Namaste, divine child

I remember when I finally got it, really got it, that my mother had been a child once too. I had heard my mother’s stories about her childhood and understood intellectually that she had been a girl, had had parents, had grown up. But in my mind’s eye, she was always and only my mother – important and yet only tangential to my needs.

That childish view continued until I moved away from home and disengaged from the complicated child-parent relationship. I began to see my mother as another human being in her own right. When that happened, I could also finally understand that she too had been a child once.

And there, for the first time, I found a common ground with her.

I remembered what it was like to be a child – small, vulnerable, dependent, innocent, evolving. Seeing her in that light allowed me to love my mother in a new and unconditional way.

I live in the downtown core of my city where all the social services are housed. I see a lot of people, many of whom are referred to as the “the dregs” or bottom rung of society. They are the homeless, mentally ill, elderly, physically and mentally handicapped, poor, addicted, immigrant.

And they too were someone’s child once. That thin, dirty man picking cigarette butts out of the gutter and arguing with himself was someone’s baby boy. The meth-addicted prostitute whooping in the moonlight was someone’s little girl.

When I encounter people (particularly people who may be challenging to be with for whatever reason), acknowledging the child that was and the child that is still within them helps me to find our common ground.

It’s my version of Namaste, except in my version the child in me recognizes the child in them. The result is still a divine recognition.

Happy birthday to my mom, who came screaming into this world 84 years ago today. I wish you could have stayed longer.

Happy birthday to my mom, who came screaming into this world 84 years ago today. I wish you could have stayed longer.

Gender neutrality – a/k/a unplumbing the future

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These look like they fit boy feet or girl feet.

Every spring when I was a child my mother and I would make the annual trek to the shoe store for my new pair of rubber rain boots. Every spring, I wanted a black and red pair like the farmers wore. Every spring, my mother dismissed my request saying “Those are for boys.” And every spring, I was exquisitely frustrated that something would be denied to me simply because I was a girl.

To be fair, it was one of the very few times my mother made overt gender-based decisions with me. That’s saying a lot considering she was a woman whose husband’s official, legal response to her request for a divorce was “Everything was fine until my wife decided that she wanted to be a person too.”

We’ve come a long way. But we still have a long way to go. The same sort of insidious gender biases happened to the next generation in my family.

My very young nephew wanted to be a bunny rabbit for Hallowe’en. His mother said no to the idea – it wasn’t appropriate for a boy. He was a cowboy instead. I wonder if my nephew felt frustrated then too.

These are just tiny examples of how our notions of what is gender appropriate play out in western society. As children we are instilled with messages about the most inane things and it builds from there until as adults the limitations and biases are ingrained, pervasive and damaging.

In an ideal world we would not make distinctions about people’s abilities or potential based on their gender. How do we move to that ideal world? What different language and actions could we adopt to create a gender-neutral world? I have to challenge myself every day to think and react in gender-neutral ways. Could you, would you do the same?

A love letter to my depression

ImageI have suffered from depression since I was a young child. Depressive episodes would come and go. Each episode was a little deeper, a little longer, a little harder to come out of.

The pain of my depression was terrible. With mere words, I cannot begin to describe the despair. Thoughts of suicide were as soothing as a lullaby, yet I felt that I was already dead to the world. I was hollowed out, disconnected from life. When I did feel anything, it was sorrow, anger, anxiety or shame. Oh, I felt such shame for being so broken.

Deborah Shields, a woman who only knew me through an online chat group, was the first person to actually name my condition. She plainly told me in a private message “Heutzie, I think you are suffering from depression.” I was furious. Startled. Busted.

And I am forever grateful to her.

Once Deborah named it, I couldn’t deny that something was “not right.” I went to my doctor. I got a prescription for antidepressants. I stared at that bottle for days, giving it the stink eye, refusing to take the pills, refusing to believe I had a mental illness.

But the bold truth is I do.

My brain chemicals don’t work the way they’re supposed to. I take antidepressants, which are wonderfully effective for me. And like any other disease, I manage the illness. I have an open and regular relationship with my doctor. I exercise. I eat whole, healthy foods and cook from scratch. I get enough sleep. I limit my alcohol intake and I quit smoking. I accept help and talk through problems with friends or professionals (my swans). I keep my life balanced.

My depression, so long a part of my life, has made me who I am and who I am is splendid.

In Canada, May 5 to 11 is National Mental Health Awareness week. The US gives the topic the entire month of May. Good on them!