“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” – Carl Jung

“Me too”.

Those two words have been sweeping across social media in the wake of the revelations of repeated sexually inappropriate conduct by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Accusations of unwarranted and undesired sexual touching and even rape have left his career in tatters and the question of just how pervasive these actions have been in everyday, normal life now open for discussion.

Over the past several days I have seen a number of women I know post “Me Too” on social media. While they have been of all different ages, walks of life, careers, and personal preferences, they all had that unfortunate same experience. It’s been heartbreaking to see women come forward with their stories because they are all vibrant, intelligent, and amazing women who deserve so much more than what those stories have revealed about their pasts.

In some ways, it felt like it was just a matter of time before this came to the forefront because of the election of Donald Trump, who has been caught many times on tape making lewd comments about women. From the infamous comments that if you’re famous women let you “grab ‘em by the pussy”, to his saying that it’s okay to refer to his daughter Ivanka as “a piece of ass”, his misogyny is well-documented.

With the most powerful man in the world having a documented history of making unashamed comments about women, we as a society have been forced to confront a long-standing elephant in the room: is this behavior acceptable?

I work primarily in the film industry. To say the world of filmmaking is rife with misogyny is an understatement. To prove this, all I need to do is type two words and let your imagination fill in the blanks: “casting couch”.

The levels the film industry takes it to are almost surreal at times, such as male co-stars being lauded for taking pay cuts so the lead actress will have equal pay to theirs. With the amount of money spent on films, and the amount they earn back through theatrical runs, home video sales, TV rights, etc, paying the lead actress a salary equal to her male co-stars from the get-go wouldn’t negatively affect the studio’s bottom line one iota.

I remember when I was growing up and it was announced that Demi Moore had just become the highest paid actress in Hollywood history, and the first to cross the 10 million dollar threshold with a single-film salary of 12.5M in 1996. What a triumph for equal pay in Hollywood!

What wasn’t part of all the articles about that was that actors such as Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mel Gibson had all eclipsed the 10M mark several years earlier, with Cruise being paid 20M for that year’s “Jerry Maguire”. Oh, and Moore’s record-breaking role: A single mother who works as a stripper in “Striptease”. Ugh…

The reason I pointed that out was that this systemic abuse seems to be ingrained in us as being, at least somewhat, acceptable behavior.

It isn’t.

My wife works as a psychologist, and often sees people who’ve been the victims of sexual abuse. I work with at-risk youth, usually ages 16-22 and sexual abuse is one of the most prevalent topics of discussion, partly because many of them have already experienced sexual abuse in some form by the time they’re able to join one of the programs I’m involved in.

One of the saddest experiences has been to sit down with these youth, start to talk about things they’ve gone through, and hear those two words again and again: “Me too.”

As discussions like this have previously made their way into the public’s eye, I’ve heard many men say that they want to speak out about the actions of men like Weinstein, Trump, disgraced CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi, but when they try to, they are told that because they are men, their opinions don’t count because they, by virtue of being men, are part of the problem.

Many of the men I’ve seen attempt to decry sexual violence and assault are upstanding, moral, and horrified at the thought of sexual violence, let alone actual actions. They think about their wives, mothers, daughters, nieces, girlfriends, friends, and co-workers and the idea of any sort of violence or abusive behavior towards them is abhorrent.

Being told their opinions don’t matter only exacerbates the problem: if men are told their opinions aren’t valid, we’re setting things up to fail, because eventually the only outcome of that attitude is apathy, a “why should I even try” mentality, which is essentially telling abusers “Go nuts. There’s no consequences for you anymore”. It’s silencing those who would stand up and say “no more”.

There are consequences… very well-documented ones: using statistics from Rainn.org:

  • 94% of women who are raped experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during the two weeks following the rape.
  • 30% of women report symptoms of PTSD 9 months after the rape.
  • 33% of women who are raped contemplate suicide.
  • 13% of women who are raped attempt suicide.
  • Approximately 70% of rape or sexual assault victims experience moderate to severe distress, a larger percentage than for any other violent crime.

Another aspect of this social conversation is that I’ve seen a number of men I know write “Me Too”. Some of their stories I knew about previously, but that doesn’t lessen that impact to me. I also know that there are many other men out there who have been victims of sexual abuse, but who will most likely never say it publicly for fear of shaming.

According to Rainn.org, 10% of men have experienced some sort of sexual abuse, dispelling the myth that it’s only something that happens to women. In the talks I’ve had with male friends who’ve experienced sexual abuse, there have been very common threads that they’ve never felt comfortable talking about it because it made them question, and in some cases still so, their own sense of masculinity.

What I’m trying to say here is that this affects all of us. Chances are you, the reader, know someone very close to you who has been sexually assaulted or abused.

In discussing all the “Me Too” posts I’ve been asked rather pointedly if I’m guilty of ever making a crude comment about women. I felt like the question was asked more to make a “Ah ha! See! You’re no better than all the others” type response to negate any moral weight my words might have.

My answer was “I have. I am guilty.” That I am guilty shouldn’t automatically destroy any moral weight my words might have, but instead should show that I have had to learn to be better… that I can be better.

If we are to truly face this monstrous spectre of misogyny, then we have to do it together, seeing each other as equals in this fight.

Seeing all of the “Me Too” posts and the stories that went with them, I was reminded of a quote by Carl Jung:

“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”

Let us choose to be brave and to do the right thing, no matter the difficulty.

For more information on sexual abuse, please check out Rainn.org. It’s a great resource that helps shed light on a very dark subject.

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Depression Demystified

Last week I lost a close friend to suicide. It wasn’t the first time I’ve lost someone I’ve cared about that but this time it hit me hard because my friend seemed to be finally getting her life back on track after a undergoing a very rough time.

Seeing me work through the sudden loss of a friend inspired my wife (who has a degree in psychology and is finishing up her masters degree in art therapy) to write about depression and to try to dispel several all-too common misconceptions about it, as well as giving advice for those going through it themselves.

For followers of Shaneisms, you might recall me talking about my own battles with depression. If you haven’t read it, that article can be found here.

Please head on over to my wife’s blog and hopefully learn about a subject that is all too easy to misunderstand.

“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/