A Tale of Four Illnesses

Lately I’ve been seeing the slogan of CAMH’s new campaign, “Mental Health is Health.” It is very true – mental health is a critical part of our health and there is no difference between mental illnesses and physical illnesses, although they are often treated much differently and there is still a lot of stigma with mental illness. I have personally suffered a lot from depression and anxiety, and have many friends that have too. A good friend of mine suffered from schizophrenia and she took her own life a few years ago – I miss her still.

In my journey, I’ve received a lot of amazing support – from friends, family, and the system, and it is my hope that everyone is supported in this way. We have a long way to go when it comes to fixing the system and ensuring everyone has equal access to care, no matter where they’re from, how old they are, or how much money they have.

It’s time we said no more discrimination, no more ignorance, and no more funding gaps. It’s time for every Canadian to rally together to ensure mental illness gets the same priority as any other illness.
– CAMH website

I’ve written these four short descriptions/poems that from my understanding, describe a little of what it feels like to be suffering from these four illnesses. These are just four disorders that come to mind… there are so many others, and so many variations.

Depression

A creation of the human mind that plagues us, brings
us down into the mud, further away from natural joy,
further away from who we really are. The black hole,
the spiral downward,
the point of no return, when it feels like nothing is good and nothing is bad, and everything is just nothing.
numbness.
It’s dark in here, darker than it’s ever been before
I used to know joy but now I can’t remember the feeling,
Has anything good ever happened to me before?
Is there a purpose to my life?
Sometimes I wish I’d never been born.
Sometimes I wish it would all end.
I am so angry. I want to squeeze every last drop out
of everything I love.
Depression is rage turned inward they say, and
I know it to be true.

Anxiety

A state of racing, rushing, worrying,
running, ruminating,
over-excitement, giddiness,
breathlessness, unsettledness
hurry hurry hurry
the thoughts say
You will never have enough time.
You will never get it all done.
It will never be perfect.
The dreaded “What if?” that runs the show 
always one step ahead, predicting scenarios
that only the most imaginative of souls
can dream of.
“What if, what if, what if?” the question repeats itself
and you have no choice to answer every question,
and plan for every outcome.
But at least there is still hope in the form of worry —
trying to make it right, trying to make it all perfect.
Because it’s all so important, everything matters so much.
So much so that there is nothing that can be left undone.
At least I haven’t given up completely.
There’s no time for that.

Schizophrenia

What are those voices in my head that speak to me and tell me what to do,
that make me suspect you, that make me not trust you or anyone else.
Why do I find it such a struggle to get through the day or justify why it’s worth existing this way?
Without my meds the voices scream louder,
but with them, I am void of personality,
I am no longer myself.

PTSD

It happened so long ago,
yet why do I feel like I’m still there,
as though it is happening all over again,
as though it is happening right now?
Why does the body remember what the mind
so desperately needs to forget?
I can still smell him, see him, my fists
clench when I hear the tires screech against the road,
the sound of footsteps, and the clock
striking 12 in the background.
Why can’t they make a pill that makes me forget.
I see the world around me,
yet I still feel trapped inside.

I AM Invictus

Recap of Monday’s walk, which I haven’t gotten around to writing about until now! Clearly need to organize my time better. The kids at the Ronald McDonald House (where I tutor on Wednesdays) listed ‘organizational’ skills as one of the most important in their career-building activity today, and I agree that it is very important to be well-organized, otherwise your life can feel like a bit of a disaster.

It was beautiful weather on Monday, and I walked up University, past 525, and up to Queen’s Park. There was a big crowd gathered so I stopped and asked what it was about. A friendly man in the crowd told me that it was for an appearance by Prince Harry, who was in town to promote the Invictus Games, which are being held in Toronto next year. The name Invictus is Latin for “unconquered, undefeated.” The games are for wounded, injured, or sick veterans to compete in sporting events, and are a wonderful event that bring people together, show the power of perseverance and the indomitable human spirit, and generate lots of excitement and goodwill. Prince Harry was inspired to start these games after his time serving in Afghanistan.

I waited for maybe half an hour, and saw him arrive in big black SUVs. Unfortunately we just saw the back of his head and everyone was pretty disappointed.

However if I’d waited an another hour for him to leave, I would’ve been able to meet him along with these lucky people!

The games help veterans heal not only from physical injuries, but in terms of their mental health and PTSD. It is interesting that the motto for the games is “I AM”, as in I AM Invictus, unconquerable. I AM is also the most creative statement in the universe – anything that follows these two words will change the way you think and feel.

Following my Prince Harry failed sighting, I walked along Yonge street, and passed by Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

IMG_3735 (2).JPG

At Balzac’s I ran into Isaac who gave me a long explanation of the dangers of drinking tap water because of the fluoride content. He seems to be very knowledgeable about this stuff! I also ran into Elizabeth, who is a woman that walked the Camino, an 800 KM trek from France to Spain. She told me about an article she was interviewed for, which got published in the Star this week! She advocates for a better justice system that is easier to navigate and more cost-friendly (she herself had to pay over $100,000 over the last 7 years in family court). We also talked about getting over heartbreak, and how physical exercise helps in getting your power back.

Coincidentally, I was at the part in The Underground Girls of Kabul where Jenny talks about women and sports in Afghanistan, and how women are held back in this area because it is not appropriate; it may make them too masculine, too competitive. Women are instead expected to be spectators at men’s sporting events. But the real reason is something deeper, that has to do with the patriarchy and the position of men in segregated societies.

A woman who feels her own physical strength may be inspired to think she is capable of other things. And when an entire society is built on gender segregation, such ideas could cause problems for those who would like to hold on to wealth and power.

On the way home I stopped at Chapters to pick up a card for Mom, and ran into Rahim and Monika. It was nice to have some company on my walk home!

 

 

 

The Owner Of Everything

Week 16. I started off the day reading an article by Alexandra Shimo, who is one of the teachers at the School of Continuing Studies at U of T. She wrote about how she suffered from PTSD after spending four months in Kashechewan, a First Nation on James Bay. The reason I’d looked her up is because I’m choosing my next creative writing course! I’m debating between “Introduction to Writing a Novel” and “Life Stories 1”. The latter is an exercise in memoir writing – as if I don’t already write enough about myself! But I think I’m leaning towards that one, because I like digging deep into my past and making stories out of my experiences. Anyhow, Alexandra wrote about how the high school there had been on permanent suicide watch because 21 kids (including a nine-year-old) reportedly tried to kill themselves in 2007. I had to do a double-take, because it was exactly like the situation in Attawapiskat right now. Alexandra eventually recovered from the PTSD by practicing mindfulness meditation. At first she resisted because she didn’t think something so gentle could work, but then learned to stay grounded in her body when the feelings arose, and actually feel them rather than avoid them. This is something that I continuously work on. I’ve been practicing for more than two years, and I can’t really say what the benefits are, but I do know that it grounds me and I actually look forward to it most of the time (like right now – can’t wait to relax and sink into my meditation once I’m done writing).

I left the house around 2pm, and headed up University. It was absolutely glorious weather. Hot and sunny (I wore a tank top!), and I was loving every moment of it. I stopped around King to read a chapter from my book, then continued along, looping past 525, down Elm street to Yonge, and then to CCVT. Today was my first day doing Homework Club with the high school students. Usually I go on Tuesdays, but there was an urgent need for math tutors so I was asked to switch days. I helped Aisha with her math homework, and we also talked about other things. She asked me if I was married and I said no, but I do hope to be one day, and she said “I’ve heard of 40-year-olds getting married”.  Haha! Like they really do exist. It was pretty hilarious. It was fun hanging out with the kids and hearing what they think of Chris Brown and Rihanna and what their dreams and hopes for the future are (one guy said he was ready to have a baby).

After CCVT, I made my way to Allan Gardens. I chatted with Daisy for a bit – she called me as part of her homework for a Landmark course. I told her how I’m ready to get back to project management, and I’m really interested in mental health, specifically CAMH. She said that her friend who was a psychiatrist in Ottawa was saying that there aren’t enough resources available, and that there are always services being cut, while meanwhile the govt is funding things like egg freezing.

Got to Balzac’s and read from The Underground Girls of Kabul. Jenny asks a group of women how they would go about turning her into a man, and they say that she basically already acts like one. She walks around as though she is “the owner of everything” (I love that!) and arrives everywhere without a husband or a father. And when she speaks, she looks people right in the eyes, without seeming shy or emotional.

On the way home I walked through Queen’s Park and saw some girls playing badminton as the sun set, and I thought back to the days when my dad and I used to play badminton for hours on the street outside my house. I can’t wait to find a badminton partner here!

201
Girls playing badminton, Queen’s Park

Before I got home I stopped to watch the Raptors game outside at the ACC. Go Raptors!!

211
Raptors Game, ACC

 

 

 

 

 

Something Fierce

This evening I went to see Carmen Aguirre speak at the reference library. Earlier in the day, I’d read a Globe and Mail article about her journey, and I was transfixed by what she had experienced in her life. I was curious to see what kind of woman she was, what her experiences had meant for her. She had that twinkle in her eye, of a person who had been through a lot, and seen the light through the darkness.

She talked about PTSD, and how the childhood rape had never left her. I couldn’t believe how she was able to talk about such trauma with a sort of detachment. In fact, she was able to address most of the tough questions very evenly, even while the people asking the questions were breaking down in tears. One woman spoke at length in Spanish about how her mother had joined the resistance in Chile, and to this day, she has been unable to find her, but lately she has been having dreams about her mother and she feels as though her dreams are a sign that she should seek her out. Carmen advised her on human rights organizations to follow up with – although she said that most people who join the resistance change their names (she had), and it would be almost impossible to track someone down.

The rape occurred when she was only 13 years old, by a man who had been wanted by the police for years, known as the Paper Bag rapist, because of the way he would cover the victims eyes with a paper bag. He later went on to be convicted of more than 14 sexual assaults, even though it is suspected that he was responsible for hundreds. She describes how during the rape, she escapes her body and becomes an eagle that soars overhead. It is a stunningly beautiful depiction of her spirit, and how she experiences something that is at the depths of evil, the absence of love, light, and anything good. It is so beautiful the way she describes it, and you can picture that eagle, flying high above her little 13-year-old body, that is being forever altered by this one man.

Thirty-three years after she was raped, she faces her rapist in prison, with another woman, Laura who was also a victim. It’s hard to understand the compassion that she has for this man, and I could see people in the audience shuddering as she talks about their encounter (“It’s nice to meet you again” he says). She said something to the effect of “I am him”, recognizing that she was part of him and he was part of her. I wish I remembered her exact words because they were perfect. She has genuine compassion for this man, who most of us would hate with every cell of our being. It reminded me of a quote that I read in Aphrodite’s Daughters, in an essay about sexuality and evil. “Even if we never have done and never will do an evil deed, we would be fools to ignore the potential for evil that lies within us all”, the author says. She references the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, a well-known Buddhist monk, as he reflects upon an incident that he witnessed during the Vietnam war.

I am the 12-year-old girl, refugee
on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after
being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving

Carmen talks about her childhood as part of the Chilean resistance in her first book, Something Fierce: Memoirs of A Revolutionary Daughter. This new memoir, which flashes back to the rape that altered her life is called Mexican Hooker #1. She is a fierce woman who has led a revolutionary life in both senses of the word.