The Unfunny Incompetence of Social Services in New York

TW: Domestic Violence, Systemic Violence, Bigotry

As some of you may remember, I talked about the possibility of going to New York, to help a single mom friend who had hurt herself. I was doing a fundraiser to be able to afford to go (I could still use some donations to help recover from the financial strain. And also to cover unexpected expenses).

Well, earlier in July, I finally went. Many of you may be wondering why it was so urgent. While it is true that an injured ankle makes things hard to deal with, especially for a single mom with an active kid, but it doesn’t seem like the type of thing to really justify spending so much money to go help out. Heck, taking a cab around would be cheaper.

The truth is that out of concern for privacy and at the request of my friend, I left out a lot of details. While it is true that she did injure herself, and that a portion of my help was to make things easier on her for a few days, the truth of the matter is that I was going there to stand witness and see what I could do to help her with a much more complicated issue.After my visit, my friend gave me permission to release some of the information on my blog.

You see, my friend was a victim of domestic abuse. Severe domestic abuse. Her partner hit her, sexually assaulted her, the details of which are so unbelievably horrible, that the court had a hard time accepting the truth of it. That was six years ago, and this man will likely never see the inside of a cell for what he did. My friend however, has had her life, and that of her child, completely hijacked.

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The Unfunny Incompetence of Social Services in New York
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Rose Quartz Creeps Me Out

It’s not easy for me to feel good about maternal figures in media. (Gee, I wonder why.) This is something I’m aware of and keep in mind when one of them starts to rub me the wrong way, or otherwise shows their flaws. I can acknowledge Dr. Maheswaran’s harshness and overly protective tendencies, I can see and cathartically process Sadie’s mother’s overweening enthusiasm and difficulty seeing the daughter in front of her, but Rose Quartz creeps me out.

Rose Quartz, who resembles a thickset, 8-foot-tall, rosy-skinned human with enormous pink curls and a rose quartz gem set in her midsection, looks down at the viewer and extends a hand.
Means to a end, every one.

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Rose Quartz Creeps Me Out

Quale’s Privilege

Sociological concepts are controversial in the skeptic/atheist community. Many of its members don’t think of sociology as a “real” science, or otherwise dismiss the claims such a peculiar field makes as not holding up to the scrutiny expected in biology, geology, or physics. Criticisms of important sociological concepts like privilege tend to rely either on argument from personal incredulity or on hazy readings of introductory philosophy texts.

The funny thing is, philosobros who think they can undo sociological privilege with binary logic or harsh skepticism about the motives of other humans have only a few pages to flip before their own sources turn against them. Equally basic philosophical concepts and discussions underpin major sociological findings, and remind us to be aware of the limits of our own knowledge in other ways.

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Quale’s Privilege

Some Thoughts for the Ottawa-Carleton Institute of Biology

This year will most likely be the last year that I attend the Ottawa-Carleton Institute of Biology’s yearly symposium. This small-scale conference is advertised internally, and draws its attendees almost exclusively from the two university biology departments that comprise the OCIB. As a graduating Ph.D., I’m unlikely to either get those advertisements or have the open schedule required to be present on subsequent occasions. It has served as a way for biology students at the two departments to meet and get to know one another, for people to become familiar with the research going on elsewhere at the Institute, to practice for higher-stakes presentations at larger conferences, and to attend curated talks from well-credentialed and diverse researchers in various related fields. I have never found attendance at the OCIB Symposium to be wasted, not even the year where they got that weirdo suggesting we start using Aristotelian teleological models to better understand parts of biology.

(For those not in the know, those models also underlie much Christian philosophy and therefore Intelligent Design.)

This year, though, was marred by two instances of tone-deaf, science-illiterate microaggression that only get to keep the “micro-” qualifier because I’m not prepared to accuse these two speakers of deliberately attacking the autistic and transgender communities. Yet.

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Some Thoughts for the Ottawa-Carleton Institute of Biology

The Cruelty of Hope

People say a lot of things about hope.  It’s an endless positive, the core of vital optimism that prevents people from descending into despair.  People claim it’s audacious to be hopeful, a bold statement of the inevitability of future improvement.  Heroes are powered by hope, defined by hope, sustained through their darkest moments by hope.  Hope is what we offer each other when we are wounded or scared: This isn’t forever.  Things will get better.  You can get through.

Hope is dangerous.

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The Cruelty of Hope

Those Three Words

CN: Allusion to past emotional abuse and suicidal ideation

I rarely tell my partners that I love them.

Well, that’s not true.  I rarely tell them uninitiated.  It’s easy for me to say “I love you, too,” sincere yet mechanical, in response to “I love you.”  Once a relationship reaches the point where “I love you” is a thing we’re saying to each other, that exchange becomes commonplace: the affirming background hum of two people who care deeply for one another.  It’s easy enough that just having my love for a person on my mind when a totally different person, jokingly or accidentally, tells me they love me is sometimes enough to bring it out.  The mortification that follows is rarely worth the laugh.

But starting that trade is much harder.

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Those Three Words

Guest Post: The Stigma of Mental Illness and Religiosity: A Dual Insult

Guest post by Katrina Halfaker

 

My life is defined, to some extent, by my mental disorders. To be chemically different is to be a lesser. It is to be stigmatized. We’re cast as violent, deranged, and irrational even though we are ten times more likely to be victims of abuse, often by those in positions of power, whether they be police officers, academic administrators, loved ones, or strangers on the street.

 

I’m an atheist with OCD, which is comorbid with other anxiety-based disorders, and I noticed clues of their onset as early as when I was ten, as did my family, though they never took me to a doctor. In the last year, I’ve dealt with mild pubic trichotillomania. Years before, I developed a binge-eating disorder (which led to childhood obesity). It went quiet for a while, but still, it occasionally asserts itself in relapses. Every single person in my immediate family has been or is currently affected by at least one major disorder (diagnosed and undiagnosed: SAD, borderline personality disorder, and depression). I was raised in a religious household and educated until teenage-hood in a low-key Creationist school. We never had a licensed school therapist or nurse, or any provisions outside of an occasional hearing and vision test – but we did have chapel every week.

 

So, yes: I know the difference between reinforced frameworks and chemical diversity.

 

Many of you, my fellow secularists, need to understand one very crucial aspect of this dilemma: you have made it personal when you call religion a mental illness. And you have transgressed in ways you believe you have not. And you are unwilling to acknowledge it.

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Guest Post: The Stigma of Mental Illness and Religiosity: A Dual Insult

It’s All in Your Head:

The false dichotomy between physical and mental illness

It used to be thought that different illnesses were the result of demons and evil spirits. In the bible for example there are instances of epilepsy that are treated as demonic possession. As physical explanations were found for different disorders, the supernatural explanations were abandoned in favor of scientific ones.When it comes to mental health disorders however, physical explanations are harder to grasp and find. Not because they don’t exist, but rather because a lot of brain related research is either not possible with our current technology, or must be undertaken with great care for ethical reasons.  As a result, our society has created a separation between physical illnesses and mental ones.

On some levels, this separation make sense. When we think of physical illness or disability, we think of some physically embodiment. Take Crohn’s for example: with the right equipment one can point to the inflammation and ulcers in my intestines as an explanation of why I am feeling the way I am feeling. With mental illness, however, a lot of times we are dealing with something a bit more intangible: emotions and thoughts.

This separation is a false one however, that actually creates a lot of misunderstanding and harm. Because we see mental illness as dealing with something intangible like emotion, there is a social perception that mental illness isn’t real. That it is “all in your head”.

The truth is that mental illness is as much a physical thing as any other illness or disability. The brain is as much a part of the body as a leg or intestines. Depression, anxiety, and other such conditions may manifest themselves in part as emotions and thoughts, but those are expressed symptoms of underlying conditions in the same way that pain is an expression of inflammation or injury.

Moreover, it ignores the fact that all perceptions are “in our head”. If you consider pain, for example, while our bodies processes the injury causing the pain at the point of injury, the actual experience that we call pain is processed in our brains. This doesn’t mean pain doesn’t exist. In fact, we know that pain not only exists, but it is necessary for our survival. We know this because of individuals with CIP (congenital insensitivity to pain), a condition where people cannot feel physical pain. People with CIP need to consistently measure their body temperature and be very careful because it is possible for them to injure themselves, like break a bone, without realizing it.

Every tactile experience, every visual one, every auditory one is processed “in our heads”. If you say that mental illness isn’t real because it is “in your head” you are essentially saying that every experience we have isn’t real. Our whole lives are lived in our heads.

There are physical symptoms of mental illness as well. Many people who have depression experience joint pain, as well as fatigue. Anxiety can cause your blood pressure to spike, can cause chest pains, nausea, acid reflux, and a whole host of other symptoms. There is absolutely a physical component, so treating it as if it is something separate ignores important aspects of mental illness.

Moreover, treating mental illness as separate from physical illness or disability, ignores the fact that physical disabilities and illnesses often occur in conjunction with certain mental illnesses. Specifically, many people with disabilities have more risk factors for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. This can be the result of the imposed social isolation that many people with disabilities experience, or in some cases may be a result of their illness. For example, Crohn’s Disease, in addition to the pain and physical symptoms that can increase the risk of depression, the inflammation of the intestines can also lead to a lower absorption of Vitamin D which can result in depression.

Because physical and mental illness are treated as separate, those of us with disabilities are not given adequate access to mental health care. In an ideal world, every person with a chronic illness or disability would be given access to a mental health professional who would manage their mental health in conjunction with their physical health. The connection between the two would also make it easier to argue for social contact as an accessibility need.

The way the world is set up now, people with different types of disabilities experience social isolation as a matter of course. This can be as a result of symptoms, or often as a result of insufficient accessibility. Because mental health and physical health are seen as separate, the idea that disabled people are prevented from being able to socialize effectively due to barriers such as transportation or even just on-site accessibility, is not seen as a big deal. Government officials see closing down programs and businesses that encourage and enable disabled people to socialize as risk free. People feel the need to vandalize playparks that are set up to be accessible to disabled children.

The false dichotomy is actively harmful to all disabled people. It enables people to ignore the needs of the mentally and the physically ill. It is meant to divide and shame. It is meant to pit us in false competition with one another, in the hopes that it will distract us from the systemic ableism that is so ingrained in our society.

It’s All in Your Head:

HOW ADHD SHAMING ALMOST KILLED ME

TW: Discussion of Depression and Suicidal Ideation, descriptions of self-harm.

Just getting diagnosed with ADHD was a struggle. I remember the doctor I was seeing at the time giving me a lecture about drug seeking behaviour. When I pointed out that there were easier ways to get drugs than trying to get an appointment with a psychiatrist she relented but asked me why I wanted to be diagnosed if I wasn’t in school anymore.

The cultural perception of ADHD is that it is just a matter of too much energy. You hear all sorts of people extolling the virtues of good old fashioned exercise, or warning people about the dangers of giving children drugs similar to amphetamines. No one takes the time to think about how medications work. This is evident when they start talking about Ritalin or Concerta being the sit down and shut up drug.

ADHD changes the way you think. Not what you think, but rather how you think. It falls into the category of brain conditions that are considered neurodivergent.  It also has a high rate of comorbidity with autism. It’s not just “undisciplined” or “lazy” kids who need more exercise, it causes structural changes in the brain and can even impact how you react to different medications.

Most people however still have a hard time believing that the condition even exists.

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HOW ADHD SHAMING ALMOST KILLED ME