How the Canadian healthcare system fails suicide attempt survivors

Check out my latest article in the July/August 2018 issue of This Magazine!

“For more than half my life, someone has been trying to kill me.

That someone is me.

The first time I considered ending my life, I was eight or nine years old, living in a rented house with my father and brother in Owen Sound, Ont. My mother had moved out years earlier, after my father tried to stab her; he had started directing his misogyny at me instead. We had just watched The Towering Inferno, an early-1970s drama about a fire in a skyscraper. My brother described how he would climb balconies and elevator shafts to safety, and I thought: I’d just jump.

I knew I shouldn’t say it out loud, that the thought was somehow shameful, but it seemed clear to me that there are better and worse ways to die. I couldn’t see a good answer to the question, “Why not?”

Karen Letofsky, board president at the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP), was not surprised to hear this. “There is a lot of social ambiguity around suicide,” she says. Much of what we think we know about suicide is based on social mythology, which creates barriers to the honest conversations Letofsky says people who attempt suicide need to have.

Yvonne Bergmans also emphasizes the importance of talking about suicidal thoughts. Bergmans is a CASP board member and suicide intervention consultant at the University of Toronto’s Arthur Sommer Rotenberg Chair in Suicide and Depression Studies Program at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. She says suicide attempts and suicidal ideations speak to a “great, deep pain: that hurt where there’s a story being written about ‘I can’t survive this’ or ‘I need to end this.’”

In our discussions about suicide, both women say our country’s mental health system is under-resourced and prioritizes crisis over long-term support. Its uneven structure leaves it poorly equipped to help survivors do what we most need to: articulate and understand the stories behind our suicide attempts. And those stories matter—hearing them helps demythologize suicide, so we can understand and address it as a social problem.”

Read the rest here: https://this.org/2018/07/10/i-tried-to-kill-myself-i-survived-when-canadas-health-care-system-failed-me-i-tried-again-and-again/

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My Terrifying, Awkward Nightmares, Now Terrifying, Awkward Cartoons

It’s no secret that I’m certifiably insane. For realsies, they give you a form when you get arrested under the Mental Health Act, and I have a stack of them. I have PTSD, the symptoms of which include a hilariously exaggerated startle reaction (sneak up on me sometime–it’s a riot), insomnia to make sure I’ve always got time on my hands, flashbacks (aka Worst Time-Travel Superpower Ever), and some really gory, vivid nightmares.

Thing is, after 30 years, your brain runs out of stuff to feature in your nightmares. And then things get… weird. Weird and awkward. So without further ado, here is a curated selection of my scariest nightmares, poorly-rendered as cartoons. Enjoy?

Continue reading

Creeping Managerial Culture in Academe Spells Trouble for Critical Researchers

I just finished submitting my CV for a research job at a university. Neither the job nor the school is particularly prestigious, but they’re both respectable. We’re not talking University of Phoenix here.

The school in question has adopted, some time over the last year or so, a new application system. Instead of emailing HR your application, you upload it to one of those annoying forms that makes you fill out all your information at least twice. But this one has a bonus feature! It’ll tell you how many “inappropriate” words are on your CV.

I thought I was doing my part by refraining from opening every cover letter with “Dear capitalist motherfuckers,” but apparently no. Here is the list of words–all from titles of papers and presentations I’ve written, research I’ve conducted and positions I’ve held–deemed “inappropriate” for a job application.

Inappropriate

I have no idea what happens to filtered applications once they enter the system. One hopes it’s just a friendly warning and not an indication that the application will never even see the light of day.

But it’s a clear statement about what the creeping managerial culture in academe–the one that reinvents workers as data and discipline as preventative–means for critical researchers. Even if “inappropriate” applications aren’t immediately tossed out (for now), the construction of “appropriate” and “inappropriate” language here serves to mark a very particular set of researchers as risks.

In Other News, I’m Not Dead

Hey, you remember that time I had a blog? Me too! I had an interesting few years; so interesting, in fact, that writing swear words on the internet was eclipsed by trying not to die.

And–go me–I didn’t die! I endured some pretty awful symptoms of PTSD, had assorted positive and negative experiences with the mental health system, dealt with addiction issues, and moved to the North. I like Sudbury, and although it took some time, I’m feeling a lot more like myself.

So now I have a blog again. Fuck yeah, motherfuckers.

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Has #metoo gone #toofar? Not so much.

I’m not a fan of Steve Paikin. Frankly, I think his milquetoast liberalism is uninspiring. Unenlightening. Boring. However, I do find myself less than convinced by Toronto woman Sarah Thomson’s allegation that he uses his position as the anchor of a current events talk show on public television to coerce women to have sex with him. But how should we talk about sexual harassment allegations we don’t believe? Is this potentially-false accusation a sign that women have gone too far by naming and shaming harassers, abusers and rapists?

Boys will be <<good humans>>

Let’s start with why I don’t currently believe this allegation. In general, I think women tell the truth about sexual harassment and sexual assault. I have no opinion on Thomson’s or Paikin’s credibility–I know that women who have been victimized often seem “crazy” because victimization is crazy-making. And men who victimize women often seem like really nice guys. Or like Wonderbread personified. Whatever. The reason I’m not convinced is that the allegation itself is not (or not yet, anyway) convincing.

For one thing, appearing on The Agenda is not worth fucking the kind of creep who would openly coerce women into sex. If I was going to screw some pig for publicity, I’d expect better company than that noxious blowhard J-Pete and Sid Ryan (who is great, but not that great).

More seriously, I thought Thomson’s comment about wondering whether the women who appear regularly on The Agenda have fucked Paikin was nasty to those women—calling their integrity and expertise into question while simultaneously suggesting they’re victims of sexual assault. The Toronto Star reported that Thomson’s assistant and campaign manager not only had not heard about the allegation before the story broke Monday, but also were not aware that Thomson had met with Paikin at all. Thomson responded by saying the assistant who spoke to the Star hadn’t been a part of her 2010 Toronto mayoral campaign at all, which is demonstrably false.

And then there is the lack of other accusers, of other investigations, of rumours, even. If Paikin did spend the last 25 years boldly attempting to coerce sex from potential Agenda guests and succeeding 50% of the time, that would amount to thousands of rapes. That no one has come forward to say “me too” is surprising. Either the facts are different from what Thomson reported, or Steve “Human Oatmeal” Paikin is one stealthy motherfucker.

But what matters to me right now isn’t really whether or not the allegation is true (although that is, understandably, what matters most to Paikin and Thomson). What matters is how the allegation, which appears to be widely disbelieved by the public and the media, is being framed, in the context of discourse on gender equality, sexual harassment and #metoo. Continue reading

Bad Ideas and Worse Realities: A Primer on Sex Work Stereotypes and Stigma

The purpose of this post is to begin to articulate the conceptual and material differences between a stereotype and a stigma, as each relates to sex work. My hope is that it will be useful to students in the “Sex Work and Sex Workers” class that I TA (which is why it reads as a primer on these concepts—because it is), as well as to sex work activists who are looking for rhetorical and theoretical tools to better explain how social beliefs and attitudes about sex work affect their lives. Continue reading

Exercises for Teaching About “Intersectionality” and “Agency”

The concepts of “agency” and “intersectionality” are ones my students struggle with often. As they learn about these ideas, they tend to cling to what I call the “choosey-choice” and “list” methods. That is, students see agency as an individual’s unfettered ability to make choices and to take full responsibility for the choices they make. Choice is paramount, and a “personal choice” (much like a “personal opinion”) cannot be “wrong” and ought not to be analyzed or critiqued. The suggestion that choices are constrained is taken as in itself constraining choice. Wooden signpost at crossroads or intersection

The “list” method for incorporating intersectionality into students’ thinking looks just like its name suggests. As long as a bunch of identities are listed, we need not account for the material manifestations of oppression or exploitation. We simply take as given that identities are whole, coherent, fixed things, inherent to who and what we are, rather than a set of social forces convening in particular ways to shape our circumstances and experiences. Thus, they need only be mentioned, and never critiqued or analyzed either.

I came up with a couple of classroom exercises, using accessible, timely resources from the internet paired with academic readings to help deepen students’ understanding of these concepts. These are, obviously, most useful in seminar-style and “flipped” classrooms, since they take up more time than someone using the traditional lecture model might want to sacrifice. Continue reading