“Everything happens to everybody sooner or later if there is time enough.” – George Bernard Shaw

This morning I woke up to find that my cat Roxy had stolen my dirty socks and was trying to bury them in her litter box. She could have been doing that because my socks were befouling her nasal passages but Roxy is known for stealing things and taking them to strange places. Case in point, she has stolen many things from around the house, from action figures to stuffed animals, a Soren Kierkegaard finger puppet, and feminine hygiene products. My wife once discovered that Roxy had left the toilet brush on her side of the bed.

Waking up to the sound of my socks slowly being buried in kitty litter should be strange. It was certainly unexpected, but unfortunately, at least around my house, it wasn’t really all that strange of an occurrence. For those of you that know me personally, you know how bizarre my everyday life is. No matter what I do, or how innocently I try to do something, almost inevitably, something strange or weird happens. Those occurrences have become so common place with me that my family and friends call them “Shaneisms”, as in “that could only happen to Shane”. And these things happen so often to me that when it came time for me to think up a blog title, I couldn’t come up with a more fitting name!

I know what you’re thinking: “Come on! Everyone has strange things happen to them! How strange can your life be” and so I offer up the following:

I was in Toronto and finished up my business early so I decided to go down to the Air Canada Centre to see if there where any tickets for that night’s Toronto Maple Leafs game. As I was in line for tickets, a man in full military fatigues asked “Are there any single people here?” and I said “I am”. He asked if I needed a ticket and I said “Sure. How much?” “It’s free. It’s Armed Forces night tonight and we have an extra ticket. It’s yours if you want it, courtesy of the Canadian Armed Forces“. I gleefully and gratefully accepted and thought to myself “hey, this is great… now I might actually have money left over for those overpriced hotdogs they have here”. I discovered that the ticket wasn’t for a seat, but rather was for a private box the Armed Forces were given for the night.

As the night went on, not only did I end up in the box with members of the Armed Forces, but during the second intermission, the Commander in Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces at the time, General Walter Natynczyk, came to the box to meet and greet those in attendance, myself included. After the game was over, which the Leafs lost (I’m used to that by now…), all Armed Forces personnel and “their guests” were invited to go down on the ice and meet the entire Leafs team. The final icing on the cake is a very strange and weird coincidence: the person singing the anthem that night was Alan Frew, lead singer of 80’s rock band Glass Tiger. It so happens that my sister went out with him a couple times way back when.

While the above is one of the most surreal Shaneisms, it’s not even remotely the only one. For example, I was working on a small film shoot in Toronto during Pride Week. We had finished shooting and were moving to our next location. While the rest of the crew moved equipment, I stayed behind and finished cleaning up. When I was done I started to make my way to the new location, only to find all the streets in the area blocked for the Dyke March.

After surveying the situation, I decided the best way to get to my destination was the parade route, so off I went. As I walked I was getting many strange looks from parade onlookers. It finally dawned on me that I was the only guy I could see walking along the route and that I was surrounded by literally thousands of lesbians. I thought to myself “Meh, why not?” and eventually made my way to the new filming location. When I met up with the rest of the crew, they very quickly realized I had just come from the Dyke March, which led to many of them trying to hold back the giggles as we all got down to work. Or at least tried to.

Some of the Shaneisms are my own fault. I do have a love of the absurd and a sense of humor that has been described as “off the wall” and “strange”. Case in point, when I was in the hospital battling kidney stones, I had to fill out a sheet of personal information. Part of that information was what title I prefer to be called (Mr, Mrs, Miss, etc) and I chose “other” and wrote in “Your Holiness”. Showing a great sense of humor, the hospital staff referred to me as “Your Holiness”, asking “Do you need anything, Your Holiness”, “How are you feeling today, Your Holiness” and on like so. This lead to some laughs for the other patients (and their families) in the same ward as me as some of them would peek out their doorways as I walked by. They wanted to see this person the nursing staff kept telling “it’s good to see you up and about, Your Holiness”.

Not all the Shaneisms that are my own fault are done with on purpose. Having Attention Deficit Hyperactivty Disorder (ADHD) does tend to make me a little “spaced out” at times. I tend to zone out into my own little world and not notice things around me. This happened recently while I was availing myself of the washroom of my local library.

I entered the bathroom, which I thought was empty, and started singing to myself the song “Let It Go” from the movie “Frozen“. When I was done my duty I went to wash my hands only to release I wasn’t alone after all. One gentleman started to burst out laughing as soon as I looked at him, while another, using the sink beside me, kept giving me awkward sideways glances, slowly moving his body away from me. It then dawned on me that the lyrics of “Let It Go” can take on a completely different meaning when coming from a bathroom stall:

“Let it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore

Let it go, let it go, turn away and slam the door

I don’t care what they’re going to say

Let the storm rage on, the cold never bothered me anyway”

When I tell people about my adventures, I often get a reaction of “you’re making this up”, or “pics or it didn’t happen”. I totally understand why people have that reaction. If I had to sum up my life in one sentence, it’d be a quote by Robin from the 60’s Batman TV show: “The way we get into these scrapes and get out of them, it’s almost as though someone was dreaming up these situations, guiding our destiny”.

For a long while my father-in-law didn’t believe the strange stories constantly being told me and my wife. That all changed when we were coming home from a trip to a car dealership. We were driving down one of the access routes that separate the Hamilton mountain area from the lower city, where I live. As we did, we had a bodybuilding dwarf, all covered in tattoos, long hair flowing behind him, go by us on his bicycle, giving us the middle finger as he did. We stared at him, somewhat disbelieving, as he sped away from us. Without saying anything else, my father-in-law turned to me, looked me right in the eye and said “All those stories… I believe you now”.

I’ve been asked why these things keep happening to me, and I can only offer up two explanations. The first is that this is all learned behavior from my dad. I believe this is partly right. He is a very friendly fellow, who sometimes doesn’t have the social decorum he should. Case in point, when he tells people, including complete strangers, the story of his heart attack, it always ends with “And I never did my underwear back”, at which point my mom tries to pretend she doesn’t know him.

There is something to the theory that the Shaneisms are learned behavior in that once we tried to get rid of a wasps nest under a tree but used way too much gasoline, prompting an explosion much larger than anticipated, and leading to my mom to come running out of the house wondering why she just saw a fireball outside her window.

The second theory is that these things happen because I simply tend to notice more things than normal and jump at opportunities that present themselves, even if my actions follow no discernible, logical process. I can admit this most likely the case. Having ADHD causes me process everything going on around me, whether I want to or not. It also causes me problems with impulse control. This causes opportunities that either would or should fall by the wayside to suddenly appear to me and I have to go for them, even sometimes against my (somewhat) better judgement.

Playwright George Bernard Shaw, in saying “everything happens to everybody sooner or later if there is time enough” was getting at the idea that the longer we live, inevitably, the more varied experiences we will either have happen to us, or will have the chance to happen. Those experiences, both good and bad, can sometimes only be known if we make the conscience choice to know them.

At the end of the movie “Ever After“, the Brothers Grimm ask the Grand Dame about the fate of Cinderella, if she really did live happily ever after. The Grand Dame responds “while Cinderella and her prince did live happily ever after, the point, gentlemen, is that they lived“. That line expresses the idea that the journey is just as important as the destination, that life is about seizing opportunities and seeing where life takes you.

The adventure I had at the Maple Leafs game started just out of me not wanting to go home to Hamilton yet and wondering if there were any cheap tickets available for that night’s game. I walked to the Air Canada Centre thinking “they’re probably sold out, and even if they’re not, Leafs tickets are always really expensive” but I went anyway.

I’ve had friends ask me “why do you get to have all the fun”. I tell them “just go with it… it’ll be fun!” and there have been many times  they’ve ended up having an adventure of their own. My wife has said many times “my life has gotten a lot more interesting since I met you”.

I won’t even try to predict what Shaneisms might happen to me next… that’s part of the fun, but I do encourage you to be on the lookout for “Shaneisms” of your own. In the words of Auntie Mame, “Yes! Live! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

Now, go on… live! It’s time for me to get back to living, myself. That and I should probably make sure Roxy hasn’t buried anymore of my clothing in her litter box…

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“Pics or it didn’t happen.”

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“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.” – Bill Clinton

Today, January 28th, has been designated by Bell Canada as “Let’s Talk” Day, an event designed to raise awareness about mental health issues and help end the stigma that those who have a mental health issue face everyday. This day has personal significance for me because I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), along with several co-existing or “co-morbid” effects.

ADHD is characterized by an inability to concentrate on or complete a task, hyperactivity, impulse control problems, as well as social and behavioural issues. What makes ADHD so rough, for me at least, isn’t the actual ADHD itself. While the effects of ADHD are controllable, the co-morbid effects are what cause me the most trouble. For example, I have dyslexia, which is not a good thing to have if you work as a writer and do a lot of public speaking, which I do.

I also have impulse control and aggression issues. The impulse control issues makes me prone to addictive behavior and as such I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs. I do, however, have addiction issues with video games and surfing the interweb. The aggression issues make it so that if I get angry, I can have a very hard time controlling that rage. If I don’t find a way to cool down I turn into a skinny, olive-skinned Hulk and proceed to break things, things that afterwards I realize work better when not shattered into several pieces.

ADHD also makes everyday relationships a bit of a challenge for me. That hyperactivity and impulsive behavior can lead to me being inappropriate, no matter how hard I try not to be. I also have a difficult time with boundaries and personal space. I know they exist but I can get so caught up in the moment I don’t know I’ve crossed a line until I’m well past it.

I’ve never been on medication such as Ritalin or Adderall, and I’ve been lucky that I’ve found non-medication based ways to cope. Being involved in writing and filmmaking and giving public talks is a big help to me because it gives me an outlet for all that energy. I can pour all those ideas and images and thoughts racing through my head into a story or a film idea. I do most of my writing at night since there are fewer distractions. I don’t have errands to run, I don’t have people coming over or phone calls to answer. The darkness of night means I have less to see out my windows and there’s less city noise to draw my attention away from my task at hand.

It’s difficult to describe what having ADHD is like to someone who doesn’t have it. Everyone who has ADHD suffers from it differently. For me, it’s like everything is constantly turned up to the max. Whether I want to or not, I take in everything around me. Every sound, every colour, every movement. All of that constantly competes for my attention and when I’m having a difficult time controlling my ADHD, everything feels like it’s simultaneously slowed down and moving at high speed.

Even on a good day, for me this sensory overload is very difficult and stressful to process. Most of the time I can handle it, and I can find ways to focus on the task at hand. Unfortunately, if I’m tired, or in a stressful situation, those ways of filtering and focusing tend to break down and even the simplest tasks, like doing the dishes, can be a stressful time.

Because of that constant sensory overload, things like family reunions and large group outings are not the most fun for me. That social awkwardness I mentioned earlier kicks in full force. I’m fine with one on one moments, even small groups aren’t too bad but the more people that get added to an event the harder it is for me to control all that sensory input racing at me. Either I end up getting mentally worn out by the end of the day or I become so hyper that I can’t control how spinny I get.

While it can be a lot of fun for those around me if they just “go with the flow”, for those who aren’t sure how to react to that excess energy I have, it can lead to strained relationships. More than once someone has said to my wife “can’t you do something to control him”, leaving her in the unfortunate position of having to defend my ADHD issues while simultaneously trying to bring me down a notch or two. Or six.

That excess energy made grade school and university very difficult for me. I found the classes too slow and would then get in trouble for not paying attention or acting up in class. It’s not that I was a bad kid, or that I went to school with the express desire to raise hell. The classroom environment was too structured for me and often I would act up out of frustration and boredom. I did have a few teachers who understood that I had special needs and by being patient with me they helped me make school a little easier to get through.

I know that the aggression issues that can come out if the combination of too much energy and too much stress is present and the impulsiveness I can display are what make people around me uneasy. It’s the “what if” nature of ADHD, that “what happens if he can’t control it while I’m around” thought that makes people keep me at a distance.

ADHD has affected my social life, my academic career and those co-morbid effects can make every day a challenge for me. The final, and worse, co-morbid effect that I deal with is one that so many people suffer from: depression.

I fall into a depressive episode when either I’ve had a prolonged period of high stress or when I’m unable to take any “me” time to slow my mind down. Every 5-6 months, almost like clockwork, I have a bout of depression. I can feel those bouts coming on but I can’t stop them. Sometimes they last for a couple days, others a couple weeks. One day I can feel on top of the world and the next day I don’t want to be a part of it anymore.

The longer the bouts last the worse they are and during the really bad bouts I think about harming myself. There’s an internal struggle that goes on: on the one side I feel completely apathetic; nothing matters, not even my own well-being. On the other side, I keep telling myself “don’t do anything stupid… ride it out and in a few days you can be yourself again”. Riding it out is far easier said than done.

The effects of ADHD can be difficult to deal with for those around me. Because mental health issues like ADHD are very complex in their roots and causes, understanding them as an outsider can often be difficult. I am well aware that my ADHD has caused strained relationships with family and friends. My wife has been asked “why is he like that” and “can’t he stop being that way”.

The worst thing about having something different about you is that once people find out you struggle with something that falls under “mental health issues”, a stigma often quickly gets attached to you. It doesn’t matter the issue you’re dealing with or the severity of it. As soon as those three words enter into the conversation you get labelled and people start defining you by that label. I’ve experienced this myself with trying to discuss ADHD and it’s effects with others.

It doesn’t help that far too often if someone does go and do something violent, there is very quickly media speculation about whether or not that person did have mental health issues. Even if that speculation turns out to have no basis, the damage is already done as it reinforces that unfortunate stereotype that any mental health issue means the person dealing with it is a time bomb waiting to go off.

That uneasiness that people feel when they’re with someone who has a mental health issue only makes dealing with it and finding positive ways to move forward that much more difficult. I attribute this to a lack of awareness and education. It’s hard to be patient with something you don’t understand and it’s that sense of unpredictability that makes any mental health issue so uncomfortable to deal with.

That stigma of having a mental health issue extends beyond just the person who has the issue. That person’s family often has the stigma extended to them, with questions then raised about their own lives. “What if they’re the same way” and “How could they let this happen to their own family” are two of the ones I’ve heard most asked. Neither of those questions are fair.

I didn’t wake up one morning and choose to have ADHD. I think it’s safe to say that very few people have ever decided “you know what, today I’m going to start having a mental health issue, just to mix things up a bit”. I was born with ADHD and I will have to deal with it for the rest of my life. And yes, I have other family members who have it and there’s a high probability that any children I have will have at least some ADHD-type behaviors.

It’s far too easy to put up boundaries when we’re around those with mental health issues. Like politics and religion, we treat mental health issues as something best left not talked about. I’ve had it several times that when someone, even someone who knows me quite well, finds out that I have ADHD and suffer from depression cycles, they’ve said to me “Really? I never would have guessed that. You hide it so well”.

That’s it though, isn’t it? I hide it. I hide because I, like anyone dealing with a mental health issue, don’t want to be defined by it. I don’t want to be stigmatized by that label that not everything is quite perfect with me. I don’t want to be labelled as “broken” because our society is so unforgiving of broken things.

For those reading this, I didn’t write this because I want you to read it and say “poor guy, that’s a rough thing to deal with”. Quite the opposite, actually: I don’t want pity but rather I seek understanding. My hope is that you will come to understand that those of us who have a mental health issue, we’re just like anyone else.

I’m lucky, in some respect, in having ADHD: I’ve been able to learn to control it, for the most part. Yes, I have bad days but for the most part, I can function relatively normally. I might take a few more breaks than normal and wander around the house when working on something, or I usually make sure I have a snack with me during periods where I have to stay sitting for a long time. While these coping strategies do work more often that not, that doesn’t mean it’s completely under control.

I do have my bad days, my Jekyll and Hyde moments. When those ADHD symptoms are too much to keep in check, or when that bout of depression hits full-force, it can be unpleasant for those around me because it is sometimes far too easy to lash out at those I’m closest to. I think it’s safe to say that we hurt those we love most because we believe they’ll be the ones most likely to forgive and forget. After all, that’s what family and friends do, right?

I have cancelled events, taken time off work and blown off friends because of the depression. I guess I could say I took a “mental health day”. Sometimes I just need a day to re-center and re-focus myself, a day to shut out the world and try to right myself. When those days happen, I feel that battle inside myself, the pull to be that productive member of society I know I am, and the pull to give into the pure emotion raging through me and say “to hell!” with everything and everyone. I know during those times that I can be an absolute jerk to those around me. Trust me, I don’t want to be.

Like so many others who have a mental health issue, I don’t want to be defined by it. To do so is miss who I really am. ADHD and all its co-morbid issues are just a part of me, albeit an unwelcome one. But those issues don’t show you everything that I am or everything that I am capable of. Like so many others struggling with mental health issues I’m trying to work through these issues as best I can. And sometimes they will get the better of me. So please, be there for me in my dark days, and above all, be patient with me.

Mental health issues aren’t something to be feared. Bell’s “Let’s Talk” day gives us a chance to have a safe, constructive discussion about issues many of us silently deal with every single day. Let’s remove that stigma attached to mental health. Let’s talk.

http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/