Evolution

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2016 has been a horrific year. Between mass murders, deaths, racial tensions and Donald Trump; I keep hoping the gods will jump out and say, “just kidding!!” However, that will never happen. No powerful being is going to pull us out of this one no matter how many prayers you throw at the dead and dying. It’s up to us to change the direction of our destiny.

We have an opportunity here to do something amazing. To be more than we are and we can do it one person at a time but it won’t be easy. Evolving is painful and difficult but if humanity is to survive, we have to do it. Each person can have a hand in it and know they helped humanity to move forward. To evolve.

First I ask you to set aside your religious beliefs for a moment. I’m not saying give them up but, rather, just put them in a box to the side for a bit. Be human before you put on the mantle of your Christianity or Judaism or Islam or Buddhism or Wicca or whatever. Put all that to the side and just be human without the help of gods or written words or holy men. Just, for a second, be human in all its frailties and foibles. Be human in all its glory and wonder. Just be human.

Second, put aside your things. Oh, I know, they’re important things. Houses and cars and clothes and boats and bikes and… things. Just put them aside for a moment. They’ll still be there when you return. I promise. Just put them on the shelf for a second so you can remember your humanity without the burden of things.

Third, the next time you come across a living creature, take a look at it. It might be a person, it might be a butterfly or a dog or a monkey. Just look at them without the tint of religion or the white noise of things. See them. Know that they are struggling to live just like you. Understand that they have as much right to be on this earth as you.

Now look at the world around you. See it for the first time without the noise of society and religion and things. Understand that you’re an intricate part of that whole. That your place in that whole matters. It matters without the religion and the words and the things and society. You matter. You’re important.

The last part that I ask you to do is the hardest. Take up your religion and your things. Now see them as you have the rest of the world. Some will hold up to your scrutiny and some won’t. You have to decide what to do with them.

One thing I will tell you is that once you see the things and the religions without the white noise of what “should” be, they will start to look very different than you once assumed them to be. It’s not that they’re unimportant or wrong but that they may not have the shape and size they once had in your life and that’s ok. It’s when this happens that the truly important things can enter your life. Things like a love of life, an acceptance of that which is different from yourself, respect and love for yourself and others. True love and respect, not the mouthings we voice daily.

I challenge everyone to try this. 2016 should teach us something important; that we matter, that we are part of a whole. Unless man evolves beyond his infantile ways and temper tantrums, we will not survive.

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Riding the Black Horse

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This is the first time in years that I’ve used my writing to work out what’s going on in my life. Right now I’m so overwhelmed that I feel I have no choice.

See, that’s the biggest problem right now. I’m helpless. I’m poor and that doesn’t give me a lot of options and I have a whole list of disabilities that limits me as well. I have this fantasy about living a life where I’m allowed to make choices that benefit me instead of being forced into situations that benefit some faceless government.

I just got a notice today that my rent is going up $265 in two days. Yes, you got that right. Two whole days to come up with $265. Looks like groceries are optional now. See, I live in a low-income building and let me give you a few facts.

  1. There is no definition as to who can live in a low-income building. There’s no regulations stating that you have to make under a certain amount to live here. I could be a millionaire and still rent here.
  2. There’s no regulations stating what they can or can’t charge for their apartments. Legally, they could raise my rent to $1000/month if they wanted to and still call themselves “low-income.”
  3. There’s no regulation stating how they determine my rent. A common practice in low-income buildings is to have tenants hand in their tax assessment and base rents on that. However, that’s not the law. It’s just common practice.
  4. They’re under no legal obligation to give me any notice in rent increases. Yes, folks, you read that right. Two days is completely legal.
  5. I can be kicked out at any time if I can’t pay that rent.

Yes, that’s the life I live as a tenant of a low-income building. Sometimes low-income buildings will evict tenants they don’t like on very spurious reasons. When you’re poor, you learn to live with this reality. You are always one step away from being homeless and everyone knows it.

That’s not all I’m dealing with this week, though. I’m finding out things about myself that leave me feeling at odds with myself.

Back in 2011, I had an assessment done. At that time I was given the diagnosis of Non-Verbal Learning disorder. I did my research (for which I’d like to thank both the Edmonton Public Library and the University of Alberta library) and felt more in control knowing more about what it was. Once put on the Asperger’s spectrum, it’s been given its own diagnosis. However, it exhibits a lot like Asperger’s.

I also deal with anxiety. Nothing new to anyone who’s been reading this for any time. I talk about that black horse a lot. What is new is something I failed to read in the assessment; I have ADHD. It’s at this point my brain stops and I have no words.

Coming to grips with the reality of the link between NLD and Asperger’s is enough of a blow. Realizing I have ADHD on top of it…. how do you add that information into your life? Yes, it’s a diagnosis and shouldn’t mean much but those four letters stun me. I’ve always known my brain works more like a blender on high than the functioning computer it is but that didn’t bother me. I worked with it. But ADHD? How do you add those letters into your life?

So I’m particularly vulnerable right now and want to feel like I have some control. The truth is that when you’re poor and disabled, control is taken away from you. The Powers That Be believe that, somehow, you’re unable to handle control so you’re treated like a child. I don’t know where anyone got that idea but I’d really like them to get it out of their heads.

Right now I’m scared because something new has come down the pipe and this infantalization of me as one of Alberta’s poor and mentally ill has left me with few tools to deal with it. So, in a desperate attempt to gain some control, I grasp at the only thing that has ever made me feel powerful; my words. Right now, they’re all I have.

 

Employment and the Mentally Ill

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Back in the summer of 2011, I worked as a writer for Alberta Education. It was such an absolute nightmare for me that had I not had the good fortune to be fired, I would have found myself in the psych ward in the hospital within a week. I wish I could say that is an exaggeration but it isn’t. As a result of this nightmare, two things happened; I began to have panic attacks. These attacks were triggered when I tried to write or when I was working in a job and had to talk to the boss. Just thinking about it is enough to quicken my breathing and make a panic attack seem imminent.

Yes, I tried to work but the anxiety got the better of me and I simply couldn’t anymore. The idea, just the simple thought, of talking to a boss still makes me want to shut down. However, I’m not one to give up without a fight so, recently, I thought perhaps I could work part-time somewhere. A couple of days a week shouldn’t overwhelm me and would give me time to recuperate for the next shift.

See, aside from the anxiety, I’m actually a great worker. In an office I’m versatile and creative. Show me what you need done and I’ll get it done. In retail, I’m actually very patient with the customers and like to help. I understand what it’s like trying to find something and needing some help. So, with that in mind, I applied to some local businesses. Like Walmart.

There is a new trend in corporations to use psych tests as a means to thin out the resumes they get. The belief being that they can get the type of person they want without all the hassle of actually talking to people. It’s cookie cutter thinking and it’s dangerous.

Anyone who’s been trained as a psychologist or psychiatrist will tell you that without the proper training and proper testing methods, these tests are, at best, useless. A true psych test such as the MMPI has very specific questions that answer questions that the psychologist or psychiatrist may face. However, these tests are meant to be a tool, not a means to weed people out.

Think of it this way; a hammer is a tool that can help a person with the right experience and training to build a house. However, that hammer cannot build the house by itself. These big corporations are relying on these mini psych tests to do their job for them. A job they were never designed to do.

Further, these tests are not full psych tests. There is a great deal missing from them. A true psychological test done by a trained professional has multiple questions dealing with the same or a similar issue. This is done not only to determine who’s trying to fake something but is also a means to gauge how deep an issue may go. These mini tests don’t have the follow up questions. Therefore, the corporation is only getting a very skewed picture of the person.

There is a very real human rights danger here, though. Those tests can reveal any mental health issues such as, in my case, anxiety. Suddenly the person with a mental illness finds themselves and their illness exposed to strangers without their knowledge or consent. I find that frightening. It goes deeper, though. Once exposed, the corporation will red flag that person so that any subsequent resumes they send in are automatically rejected without even being glanced at.

What does that mean? That means that those with mental health issues are being denied jobs based on their disability. Yet, most of the time they don’t even know this is going on. That the human resources department has red flagged them because their mental illness showed up on a test they neither have the training nor experience to administer.

I find all of that terribly, terribly frightening. Don’t you?

Black Poinsettia

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Now that Halloween is done, I’d like to talk about Christmas.

Okay, please turn off the screams and stop throwing stuff. This is not what you think it is.

Every year from about November to the end of January, I get inundated with Christmas. Before Christmas it’s “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” or an inquiry as to my moral status to see if I’m getting goods from a mystery man known as Santa. After Christmas, everyone and their pet iguana wants to know what I got or if I stuffed myself at Christmas. Or, conversely, I get a rundown of their new shiny bling and a menu review.

Please, take this next statement to heart.

Stuff it all up your ass.

There are those of us who don’t celebrate Christmas. I’m not talking about celebrating alternatives which, as a Wiccan, I celebrate Yule (December 21st). I’m talking about those of us who don’t really care about the day at all. I’m talking about those people who don’t have a special feast or Christmas trees or turkey and stuffing. Yes, I make Christmas presents for my friends but that is not because of Christmas. It’s because I recognize that they celebrate the day and it’s special to them. Me? I would love to hide from November 1st to January 31st. Never to endure a Christmas carol or smarmy holiday greeting.

Why?

Once upon a time I would wake up early on Christmas morning and tear into my loot. I used to dream of Santa and try to be real good. I even ate my peas. I would eat turkey and stuffing and looked forward to the pies my mother made every year. Then something would happen every Christmas. Something would happen to make my sister upset and she’d start yelling. Then my brother (the one with schizophrenia) would start bullying my other brother and an argument or sometimes a fist fight would break out. The turkey would start to taste like ash in my mouth as the screaming and violence escalated. To this day I’m not a fan pumpkin pie. I cry every time I eat it.

By the time I was 6 I was informed, about a week before Christmas, there was no Santa and that I wouldn’t be getting Santa gifts anymore. My sister was tired of my parents showering the extra money and attention on me (she was 12 years older than me) and insisted it had to stop. I was confused. Had I been so bad that Santa didn’t love me anymore? Was Santa dead? I cry even now at the memory of it.

Now my Christmas day consists of eating homemade pizza (my pizza is the absolute best) and watching horror flicks on Netflix. I text my friends to let them know I love them and then I go off the grid. I crochet and try to get ready for New Year’s (which I’m invariably alone). I try to make my day as relaxing as possible so

So I want you to understand, dear reader, that there are people like myself out there for whom Christmas is a torture and it’s an endurance test to get through it. This year I will make a pin for myself of a black poinsettia. When you see it, please be so kind as to keep your well wishes to yourself. I have no wish to interfere with your celebrations. I recognize that, to you, Christmas is a celebration of life and hope and love. Please understand, though, that my associations with Christmas are very black. Enjoy your holidays and let me quietly spend mine.

I suggest that those who wish to opt out of Christmas wear a black poinsettia as a means of letting others know.

Pieces of Cloth

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Lately I’ve been talking about crochet but I’d like to deviate for a moment so I can weigh in on a debate that’s been raging here in Canada for some time. It concerns a woman who wanted to wear a niqab for her swearing in ceremony as a Canadian citizen.

Time for some definitions.

Different types of headscarves worn by Muslim Women

Muslim Headscarves

First, to the right you will see different types of headscarves worn by Muslim women. This is, by no means, a complete chart nor is it meant to be. Different regions have different customs and different types of headgear. Think of it this way; a woman going to the beach in California is likely to dress like her peers. This may include a string bikini with a cover top. A woman in Florida, however, will dress like her peers. This may mean a one-piece with no cover top. It depends on what is the fashion there.

Second, there is an admonition in the Quran for men and women to be humble. Problem is, that’s all it says. Like every other religious text out there, it doesn’t define what humble is or how to be humble so how the individual follows this is pretty broad. It could mean something as simple as not bragging. Or, it could mean wearing a burqa. Point is, it’s up to the individual.

Third, there is an argument, however silly, that says allowing the niqab will mean losing Canadian culture. Guess what? The niqab is a part of Canadian culture. Canadian culture is simply bits and pieces of those cultures brought here by the immigrants who come to live here. The only true Canadian culture here is that of the indigenous people. It’s funny how those against the niqab aren’t out fighting to save that Canadian culture.

There is something going on here I think we’re all missing and we need to wake up to. This isn’t about hiding a face or Muslims taking over Canada or any other nonsense. It’s about what a woman is wearing.

Let me back this truck up for a moment to let that sink in.

This is about a government, largely run by men, telling women what they can or can’t wear. Sweethearts, this is a tale as old as time. At one time, a woman who exposed her calves was accused of indecent exposure. At one time we were told that to be “good” women we had to cage ourselves in rib crushing, organ grinding corsets. Please don’t get me started on bustles.

Telling women what to wear, either through religion or government or media, is not new. What is new is that we women are siding against the niqab and that’s dangerous. We cannot tell society that we get to choose what goes on, in or our of our bodies if we deny other women the same opportunity. Whether we agree with it or not. If I choose to walk around in a Xena Warrior Princess outfit all day, that’s my choice. No one gets to tell me I can’t. That’s what is at stake here.

I am floored by the number of women siding against the niqab. Stating that it’s oppressive or a sign of her subjugation. Some have even called it abuse. It’s none of that. It’s a piece of cloth. No different than a corset or bikini or pair of socks. If feminists are going to fight for the right to determine what they wear without shame or condemnation, then we must extend that to all women. Regardless if we agree with their decision or not. To do otherwise is hypocritical.

A Strange Dream

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This week I want to share something lighthearted for a change.

I have something called REM Behaviour Disorder. The easy explanation is that because I don’t go into REM sleep properly, I’m actually semi-conscious when I’m dreaming. As a result, all sorts of funky things happen to me including the wildest and most vivid dreams ever.

Last night I had a dream. One of many, really, but this one made me laugh nervously when I awoke. See, I’m an avid hooker. I love crochet and have become addicted to it in recent months. I’ve even started a baby stash and my favorite topic is my crochet, much to the amusement of my friend I’ll call Beau (I want to give him a dramatic nom de plume).

Beau and I have been friends for about five years now and he knows my quirks and foibles. He even demonstrates patience Buddha would admire in the face of my anxiety attacks. So he is the listening ear when I go on about my latest WIP (work in progress) or yarn I just acquired. He is genuinely impressed by most of the products I complete (I think the exception being Derf).

So, the dream I had involved me crocheting yet another project. I don’t remember what. Beau walked into the room and proceeded to tear the crochet out of my hands. Shocked and upset I demanded to know why. He simply laughed and began tearing apart the project.

Okay. So I have a few anxiety issues.

Crocheting Anxiety to Sleep

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Having anxiety is like having spiders infest your brain.

Brain Spiders

This week was a particularly bad one for me. Anxiety-wise, that is. I don’t know how it started but my anxiety attacks had a cascade effect, one tumbling into another. It was only when I picked up my crochet that the anxiety was lulled into a near-slumber like a cranky 2 year old who’s finally crashed from too much sugar.

There is a rhythm to crochet that, if you let it take over you, will create a diversion from the anxiety. It’s soothing and the texture of the yarn gives your brain something to focus on.

So, my week went something like this;

Brain: WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!
Me: *crochets quietly*
Brain: WE’RE ALL GONNA… ooo… look at that color… DIE!!
Me: *yarn over, pull through*
Brain: We’re all… the yarn feels nice… we’re all gonna…
Me: *yarn over, pull through*
Brain: We’re all gonna die, you know. That’s pretty.

Eventually it gets quiet in my head and I can start to think again. The logical half of my brain can take over for the anxiety-ridden, cracked half and I can function for a while. The respite is sometimes short before that half is up and destroying the house again. Don’t get me wrong. I still love that half of my brain even when it’s keeping me up half the night with screams of terror. It’s trying to do its job of keeping me safe, even if it’s doing that job a little too enthusiastically.

I’m beginning to train myself that crochet means relaxation. It’s taken me some time and determination but I’m getting there. The repetitive rhythm of crochet is the key to it, I think. I look at other techniques used to get people into a different state of mind and repetitive rhythm is a hallmark of all of them. Just look at prayer beads or the rosary. Saying the same words while massaging the beads. Instead of saying words, I’m feeling yarn and moving the yarn through a pattern. Similar ideas, different actions.

My anxiety won’t go away. It can’t be cured or pushed down. It’s here to stay, I’m afraid, so I have to learn to live with it and use it to my advantage. Sometimes, though, it can be soothed with a bit of crochet.

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