social justice

What ADHD Can Look Like

It took a long time to recognize that I have ADHD.

This is not an uncommon story for women and non-men with ADHD, Autism, and a variety of spectrum disorders. Symptoms are often excused as being a lack of discipline or an influence of their gender. Interestingly, many women who are later diagnosed or discover that they are autistic get a diagnosis for ADHD fist.

In school, one of the most common complaints heard from teachers was that I was too chatty. I liked to talk a lot, and very quickly. Sometimes people couldn’t understand me because I spoke so fast, and yet I would hear time and time again how bright I was or how articulate. I would ask endless questions, of everyone. I could never seem to learn that whole “don’t talk to strangers” lesson. In fact even now I find myself talking to strangers. When I left for university, my parents were surprised by how many people around town seemed to know me. While my frequent conversations with strangers bothered my mother endlessly, even into my adult years, so often the people I talked to would end up spilling their stories to me. There are times when one question leads to me seemingly learning a person’s entire life story.

At school, my focus would begin to wander a few months into the school year. I would start of the school year strong, then plummet towards the middle of the year, and then make back some of the marks towards the end. I followed this pattern throughout all my schooling.

Homework was difficult. If it was too easy, I wouldn’t pay complete attention and make inattentive mistakes. If it was too difficult, it was hard to stay focused and still long enough to understand. The longer it took, the more anxious I would get and the more difficult it would become to focus. I felt like I was unintelligent, and often my dad helping me with certain work would turn into screaming matches until suddenly something clicked and it all made sense. (Strange confession, I actually enjoyed those screaming matches with my father, feeling a strange sort of pride that I was the only one who could make him raise his voice. Sometimes I think he enjoyed it too.)

I found a lot of the books for school extremely tedious. I remember the teachers complaining about the fact that I mentioned that I preferred English books to French books. I was at a French school, so I can see why they had a problem with that, but no one considered that my problem might not be with the language, but rather with the fact that the French material was selected for me, while the English material I got to choose myself.

The stories I chose myself were more engaging, more enjoyable. They didn’t follow the same patterns that every “learn to read” type story did. Where the story doesn’t seem to matter so much as they were looking for excuses to use specific words. (more…)

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It Was Assault and It Wasn’t the First Time

CN/TW: Descriptions of Assault and Rape

I was at a party the other weekend, when the subject of my book came up.

I decided to tell the anecdote of the faith healer, the punch line of which was the description of his hand on my crotch and ass stroking back and forth, while I tried not to laugh in his face or look at my mother who was also struggling. I played it like I always do; for laughs at the absolute ridiculousness of the situation. But this time something was different. Maybe it was the look on the face of the person I was speaking to. Maybe it was the fact that I was already thinking about something related to assault. Whatever it was, even as I was laughing, I was suddenly face with the fact that what I was describing was sexual assault.

A man was touching my body in intimate places, in a way that made me feel uncomfortable. He was stroking my crotch because he knew he could get away with it. Despite the fact that my mother was sitting right there. I was in a position where I couldn’t object, and I couldn’t really refuse. Not without possible consequences.

It’s not as if the realization changed much. I was already an assault victim, having come to terms with what had happened to me at 18 years old with a doctor.

But the realization that I had been telling the story of my assault as a humorous story made me stop and think.

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Children and Disability

Ever since I turned 27, the thought of children has been on my mind. At 28, I am now a year older than my mother was when she had me. I always thought that my life would go a certain way. I would get my degree, get married, start a career, and have a baby. All of this was supposed to happen before I was 30.

Then I got sick, and one by one those dreams went up in flame.

I couldn’t go to medical school. Not only that, but I might even be able to manage a regular job let alone a career.

I got a degree, but unlike I expected my whole life, I am graduating with a bachelor with no idea of when or if I will ever be able to get more.

Some things changed, but not for the worse, just became different. Instead of a husband, I have a wife. The important part of that: the love, the support, the companionship remains the same. We live in Canada for now, which mean marriage for us is possible.

And then there are children. (more…)

Where is Your Condemnation Now?

TW: For Racism

During the Ferguson protests, during the Baltimore uprisings, during countless demonstrations that took place because black children, black men, and black women, are being murdered, there were countless and endless condemnations by white people of the protestors as being too violent, too angry.

Last night, white people came to a Black Lives Matter demonstration for no other purpose then to commit violence. Their purpose wasn’t to raise awareness, to express anger and hurt over government sanctioned murders. No. They were there to kill people who had the nerve to protest being murdered. They were there because they don’t see PoC as being human beings, as being people. They shot five people.

When the police responded, their response included macing protestors after they had just been shot at.

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Don’t You Fear Terrorism

If you have any interest in the news, you have heard about the attack that took place by a stadium in Paris. The attacks on Paris were not the only ones that took place. In addition to Paris, Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) has also claimed responsibility for attacks in Beirut and Baghdad which took place just hours before the ones in Paris.

In light of the attacks, there has been an international backlash against Syrian refugees. The backlash has included attacks on refugee camps, attacks on Mosques in Canada, the US, attacks of Muslim people all over the world. It has also resulted in the US attempting to close its doors to desperate people fleeing from Syria. Politicians are announcing that they are barring their specific corners to refugees in flagrant violations of their own laws, and still others are suggesting measures reminiscent of the Holocaust and the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany before the start of the war.

Why? Because they’ve decided that Syrian refugees pose a safety risk.

Some people have decided that the torrent of refugees is the perfect disguise for any terrorists looking for admittance to the US or any other place where refugees fleeing. This, of course, ignores the realities of the refugee process, and the fact that none of the terrorists have even been found to be Syrian nationals.

The racist and islamophobic rhetoric and actions of the last few days, always seem to be accompanied by apologists asking: “Don’t You Fear Terrorism?”

The question is meant to suddenly make these bigoted measures seem appropriate, because, it’s not racist you see, its self-defense.

But see, here’s the thing. I do fear terrorism.

I fear the terrorists who send threats to people who fight for social justice.

I fear the terrorists who put people’s lives in danger by doxing them.

I fear the terrorist who decides to shoot me or my friends because he’s decided that feminists are to blame for anything that has gone wrong in his life.

I fear the terrorist who walks into a school with a gun because a woman told him no.

I fear the terrorist with a badge who kills people based on the colour of their skin.

I fear the terrorists who see nothing wrong with brutalizing their children because of a disability, or because they are trans, or gay.

I fear the terrorists threatening and murdering people of colour for daring to exist: in churches, universities, in parks playing as children, walking home from the store.

I fear the terrorists who blow up clinics because they disapprove of a woman’s right to choose.

I fear the terrorists in government who use fear to slowly strip us of our rights.

What I don’t fear are children and terrified people fleeing their homes and everything they’ve known, who have watched their homes destroyed, and seen their friends and family killed.

The refugees are not terrorists. The terrorists we are so afraid of grew up right here.

When It Crashes

Things are about to get very difficult for us.

I’m near the end of my Ph.D. studies.  What should be a time of, if not hope, at least anticipation is a period of constant dread, because of two things I’ve learned.

My supervisor is, in all likelihood, signing the form he has to deliver to the Department of Biology indicating what his financial contribution to me next semester is going to be, and everything he’s said to me since the beginning of last semester says that that amount is about to drop from about $6300 to $0.  He has “incentivized” me to get my degree this semester by hanging the specter of his half of my salary no longer showing up in my bank accounts if I take any longer than that, because the stress of homelessness and lapsed prescriptions somehow does not get between scientists and their work.  I won’t know until he tells me, or I ask the department what he sent them.

But that’s small potatoes compared to the latest development.

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It’s All in Your Head:

The false dichotomy between physical and mental illness

It used to be thought that different illnesses were the result of demons and evil spirits. In the bible for example there are instances of epilepsy that are treated as demonic possession. As physical explanations were found for different disorders, the supernatural explanations were abandoned in favor of scientific ones.When it comes to mental health disorders however, physical explanations are harder to grasp and find. Not because they don’t exist, but rather because a lot of brain related research is either not possible with our current technology, or must be undertaken with great care for ethical reasons.  As a result, our society has created a separation between physical illnesses and mental ones.

On some levels, this separation make sense. When we think of physical illness or disability, we think of some physically embodiment. Take Crohn’s for example: with the right equipment one can point to the inflammation and ulcers in my intestines as an explanation of why I am feeling the way I am feeling. With mental illness, however, a lot of times we are dealing with something a bit more intangible: emotions and thoughts.

This separation is a false one however, that actually creates a lot of misunderstanding and harm. Because we see mental illness as dealing with something intangible like emotion, there is a social perception that mental illness isn’t real. That it is “all in your head”.

The truth is that mental illness is as much a physical thing as any other illness or disability. The brain is as much a part of the body as a leg or intestines. Depression, anxiety, and other such conditions may manifest themselves in part as emotions and thoughts, but those are expressed symptoms of underlying conditions in the same way that pain is an expression of inflammation or injury.

Moreover, it ignores the fact that all perceptions are “in our head”. If you consider pain, for example, while our bodies processes the injury causing the pain at the point of injury, the actual experience that we call pain is processed in our brains. This doesn’t mean pain doesn’t exist. In fact, we know that pain not only exists, but it is necessary for our survival. We know this because of individuals with CIP (congenital insensitivity to pain), a condition where people cannot feel physical pain. People with CIP need to consistently measure their body temperature and be very careful because it is possible for them to injure themselves, like break a bone, without realizing it.

Every tactile experience, every visual one, every auditory one is processed “in our heads”. If you say that mental illness isn’t real because it is “in your head” you are essentially saying that every experience we have isn’t real. Our whole lives are lived in our heads.

There are physical symptoms of mental illness as well. Many people who have depression experience joint pain, as well as fatigue. Anxiety can cause your blood pressure to spike, can cause chest pains, nausea, acid reflux, and a whole host of other symptoms. There is absolutely a physical component, so treating it as if it is something separate ignores important aspects of mental illness.

Moreover, treating mental illness as separate from physical illness or disability, ignores the fact that physical disabilities and illnesses often occur in conjunction with certain mental illnesses. Specifically, many people with disabilities have more risk factors for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. This can be the result of the imposed social isolation that many people with disabilities experience, or in some cases may be a result of their illness. For example, Crohn’s Disease, in addition to the pain and physical symptoms that can increase the risk of depression, the inflammation of the intestines can also lead to a lower absorption of Vitamin D which can result in depression.

Because physical and mental illness are treated as separate, those of us with disabilities are not given adequate access to mental health care. In an ideal world, every person with a chronic illness or disability would be given access to a mental health professional who would manage their mental health in conjunction with their physical health. The connection between the two would also make it easier to argue for social contact as an accessibility need.

The way the world is set up now, people with different types of disabilities experience social isolation as a matter of course. This can be as a result of symptoms, or often as a result of insufficient accessibility. Because mental health and physical health are seen as separate, the idea that disabled people are prevented from being able to socialize effectively due to barriers such as transportation or even just on-site accessibility, is not seen as a big deal. Government officials see closing down programs and businesses that encourage and enable disabled people to socialize as risk free. People feel the need to vandalize playparks that are set up to be accessible to disabled children.

The false dichotomy is actively harmful to all disabled people. It enables people to ignore the needs of the mentally and the physically ill. It is meant to divide and shame. It is meant to pit us in false competition with one another, in the hopes that it will distract us from the systemic ableism that is so ingrained in our society.