Author Archives: CWR Guest Writer

Don’t Call the Shooter “Crazy”: Toxic Masculinity, Mental Illness Stigma, and the Red-Herring’s of Mass Shootings

Our country has a serious gun epidemic.

We’re all aware of it, and it seems that almost weekly now we’re presented with yet another account of a mass shooter wreaking havoc among innocent civilians. We talk about gun control. We talk about mental illness. We talk about religious extremism. But we always seem to skirt around the underlying issue. By doing so we often cause harm to more innocent lives.

There’re so many “red herring” distractions to mass shootings, but the real issue lies much deeper in our society. Through our language, the media, our laws, and our acceptance of gendered norms, we manage to allow these massacres to continue and instead place undue pressure on mental illness. Sufferers of mental illness are often the target, although statistics show they are rarely violent people. The issue lies elsewhere: within toxic masculinity and the need to seek control.

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Another Mass Shooting, Always One Group to Blame

Mental illness is commonly brought up after a mass shooting. News anchors will emphasize the importance of mental illness awareness, and will suggest laws to evaluate the mental stability of gun owners. It’s an easy target to paint: those that kill others must be crazy.

The word “crazy” is used so loosely in our society, but it’s with this type of language that we perpetuate the stigma around mental illness. Entertainment and television were large perpetrators of spreading harmful stereotypes for a long time, but that is slowly changing in fictional media. News-centered media is still behind the times, however.

It’s taken us a long time to get where we are today in mental illness treatment and care. According to Bradley University’s research about 18% of the American population admits to suffering from some sort of mental illness. Of those 43.6 million people, only 6.7 million sought and received treatment for their varying ailments. Those who did seek treatment found that it was extremely beneficial, but still only a fraction of those suffering seek out the help they need.

Language and negative connotation are one of the main reasons people avoid seeking help. Despite that fact that only 3-5% of violent acts are committed by sufferers of mental illness, the issue is always brought up around cases of murder and shootings. The mental health of the shooter is put into question, and the media is quick to jump on the blame train; to distance themselves from the “crazy” or “unstable” population.

“We aren’t responsible for this, because we’re not insane.” Continue reading

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Notes from Underwater: Surviving a Psychiatric Stay

I’ve spent most of this summer in and out of the psychiatric hospital parking lot. My husband spent most of it behind the metal detector where they make you strip out your pockets and take the laces out of your shoes. It has not been Barbie’s Dream Summer™. Knowing how the craziness (both medically and vernacularly) can be overwhelming, I wanted to write a quick help list to keeping your head above water for any of you who also find yourself in this situation.

All storylines will be different but there are elements of my particular situation, a spouse with Major Depressive Disorder and multiple suicide attempts, which would and could also apply to other mental health inpatient situations. This is focused on caretakers. Your loved one will be under the care of professionals in the hospital setting. You did your job getting them to help and now you need to survive the storm. Here are some things that kept me afloat.

1. For the staff, this is just a Tuesday. They will seem horrible and cruel and surprisingly unbothered by what is most likely the second most terrible day of your life. Checking into a mental hospital is a bizarre combination of going through airport security, checking into a motel, and entering a nightmare world where people calmly respond to the most important person in your life explaining that they planned to buy a gun. Without any irony, one doctor (via webcam because the process took so long that it was three hours past normal office hours when we got to the “see a doctor” step) mimed placing a pistol in his mouth and the resulting explosion with hand gestures.

Another doctor referred to a patient who committed suicide as “breaking his winning streak”. There are stupid procedures and passwords and rules and regulations about everything. This is not their fault. Their job is to provide a dampening effect on the raging emotions of patients and caregivers by casually indicating via body language, tone, and word choice that everything is acceptable and that there is a calm and rational solution. You are still allowed to hate them for it.

(I really wish this was a joke, or exaggeration, or poorly executed satire but it was the literal reaction of the secretary at the hospital.)

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Listening, Communication, and Police Brutality

It’s been a little over a month since the shootings of Alton Sterling, Phil Castile, and the police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, and I still don’t have the words to describe my emotions. I can say that I am still hurting, angry, terrified, and confused. But it’s more than that. I grieve with my black brothers and sisters across the nation and I wonder about my future here in the States as a black woman.

What’s going to happen to me if I am ever pulled over by a police officer for something I didn’t do? What’s going to happen if I’m out walking in my neighborhood and someone calls 911 on me because I look “black and suspicious”? What’s going to happen the next time I’m in a store and a clerk sees me wandering around?

After Sterling and Castile were shot, not one of my friends asked me how I was doing or if I was affected by the news. I’d even been posting about my pain and confusion on Facebook. But do you know what happened after the police officers were killed in Dallas? Family members and Facebook friends jumped on their keyboards typing out “Pray for Dallas” and “Blue Lives Matter” as fast as they could. I respect law enforcement and was hurting for the policemen’s families too but what does that mean to me when people do that? How do you think that makes me feel? Continue reading

Who Killed Archie? Solve The Riddle to Save Our Marriage

A major bone of contention between my wife and I is the debate that threatens to pull our marriage apart (well, not really, but you know what I mean). It centres around one question:

If Archie was suddenly murdered, who would his murderer be?

We have defended our theories in public and in private. We have tried to gain the support of others in the hopes of winning the argument by sheer volume, but alas we are still locked in this bitter battle. So it has come to this, our final plea to the internet and its readers.

I, John, will be arguing that Archie Andrew’s murderer could only be one of two people: Betty Cooper or Jughead Jones. Katherine will be arguing that the only possible murderer is Veronica Lodge. We beg that you help us decide. Who is the true killer?

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We see you brooding in the background Jughead. Image courtesy of Bago Games.

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Discoveries Through Dating – Online and Otherwise

I have attempted to rewrite this article about my experiences with online dating a couple of times. The first draft sounded like a how-to, which felt dishonest because I haven’t been particularly successful in online dating or dating in general. The second draft was an attempt to be comical because of the plethora of ridiculous experiences I have had. However, this draft started to sound bitter. Noticing the difference between what I attempted to write and the actual tone of the writing allowed me to step back and evaluate.

I couldn’t ignore the feeling that I was avoiding something bigger and truer about my experiences. Did I feel bitter? As I came to realize the reality of my circumstances, I felt my back slump and I could only acknowledge what I had been fighting for so long- I was bitter, and felt defeated. I know this sounds dramatic, but I’ve dated a lot, with a relentless effort to find someone significant. Test-tasting everyone’s advice about dating and rarely turning off my search for the next potential partner was exhausting, and I came to realize that the bitterness stemmed from two areas.

First, was that all my efforts, worries, and work to have a symbol that I was lovable through having someone else in my life came to nothing. Second, was that I dealt with a lot of issues from the men I dated. Issues that weren’t mine to deal with, and so boundaries were often fuzzy. However, another feeling rose to the surface- thankfulness.

The Wonder Years

You see, I was that girl who had a crush on one guy or another throughout high school. When I was over with one crush I would intentionally search for another. It wasn’t so much that I liked a ton of guys at the same time. I was monogamous with even my crushes. I didn’t even like these guys’ characters or want to date them, but I was obsessed with liking guys (like most teenage girls are). Obsessed, I suspect, because I was bored in a small town. I had almost crushed on every guy in my year by the time I graduated high school.

It wasn’t the cute crushing either, where the girl blushes and tries to get the guys attention by smiling all the time. It was the perpetually embarrassing kind. I would blurt out inappropriate things or tell everyone how I had held my crushes hand during community prayer. Like everyone else, I was eternally grateful when high school was over. My crushes during my high school years never developed into anything. I avoided actually dating because it was a world I didn’t fully understand. And my weirdness around guys didn’t really help things.

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It wasn’t until I was 21 years old that I had my first date. I know, a full three years later and still no date. To be fair, as much as I was weird, I was also a little petrified. A deer caught in the headlights to only bolt at the last second- which happened a few too many times- until my date on a train with a guy named Dave. The only reason this even happened was because I never thought that the people I would meet during this ride were going to be anything significant. And the train was moving, it’s not like I could have gone anywhere. He made his interest known and I went a little crazy. But just a little. Not psycho or anything, just borderline obsessive. I thought: this is my chance. He’s educated, good-looking, has strong values, and he rides horses like a cowboy! It had to work. But the relationship didn’t and couldn’t have worked. He lived in Montreal and I lived in Winnipeg. Yet, I couldn’t get past the fact that someone that awesome would like me, and thought I need to seize this opportunity the best I could.

That first date led to more dates with other guys- a lot of other guys. I was living in Winnipeg at the time, a place where (unlike Vancouver or Victoria) men actually ask random girls out on dates. I didn’t need online dating. Almost every weekend I was on a new date with a new guy. I had plenty of guy friends who could have been potentials. It was overwhelming, but I soaked in the attention. It was something I had never had in my life, not because I wasn’t beautiful before, but because I had “I’m too insecure to date” written on my forehead. I ended up dating a guy for three weeks knowing after the first date that he wasn’t a keeper. There was something comforting about knowing it wasn’t going to last with him. I finished things when it got a little too drama-filled. After the breakup, it was the first time I was unmotivated to date or even have a crush. I didn’t think about dating for three months and was quite relaxed about it all. But of course, things change… Continue reading

Why I Left Facebook

“I killed my Facebook page years ago because time clicking around is just dead time. Your brain isn’t resting and it isn’t doing. I think people have to get their heads around this thing. All this unmitigated input is hurting folks.” – Louis C.K.

It’s been over 2 years since I deleted (not deactivated, big difference) my Facebook account.

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I had been a loyal and active member since 2006. I had posted thousands of photos, generated twice as many likes, had a business page for my photography, and met many, many incredible people from all over the place, some of whom I had never met in person until they let me crash on their couch when I visited their city. It seems a bit odd, considering all those connections, benefits, and likes, that I would just go ahead and make such a major decision like that.

So, what happened?

Facebook, when it started, was great. It was a simple news feed layout with status updates and the ability to upload and share photos — nothing more. Maybe there was a section where you could show us your favourite shows, music, and sports, but that was about it. It was fun, innocent, and a great way to keep in touch with old friends and family. Over the course of time Facebook began evolving, as most sites do — they began adding features like additional timeline content and games. Harmless stuff, other than those damn invites to join Farmville (I still hate you Farmville and I hope you burn in social media hell!). Even at that point, it was still a place to see what people were up to. Eventually I started spending too much time endlessly browsing my news feed and becoming more and more bothered about what I was reading. It was a sensory overload of everything you could imagine. People were fighting over nothing. Trolls were out spreading incredibly hurtful comments. People were using their high friend count as a way to push their opinions on others. I was seeing some very negative content coming from people who I had thought were genuinely kind. It was coming from all directions and it was too much to take. I tried the Facebook friend cleanse and deleted well into the hundreds. That seemed fine, but eventually I started blocking others who posted annoying posts/shares — I didn’t want to delete them, because well, a few of them were family, but their posts bothered me. It got to the point where logging in just wasn’t fun anymore, so I decided to pull the plug. Continue reading

What is a Doul-a and What Do We Do?

When I first heard the term doula, I literally spoke the words: “a what-nah?” Fast forward two years and here I am: a practicing doula. The term ‘doula’ is ancient Greek and roughly translates as “a woman who serves.” For a professional movement that aims to empower, advocate and offer caring, non-judgemental support during pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period, this definition, while providing the gist, falls short. (Oh, and there’s no rule that men can’t be doulas.) If you don’t know about doulas, or if what you do know makes you scratch your head in confusion or suspicion, do me this favour and bear with me as I hopefully debunk some common myths and share what I know to be true about the doula role.

A common doula image has been the hippy-dippy, placenta eating type (while the healing benefits of this practice can be argued) the bottom line is that doulas do not force-feed their clients placentas, a myth that can create real barriers to doulas being taken seriously in broader systems of care – someone who wafts into a room ripe with patchouli oil and is dismissive of doctor’s orders.

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Art courtesy of the author, Rachel.

Here are some frank but concise things to know: 1) if a doula has been trained well, they will know the role is not a clinical one, and 2) that while a ‘hippy-dippy’ approach is often scoffed at, it seems clear that our culture is starved for what might better be termed ‘holistic care.’ I feel lucky to have attended births where medical staff and holistic practitioners worked symbiotically. The outcome was stunning. Our mutual respect and willingness to complement each other’s roles disproved the notion that ‘medical births’ and ‘natural births’ must be separate entities. This type of bridging is one of a doula’s most astonishing tasks and achievements. The doula’s role is that of an impartial diplomat, offering translations, support and conflict resolution if tensions may be running high. A doula also runs interference between expectant parents and well-meaning but occasionally overbearing family members. Continue reading