway.

This is the idea I reject.

Imagine you have a car. For ten years, it’s the perfect car. It gets you from place to place, only needs a few minor repairs and an occasional cleaning.

After the aforementioned decade, things stop working so well. Add to that the fact that you’ve grown out of your two-seater Beetle stage and are ready for something different. At some you point you admit it, this car just can’t be what it was and hey – you’ve changed a good deal too.

You sell the car. Down the road, you might buy a new one. You might get a Vespa. You never know.

But take a minute and ask yourself, was that car ownership a failure? Does the fact that it didn’t last forever make those years that did any less fulfilling? Can’t that car be a success with a shorter timeline, rather than a failure to last forever?

And THAT, my peoples, is how you milk a metaphor.

Still, I’m not wrong. How valuable would it be if we saw an ended marriage as a success? I mean, if I eat a cake and the cake’s all gone, I still consider that cake a success. I enjoyed it while it lasted even if that wasn’t forever. Plus cake tastes so good with metaphor milk.

I truly believe one of the secrets to the relative longevity of my marriage is that we always treat it like a success. We acknowledge that it could end. No one is trapped in this love (unless someone bought me furry cuffs for Valentine’s day.) That freedom to redefine the success of marriage from mere survival to an innate and present value means that should we part, our marriage will still have been a success, because love is not a marathon, it’s a whatever we want it to be.

*These late night ramblings brought to you by dental surgery and painkillers.*