I need to make it better. At least, I need to try.

Every time I hear about a teen committing suicide, it wrecks me. When I heard about Jamie Hubley, though, it just hit too close to home. Literally. Jamie grew up in a suburb in Ottawa. He struggled with depression for years, was bullied, and did not feel safe at school. So he chose to end his suffering, because he couldn’t imagine a world in which he had a chance of being safe and happy.

Note I didn’t mention that he was gay in that list. It’s because it’s not a problem.

Being gay only becomes a problem when other people choose to use it as an excuse to harass, assault, and dehumanize you. Being gay only becomes a problem when other people choose to exclude you from cultural rituals and social celebrations because who and how you love doesn’t reflect their expectations. Being gay only becomes a problem when people in positions of power allow people perceived as anything in the queer alphabet soup to be targeted.

I grew up in a suburb of Ottawa. I struggled with anxiety and depression since childhood. I was bullied in middle school. I did not feel safe.

I was also queer, but not nearly as brave as Jamie. And maybe it wasn’t about being brave. For some queer kids, you take one look, and you just know. That’s not choosing to be out, that’s coping with always having been read as different. Anyway, I was read as different all right, but I think most people were surprised when I came out in university. I waited, because I knew that my school was not a safe place. I dated boys I was interested enough in while hiding my feelings for the girls who held my heart, and I pretended. Did it make me safer, more emotionally secure? It really didn’t. I tried to kill myself twice in high school.

I didn’t want to die. I wanted to not wake up every morning feeling like shit. I wanted to feel like I could be the person I thought I needed to be without fear of losing my friends and family. I wanted to live in a world where people didn’t throw cold cuts at me and laugh, where people wouldn’t tell me, days before my birthday, that they didn’t want to be friends with me anymore because I just wasn’t cool enough. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be loved. I wanted desperately to be happy. But every day hurt more than the last, and the isolation was unbearable.

I could have been Jamie Hubley. But I have so far managed to survive. As a survivor, I feel I have an obligation to kids like Jamie, kids like little me. Even on my most troubled days, I’m still in a position of greater strength than these kids. I am not bullied. My depression is (more or less) managed. I have a community of people who love me for all that I am. Being queer is not a problem.

Tomorrow, I’m attending a meeting for LGBTQ students in my program, to discuss the pros and cons of being out as a teacher. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, big protects little. If my being out in a school as a queer teacher makes one student feel less isolated, less different, less small while also challenging the norms around “acceptable” bullying in school culture, it’s worth it. It doesn’t get better unless the strong take action to make things better, so we can all become strong.

Loss, grief, survival, resistance

It seems to be obvious to everyone else, but I’ve been struggling with understanding why my mental health has felt so strained this year. I suppose it makes sense that I’d be feeling overwhelmed. So much has happened in a relatively short period of time, and most of what has happened in my life represents some kind of loss.

I started this year having to accept that I was too sick to work. My body rebelled against me, and has left no concrete signs as to what’s wrong or how to fix it. I worry every day when I wake up that I’m not going to be able to get out bed again, that I won’t be able to pick up the kids from school, that I won’t be able to go to school myself.

I lost my job. I knew it was a probability that my contract would not be extended, but it still caught me off-guard. My income disappeared, and with it my hope for financial security when I planned to return to school in the fall.

I lost my grandmother. I knew it was coming, probably soon, but she’s still gone and I didn’t really have a chance to say good bye to her.

I gave up any outstanding fantasy of being with someone with whom sharing my fertility would be a welcome and wanted thing when I chose to have my tubes tied. I grieved the fact that there had never been that moment of shared joy in a partnership during the years when going through another pregnancy would be a healthy choice for me. I made the right decision in choosing the surgery – I have no regrets at all. But the permanence of it left me wishing things could have been different.

I moved. I started school. I also started two part-time jobs, and transitioned the kids back into school. Nothing really to grieve there, but admittedly a lot of change and a lot of stress all at once for one little me.

Somewhere in the middle of that (and it doesn’t matter where), I was also sexually assaulted. It is what it is, I didn’t and won’t go to the police, it’s a work in progress to get okay again, and I’m not mentioning it for any other reason than, “Holy shit, that’s a lot of crap in one short period of time.” ‘Cause really? If I weren’t me, and I were talking to someone who’s 2011 looked like mine, I’d be a little worried about how they were doing.

So how am I doing? I’m grieving more than I have time for. I’m surviving (and sometimes that means nothing more than putting one foot in front of the other, making sure we have clean clothes and fresh food, and getting our bodies where they need to be occupying space). I’ve pulled away from some friends, and am trying to reconnect, because I know that isolating myself when I need support the most is dangerous for me. At times, I try to never stop moving, because I don’t want to have time to think, to feel, to process. I’ve really turned inward, to keep myself from falling out all over the place. My trust in my own judgment and in people I’ve known forever is up and down, and I often miss the obvious when people close to me are struggling with their own stuff. Eating and sleeping are inconsistent again.

I thought it would be a good idea to do a bit of a “check the oil, kick the tires” kind of psych appointment, to make sure I was more or less on the right track in terms of how to keep myself reasonably healthy. After being asked if I ever do “weird sex things” and whether my experiences of sexual assault were “true rape,” I haven’t really been that motivated to return. So I survive.

In the midst of all of this, I have pain. Pain so bad some days I don’t know what to do with myself. My body actively betrays me. My heart is stapled together after shattering so completely. And my mind? Well. Good days, bad days.

I fell off the wagon the other day. No. I didn’t fall. I stepped off. I made a choice. My entire world was chaos, and I could not find order. So I did the simplest thing I could think of to line it all up in way that I could deal with, that would restore some order, even for just long enough to take a single deep breath. I cut myself to stop the world, because it was something I knew would work. And I can’t even tell you how much shame I felt after doing it, after disclosing to someone close that I had done it, after dealing with that person’s reaction to it.

Too much has happened and continues to happen to my body without my consent.This contentious, “diseased” act, this choosing to make small cuts in my flesh – that was me. Something I chose to do, and chose to stop doing when I didn’t need it anymore. Would I have felt this shame had I gone and gotten a new tattoo? Re-pierced my nose? Aren’t they the same thing, if they satisfy that need to assert dominance over a body forced too much to submit?

I don’t have any answers. I don’t plan to make a habit out of it. It’s not something I enjoy doing. It is, however, a tool that came in handy when I needed to resist the feelings of loss, of grief, of body betrayal. I’m committed to using as many other tools of resistance as I can access.

‘Cause survival is the journey as much as it is the destination.

On being the undeserving poor: choosing student debt from a shallow puddle of options

I went back to school full-time this week. Again. I’m enrolled in a masters-level program, a professional degree that will hopefully lead to a career that fits my needs and those of my family. I managed to save enough over the last year or so to cover one of two years’ tuition, reduced my monthly expenses, and got a part-time job that fits around my school schedule.

I did everything I possibly could to avoid having to deal with the folks at my provincial loan institution again. I owe. I owe so much, I could be a doctor (almost). I have been screwed over so many times by the student loan system. I don’t trust it, and I resent having to jump through so many hoops to qualify. Before I had children, when I was doing undergrad coursework, I had to drop out of school during a major depressive episode. Every single time I’ve applied for assistance since then, I’ve been required to write a letter explaining what happened, and discussing my strategies to prevent it from happening again. Every year. It’s not enough that I had to do it once (which is entirely appropriate). To have to pull out the memories of that time, rehash my failure, my inability to function at that time, my loss (because that’s how I experience that time of my life) is painful, and anxiety-inducing, and humiliating. I know that a lot of that is my own love-hate relationship with my mental illness and that they would probably be making the same demands had I dropped out of school for a broken femur or a tumour or the death of a parent. But. No matter the reason, it’s a hurdle no one should have to repeatedly try to clear. There is no reason at all why, with the successful completion of subsequent years, this demand should be made annually. I finished a graduate degree with an A- average since that incident (ahem. while raising 2 preschoolers). Obviously, I’ve managed to get my shit together well enough to attain academic success.

And yet, here I am, back again, jumping on the gravy train. I’m at the caboose, this year being the last I’ll qualify for assistance. There’s a maximum amount of support available, you see, and I’m right at that limit. So, why more school? The answer to that is simple, and complicated.

Short story: Because life as a single parent to my children with a traditional 9-5 office-based job isn’t tenable. Because shiftwork isn’t doable. Because retail doesn’t pay enough, and I don’t think my body is strong enough for it anymore anyway.

For now, I need more flexibility to be available to my kids when they need me, and to accommodate my health when it’s not so good. I need to work towards having a schedule that is always somewhat flexible in terms of amount of vacation time (if not actual timing of vacation). I don’t have regular kids, and I don’t have a lot of back-up on a daily basis. As they get older, it’s entirely possible that at least one of them is going to need me more, not less.

I am ingratiating myself to the system, and playing by its rules, in order to finance my future ability to be available to my children. I am agreeing to pay back this not insubstantial loan, that may actually lead to a system-wide savings of several hundreds of thousands of dollars, as I position myself as my child(ren)’s adult care provider. I am increasing my capacity for resilience by slowing down my life pace to accommodate the stresses my particular set of variables creates/attracts. With luck, this will increase my overall physical and mental health, and keep my needs for accessing the public healthcare system to a minimum.

I am accepting the ongoing bureaucratic bullshit that comes with provincial student loan agencies because there aren’t affordable mental health options for me (or my kids). Because there isn’t enough support in their schools for them. Because social assistance wouldn’t begin to pay my rent. Because I’m likely not disabled enough (and what does that even mean?) to qualify for disability. I am choosing to BORROW money because the “free” money costs too much.

I’ve been accused of “hiding from the real world” in choosing to return to school. I’ve gotten comments about the amount of student debt I’ve accrued over the years, and questions about why I’d willingly choose to do so again. To those people, I say, “spend a week in my life, then talk to me about what’s real,” and “I’m open to whatever viable suggestions you have to go a different way.” So. If y’all have some other ideas, I’m open to hearing them. In the meantime, I’ll be sitting over here doing my homework.

Throwing other kids under a bus to save our own: The justification and defense of the indefensible

I wrote earlier this week about the 9-year-old child who’d had a meltdown at his daycare and ended up in handcuffs as a result. While those who have left comments directly on my site have understood my stance and agreed with it, I’ve read comments elsewhere regarding the story, and, well… I can’t even begin to understand some of them.

First of all, the defensive comments about the police actions in this situation are fascinating: cops have a very hard job, and they need to make hard choices to secure the scene and keep people safe. I have never argued otherwise. Police officers are entrusted with our safety, it’s true. But you know what? Of the officers I’ve talked to personally (and I’ve spoken with several), every single one has been open to training to help them do their jobs better. Generally, when we know better, we do better, and the officers who are in the job to make a difference in their communities WANT to do right by their residents. I don’t believe that any decent human being thinks that handcuffing a panicked 9-year-old child is the best course of action, but I do think that without specific skills and tips on how to handle situations with special populations, officers are left with limited tools. And if all you’ve got is training on how to take down a threatening perp, children will continue to be handcuffed.

The comments lauding the police actions weren’t the ones that troubled me most, though. I’ve read comments like the following:

* if that what it took to calm him down, then so be it. My daughter who has Down Syndrome has been hurt by outburst like this.

* I really don’t think the rights of this one child in this situation to attend daycare should trump the needs of all of the other children in the facility. Who truthfully knows what set this child off and how out of hand it could have gotten in an instant? Sure it could have been handled differently but what if another child had been in the way of his tantrum? Who advocates for the safety of the other children?

I have never once argued that this child should be treated as a higher priority than the others in the daycare. I have never once argued that my own children’s needs be given priority over those of other children. That’s not what this is about. Sacrificing one child to “save” the herd has a very clear (though likely unintended) side effect: it reinforces and perpetuates the idea that children with autism and mental health issues are “dangerous,” are less worthy of respectful and humane treatment, and are unwelcome. It reinforces the idea that it’s totally acceptable to tease these children, call them names, bully them physically. It maintains the cycle of abuse of children with disabilities, because children who grow up with the notion that those of us who are different are not equal become adults who refuse to develop and implement training policies that keep all of us safer, healthier, and happier.

Austin is no more important than any other child in that daycare. But he’s also not less important than any of them, either. He should be able to grow up feeling like his place in the world is valued, not resented.

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