Ottawa Tragedy – Lack of help for mental illness and cutbacks in healthcare and education, a dangerous mix.

In December 2012, in the wake of the Newtown Tragedy, I did my coming out as a person dealing with mental illness. Since then, I have chosen to be an advocate fighting against prejudices towards mental illness.

Once again, I find myself having to speak up about a tragedy.

The Ottawa shooting is not about radical Islam, it’s about mental health. Why? Mainly for two reasons:

A)     Justin Bourque who shot down RCMP officers a few months back was not a Muslim
B)      The Muslim community across Canada has been very active lately at sizing up radical individuals in Mosques, often reporting them to their Imam to ensure that action will be taken before it is too late. Muslim people aspire to live in peace and do not advocate violence

So we face something else: people struggling with mental illness, vulnerable to radical ideas. In the might of their despair, they look for a solution and choose the wrong direction, such as radical idealism of all nature.

Why? Because it is very hard to get help for mental illness. Did you know that, if you are lucky enough to have private insurance coverage, your session with a licensed therapist is covered for an average of 20$ per session when the total session costs between 90$ to 120$?

Then, what happens if you don’t have any insurance coverage and you work at minimum wage? If you are lucky enough, you might referred by a General Practitioner to be put on a waiting list to see a therapist in about 3 to 6 months. If it is urgent, you are told to go to the ER and claim that you are considering doing something radical such as killing yourself. You will then be transferred to the psychiatric department for a while.

With all the cutbacks in Health care now, these resources are becoming less available. The lists are only getting longer.

With all the cutbacks in education, the resources to intervene at an early stage are also disappearing. We are currently firing specialised educators and psychologists in schools to save money. Those who remain have so many cases to take care of; they are getting harder to have access to. Not to mention that other disappearing resources are causing more and more youth to drop out of school.

So now, we have all the ingredients to allow radical people to prey on youths. With less education, comes less incomes therefore less accessibility to health care. Easy solutions are found through  Social Media and the Internet which is more accessible than Health Care.

Not to mention another important factor: men have even fewer resources to turn to. It is unfortunately viewed as “normal’ for women to seek help for mental health. They have always been “socially allowed” to expose their feelings and problems. So without resources aimed specifically at men, there is even more chances that young men will turn to a “manly radical solution”. Young men become easy prey.

Maybe it is time for us as a society to make some serious choices: do we keep investing in more security and fixing the situation once it is too late or do we invest in prevention and healthcare, therefore going to the root of the problem before it is too late?

As a mother I hope we can choose the latter before another tragedy creates new orphans.

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This morning, I am coming out!

Since the Newtown tragedy, I hear a lot of comments mentioning that the person who caused the death of those children was mentally ill. This morning I heard it again and I decided that enough is enough, I am coming out of the closet to denounce this accusation. I was 5 years-old when GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) manifested itself and it is only in 2005 that I was diagnosed. So, for 30 years, I lived with a mental illness that was not diagnosed nor treated. I went through very difficult challenges, I was bullied from elementary school through University, I have been through humiliation, abuse, violence and poverty. However, NEVER in those 30 years, have I ever thought about taking a weapon and kill other human beings. Statistics reveal that 20% of the general population will go through an episode of mental illness either temporary or permanent. Do all these people commit violent acts against other people? No.

I live a very ordinary life, I raise my daughter, I go to work, I have a busy social life and I contribute to society just like a lot of other people (according to my last income tax report, I’d say I even contribute a lot). I function just like you.

So, stop blaming mental illness, stop doing socio-political scrounging or yellow journalism. It was a glitch of the human soul that manifested itself and that’s it. As for the rest, decency should impose to us to let the parents of Newtown mourn in peace and away from scrutiny.

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Ce matin, je sors du placard!

Depuis la tragédie de Newtown vendredi, j’entends beaucoup de commentaires à l’effet que c’est un malade mental qui a causé la mort de ces enfants. Ce matin, je l’ai encore entendu et j’ai décidé que ça suffisait, je sors du placard pour dénoncer cette accusation. Depuis l’âge de 5 ans, je vis avec le TAG (Trouble d’Anxiété Généralisé) et c’est seulement en 2005 que j’ai été diagnostiquée. Donc, pendant 30 ans, j’ai vécu avec une maladie mentale non diagnostiquée et non traitée. J’ai vécu des épreuves très difficiles, de l’intimidation du primaire jusqu’à l’université, des humiliations, des moments d’abus, de violence et de pauvreté. Pourtant, JAMAIS en 30 ans, il ne m’est venu à l’esprit de prendre une arme et de tuer d’autres humains. Les statistiques révèlent que 20% de la population vivra un épisode permanent ou temporaire de maladie mentale. Est-ce que tous ces gens passent à des actes violents envers d’autres personnes? Non.

Je vis une vie très normale, j’élève ma fille, je vais au travail, j’ai une vie sociale remplie et je contribue à la société comme pleins d’autres gens (selon mon dernier rapport d’impôt, je contribue même pas mal). Je fonctionne comme vous.

Alors, arrêtez de blâmer la maladie mentale, arrêtez de faire de la récupération socio-politique ou du jaunisme médiatique de bas étage. C’est une anomalie de l’âme humaine qui s’est manifestée et c’est tout. Pour le reste, la pudeur devrait nous imposer de laisser aux parents de Newtown le droit de vivre leurs deuils en paix et loin des regards.

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The best compliment ever

This morning, in the car, my 3 and half year-old daughter Z-K and I were discussing about all and nothing when I told her:

“You do know you are my little love flower?”

She replied:

“Thank you mama. You, you’re my little love Earth.”

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Le plus beau des compliments

Ce matin, ma fille de 3 ans et demi,  Z-K et moi étions en auto et discutions de tout et rien. C’est alors que je lui ai dit:

“Tu sais que tu es ma petite fleur d’amour?”

Elle m’a répondu:

“Merci maman. Toi, tu es ma petite terre d’amour.”

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Justine and her daddy

Justine loves her daddy. She does not see him as often as she’d like. She misses him. He works for television and has to be gone quite often too.

When he is there, he habitually sits on the couch while reading a book. To be close to him, Justine does the same thing. He has even installed a reading lamp over her place on the couch. And, at night, they read, each of them in their respective corner of the couch.

The couch is also Daddy’s bed. One day, shortly after her mama left for the hospital, daddy started sleeping on the couch and, now, he does it every day.

He daddy makes her discover a lot of things. He puts vinyl records on, explaining that this is Brassens singing or that this is the music of “Peter and the Wolf” and he tells her the whole story. He’s a really great story teller. One day, he brings to a big building with colorful posters behind glass windows. Inside, he gives money at the counter and they go sit down in a large room with a lot of seats. He daddy asks her to stay there. When he comes back, he has pop-corn and drinks for her and him. The room becomes all dark and, suddenly in front of her, images appear. It’s her first movie at the theater and it’s magical. It’s like a giant story book with tons of beautiful moving images. Justine falls in love with movies.

Justine likes to tinker around with her dad. She’s the best at giving the right tools at the right moment. She loves everything he teaches her. He never talks to her as if she was just a little girl.

However, Justine is scared of her daddy’s fits of anger. A few times, he was really angry at her mama, so angry that he would throw punches at her. Justine remembers this one time when she was much smaller. Her mama was at the door with a suitcase, as if she wanted to leave. Her daddy went to get her mama and pulled her inside the house by her arm. Justine was making herself as small as possible in the door frame of the basement’s stairs. She did want them to see her. Her daddy keeps pulling her mama and throws punches at her.

They’re in front of her and Justine does not know what to do. She’s very confused, she’s scared, she’s sad and she does not understand what is going on. Suddenly, her daddy lifts his hand to slap her mama, Justine moves backward to avoid the hand and… falls in the stairs so, tumbling down so fast all the way to the concrete floor of the basement.

Her shoulder hurts so much and she starts crying as loudly as she can. Upstairs, her parents stop fighting and her dad races down the stairs. He takes her in his arms, Justine cries even louder because of the pain. He calls a taxi.

Justine ends up at the hospital with her daddy. Because she’s little, she’s a bit scared. But, since her daddy is there, she knows that everything will be fine. The doctor talks with her daddy and explain that it is the “bone of the collar” that is broken and she will have to wear a harness to make her heal. He daddy is worried but the doctor says that at her age (she’s three fingers now!), it heals quick quick.

A few weeks later, Justine does not hurt anymore and find this harness very annoying. She finds a way to take it off and brings it to her daddy. “I don’t want it anymore”. Her daddy looks at her, surprised, makes her move her arm and seems to think that all is fine because he says “OK”.

Since her mama came back from the hospital, daddy does not hit her anymore. The other day, he lifted his arm up in the air and mama said something. Justine does not know what but he lowered his arm immediately. All that Justine knows is that something is broken between her daddy and her mama. They don’t love each other anymore. It must be it because they don’t hug each other like before.

She’ll talk about it to her cat, Minou Gris, tonight when she will be in bed. Him, he always listens to her. And he’s always purring. That’s his way to tell her he loves her and it makes Justine feel good. She’s so lucky to have Minou Gris.

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Justine waits for her mama

Montreal, still that same summer at the end of the ’70…

It’s been many days now since Justine has seen her mama. She would like to know where she is. She misses her a lot. She loves her so much. When she’s not sick, she’s so great and funny.

Her daddy isn’t there often and when he is, he seems so serious. He smiles at her but she knows he’s serious, anyhow. And when she asks questions about her mama, he does not answer. Well, he talks to her but she still does not know where her mama is.

When he speaks with other adults, he speaks in a low voice. Justine tries to hear what is being said but she doesn’t succeed. She knows they are talking about her mama.

Her father’s cousin, who lives upstairs, watches over her when he’s gone. He works so much because of the “zoolimpics”, she doesn’t see him much. Often, Justine goes down to her house instead of staying upstairs. In fact, she’s often alone. She even tries to make herself meals by herself but it’s not easy when you’re small. You have to climb on a chair to get to the ingredients, to the dishes and to the top of the stove; she only uses the oven because her mama taught her how to use it. And since she can’t read, she sometimes does strange mixes like when she mixed the salt with the strawberry pudding preparation. That really tasted awful!

One night, her daddy comes home with a blond doll. Justine is so happy she feels like her heart is going to explode. She will have a friend to play with her and Minou Gris. She’s so lonely. Adults are not giving her any answers and she has the feeling they are not hearing her when she talks. Miss Camille at the daycare is the only that really listens to her and with whom she feels happy. But since she rarely goes, she misses Miss Camille.

The last visit at the daycare was very hard for Justine. She missed her mama so much that she started crying and calling her. Two rather mean little boys told her: “Your mama’s dead.” “Nooooooooo!” screamed Justine crying now even louder. And they kept repeating her that her Mama was dead. Justine exploded. She started running to the window and hitting repeatedly the screen. The screen fell on the street downstairs and the little boys screamed at Justine: “You just killed two nuns with your screen!!!”

“Nooooo! It’s not true! » cries Justine but the two little boys keep on telling her that she did and keep on tormenting her. Justine cries, hits the empty space, she’s beside herself, she has completely lost control…

Miss Camille comes running, chases the two boys away and takes Justine by the wrist. Justine calms down right away and snuggles in Miss Camille’s arms. Miss Camille holds her and rocks her softly. Justine, exhausted, falls asleep.

When she wakes up, she’s rolled up in a sheet on a nap mattress. Her daddy is there, looking very stern. He speaks with Miss Camille and the daycare’s manager. Justine feels shameful. Her daddy will be disappointed that she got so carried away.

But he does not say a word. He brings her back home on his bicycle as usual. He prepares her dinner and gives her bath. He’s so gentle that night. He sings her a lullaby before she goes to sleep:

“It is the little girl that is so so sweet,
She’s so sweet, the little girl…”

Justine falls asleep holding her cat, Minou Gris, who is purring in her arms. She still doesn’t know where her mama is but at least she’s got Minou gris with her.

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A day in Justine’s life

Montreal, a summer at the end of the ’70…

Justine is barely 5 years-old. Justine is a little girl full of life with her laughter, her jokes, her little personality and her sensibility.

Justine is alone in a big house with cats. A lot of cats. It is Summer and it’s hot. It’s so hot in this month of August that the cats have fleas. So many fleas, in fact, that even Justine gets bitten. Not a lot but it itches around her ankles and her elbows.

It’s lunch time. Justine is hungry. She would like to eat but she does not know what. She doesn’t know because all the food she took out is on the kitchen table and she cannot find anything edible. Either because it is rotting or because there are tiny little black stains in the jars. The fleas, carried by the cats, have fallen into the food. And Justine knows she does not want to eat fleas.

Yesterday, she ate a tube of cake icing. She found it at the bottom of the pantry. It was pink and it was sweet. Expect that now, it is empty.

Her “daddy she loves” isn’t there. He’s not there a lot lately. He works a lot on the “zoolimpics”, so he leaves very early in the morning and comes back very late at night. The other kids from the back-alley never come to her house. Their parents don’t like it.

Justine’s mama is there. Well, almost. She lies on her bed almost all day with a big jug that she constantly drinks from. When the jug is empty, she makes a phone call and a man brings another one. Sometimes, she gets up and walks with a bit of a stagger to the stove and puts a “TV Dinner” in the oven. She shows the clock to Justine and says: “When the hand is there, you put on the mittens; you take the “TV Dinner” out of the oven and turn the handle all the way there to turn the oven off.” She goes back to her bedroom to keep up with her drinking.

Sometimes, she calls Justine into her bedroom and when Justine goes, she talks about a lot of things that Justine does not understand. She talks about her dad, about men, about her mom, about her love, about her pain. But Justine is too little to understand it all and she would just like to go play.

But there is no one and her mama cannot play with her like before. Like the time that she had made cut-outs of “Big Bird” and “Cookie Monster” to teach how to count. For a long time now, her mama does not play anymore. She drinks her jug, cries, smokes and sleeps.

Before her mama became unable to go out, she would go out with Justine sometimes. But it wasn’t much fun. They would go to a “mister’s” place where they would make her sit in front of the TV. That, the TV, she did like because the TV at her house has not been working for a while now. Sometimes, she would see that her mama was going into the mister’s bedroom and that she was naked with him. Justine does not like that. That makes her feel extremely uncomfortable. She does not know why but she doesn’t like that, that’s all.

Justine would like to go to the daycare. But her daddy leaves too early in the morning, he forgets her at home. He says it’s too early, that the daycare isn’t open.

So, Justine is hungry, she’s alone and she’s bored. If she wants to go out to play in the yard, she has to crouch very low when she passes her mama’s bedroom or she’s going to be seen by her and called for a “chat” in her bedroom.

She wonders when things are going to change… She doesn’t know that they soon will but not for the better…

It’s now afternoon and it’s so hot. Everything sticks to Justine’s skin: cat’s hair, dirt, sweat and her clothes. She wants to have some fresh air and decide to go through the corridor on all four so that her Mama won’t call her. She gets to the door and goes out to the backyard. She keeps going all the way to the backyard’s wooden door and gets into the back alley. Other kids are playing there so she joins them. For a few hours, she doesn’t feel as alone.

She hears the church’s bells and knows that it is time to go home. She goes back discreetly but, as she enters the house, she has a feeling that something is off. She walks to her mama’s bedroom. She’s still lying down but it’s not like it usually is. Justine comes closer and sees that she’s all pale. Justine touches her but she doesn’t react. She doesn’t know why but she knows that there is a problem.

She needs an adult to help her. What to do? She decides to go to the third floor because she hears the tenant’s music. He’s a grown-up; he’ll know what to do. She knocks, he comes to the door. She looks at him and says: “My mama does not move.” He comes out quickly and accompanies her throughout the shed all the way down to her house.

He enters the house and looks for Justine’s mama. When he finds her, he talks to her, touches her shoulder but she doesn’t react. He takes the phone and speaks to someone: “It’s a woman in her thirties, she doesn’t react, it’s urgent!”.

Justine does not understand very well what is happening. She sees everything happening as if she were watching TV. Policemen arrive, another tenant, men in white and grey who put her mama on a rolling bed and strap her there. She struggles softly and screams but Justine does not understand what is going on and no one is saying a thing to her. They put the rolling bed in an ambulance and close the doors. Justine wants to follow them but the tenant who has just arrived holds her back and takes her in her arms.

The ambulance leaves and Justine stays with that tenant who is also her daddy’s cousin. She feeds her and takes care of her but the little girl would rather understand what is going on. It has been a while now since the sun has set. Justine is woken up by her daddy’s voice. He talks with his cousin, takes Justine in his arms and brings her back downstairs to her house. He puts her in her own bed. He doesn’t talk much but does it softly. That night, he sleeps in the living room.

Justine goes over her day, wonders what happened to her mama and if she will be back soon. It’s really complicated to understand the grown-ups; it’s easier to understand cats. Justine hugs her cat, Minou Gris in her arms and finally falls asleep toward another day.

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Justine et son papa

Justine aime son papa. Elle ne le voit pas aussi souvent qu’elle voudrait. Il lui manque souvent.

Il travaille pour la télévision et doit souvent partir.

Quand il est là, il est souvent assis sur le divan en train de lire un livre. Justine, pour être proche de lui, fait la même chose. Il lui a même installé une lampe au-dessus de sa place à elle. Et ils lisent le soir, chacun sur leur coin de divan.

Le divan est aussi le lit de papa. Un jour, un peu après que sa maman soit revenue de l’hôpital, papa a commencé à dormir sur le divan et c’est tout le temps comme ça maintenant.

Son papa lui fait découvrir beaucoup de choses. Il lui fait jouer des disques en lui expliquant que c’est Brassens qui chante ou encore que c’est  la musique de l’histoire de « Pierre et le loup » » Et lui raconte toute l’histoire. Il vraiment super pour compter des histoires. Un jour, il l’amène dans un grand bâtiment avec de belles affiches en couleur dans des vitrines.  À l’intérieur, il donne de l’argent au comptoir à l’entrée et ils vont s’asseoir dans une grande salle avec plein de sièges. Son papa lui demande de rester là. Lorsqu’il revient, il a du pop-corn et de la liqueur pour elle et lui. La salle devient toute noire et, soudain devant elle, apparaissent des images. C’est son premier film au cinéma et c’est magique. C’est comme un livre d’histoire géant avec des pleins de belles images qui bougent. Justine tombe en amour avec les films.

Justine aime aussi bricoler avec son papa. Elle est la meilleure pour donner les bons outils au bon moment. Elle aime tout ce qu’il lui apprend. Il ne lui parle jamais comme si elle était juste une petite fille.

Toutefois, Justine a peur des colères de son papa. Il lui est arrivé d’être très en colère contre sa maman, tellement qu’il donnait des coups à sa maman. Justine se souvient d’un moment quand elle était beaucoup plus petite. Sa maman avait une valise dans les mains et était à la porte de la maison, comme si elle voulait partir. Son papa est allé chercher sa maman par le bras et l’a tirée dans la maison. Justine se faisait toute petite dans l’entrée de l’escalier de la cave. Elle ne voulait pas qu’ils la voient. Son papa continue à tirer sur sa maman et lui donne des coups.

Ils sont devant elle et Justine ne sait pas quoi faire, elle est très confuse, elle a peur, elle est triste et elle ne comprend rien à ce qui se passe. Tout d’un coup, son papa lève la main pour donner une tape à sa maman, Justine recule pour éviter la main et… tombe dans l’escalier qu’elle dégringole à toute vitesse pour atterrir sur le plancher de béton de la cave.

Elle a très mal à l’épaule et se met à pleurer de toutes ses forces. Ses parents, en haut, arrêtent de se disputer et son papa descend à toute vitesse. Il la prend dans ses bras, Justine pleure encore plus fort à cause de la douleur. Il appelle un taxi.

Justine se retrouve à l’hôpital avec son papa. Comme elle est toute petite, elle a un peu peur. Mais comme son papa est là, elle sait que tout ira mieux. Le docteur parle avec son papa et explique c’est la « canicule » qui est brisée et qu’elle devra porter un attelage pour que ça guérisse. Son papa est inquiet mais le docteur le rassure en lui disant qu’à l’âge de Justine (elle a quand même trois doigts!), ça se répare vite vite.

Quelques semaines plus tard, Justine n’a plus mal et ce truc l’embête vraiment. Elle trouve le moyen de l’enlever et va le donner à papa. « J’en veux plus ». Son papa la regarde surpris, lui fait bouger le bras et semble trouver que tout va bien car il lui dit « OK ».

Depuis que maman est revenue de l’hôpital, papa ne tape plus dessus. Un jour, il a levé le bras et maman lui a dit quelque chose. Justine ne sait pas quoi mais papa a baissé le bras tout de suite. Tout ce que Justine sait, c’est qu’il y a quelque chose de brisé entre son papa et sa maman. Ils ne s’aiment plus. Ça doit être ça, car ils ne se collent plus comme avant.

Elle va en parler ce soir à Minou Gris quand elle sera couchée. Il l’écoute toujours lui. Et il ronronne toujours. C’est sa façon de lui dire qu’il l’aime et ça fait du bien à Justine. Une chance qu’elle a Minou Gris.

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A kid’s play on words…

My daughter, the (most of the time) charming Z-K, two and a half years-old, made laugh real loud the other morning as we were listening to the song titled “La poupée qui fait non” (The doll that says no).

Z-K was singing, following the rhythm of the song and shaking her little index finger to mimic the lyrics when the doll says “No, no, no” when she suddenly stopped to tell me:

“That doll is a real whiner”

Nothing else to add…

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