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?

Media and Mob Mentality

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When I first started out as a freelance journalism I worked with some editors that made me cuss like a drunken sailor. I hated them. They didn’t see my “vision” and were stifling my “creative muse.” Basically, they didn’t get it.

One editor was so old school, he did his rough drafts on a manual typewriter that looked like it was straight out of the 30s. When I went to his office, I could hear him banging away at the keys so hard I was sure he was going to break his fingers. There was something to that sound, though. You could always count on it when you entered the office. The world might end and zombies might rise up but that old keyboard would be clacking away.

He didn’t take any shit and he had an old red pencil (or maybe several of them) always near to hand. I’d give him a piece and that pencil would come out right away. When he was done with it, the paper looked like it lost a fight with Freddy Kreuger. If I was near tears, he’d look at me and say, “well? Good journalism doesn’t come easy. Get to it.”

Another editor was a soft-spoken woman who reminded me of a velvet covered steel bar. She was polite and calm but she had this line in the sand that was as firm as the Wall of China. She demanded that I provide her with all my research and she or her assistant scrupulously checked every single fact. If anything was off, the piece had to be redone. I never knew where she found the time but I often pulled my hair out over some fact I’d glossed over that she refused to allow.

Yet another editor was a former military man. He had the bearing of MacArthur and the voice of Pavarotti. An odd combination but it worked for him. He would sit me down and go over the piece word by word if necessary to help me to understand how to make it better. He’d allow me some room for my “voice” but, in the end, journalism was a harsh taskmistress and he wanted me to know her inside and out.

Today, blogging has replaced the old school journalism. The Huffington Post has all but replaced the traditional newspapers. In our desire to have our news RIGHT NOW, the old school media is falling by the wayside. Even traditional newspapers are turning to blogging as a means to keep afloat. After all, why wait a full day for a newspaper to be printed when we can find out about things now. After all, there’s a lion killing dentist that needs a lesson and mob mentality demands it be done RIGHT NOW! And your opinion on breastfeeding or the latest shooting is absolutely required.

Blogging has its place in the world. It gives us perspective on events in the world. Right wing, left wing, religious, scientific, you name it. Everyone has a blog and an opinion. It’s important to hear these opinions not because we agree or disagree with them but because this is how we open a dialogue with each other. Only when we talk to each other do we begin to understand and with understanding comes peace. However, there is a danger with blogging that most people don’t think about.

No editors.

Love em or hate em, editors fulfill a vital role in media. They are the crap filters. Whether it’s bogus facts or just a shitty piece, they’re the ones who filter all that out. Without them, we’re swimming in crap and don’t know the good stuff from the bad. It’s a recipe for disaster. As a writer, there is an obligation you have to the reader. Don’t sell a 5 cent hat as a one of a kind thousand dollar item.

Readers take your words at face value. If you say A is true, they will believe it and get on that bandwagon. If you say that a lion killing dentist is an irredeemable human being who deserves to die, they will believe you. If you shout out about terrorism, feminism, bullying, whatever, they will believe you and get behind you.

Not all writers have scruples. Some writers just want readers at any cost and don’t care who they hurt to get there. Not all blogs or online magazines are like this and that’s just trouble. How do you sift the shit from clear water when it all looks the same at first glance? How do you know you’re getting facts and not just a pile of snake oil?

You don’t.

We need to bring back editors and start demanding a better quality of news online. Not just a rampant hodge podge of whatever looks good. We need to sift the sand from the diamonds or online news has got to take responsibility for the mob mentality that it builds.

(Side note: I’m not supporting said lion-killing dentist. This is an example only.)

Shut Up

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More often than not I’m told to shut up or some version thereof. I’m not surprised. I tend to be bluntly honest about what I see and how I feel about things which can be unnerving for some people. It’s not that I’m rude unless I’m cranky at someone, which I don’t do without good reason. All of this leads up to a variation of “shut up” when I speak out about something.

“No one wants to hear.” “No one’s listening to you.” “One person talking can’t make a difference to anything.” “It’s all been said.” “Who do you think is going to listen to you?” “People are tired of hearing about it.”

The problem with this sage advice is I tend to be a bit of a Don Quixote. I keep tilting at those windmills in hopes of slaying that dragon. My windmills are those things I see as unfair or wrong. Racism, bullying, LGBTQ rights, pro-choice, the list goes on. There are things that are wrong in the world and I’m not going to shut up about.

So why not just  go along with the masses and let things be. After all, how much impact can one person have?

A young teen went on YouTube and spoke out about why girls in her country should have an education. Since then she’s gone on to continue speaking about the need to educate girls and women’s rights. Malala Yousafzai was just one young girl but now she’s a voice that’s heard.

A woman was on a bus when a bus driver ordered  her to give up her seat to a white passenger. She refused. She was arrested and helped to spark a revolution that ended segregation. Rosa Parks did one small act that changed an entire country.

The list goes on of small people doing small acts that change big things. Malcolm X, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Helen Keller… Each of them were just one person doing what they could to make their world a better place. People following their consciences.

I’m no Mandela or Keller. I don’t claim that greatness. I do claim to have a voice. Even if it’s a small one. When I claimed the title of “Writer” I also accepted certain obligations. To speak out. To question the world around me. To give voice to those who have no voice.

Shh… Don’t Hire the Crazy People

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Anxiety Attack

Anxiety Attack

Crazy don’t mean dumb.

I’ve always been fairly upfront about my issues with anxiety and the struggles I have in my day to day life. Recently I was advised to rethink the wisdom of sharing this information. After all, I’m a writer and entrepreneur and people won’t take me seriously if they know I have “issues”.

I’m well aware that there is a stigma around mental health and some serious myths about it. Since my usual reaction to advice such as this is to tell the person to stick it up their ass, I thought I’d devote some time to explaining why they should stick it up their ass.

  1. If you have mental health issues, you’re not reliable. I don’t know where this one came from but nothing could be further from the truth. When you have a mental illness, you’re very aware of how others see you so you work very hard to overcome that. Now, I don’t know how it is for others but, for me, anxiety is a demon with a pitchfork poking me in the ass on a fairly regular basis. If I don’t check things three times and have it ready to go well before the deadline, that ol’ demon starts warming up his pitchfork. Reliability is not an issue for those of us with mental health issues. Having a private crying jag in the middle of the day sometimes is but not reliability.Of course I'm crazy. I'm a writer.
  2. People with mental health issues can’t do the work. Now, I’ve heard this one again and again. I’m not sure if the belief is that the insanity will interfere with the work or that somehow our brains short circuit and we are unable to learn the work. Either way, it’s a farce. We may require some special consideration when working. For example, I have a friend with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder who needs to have his desk in the corner of the office. It’s a small thing and helps him to feel safe and happy at work. Mental Health disorders are just a disability. If we were sight or hearing impaired, businesses would think nothing of accommodating us. We’re sanity impaired. We might need to listen to our headphones or a private area away from others. That doesn’t mean we can’t or won’t do the work. Make us feel safe and you’ll get 150% effort from us.
  3. People with mental health issues are unpredictable. Oh let me explain how untrue this one is. I have anxiety and I can give you a list of things likely to cause an anxiety attack. They’re called “triggers” and we want to keep them safely locked up. Anyone with mental health issues has a similar list and is more than willing to show them to you. We know how to avoid our triggers and like to avoid them. However, even if you were to dunk us right in the middle of our triggers, we can tell you exactly how we’ll react. That’s not unpredictable.

The idea that those of use who are crazy make lousy workers is one of those myths that somehow got started when I wasn’t looking. The truth is far different. We work damn hard and most of the time we come up with some very creative ideas. Okay so hiring fairies to paint the office wasn’t one of my better ones but there have been others and some of those have worked out.

Besides, there’s one other reason for hiring crazies; we certainly keep things interesting.

The Christmas Tradition

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A picture talking about ownership of Christmas traditionsYesterday someone posted this on Facebook where I could see it. It made me so unbelievably angry I had to go out for a while before I could sit down and think about it sensibly. Those who celebrate Christmas claim it’s a time for sharing and showing love to one another then this is posted. How hypocritical can you get?

Let’s break this down. First, let’s look at these traditions you claim are yours. Do you have a Christmas tree? Are you getting gifts? Going to have a nice Christmas feast? All these things can be traced to earlier pagan traditions from around Europe. See, back in the day when the Holy Catholic Church (which appropriated the shreds of the Roman empire) was establishing itself, the pesky pagans refused to give up their traditions. Things like Samhain and Yule which later became Halloween and Christmas. Oh and don’t even get me started on Easter traditions.

Yule, or the Winter Solstice, was a time to celebrate the sun’s return to earth. So, boughs of evergreen were brought into the home, feasts were had, gifts exchanged. This made the Church nuts. Darn pagans. Didn’t they know that their traditions were wrong? So, in good Christian logic, they simply moved the day of Christ’s birth to the Winter Solstice and appropriated the pagan traditions as a means to celebrate.

I’m not going to get into whether Christ was a real person or not but if He was, He wasn’t born in the middle of winter. Most likely he was born in spring. WHAT?!?! Yep. As a matter of fact, the whole Nativity story is a crock. It’s stolen, almost wholesale, from the Egyptian story of Isis giving birth to Osiris. Minus the magi, of course. Funny for a person claiming this is their tradition, isn’t it?

So let’s get to the heart of this posting. What it says is that no one better mess with Christmas. After all, this is MINE, god dammit and you have to agree to it. In short, I’ll do what I want and fuck you. I’ve run across this attitude before, ironically it happens most often at Christmas and I’ll give you a brief overview of the person that usually mouths this sentiment. They’re the ones that have the most lights on their house complete with a Nativity scene in the front yard. They send out picture cards every year of their family in matching outfits and even subject the dog to this humiliation. They go to the office Christmas party and smile and show what a good person they are. They donate to at least three of their favorite charities and it’s usually a big donation. At Christmas dinner they have a glass of wine, never beer, and tell everyone what they’re so grateful for this year. On Boxing Day they’re out in the malls and stores, making people work, so they can get the best deals.

This person would never dream of inviting a stranger in need to Christmas dinner, knowing they’ll be alone for Christmas. They donate to charities because they feel guilty for never giving those in need a thought the rest of the year. They put on a great show for this one day out of the year but never show respect for any other traditions happening at this time of year. Well, they might say “Happy Hanukkah” to their Jewish friends. After all, they’re not racist.

However, ask them to change a little so as to include everyone in the celebratory nature of this time of year and they will throw fits. Share the season with another tradition?? BLASPHEMY! Open your celebrations to someone of another culture? NEVER! Christmas is theirs and belongs to them, dammit. How dare they want to share it? They’ll take that “Merry Christmas” and like it.

What truly saddens me with this posting is the idea that someone would think that this is in any way keeping with the true meaning of Christmas, no matter your tradition. All over the world there is a common theme to this time of year; love. Yet, in the desperate need to be right, to be better than others, they would trample over the feelings and traditions of others. So when you stop to say “Merry Christmas” consider why you’re saying it. Are you saying it to show off your Christmas spirit or are you saying it to wish another the love of the season? Christmas isn’t the exclusive right of one group of people. Christmas isn’t yours.

Consent – What Is It?

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As someone who enjoys BDSM there is an issue that I pay very close attention to; what is consent? What does it mean to consent to sexual activity, whether it’s BDSM or not. If someone kisses you, is that consent? If a woman is dressed sexy, is that consent? Some people claim there’s a lot of grey area and others say it’s black and white. I claim it’s a grey area that needs to be made black and white by the people involved.

The Government of Canada defines consent as “the voluntary agreement of the complainant to engage in the sexual activity in question. Conduct short of a voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity does not constitute consent as a matter of law.” It then goes on to break down this definition but what does it mean in our average sexual relations? Do we have to start getting our partners to sign a contract?

One person may interpret another’s actions very differently. A touch on the hand may mean “go for it” to one person but may just be a kind gesture to another. So when you’re trying to go out and get lucky, how do you know that the other person is into it? How can you be sure? Ask.

I know, I know. It’s not sexy to stop the flirting long enough to ask point blank if the person wants to fuck. It’s a necessary part of the process. However, the conversation doesn’t end there. What’s expected in your magical night of naked bouncy bounce also may have very different expectations on both parts. What about condoms? Rough sex okay? Maybe one of you wants to involve latex and a riding crop.

In BDSM this part of the conversation is called “negotiation.” If sleeping with this person is important to you, then taking this time won’t detract from the actual in and out event at all. It will add to the event by instilling a sense of trust in the other person, that they know your limits and you know theirs. You can relax and enjoy everything once it’s out of the way.

When you negotiate, be sure you’re clear about your expectations and needs. For myself, this means making sure the other person knows never to touch my neck and condoms are a must among other things. But what happens if someone breaks the rules?

For myself, I have two different kinds of rules. Ones that are hard and fast and others that are negotiable. Condoms and not touching my neck are two hard and fast rules. Whereas spanking is a negotiable rule. If someone breaks your hard and fast rule, play should end instantly. Those rules are there for a reason and they don’t have to understand or agree with them but they do have to respect those rules.

Before you go into a situation that may end up with nudity and orgasms, be sure you know what you want and expect. Then be sure you understand your partner as well. You cannot reasonably expect to be mature enough to have sex if you cannot express your desires and understand the desires of your partner or partners.

The last bit of negotiation advice is that you cannot give consent if you are intoxicated. This means if you’re drunk or stoned, you cannot give consent. Don’t drink and fuck is the lesson here. Besides, who wants to deal with whiskey dick, anyway? If your partner is drunk, your horny night will wait.

Consent can be an easy understanding between two or more people. If you’re not sure you have consent, ask or walk away. No still means no and it doesn’t mean keep trying. It means no. However, when two (or more) people say yes, a fun night can be had by all. Fuck responsibly.

Remember Everyone

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Dog and soldier look at a monument to animal veteransToday’s blog is going to be very short. Tomorrow is Remembrance Day, when we take time to thank those who put themselves on the line to fight for our freedom. I am proud to include my father and grandfather in that list. However, there is a veteran that goes largely unremembered. Not because we don’t appreciate them but because they quietly and enthusiastically do their job. We simply don’t notice them because they’re so good at their jobs that we often don’t see them.

Our animal veterans.

Throughout history animals have fought wars by our side. Dogs, horses, pigeons and more have helped carry us, protect us, send our messages and simply fought with us. They are just as worthy of remembrance as their human counterparts. They’ve laid their lives on the line and endured trauma alongside their human companions. They deserve as much respect as our human soldiers.

So, on November 11th, when you take a moment to remember all those soldiers who fought so we could have a country as great as we do, please take a moment to remember their animal companions.

They deserve to be remembered, too.

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