Category Archives: drugs

Grrr, Tough on Crime

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Captain Marvel gets tough on crime (Marvel Comics)

Yet again, we’re hearing about the Harper government’s tough on crime slogan. I actually get shudders because this phrase just sounds a bit too much like the Bushism “War on Terror.” There’s a crusader’s zeal to it that means not taking measured steps or looking at issues sensibly. It’s a fervent belief that actually has no facts to support the need.

Crime in general and violent crime has been going down consistently in Canada, so what’s happening?

Well, on one level, you have a Conservative government with some scary religious zeal being redirected to where Canadians will find it more acceptable than true religious right-wing zealotry. Crime! Everyone hates crime and yes we want people to be punished for their misdeeds. But the government’s smoke and mirrors means they’re really spending relatively little on building more prisons for a crime rate that’s going done. Then in a few years when the greatly diminished statistics are available (because this government cut out a lot of what’s needed by statisticians) they can say, “Look what a great job we did.”

Hmm, in the meantime they haven’t spent money on crime prevention, which includes lessening poverty, providing education for children (including those who have learning disabilities), and helping people get away from drug addiction. Much better to throw the drug addicts in prison where they can become ever more hardened than try to rehabilitate.

The other half of this weird equation where crime is going down but it “looks” like it’s going up can be blamed on media. When I say media I mean all, from the comic above to all those TV shows and movies with violent criminals or sometimes savvy and cool and handsome ones (the thieves and internet heisters). This also includes radio, TV, newspaper and internet news. We are now supersaturated in the fat of tragedy. Every trauma, tragedy, disaster or crisis is reported on. We don’t get the news just twice a day, but every hour, in twitter, on the internet, in colour, with numerous graphic pictures. We get talk shows and articles until all we see is the DIRE HORRIBLE STATE OF THE WORLD. Aieeee!

No wonder the Conservative government can sell wasting money on more prisons when crime is going down (gang warfare however, is going up). It would be nice if the media went back to unbiased reporting, which means mentioned the good things in life too. How about a few more tales of human kindness and achievement, of the beauty in the world both natural and made by humans. I want to weep sometimes as the mess we’re making but we also have great creative beautiful minds and the majority of people aren’t criminals and really do want the world to be a better place. So while we stay tough on crime (England’s thugs, I’m talking to you) let’s also be gentle and uplifting with beauty.

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Can Writers Be Rockstars?

Rock stars and movie stars and known for their blowouts, the drug and alcohol abuse, their indiscretions mostly because they’re so rich and famous they’re always in the limelight. Over at Terrible Minds Chuck Wendig argues/pokes fun at the image and says we need writers to be rock stars. But have we ever had them, those memorable characters known more for their antics with drugs, alcohol and sex than for their writing (almost), or those with personalities that would have them locked up if it weren’t for their mad genius?

Wendig names Oscar Wilde, Hunter S. Thompson and Ernest Hemingway as characters in the past that had that crazed star image. William Burroughs would also enter that arena. Phillip K. Dick and Thomas Disch had a legendary hate on of each other. Dick, paranoid and spaced out on some substance hated Disch who was gay and reported him to the FBI (or maybe it was the CIA). I only learned this though reading Disch’s last book The Word of God. Disch got his last digs in at Dick in the stories (part fictional/part autobiographical) in the end. But these guys are all dead guys so they don’t count.

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Creative Commons: Drew Coffman, Flickr

Who are our living writing rock stars, the bad boys and girls of the literary world, the ones whose pens drip a venom that pales to their verbal vitriol, their nasty antics, their crazed abuses of the body? Someone pointed out that perhaps it’s because rock stars are younger and writers older when famous that age tempers these antics, but what can we say about Keith Richards then, though the Janis Joplins and Amy Winehouses definitely fall early in the realm of substance abuse. Perhaps it’s because we don’t look at authors whereas we watch movie stars and listen and watch rock stars, that makes a difference. Writers create characters and your imagination takes over. Who wants to find out they’re an elderly housewife of three or that they’re old and fat and greying? Just doesn’t live up to the glamor, does it?

Wendigs subcategories are: Erratic Author Appearances, Intensely Weird Drug Habits, …Making Rock Star Demands, Insane Hobbies on Display, Jack Up Our Books With Rockstar Juice, Groupies+Entourage=Awesome, …Writer Cribs, …Hookers, …Public Urination. Hmm, granted this piece is high on irony, I guess this might be considered a primer for the famous on what not to do. For writers, maybe we live out all that through our characters so we’re less likely to act it out. The TV show Californication¬† probably comes closes to the fantasy of a rockstar writer. Of course it’s Hollywood so everything is skewed there.

So who is alive who might be considered a writing rock star for wacky habits? Harlan Ellison is definitely one. Not that he’s defecated in anyone’s mailbox (that we know of) but he’s more than spoken his mind, trounced people verbally and on the page and been known to do a few “rumored” deeds such as signing a woman’s breast or leaving the garden slug dessert (search my posts for more on this). Samuel Delaney was known for his erratic author appearances. Neil Gaiman is mentioned as someone who should be a bad boy but is relatively tame. Wendig did miss that Gaiman has an entourage. If you’ve seen if at a convention there is usually a contrail of black-clad gothettes following him about. Sadly, I cannot think of any bad girl writers.

I tried once to tell the writers group I belonged to that we needed to hang out in bars and perpetuate a lifestyle that could be more infamous than our writing. No one went for it though. Maybe I’d be better known if I had. ūüôā But the piece is right; overall we’re not the same prima donas as rock and movie stars. Check out Wendig’s article, and If you can think of a living writer known for strange, bad, erratic or aberrant behavior, post here so we can start a list.

 

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Play Review: Yippies in Love

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Bob Sarti's "Yippies in Love" at the Cultch until July 3rd

The play Yippies in Love had its preview on Wednesday, June 22 at the Cultch, Vancouver’s east-side theater and “Culture Lab.” On until July 3rd, perhaps it would have been better named “Yippies in Confusion.” Done by Theatre in the Raw, this low budget musical had a minimalist set, which didn’t bother me as a play is more about the dialogue and the story. With a few black blocks, a tickle trunk of props, two coat racks of costumes and a screen that showed old footage of the Yippie culture, we kept our attention on the actors.

Yippies, it turns out, were revolutionary hippies. They didn’t just believe in peace and love but in rabble rousing, provoking and marching on the US embassy and Oakalla prison. They had about a two-year heyday in Vancouver’s early 70s culture, which saw police heavy handedly beating and arresting dozens of people. This was something I didn’t know about my city’s tarnished past and the play was enlightening in this aspect.

The confusion in this play happens on several levels and I confess that sometimes I just don’t get musicals. Is it a comedy musical, or a drama musical or perhaps just a venue for songs? I don’t think producer/director Jay Hamburger or composer Bill Sample knew themselves. It felt as if the tone of the Yippie values might be too serious or radical for the audience so they softened the views with songs. The songs, with lyrics by playwright Bob Sarti, were derivative, with some being of the 50s, others with tones of “Crocodile Rock” or other hits of the past. But they didn’t¬† have the feel of the ideals of the era being portrayed. How did¬† a song more suited to Grease fit into provocateurs in the 70s? The music was executed well, and the songs “Reach Out and Touch” and “It’s So Hard” were the best, while others like the incredibly goofy dancing marijuana joints singing “Dancin’ Doobies” seemed gratuitous without much substance.

Costumes pretty much amounted to someone going through people’s closets or thrift stores and getting what sort of, maybe, not always looked like 60s/70s era clothing and a few props like jackets or police hats. Makeup looked like it was left up to the actors, which meant none for the men. Now it’s a small venue so you can see their faces but one of the men (possibly Bing Jensen though the actor doesn’t match the picture in the program book) was much older than the rest of the cast who are playing people in their 20s. Though he had the deeper voice used in the music (baritone?) he was as white as a sheet, seemed to react to every hat placed on his head with red splotching, and for having such a deep voice he was hardly heard. Some makeup would have made him look like he wasn’t half dead. While he seemed animated enough he was also expressionless and a bit wooden for much of the play. The other actors (Emily Rowed,¬† Rebecca Shoichet) were competent and sung well but the material wasn’t something where they could shine. Danielle St. Pierre (Julie) has done a fair amount of theater and she was the strength of the piece. Steve Maddock (Andy) was good though I felt he overacted a bit.

We have to remember that this play is called Yippies in Love but even that was confusing. While Andy seems to love Julie all she wants is a special friend and the play ends with everyone going their separate ways, leaving you with the thought that they raised a little hell but accomplished nothing but living on welfare and tossing bricks through bank windows. Not much love there. Sarti says all the actions are based on true facts, and the play meanders from “be-in” to housemate chatting, to smoking pot,¬† to a trial, to sort of running for mayor. Perhaps this wandering very well exemplifies the way of the yippie but it only seemed to highlight the overall reactionary and militant actions of this group. This was also a little unfortunate in timing, one week after the riots that happened during the Stanley Cup finals. So, when the Yippies invade Blaine and throw bricks through a bank window it was hard to get into their exhilaration.

After the play concluded and the cast took their bows (Vancouverites will clap for nearly anything) they sang a rap song about doing it from the bottom or some such, encouraging radical protests from the grass-roots perspective. They named a lot of different social protest groups in Vancouver including Black Box. These yahoos were responsible for trying to cause riots during the Olympics and marching down the street, wearing black hoods with their faces covered. Such protests don’t actually further a cause but just cause anarchy for anarchy’s sake. This romantic romp through Vancouver’s past anarchic protesters got across the point of how pointless it all is. Maybe that’s the message. If so, it succeeded.

I went with three other friends and two wanted to leave at the intermission. I wanted to stay so I could write a complete review. The other person was hoping for some closure. I’m being generous and would give Yippies in Love two peace signs out of five.

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The World’s Oldest Profession

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Wiki Commons: courtesan and musician w/client

It’s debatable as the oldest profession, but it’s also true that prostitution has been around for a very very long time. And undoubtedly there were probably forms of prostitution going back to Babylonian times. While there are Sumerian and Mesopotamian texts referring to prostitutes there is still great debate as to whether there were sacred prostitutes who gave themselves away for coin at various temples. There are many references to Aphrodite, Ishtar and Inanna, and Herodotus writes about the temple prostitutes for some of these goddesses, but some scholars debate the veracity of his words.

One thing is certain; as long as we have had men and women, there has been a need or a want for sex. And the trade has been plied in various cultures and various ways for millennia. The ancient Greeks differentiated between courtesans, concubines and wives: “we have courtesans for pleasure, concubines to provide for our daily needs, and our spouses to give us legitimate children and to be the faithful guardians of our home.” (Pseudo-Demosthenes) As with this comment it is obvious there were different classes of prostitutes. Pornai were often owned by pimps and therefore either slaves or indentured servants. Then there were hetaera, those we would associate with mistresses or courtesans. They didn’t sell to various customers but would have had a select clientele.

The hetaera could manage their own affairs, while the pornai would have possibly been dancers, musicians and/or women who had to sell themselves to survive because they had no pater familias to protect them. The world of the Greeks was not an easy place for a woman and for her to do anything she needed the protection of a man, unless she was of the select few who could run businesses and own property without a man’s permission (Vestal Virgins were one group in Roman times). Young girls and boys could also have been prostitutes, sold into it or born into it, and the world and culture were different then.

But has it changed much in the world today? Prostitutes who are “owned” by pimps are often still on the lower rung of the ladder, whereas call girls and courtesans rate higher, work with select clients and don’t have to be on the street. There are many people who get into prostitution because they are destitute, on drugs or suffered an abusive childhood (often including sexual assault). But there are some who prefer it, because, like the sacred prostitutes of long ago (some of them), they feel they are therapists, they like it or they enjoy the rewards they can reap, though like any job, work is work. There are those forced into it as child prostitutes. No one, no matter their age or gender should ever be forced to give or sell sex.

But should it be legalized? Yes. To do so would get it off of the streets…mostly (more on this in a minute). Sex workers could be certified, checked for diseases, housed in government brothels (just like cigarettes and alcohol, I can’t see how the government has passed up this opportunity for another vice tax), protected from pimps and dangerous johns. Those on the street would more likely be those underage and the police could haul them and the johns in for consorting with minors. It would literally clean up the streets and keep almost everyone else safer. Of course, there is always a grey area and the laws would have to be explicit as to how the prostitution would look, including laws about minors, people not in control of their faculties (drug addicts) and what is okay. But it can be done and places like Amsterdam and Nevada prove it.

To let outmoded religious beliefs of a few affect the sex trade is yet another case of forcing one’s morality on another. If it doesn’t hurt anyone, then it should be allowed. Let adults be adults and decide for themselves. And let’s do more to protect the numerous women out there so that they’re less likely to end up as a corpse in the woods or on Picton’s pig farm. Keeping prostitution illegal only hurts those who are in the trade and doesn’t even give them a better way out.

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Crazy or Batsh*t Crazy

There has been a fair amount of media attention about the mentally ill of late. CBC’s Current (in Canada) was actually highlighting depression two week’s ago with Steven Page hosting, formerly of Barenaked Ladies. And then the guy in Arizona shot and killed people and when arrested it’s reported that he’d been suffering from mental health problems.

Canada and the US are both suffering from the same disease and that is cutbacks in the field of health. What happens then is that the mentally ill are released from hospitals or other health institutions and end up living on the streets or in jail, becoming drug addicts, injuring themselves or injuring others. It’s important to stress that the number of mentally ill people who injure others is a very small number indeed. And mentally ill does not include personality types like sociopaths. By saving money in the health field governments actually put up costs of such things as administering the fight against crime, prisons becoming overfull, latent mental health costs, other crimes and injuries that fill up the system. I’m sure a cost analysis would show that this is not an economical way to deal with the severely mentally ill.

But in that gray area of gray matter, there are those who are not the dangerous. They can fit into society and are not devoid of regular sociability or being able to function in the day-to-day. These people fall into the other categories of the depressed and the phobic. Severe phobias limit people’s ability to do different things, and severe depression can lead to a decrease in being social, integrating with others, working as well as leading to death.

It’s a sad state and many people do not understand even the basics of depression. Steven Page talked about his own battle with it and it affects many many people. There is still that social stigma that should you mention you’ve been depressed or heaven forbid have a permanent condition schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc. that you’re then branded as crazy. We’ve all used the term to describe people who might be clinically crazy or just too weird for normal society. We sometimes shy from them, are afraid of them and rarely do we understand.

I speak from experience, and will speak again and again about this because the only way to make this understandable is to talk about it and educate people. Depression often runs in families, some weird genetic fault. I don’t know the mechanism but I know it runs in my family. I’ve been depressed and I’ve been clinically depressed, the second being when you meet most of the markers by which they judge such things. There are different depths of depression and it affects people different ways. I have found that I have even been affected differently each time depression has hit me.

Some of my markers are sleeping too long, aching joints, boredom, flatlining on emotions, becoming overemotional, alienation, not eating, eating too much. Sometimes it’s depended on deeply I was sinking. I’ll overeat but in the darkest depths I’ll stop eating. It could be different for other people and of course suicidal thoughts and attempts are a big part of full-blown depression. Luckily, that’s one aspect I don’t really get though I came close a few years back and was probably scared out of it by the fact that someone I’d known for twenty years hung himself through a combo of a head injury, depression and the inability to pay for his meds. Anti-depressants are expensive and a depressed person finds every stress to be a very large stress.

The biggest part of depression that people don’t understand is that the illness isolates in many ways. Coping becomes difficult so that even answering the phone is too hard. Making informed and balanced decisions goes out the window. Hiding becomes the way to exist and a depressed person feels alone and unloved, isolated by their brain and the world around them.

It’s hard for us to know what to do if a person is depressed. After all, who wants to be around a sad sack who brings them down. Our society frowns upon weakness so even asking for help is hard to do. A coupe of times I would say to friends, “I’ve been depressed.” This was a close as I got to admitting or asking for help. What I was really saying was, “I”m depressed. I need you to do things with me. I need you to care. I need you to call me or pull me out of myself.” But how can anyone else know this? The language of the depressed person is circumvented by the illness itself. They may act like they don’t want/can’t handle company but they need to stop dwelling constantly on the whirlwind of darkness. This I do know but it is hard. It’s not just a case of “suck it up, buttercup,” it’s a matter of altered brain chemistry. This is why severe depression requires¬† (though sometimes there is an overmedication of people just feeling sad). They aren’t just feel good, happy pills. They have to fix the chemicals churning in the brain. Eating properly and exercising are also a big part of keep that brain floating on the pond instead of sinking.

Being depressed isn’t so much looking through a glass darkly as it is being in the bottom of a steep dark glass. The depressed person cannot see her/his way out and needs help and support. If you know someone like this, try to get your friends and family to help reach out, to show you care and perhaps you can just throw a lifeline to someone who will be able to climb out into the light.

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Tonsil Tales

Back in the good ole days, or so I remember being told, tonsils were removed as often as wisdom teeth, as a matter of course, as an extraneous appendage we no longer needed. I don’t know if that’s true or not but I was scheduled to have my tonsils out at age six. However, my family, always running on the dysfunction track, was derailed the day I was supposed to go in for surgery. My parents were fighting and I never did get my tonsils out for a very very long time.

Creative Commons--Knol

I spent my childhood and teen years getting colds like every other child but I as often got tonsilitis, involving very painful and swollen throat and bouts of antibiotics. By my teen years I averaged four colds/tonsilitis episodes a year. Some of the symptoms can be headache, fever, cough, trouble swallowing, sore throat and chills.  I think I was 18 or 19 when I started to noticed it felt odd when I swallowed, like something was stuck in my throat. When I opened my mouth wide, I could see small lumps of white at the back of my throat that sometimes I could remove with a finger. Basically food was getting caught in the holes in my tonsils. This did nothing for my breath either.

Finally, in art college the tonsillitis got so bad that even my tongue was swollen. I had cankers all over my gums and I couldn’t really eat a thing. Of course I’d let it get too bad, being a student, trying to finish projects and not getting enough sleep. So eventually I went in to the school clinic, telling them I had tonsillitis. They told me, you don’t know that. We’ll take a look. And they took a look and said, you have tonsillitis; why did you take so long?

More antibiotics but that finally decided it for me. I made an appointment to see my family doctor, the one I had had since I was about ten, who had seen me go through bouts of this over the years. I mentioned the holes and the food sticking in them. My doctor didn’t even look in my throat but told me it was nerves. I said it absolutely was not. I’m not a nervous person. Then he told me that lots of people got this. I said, they do? It was this incident of incompetence, plus the one where my doctor told me I didn’t clean myself properly when I went to him about a bladder infection, that I tossed him by the wayside and went to a new doctor. That doctor couldn’t see much in my throat but he sent me to a specialist. The specialist took less than a minute to look at my tonsils and say, “You have holes in your tonsils. When do you want them out?”

And so, at the tender age of 22 I had my tonsils out. And something I realized once I healed from the surgery was that I had never ever been able to swallow correctly. My throat had always been swollen. If I’d had my tonsils out at six, like I was supposed to, I would have missed a lot less school as a kid and not been subjected to so many antibiotics. Luckily I didn’t take the incompetent advice of a doctor who should have retired, and I sought out another opinion. I don’t¬† miss those tonsils at all.

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Prostitution Isn’t Going Away

This week an Ontario court struck down a law that had made certain aspects of prostitution illegal, citing that it jeopardized the safety of the prostitutes by forcing them onto the street. (I’m paraphrasing.)¬† There are many laws about prostitution. In Canada it’s not illegal to be a prostitute but depending on where you are it could be illegal to sell sex, buy sex, live off the avails of prostitution or run a common bawdy house (known as brothel). I think pimping falls under human trafficking laws.

Harper’s government may fight this change because of right-wing religious views, but when it comes down to it, and with William Picton torturing and murdering various sex trade workers, there is strong evidence that sex trade worker lives are jeopardized by these laws. The arguments on both sides have already begun and will never end.

There are those that say that these changes open the doors for pimps and human trafficking. However, I would think there are already explicit laws about trafficking other humans that makes pimping illegal. Others argue that many women are forced into the sex trade, and at an early age, and this is true. However, the laws do not allow anyone under the age of 18 to be a prostitute anyways.

The moment that people started civilizing themselves (and I use the term loosely) by making laws and rules for living in communities, was the moment prostitution began because men could not just take what they wanted. I should point out that various cultures and religions today still turn a blind eye to men taking what they want even if it’s other people’s rights and livelihoods. And as long as we have men on this planet we are going to have prostitution. That means forever.

No matter how one makes laws against this aspect or that of prostitution, or shames the johns or imprisons the sex trade workers, it’s still going to continue. The more laws against it, the more it will be driven underground, but never away. I have a problem with this, like many aspects of laws that are meant to not keep people safe from each other but limit a person’s rights.

What harm would there be if prostitution and buying it was legal? Just think, the government could make money off of it, like it does with cigarettes, and alcohol (also once outlawed). Women could work in brothels or establishments where there was protection from murderer and other abusers of people. The workers could have regular health inspections, as well as the establishment so that the johns were likewise safe and the women were healthy (I use women here as the most common sex trade worker but understand that this can affect men as well). Prices could be controlled. Pimps would be eliminated. Sex on the streets, including the used condoms, and the violence would be lessened. And if a prostitute was found on the street, she’d probably be underage, unhealthy, addicted or something else that would identify quicker a solution for helping.

Prostitution exists and men use it. Some are single, some are married. The ways a person cheats won’t go away if there are laws against it. Legalizing prostitution would protect everyone better and the money the government made through licensing could go back into the system for education, health, addictions programs and other ways to get women out of the trade who are there more by circumstance and less by choice. And courts and prisons could be used for the true crimes.

This is such as win-win situation that I cannot understand why countries don’t implement it, except because of religious views. And the problem with someone’s religious view is that it’s not everyone’s. False morals just don’t make sense to me and if anything this creates a system where resources are used needlessly in the wrong direction, and the government can’t make statements about having wars on crime, even when the crime rate is dropping. Hype for using money where it could be used better elsewhere? Absolutely.

I’m hoping that this case in Ontario might be the first step towards a saner look at prostitution, the laws and the rights of the people involved. Because when it gets down to the nitty gritty, everyone is entitled to live their life how they wish as long as they do not hurt others.

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2010/09/28/prostitution-law028.html

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Mental Health and a Helping Hand

This will be one of those unpopular posts that probably no one will read but I feel it’s important enough to write about. Having experienced mild to severe clinical depression in the past I have learned several things. Depression isn’t always the same every time, nor the feelings that accompany it. And people don’t truly understand it, nor how to help a person going through it.

For those who have never suffered from a severe depression there can be a lack of sympathy. The person looks healthy but sure he/she is just moping, or grumpy or wallowing in self-pity. This can in fact be true for a few people or those who are emotionally crippled in some way and use it as a crutch. However, even that situation indicates the person is not emotionally healthy or psychologically whole. Depression can hit all types of people in all walks of life, whether rich or poor, unemployed or working, male or female.

The condition has different degrees of severity. In the past, I have had to fill out questionnaires for my doctor that ask a range of questions and how you feel about them (on a scale), from feeling unloved or unwanted to feeling unmotivated or suicidal. Yes, a person can lie on these but it doesn’t serve a purpose to get drugs if you’re mentally healthy, or to let yourself sink into a black mire if you’re not.

A lower level of depression could be a general malaise and lack of energy. Symptoms can range and can include oversleeping, not being able to sleep, lack of appetite, overeating, anxiety, fear, sadness, boredom, lack of sexual interest, and various body pains. One way that my doctor discovered that I was clinically depressed was that I went to her about an elbow pain that wouldn’t go away and no amount of physiotherapy was helping it. It turned¬† out that it was caused specifically through my depression and with anti-depressants the physical pain went away too.

Sometimes I just start to feel bored or like I don’t really care much about things that other people are getting fired up over. It can be a sign of the first stages of depression. It can, also, just be a sign of boredom, but it’s a trigger I have to watch for. Sometimes it’s a lack of energy and motivation. This can look like many other illnesses such as thyroid disease, anemia, stress, so it’s important that a doctor diagnoses it and does so correctly. And sometimes depression comes out in the inability to cope. That can be in something as simple as answering the phone, making an appointment, dealing with a last-minute change, not able to make a decision, etc.

It varies in intensity and ability. When I was clinically depressed I managed to go to work every day, barely. I’m quite a good chameleon so I could hide what I was going through, but it built up by the end of the day and I was dragging myself home and crawling into bed. I couldn’t answer the phone, I barely ate, making myself have a bowl of soup a day, and that was it. I didn’t go out and I didn’t cry because I was beyond most emotion except a bottomless pit of loneliness and despair. It was not fun, and I was resistant at first to anti-depressants, thinking they wouldn’t help. I was wrong. I did not enjoy feeling like the world was overwhelming me.

And it was. I was broke, even partially unemployed. A relationship had ended, and I was having health issues partly caused by the depression. I couldn’t find anyone to date and 9/11 happened putting the final nail in that coffin. When I said to my doctor that I had reasons to be depressed she agreed, but said it wasn’t that bad things didn’t happen but how we cope with them. It’s a good gauge to use, seeing if I can’t cope with everyday things that I could handle at other times.

But…depression hasn’t always been this bad, nor has it felt the same. Other times I’ve overeaten. I’ve felt lonely. Or I was lethargic. There are many things that can make a difference in depression, including environment, life situations and healthy lifestyle. Irregular sleep habits and lack of physical activity can exacerbate the condition of depression. Diet plays an extremely important role and a diet high in carbohydrates and sugars and low in vegetables is bound to toss many people towards big highs and big lows, leading to unstable emotional conditions. And of course drugs and alcohol (a depressant) play a big factor; drinking while on anti-depressants can lessen their efficacy.

The other part of depression is that those around you are likely not to understand or comprehend the severity. People look at someone who is sad, depressed, grieving, morose, etc. and think, why don’t they just suck it up and get over it? Getting over depression is sometimes the same as getting over cancer or a broken leg. It takes time. It takes medical care and it takes the support of one’s community.

Mental illnesses tend to fool us. We think if a person looks whole, they are whole. And if there is something wrong with their mind, then they’re crazy and they get stigmatized. I have known people who killed themselves because of their depression. I have had friends tell me that I’ve been through this before and dismiss me, even when I was trying to communicate my feelings.

If a depressed person manages to communicate to anyone what they’re feeling (and remember, in our society we are afraid to ask for help or look frail and weak) it might be no more than saying, “I’ve been depressed,” or “I’m on anti-depressants.” If someone you know says that to you, it means they are reaching out to you and want your help. They might be afraid to say more unless you open up to them. If you don’t know how, ask them how you can support them. They may very well say, “I don’t know,” because the depressed mind cannot always see solutions. It’s like being at the bottom of a giant glass tube with no way to get out. Seeking information, or talking to your own health practitioner will help you support friends or family. One of the best things to do is to just call the person or talk with them and ask them how they’re doing. Get them to go for a walk, some way of using their bodies, which will help regulate the mind. Depression often has a component of feeling isolated, unwanted and unloved. Loneliness can be debilitating and deadly.

I found it incredibly sad and tragic that the one person I knew thought his only recourse was to kill himself. He probably saw it as the best solution for everyone he knew. No one should have to choose that. I could write more and probably will at some point but we all need to be better educated about depression: what it means if we have it, how to prevent it and how to help those we know who are going through it. It is definitely not as easy as just “sucking it up.”

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Traveling in India: Betel Nut Adventures

Indian people¬†and many people of other Asian countries eat betel nut in one form or another. It is a hard oval nut that looks an awful lot like nutmeg. It’s true name is the areca nut, and it is almost always eaten with the betel leaf, part of the pepper family¬†and therefore slightly peppery in taste. A special knife must be¬†used to cut the nut because it’s like hardened wood when dry. Imagine trying to cut nutmeg. The nut, cut into small pieces, is placed on a betel leaf, along with lime paste, which is all rolled together and then chewed.

I first encountered¬†the betel nut in Meghalaya. The Khasi people, like many other Asian people, chew this daily. It is called¬†kwai¬†in Meghalaya and the Khasis chew it in a fairly pure form. I imagine¬†that it was something like smoking long before those countries ever had cigarettes. One Khasi woman smiled at me with her red lips and teeth and called it Khasi lipstick. Indeed in some of the Asian cultures it’s been seen as a sign of beauty. The red comes from a combination of¬†the lime and the nut. Everywhere in India, even in government buildings, I would find corners stained red as if someone had been butchered. But this was just the spittle from chewing the nut. India’s idea of clean was much different than that of my western sensibilities.

At the time I was told that the leaf and the lime were needed to break down the hardness of the nut. Some Khasis swallowed the kwai after chomping away on it, while others would spit out the juices. In India proper they call it paan and often mix it with sugars and other spices, making it a sweet concoction.

For the longest time (I was in Meghalaya a month) I just watched everyone chewing it. My friend started to get back in the habit though she didn’t do it in Canada. And a good thing too. Habitual use of betel nut cause severe damage to the gums, eroding them down to the roots of teeth. Not to mention, recent studies have shown that there are fairly high carcinogenic properties in the areca nut. Many places also combine it with tobacco, increasing the carcinogens even more.

Meghalaya was interesting to explore during the days but during the evenings we all just sat around. Hanocia’s¬†mother ran a bar and besides the one drink that was served, and the beef jerky, a lot of people chewed kwai. I finally asked to try it one night and popped a small piece with lime and wrapped in the pepper leaf into my mouth. I think I suffered severe pucker power from the caustic aspects of the lime paste and had to take some sugar to counteract it. I also did something that doesn’t happen to the Khasis. I turned beet red.

The areca nut is supposed to have mild narcotic properties that can sharpen clarity. How this works when one is drinking is more a mystery I think. Coupled with the pepper leaf and the lime, it heated me up. The Khasis sitting around thought it pretty funny to watch me chewing this. I did get into the hang of trying it, working past the bitterness and tasting the flavors of peppery woodiness. I probably chewed kwai for a week or two.

When I went back to Calcutta I bought some paan. There they have a collection¬†of confections to be¬†added. But I was used¬†to the pure taste and didn’t like the sugary sweetness. In fact, Indian sweets in general were far too sweet for my palate, partly because of the use of rose water. So I tried a few varieties of paan, served in cones of pepperleaf but couldn’t develop a taste for it. It’s just as well too as there are many diseases and cancers of the mouth associated with long-term use, not to mention the hardness alone can damage teeth.

So I gave up my betel nut adventures and passed on the betel juice that gives alluring red lips to its users.

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Welfare: For Freeloaders or Desperados

The history of social welfare has been long and varied, being part of the Roman, Islamic and Jewish empires. It has covered different groups with different criteria but overall it was for the poor and needy, for the elderly, widows and people with disabilities.

Canada has had a welfare system since the Great Depression. Part of a social welfare system, in Canada’s case includes health care, education and supporting the underprivileged. It can vary from province to province as to what specific criteria are. There is also the specific welfare part of welfare, which is helping those who are unemployed or unemployable.

I have had the unfortunate experience of needing welfare firsthand. When I was in my 20s I hit a time of recession in the province and couldn’t get a job. Putting in over 50 applications a month landed me nothing. I had no choice but to go on welfare. As it turned out there was a period when my other two roommates were in the same situation. We would get a few tins of food from the food bank and limp celery and eked by. I had no savings, no car and was not even sure how to do more than I already was.

Eventually I ended up with a part-time job for two days a week. The business was good enough to pay me under the table. If they had taken deductions and given me a pay slip I would have had to report it to welfare. That amount I made would then be deducted from my welfare payments. Welfare at that time paid something like $300-400 a month, hardly enough to live on. I could lay around and get $400 or I could work part-time and get $400. There really wasn’t incentive to even work part-time. So the under the table arrangement helped me survive because who can survive on that amount when rent is $300?

I then got a second part-time job and worked under the table there for two days a week. That gave me four days at part-time. It made the welfare bearable but still hard to do much. At the same time both businesses offered me a full-time job and I went with the one that I thought would keep me interested longer. I got off of welfare with a huge sigh of relief. It was humiliating and belittling.

In Canada’s past, women and single mothers on welfare weren’t allowed to have boyfriends and their virtue and chastity were watched as much as their bank accounts. This attitude can perpetuate in our society. It’s one thing to be buying designer clothes but to have nice clothes and a haircut for applying for jobs is another thing. Yet people have been scrutinized and punished if they try to have any normal aspect of living. “Welfare bums” are relatively rare and those who are like that often have other underlying conditions that could do well with other government services. If a person is an alcoholic or drug addict or socially inept or unhygienic, which stops them getting a job, then the answer is not to leave them on welfare but to help them become another useful cog in society’s great machine.

Yes cogs. The cut and dryness, or the black and white world of welfare is denigrating and hard. Most people don’t choose to be there as it’s no way to live. My second brush with welfare was at a point when I was trying to move out of freelancing into another job. I was in school full-time for three months doing an apprenticeship program in script supervising. Unlike every other person in the course I had neither a spouse to support me through the program, nor was I able to get unemployment insurance because I was a freelancer. I did have two publishers in New York and on average received one manuscript a month from each. This was enough to get by on while finishing the program.

Unfortunately, both publishers went under or changed focus (one to movies) at the same time and I lost my source of income. I didn’t want to forego the course but what money I had got me through to the end of November and I still had December to go with no options. I went to welfare and said I only needed $300 to pay my rent and I could get by. ( I lived alone and had no roommates). At that time I had a grand whopping total of about $4,000 in RRSPs. RRSPs are heavily taxed if you take them out early. They are also taxed if you take them out when you’re older. But people get them as retirement income, a way to cushion one’s unemployed elder years.

Welfare would give me no money at all. Not even $5. Here I was, in school, going through training, with no options and they wanted me to cash in that $4,000, so that I could then depend on the state for longer when I was older, use medical services more because I was not living well, or more likely, end up living under a bridge. This was the government’s solution. Of course the rate of welfare isn’t much higher than it once was but I probably needed to be a drug addict to get any support. It was the only time in my life where I was seriously contemplated prostitution. I just couldn’t get up my nerve to do it, yet this is where my government wanted me to be.

So the next time you pass judgment on one of those welfare bums, trying walking and living a mile in their shoes. Welfare isn’t for the weak at heart and most people can’t even survive on it. There is no such thing as living a free and easy life while on it. Oh, and how did I get through that month? By the good graces of friends and family. My landlords only charged me a half a month’s rent. People sent me money and I gave out no Christmas gifts. I thank my lucky stars I had such generous people in my life.

http://www.canadiansocialresearch.net/bc_welfare_time_limits.htm

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