The Big Lie

Twenty Years AgoTwenty years ago, I reported a rape that didn’t happen.

There are very few people who know this story, and none with whom I could possibly share every detail. Part of that is simply because the more I explain what happened, the less it feels like an explanation and the more it feels like an excuse for something which is clearly inexcusable. I have spent more than twenty years wanting to speak out publicly about it — to out myself and lay myself bare — but have vacillated back and forth. I have desperately wanted to come clean and take responsibility for my actions, but at the same time I have been haunted by the potential repercussions (beyond any for myself) of this kind of confession. The myth that women frequently lie about rape is inevitably falsely reinforced by one woman coming forward (in spite of statistics to the contrary). I don’t want my lie to reflect unfairly on those who have made genuine claims. It has also never been my desire to re-open old wounds for the boy I hurt and whose life I damaged.

But these things have a tendency to eat away at you when they sit unresolved, and although I wouldn’t say that I have forgiven myself for the choice I made, I do understand it more now. That understanding has made it both easier and harder — maturity has given me the emotional tools to dissect and understand the choice I made — that I felt I had to make at the time — but it has also distanced me greatly from the person that made that choice. I cannot imagine doing such a thing today, or allowing myself to be in such a vulnerable position where I felt there was no other option. This means that although I understand it, I find it hard to empathize with it.

***
THE FOOTBALL PLAYER
When the non-rape happened, I was dating a football player. I was 19 and this was the second serious relationship that I had been in after losing my virginity at 18. My first boyfriend had been sweet and caring, and unfortunately I had been a weepy emotional wreck (undiagnosed bipolar disorder, abandonment issues and puberty were a difficult mix). That relationship lasted three months, after which he dumped me (kindly?) and I was absolutely devastated. When the next relationship came along more than a year later, I grabbed on with both hands and held on tight. Very tight.

He preferred a more arm’s length approach. I was not invited to his house or to meet most of his friends. He didn’t want to meet my friends.

The majority of our relationship involved him rarely returning my calls and coming over to my parent’s house after dark to have sex, which we did mostly in the dark, and during which he never removed his baseball cap. Ever.

Looking back, I have to wonder if any of his friends even knew that he had a girlfriend (was I his girlfriend?), and there is a good chance that he was seeing other girls as well. Things came to a bit of a head when, after repeated requests for him to come to a party with me, he refused and I went on my own.

What happened next wasn’t his fault — if I wasn’t getting what I needed from the relationship I should have just ended it (that seems perfectly logical now, of course, but teenagers don’t often have the emotional maturity to go along with their sexual explorations). I was hurt and needed validation.

***
THE BOY (AKA. THE FALSELY ACCUSED)
I arrived at the party feeling severely depressed, but determined to solve that problem by spending time with my friends and consuming large quantities of alcohol. I no longer remember the exact circumstances of meeting the guy I would cheat on my boyfriend with (for reasons that will become apparent later, my memories of the event ended up being so distorted and tampered with that I blocked out a lot of it). Somehow he was there, and then he and a couple of my girlfriends and I headed to a corner store to buy some snacks, and then we returned to the party, after which he and I started fooling around). He was (in my eyes at the time) the mortal incarnation of a Greek god. He was beautiful. Tanned skin, beautiful wavy hair and muscles. But more importantly, he seemed completely blown away by the attention I was giving him and he reciprocated wholeheartedly.

This was, understandably, a pretty big boost to my self-esteem. He wanted me so much and seemed so hungry for me, and I was so wounded by rejection that I couldn’t get enough. It didn’t register with me at the time that part (or all?) of that hunger was less a function of my irresistible desirability and more a reflection of his age.

He was 15. He was a virgin.

Not only was he 15, but he had just turned 15 that week. He was in grade nine and I had already graduated from high school.

This did give me pause. Of course it did. But I made all the rationalizations that I am sure men make of underage girls who they convince themselves ‘look older’ and are ‘mature for their age.’ By law in Canada, it was legal for us to have sex. Barely.

In any case, we did not have sex that first night, nor even when we met up again the next day. I am not certain that was even my goal. It was a bit of a runaway train that, of course, he was going to ride as far as he could, and that I was feeling less certain about the more sober I was. We eventually went home to my parents house and did, finally, consummate what seemed inevitable.

It was awkward and absolutely not horrible physically, but mentally I realized (during) that I had done a very, very stupid thing. I knew I couldn’t continue seeing him (regardless of what happened with my boyfriend) — enough time had passed that I had actually spent talking to him to realize that, while sweet, he was a child and we had nothing in common. He was beginning high school and I was going to head off to university. I had just been his first sexual experience and I had no idea how to deal with the situation in a way that wouldn’t destroy him.

So of course I pretended everything was fine and waited until he called me the next day and did it over the phone.

***

When my boyfriend found out, he was angry, but didn’t yell or hurt me in any way. He didn’t even dump me. He just insisted I tell him everything about the boy and his name. I asked him if he was going to hurt him. He said no. I told him not to. He said he wouldn’t. I didn’t believe him.

TW: Trigger Warnings for talk of rape and abuse after the fold…

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How Wasting Money Made Me Happier

Becoming permanently disabled in my 40s was emotionally stunting. After all, when you retire before 50, what exactly are you supposed to do with the rest of your life? We all imagine that when we finally retire we will travel around the world, or study, or sit in coffee shops maligning scruffy teenagers, or do any number of fun things by choice. But the reality is that when that day finally comes, our bodies and abilities may not be so cooperative. Or worse, like myself, you may find yourself forcefully retired before you even achieve any of the things you may have imagined were important to you.

reena coffee outsideThe other unexpected issue with early retirement (or even regular retirement) is, of course, money. Even if my body were able to accommodate my desire to travel to exotic destinations, a retirement pension isn’t much to live on (and a spotty work history due to years of chronic illness isn’t conducive to saving much money).

Faced with overwhelming feelings of plummeting self-esteem and general aimlessness, how do you go about ‘finding yourself’ again?

I suppose it’s not unlike any mid-life crisis — the halfway point in one’s life is difficult for anyone. The difference in my case was simply that so many options felt cut off from me due to physical and financial limitations. At a certain point, though, creating a new identity for myself became less a matter of choice and more a case of necessity. You either evolve or die. I picked evolve.

Things I Did That Were Free:

  1. Stopped saying “Nothing” when people asked me what I did for a living. For what it’s worth, that is a supremely crummy question. There are plenty of people who are not wage earners but still have jobs (stay-at-home parents being one example) and the question makes plenty of people super uncomfortable. In my case, though, I started answering with the other things I did in my life (like writing and acting) rather than de-valuing myself.
  2. Claim my disabled identity. Society really, really wants disabled people to feel like they are lesser-than because they cannot work and/or because they are perceived as broken. By deciding that my disabilities were just part of who I was and that it was society who was disabling me when it did not make basic accommodations, I regained much of the self esteem I had previously lost.

Things I Did That Wasted Money:

  1. Investing money in my writing. I have always written, but finding time to devote to it was always a challenge when I was in school, and later work. Since I have become permanently disabled, I have had bouts of writing, but I’ve sometimes found it difficult to follow through without a dedicated spot to write. While it was initially difficult to justify spending money (without any guaranteed money coming out of it in return) to finance a work space, I have definitely reaped the benefits of that decision — I have completed two more books (with several more on the go) and a multitude of essays. (Obviously I could not have done this without the privilege of a two-income household — I am very grateful for a partner who recognized that my emotional needs were a priority.)
  2. Giving change to street people. I have always been a somewhat private person when it comes to discussing charity. I don’t like to telegraph when I give money because I have it in my head that you shouldn’t expect praise for doing something that is simply a decent thing to do. But I acknowledge that there is value in leading by example. My feeling, when it comes to giving money to anyone who asks, is to give some if you can spare some, and not if you can’t. It’s that simple. I’m not that interested in hearing people’s convoluted reasons as to why they don’t give. If you don’t want to, don’t. But I’ve found that having some change in my pocket every day to give when people ask, and acknowledging them by saying “Have a nice day!” makes me feel pretty great. When you feel like you no longer have a purpose and that you cannot possibly make an impact, the act of helping someone else and connecting for a moment is an unbelievable boost to your self-esteem. I’m not talking God complex here — I’m talking about recognizing the connection we all have as human beings. Even when you can’t make a big impact, the small gestures still count.
  3. Activism. It can sometimes be difficult for disabled bodies to participate in social activism. Not all activist spaces are accessible, nor do we always have the energy to participate in marches or sit-ins. But some of us can make posters, or write online or a variety of other tasks. And it’s vital for disabled persons to be intersectional voices within the feminist and other movements.
  4. Volunteering. Again, accessibility can be a challenge, but there are many ways to volunteer and be part of organizations that are important to you (while being able to set time and job limits that fit within your abilities). Both activism and volunteering have helped me feel connected to the world and recognize the importance of my role in it.
  5. Buying lattes. Other lists will tell you that the first thing you need to do to improve your life is to stop drinking coffee. I think that is a fair assessment. But those same lists will likely point out that you need to allow yourself some form of reward or thing that brings you happiness. In my case, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I have to limit my sugar. Basically I have no vices. Buying the occasional latte (with no syrups or whipped cream or toppings) is what makes me happy. It also gives me a destination; a place to go that requires me to be social (if only for a few minutes) and it feels like a splurge. Maybe your splurge is buying a newspaper, or getting your nails done. The point is that sometimes we need an extra reason to get up in the morning or get out of the house. Wasted money, perhaps, but totally worth it.

If we accept the concept that we have to “spend money to make money,” it shouldn’t be so novel that we need to invest in ourselves to find our self-worth.

/rk

Poly and Crippled: When Your Other Partner is Your Disability

Managing your polyamorous relationships obviously becomes exponentially more complex with the more partners you have. Whether you believe in hierarchical relationships (primary, secondary, etc.) or not, there are still times when having to prioritize is inevitable. Everyone has times when they are a squeaky wheel, and as long as it is not part of a pattern of emotional manipulation, I think that’s completely reasonable. After all, if you add kids to the picture, or other situational stressors like death of a family member, or loss of a job, a little extra attention or comfort may be needed that can, in turn, impact the time you spend with other partners. Certainly this is where having metamours that are friendly or understanding with one another’s needs is important, and hopefully there is some give and take and flexibility with scheduling, so that everyone feels their needs are being met fairly.

broken heartBut what if your wheel never stops squeaking? When you suffer from chronic illness (in my case, both physical and mental illness), and you spend much of your time trying to deal with the day to day issues associated with that illness, it can feel virtually impossible to dedicate any kind of emotional energy to multiple partners, never mind one. It is much easier to speak in philosophical tones about polyamory and your theories on ethical non-monogamy than to actually follow through with seeking out and maintaining multiple relationships. The entire process seems impossibly daunting. When your main focus each day is the struggle of getting out of bed, showering (maybe), finding ways to deal with intractable pain, etc., the acts of communication and caring for the emotional and physical needs of another person seem insurmountable. And quite frankly, like work.

It cannot be discounted either, the stress that this puts on the partner of the disabled person. If you are their squeaky wheel, how can they possibly meet the needs of other partners? I have sometimes thought that the solution to this is to seek out partners during periods of stability, but of course as anyone can tell you, finding partners isn’t quite so convenient that they appear out of the woodwork on request (in spite of what some people seem to think on OkCupid). Even if that were possible, who is to say that the new partner would be willing to put up with an over-demanding metamour? It certainly has never been my intention to sabotage my partner’s other relationships, but I cannot deny that it may have occurred in spite of that. When you are dependant upon another human being for many of your daily needs because of disability, it’s a pretty normal reaction to be a) fearful that those needs will no longer be met, and b) filled with guilt over that fear.

A good deal of the stress I have personally felt because of my situation dissipated when I accepted the fact that, at least for now, the only other partner I can manage is my illness. Right now, it requires my time and devotion. Accepting that, and setting some goals as to how I can satisfy some of the needs that it represents (like learning how to manage pain and gaining further independence) have allowed me to slowly get back to being a better partner in my primary relationship. I had spent so much time obsessed with ‘poly failure’ guilt, that I hadn’t been tending to either my partner or my disability. I also spent such an enormous amount of time worrying about whether he was unhappy because he wasn’t seeing anyone else that it clouded my ability to deal with anything else that needed to be tackled in our relationship. It’s hard to build emotional stability when you’re in self-protection mode.

Whether it is due to disability or some other life change, it’s tremendously important to take the emotional time to process and if necessary, withdraw. It’s a natural byproduct of polyamory that we check in with others around us in order to determine their needs and how we can best accommodate them. The problem for some (i.e. those of us who are naturally co-dependent and ‘fixers’) is that we don’t always look inward (or rather, if we do, we do not allocate the time to mend our broken bits the way we try to with others). I know a few people in the community who have declared themselves ‘their own primary.’ There are certainly some who, upon hearing such a pronouncement, might consider that a selfish act, but really, it’s pretty hard to attend to other people’s needs when yours are constantly nagging in the back of your mind. Being your own primary, to me, seems like an excellent way to communicate to others that you declare yourself valuable and hold yourself accountable to your own needs.

Obviously some of this can be mitigated by being honest (and forthcoming) about your own needs so that others can help — but I think it is even more important that we try to figure out ways (even small ones) to help ourselves. There is absolutely no shame in asking for help, but there is also a lot to be gained in terms of feelings of self-worth and independence, by taking control and allotting time for yourself.

The first step is acknowledging that those needs exist. And sometimes, the second is acknowledging that your illness is your life partner — you need to take care of that relationship so you can take care of the others.

/rk

Why Do Gimps Get All the Best Parking Spots?

get well soon

                           Get well never

You would think that being disabled would be the worst part of being disabled, but it’s really not. Being disabled is the most painful part, the most exhausting part, the most depressing part and the most tedious… but it’s not the worst. The worst is other people and how they treat you (or refuse to treat you, as the circumstance may be).

It is virtually impossible to go through a single day without being negatively impacted by the attitudes that society holds towards the disabled. Even if the impact of those negative attitudes is as (allegedly) benign as neglect.

I am disabled because society disables me. (Social Model of Disability)

I have disabilities, and I choose to claim ‘disabled’ as part of my identity, but the reality is that it is society that de-values me and places obstacles in my way which cause me to be handicapped. When I visit an office building or a friend’s apartment and there is no elevator, it is the lack of an elevator that causes me difficulty, not my mobility issues. Because if it had an elevator, those same mobility issues wouldn’t hinder me. Everyone appreciates elevators, whether they have mobility issues or not. They may make the choice to take the stairs, but that is still a choice. The difference for someone with extreme mobility issues is that it leaves them with no choice.

When people balk at accommodations, the elevator is the first example I always bring up. We all appreciate accommodations that make our lives easier, or quicker, or more comfortable. We just don’t always think of them as accommodations.

Public transit is an accommodation for people who cannot afford a car (and is subsidized by municipal government). Grocery carts are an accommodation for those who cannot carry all their groceries in their arms (and are provided free of charge by the store). There are countless further examples, but the point is that everyone, whether they consider themselves disabled or not, has received an accommodation or subsidy in some form throughout their lives. It has made their lives easier, and it is unlikely they’ve ever felt (or been made to feel) guilty about it.

So why is it that the disabled constantly has to justify or apologize for the accommodations which will (at most) equalize the quality of their lives? Why is it that, as a disabled person, I am deemed to have less value than a non-disabled person.

Because I don’t work. (Capitalism and Work Ethic)

Oh Capitalism, this is your fault. Thanks to capitalism, we live in a society where we equate (hard) work with personal value. If you have nothing to contribute financially (because money = value), then you are worthless. Worthless people don’t deserve accommodation. Worthless people certainly don’t deserve charity or financial support, because you need to work to earn money (so again, no work = no money).

Because I am different. (Normalization and Social Role Valorization Theory)

Normal is good. Normal people are those who work, those who are able-bodied, those who do not suffer from mental illness, etc. Being different in any way means that you have less value. Having less value because you are not normal means that you are not worthy of the things that normal people have.

Society uses both of these reasons to not only justify crippling me and other disabled persons, but also as a means to regulate our lives. Social Darwinists cite biological imperative and ‘survival of the fittest’ as excuses to justify segregation and refusal of accommodations or support. Any increases in social services, charity or assistance that do occur tend to be accompanied by an increase in the regulation of disabled persons’ bodies and lives. We are treated like children, forced to beg for financial assistance, account for how we manage our meagre finances, and repeatedly prove our disability. We are perpetually reminded of the burden we represent (and asked to push ourselves to our limits to ‘do our bit.’). We are an itemized list of our disabilities; our other characteristics and talents irrelevant. Disabled people, as non-workers, do not merit a separate identity.

If I worked, even a little, I would have value. (Marxism)

Marxism at least allowed for the fact that disabled people had value even if the output they produced wasn’t equal to the purported ‘norm.’ Marxists saw that work wasn’t a value to be solely idealized on its own, but rather as a means of self-actualization. While this certainly helps justify the inclusion of subsidized work programs within disability support for those who want them, it leaves those who are unable to work without perceived value.

If I can’t work, do I still have value as a human being? I certainly think so.

Delicious Barium

              Delicious barium shakes. Yum.

First of all, I challenge the idea that I don’t work. Everyone works, whether in the traditional sense of earning a salary, or through the performance of labour in other ways. I perform household chores (my partner and I divide the labour such that we can each complete jobs according to our abilities and strengths, like any other couple). I complete the (seemingly endless) list of tasks that are required due to my illnesses and disorders: doctor’s appointments, physiotherapy, medical tests and treatments, blood draws, prescription refills and pill-dispensing. I parent. I do volunteer work. I engage in social activism. I write. All of these things are tempered by my physical and mental abilities — as are all forms of work, for all people. A doctor cannot perform the task of an engineer, and vice versa. That makes neither of them less valuable in their own work, it only reflects a limitation in their abilities.

As for having value separate from work: There are a multitude of reasons why we value the people around us. In terms of people who are not wage earners (beyond the disabled), that includes children, senior citizens, stay-at-home parents, spouses without work visas, students, and more. All of these people contribute to our lives in ways that are not financial, but still have value. Even when we speak of people who are wage earners, when we describe their importance to us, their professions are unlikely to be the first thing that we cite as valuable, but rather their characteristics and what it is that they bring to our lives and the lives of others. A teacher isn’t valuable only because they teach — they are valuable if they connect with their students and create a safe space to learn.

Disabled people are obviously no different than any abled-bodied person in that way: We all possess characteristics that bring value to the lives of those around us. We can be creative, funny, sexy, supportive and clever. We can be nurturing, and we can be nurtured.

The problem with a society that equates value with the ability to work is that it ignores the individual and ends up hurting not only the disabled, but everyone. It is why we have a class system, with one individual being worth more than another solely based on the (sometimes random and unfair) distribution of wealth. Which makes everyone vulnerable to losing their value, whether temporarily or permanently.

When that happens, you could ask a disabled person what that’s like. We’re valuable for stuff like that.

/rk

Book Giveaways!

***UPDATE*** The contest has ended and Goodreads has selected the winners. The winner of Compote Is My Jam is Sharon in Kentucky, and the winner of I’Mmoral is Shelby in Louisiana. The books will be sent out to the winners in the next week or so. ****

I’m giving away one copy of each of my latest books through Goodreads!

Here’s how it works: You must have a Goodreads account to enter (a complete list of rules and regulations is listed at goodreads.com). You also need to be at least 18 years old and a resident of Canada or the U.S. Both contests (one for each book) run from today, November 3, 2015 to November 27, 2015. Goodreads will randomly select a winner in each contest (they pick, not me), and inform me of their addresses to send the respective winning book. Winners are encouraged (but not required) to complete a review (positive or negative!) on Goodreads for the book they have received — any feedback is greatly appreciated. Please note that I am prohibited from further contacting the winners for solicitation or any other purpose.

Here is what you can win:

Compote Is My Jam Cover 6 x 9

Compote Is My Jam: Volume 1 (Motown Mix)

(colour paperback, 6″ x 9″, MSRP $24.99 CAD, 56 pgs)

Compote is like jam, only without the work. Making compote is like being a cook, without the cooking. Compote Is My Jam is like a cookbook, if it was penned by someone with few skills and even less common sense. You will learn a lot from these recipes, but possibly mostly about what not to do. Join R.K. as she attempts to one-up her friends who jar and can produce, with as little effort as is humanly possible. The perfect how-to for lazy cooks who are also looking for a little musical inspiration to accompany their kitchen adventures. Get ready to slow it down with Motown. May your fruit be warm and squishy.

Click here to enter

.

I'MMoral imageI’Mmoral: Poems for Unrepentant Sinners and Free Thinkers

(paperback, 4 1/4″ x 6 3/4″, MSRP $14.99 CAD, 152 pgs)

What would the war cry of a mostly introverted, mentally ill, autistic, genderqueer, physically disabled, feminist, atheist, polyamorous woman sound like? A lot like this. Using a combination of essay and free-form poetry, R.K. confronts the status quo and dissects it, inspecting its parts and discarding the bad bits. In spite of tackling some obviously serious and controversial topics, such as abortion and the anti-vaccination movement, she approaches her subjects with humour and then slaughters them with equal parts derision and kindness.

Click here to enter

GOOD LUCK!

What’s You is Mine

I used to steal things.

It was wrong, certainly, and I felt a tremendous guilt over it at the time, but largely because I didn’t understand why it was only directed towards the people I cared about. I think people take things for a lot of different reasons, and while kleptomania is the clinical label we put on it when people do it compulsively, trying to paint every person who has this compulsion with the same brush ends up dismissing the very real dysfunctional thought processes which underly it.

I didn’t steal things very often, but it occurred enough times as a child that I was convinced that I was a ‘very bad person.’ I took a swan-shaped perfume bottle from my best friend (and forever added water to it, trying to get it to last for as long as possible). I took a tiny drummer boy pin from my grade two teacher’s desk at Christmas time. I occasionally took tiny mementos from my mother’s desk or jewellery drawer.

I didn’t do these things because I was angry or wanted to hurt them. I did it because I loved them. But I cannot deny that these acts must have hurt them, and would have hurt them even more to know that I was the one that did these things, because you (especially) don’t steal things from people you love.

I think to understand why I did these things, you need to look at the behaviour that accompanied the theft.

stealingI was an anxious child (who grew into an anxious adult). I didn’t have any outlet for that anxiety, so it was up to me to develop my own self-calming techniques (calling them techniques suggests way more self-awareness than I had at the time — it’s taken me years to recognize these patterns for what they were). One of these strategies was (what I thought of as) treasure-hunting. If the opportunity presented itself, I would go through hidden spaces and look for little treasures: items that made me happy and calmed me through tactile stimulation. It started with my own things — it was always possible in my messy room of hoarded things to dig through my piles and find things that I had forgotten about. Finding those things anew and touching them, rubbing them between my fingers, putting them in my pocket or even touching them to my lips (or putting them in my mouth) would calm me.

But sometimes my own things weren’t enough. The older I got, the better my memory was and the more that I needed novelty, and I needed to branch out. I would sneak into my mother’s room and go through her drawers or her closets. On her upper shelves she had some collectible dolls — I would take them down carefully and look at them, touch them, but never remove them from their case. I wasn’t allowed to play with them and I although I did gently handle them, I never risked damaging them by taking them out of their boxes. For the most part, I’d just dig about and put things right back where I found them. It wasn’t until later, when my anxiety was no longer satiated by looking that I took things.

I didn’t take a lot. Usually just one thing would be enough. Somehow having something of my mother’s (and later my best friends or favourite teachers) was enough to bring me comfort when I was anxious. Those items held extra power because they belonged to the people that I loved. It helped when I was scared, and certainly helped when I was apart from them.

I didn’t steal from strangers. I didn’t steal from my brother or father — the idea of doing so never even crossed my mind.

I think I recognized after taking the perfume bottle from my best friend and the pin from my teacher that it was wrong to take anything that they would miss or that was too precious. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, I just had this need that I couldn’t suppress. I tried to only take things from my mother that seemed lost or forgotten to her already.

I don’t remember exactly when the habit passed — somehow I graduated from being a child to a teen and I wasn’t stealing any more (other than borrowing clothes from my mother, but that wasn’t something I hid).

I thought it was past me until all of a sudden in my late thirties, I found myself at my mother’s house one day while she was at work, going through drawers and cupboards. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was in the upswing of a manic phase (the one that ended up defining my bipolar disorder). I had been sleepless for weeks at this point. I had gone over to my mother’s house to pick something up and ended up pacing room to room, looking for nothing that I could verbalize.

I ended up finding some paintings that had been tucked away to the side of her dresser and just knew that I had to rescue them and they needed to be in my house. Suddenly the only thing that mattered to me was that these beautiful paintings were being ignored, unhung and forgotten.

A week or two later, when my mother came over and saw one of the paintings hanging at the top of my staircase, she was furious and (not surprisingly) hurt. She demanded them back and when I got upset and tried to point out that she hadn’t even noticed they were gone, she took them and left. I tried to plead with her and explain that I was trying to save them, but we were both hurt and angry and not really listening to each other. I cannot deny that what I did was an aggressive act (or that it seemed so to her), but my defensiveness was in part out of confusion that she thought I did it to hurt her, which in my delusional mind, I hadn’t.

It wasn’t until later, long after the incident (and after drug therapy had treated the manic episode) that I began to question why I had done it and how it related to a larger pattern of behaviours.

Any person who experiences anxiety (or any other mental illness) will tend to develop calming strategies, many of which are potentially self-destructive (like smoking, alcohol or drugs). Unfortunately, with something like kleptomania or drug abuse, the symptoms of anxiety can mask the underlying cause, which will inevitably go untreated. More clinicians are recognizing this fact, which is why there are more dual diagnosis treatment centres opening, thankfully.

For myself, I’ve tried to learn to identify which of my behaviours are related to my anxiety, and which are acceptable and helpful outlets for those feelings (this list is only mine, and the things that I call risky or bad are simply that for me):

RISKY

  • alcohol
  • drugs (some, potentially)
  • stealing
  • violating other people’s personal boundaries (going through their things)
  • lists
  • exercise
  • looking at the scale

SAFER

  • window shopping
  • walking
  • magazines
  • flowers
  • looking at bright, pretty things

The top list will confuse some people, I know, because it has lists and exercise on it. For me, the problem is that besides anxiety, I am prone to obsession and compulsion. If I keep things light and not too focused, I’m okay, but unfortunately that’s not how things tend to unfold. Things with numbers or lists or goals tend to push me into overdrive and I compete with myself. In the past that has resulted in compulsive exercise and anorexia.

Sometimes though, colour and design are enough mental stimulation to calm me. If I can walk through a HomeSense or Ikea, walk the aisles one at a time and pick up each little knick knack, turn it around in my hands and put it back, that’s enough to settle those feelings in the back of my brain. Without realizing it, I’ve had this habit since I was a child — first at the toy store and then at any store at the mall. kIt’s such a simple thing and it doesn’t hurt anyone. The challenge in the past has usually been that I haven’t been able to express why I needed to do it. This has led to whoever I’m with growing impatient with me and rushing me through the process, leaving me feeling unfulfilled and even more stressed out.

One of the constants of living with bipolar is the lack of psychological or psychotherapeutic counselling. With drug therapy as a catch-all for treatment, we as patients are forced to be explorers of our own psyche, trying to dissect each little action or behaviour and figure out how it relates to the whole. With each new realization I feel like I take a step closer to being a whole person, but I am also filled with growing regret over the time I’ve lost and the people I’ve hurt because there was no one to step forward and guide me through this process years ago.

/rk

If a Crazy Person Falls in the Woods and No-One’s Around, Do They Make A Sound?

The other day in the car with a family member, we were having a discussion about how hard it is to access adequate healthcare (specifically pain treatment) when you are mentally ill.

“Is it?” they said.

“I’ve seen it happen countless times with other people I know, and it certainly has been for me,” I said.

They looked at me with confusion. “But you’re not mentally ill?”

I was gobsmacked.

I asked them what they meant, since they knew I was being treated for bipolar, and they said, “But you’re not crazy crazy.”

It’s a weird thing that family and friends do — even if they can bring themselves to acknowledge your diagnosis, they still don’t lump you in with (what they imagine to be) the raving lunatics who get locked away in mental wards. The thing is, not everyone who is mentally ill ‘looks’ like a raving lunatic. But some do. And some people can be both of those things. The point is, you do us a disservice by trying to candy-coat our disorders.

It’s not that I want to come down too harshly on the people that support us, the mentally ill. A huge number of people in our lives (possibly the majority) will turn around and walk away because they simply can’t handle being around someone who is mentally ill. Maybe because all they see is the stereotype of the maniac. So the last thing I want to do is alienate those who can see past their own fears and are game to stick it out.

But you also don’t get a free pass for your ‘altruism.’ I mean, when it comes down to it, caring for and about your family members or best friends should just be a normal thing that you do. The fact that they suffer from mental illness is certainly a challenge, but we all come with our own bits of baggage and as long as your mentally ill friend is a putting work into the friendship too, the fact that they are mentally ill shouldn’t be something they need to constantly apologize for.

If you are going to support someone who has mental illness, you need to acknowledge all of their parts. Glossing over their illness or pretending it’s not really there isn’t helping them.

show my crazyThis whole business of playing down people’s mental or physical disabilities seems to be something that is culturally ingrained. Parents play down illness when kids complain because they think they’re just doing it for attention. Doctors play down symptoms and refuse to apply labels because they are convinced that it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and patients will develop somatic complaints or hypochondriasis (the nocebo effect). But this can have a devastating effect on people with genuine complaints who end up feeling like no one believes them, which in turn can lead to self-harm and avoiding much-needed medical attention.

When you care about someone, avoiding using labels or acknowledging their mental illness feels like you’re being kind. Certainly the last thing you want to do is to bring it up every time they behave erratically or use it as a weapon in arguments. You can’t blame everything that someone does on their illness. So it might seem like the kind thing is to avoid the label entirely, to prove that you see the person beyond the illness.

The problem with acting like their illness doesn’t count or that they are some special case is that it a) is not recognizing the whole person, b) suggests that you think that part of them is somehow unacceptable, c) makes it extra hard for them to get help or talk to you about their illness.

In terms of c), getting help can be in big ways or little ways. It can mean that they feel safe calling you when they need help getting to the hospital, or it can just mean that they feel safe telling you that they can’t meet up today because they feel extra anxious. It is really hard maintaining friendships when you have bipolar and anxiety, for example, for the simple fact that you end up having to cancel or reschedule plans based on your mood. If you are someone I feel I can trust I would simply explain what my issues are that day and reschedule. If you are someone I don’t trust with my mental illness, I just might not make plans at all, for fear of disappointing you or having to deal with uncomfortable questions.

There is a growing trend for public acceptance of mental illness (depression specifically), with lots of public campaigns to increase ‘awareness.’ I remain slightly skeptical about such campaigns, mostly because what I see is a lot of people sharing memes and pre-scripted platitudes with very little actual one-on-one support of people in need. It seems to me that we’ve traded the public erasure of mentally ill people for public awareness and private erasure. Now when people try to speak up about their mental illness, other people pipe up with “well I have depression too, so you’re not special.” It’s great that more people are coming forward with their own struggles, but the last thing that should be allowed to happen is for it to result in a watering down of the significance of mental illness. That more people are experiencing mental disturbances should not make it less significant. It should make it even more apparent that it is an important issue.

It is crucial that we do not create a further hierarchy or caste system of mental illness (depression, anxiety and bipolar are treated in a much more favourable way than schizophrenia or Tourette’s, for example), and playing down someone’s illness as if it is not ‘one of the bad ones’ or ‘doesn’t count,’ hurts not only them, but the mentally ill community at large.

/rk