He’s maybe thirteen, going on thirty-five, perhaps a survivor of abuse who is experimenting with rubbing alcohol and having trouble in school. She might be fifteen, maybe pregnant, and unable to bear being at home after school.
They, and dozens of other young people with a variety of greater or lesser needs, have found both a family and a home at a place called YAK. The Youth Action Kommittee’s community centre is in a roomy loft on the main floor of a former shoe factory in the Lanark County Town of Perth.
During my tour of the centre last Friday I told Executive Director Tanis Cowan and Program Manager Donna Stratton (pictured above) how impressed I am that such a place exists in Perth. When I used to stay with my grandmother there each summer as a kid she kept me on a pretty tight leash, bemoaning the “nonsense” that town youngsters my age got into – hooliganism such as pulling out flower planters on the main street or defacing signs. (I got away with a few minor infractions unbeknownst to her!) These were but symptoms of much greater issues being faced by young people then (and now) but there was precious little for anyone, not – say – heavily into organized sports, to do.
That’s a drastic over-simplification of the issues, then and now, but YAK is doing an amazing job in a variety of ways to give youth a greater sense of purpose, making life in a small town much more bearable. Specialized services, more available in densely-populated areas, do not always measure up where school boards are one hundred kilometers or more across!
Community meals. A public health nurse. Addiction and mental health services. Mentoring programs. Recreation. Computer skills. Youth homelessness support. Literacy and homework help. (See the web-site for much more information available through YAK and its partners.)
YAK has a board of directors representing professionals and community mentors, backed by Town Council.
Notice the rainbow flag overhead. Respect for diversity is so ingrained at the centre that whenever staff hear a homophobic slur, for example, Donna says the offender knows to “drop and do push-ups”. Even better, the young people themselves exert their own positive peer pressure.
This is not the town of my youth!
I am setting myself some reasonable goals of assisting YAK, in ways yet to be announced, because I see myself wanting to help make the growing up experience a more positive one for young people who are motivated to move ahead against some occasionally difficult odds, in this town of Perth I hold so dear.
This gallery contains 88 photos.
The stereotypical walls are long gone this Mental Illness Awareness Week which finds me bridging between a recent, quietly-endured “brown out” state-of-being in Toronto and my absolute delight as I bask in the love of family members gathering in the splendidly autumnal Town of Perth in eastern Ontario.
In the midst of these tragedies it was an occasion to speak candidly about the despair that can lead to suicide and acknowledge times in my life when I have felt those demoralizing feelings.
Yet there I was, last year like this year, trying to keep my emotional head above water by talking about it, them, vague ideas, trying not to raise alarm - ich!
CBC Radio’s Tapestry began an exploration of “coping” last week and it seems likely that a telephone comment I left may be aired either this week or next.
Producers narrowed me down to what, for me, was the liberating diagnosis of bipolar II several years ago. I emphasize “narrowed down” because my original email was a long list of things, familiar to my readers, I check off as having coped with:
*-childhood bullying by an elementary school principal/head teacher*
*-bullying by peers in high school*
*-alcohol abuse beginning in college*
*-coming out as a gay man, as fully as possible, in 1981*
*-contracting HIV no later than 1989*
*-leaving paid work in 1990, to which I have not returned*
*-surviving AIDS-related infections (while caring for a few – and mourning
the deaths of – countless peers)*
*-believing that “if anyone deserves AIDS, I do!”*
*-being involved in political actions, HIV/AIDS-related and otherwise*
*-surviving a taxi-pedestrian (me) accident in 2003, with a broken femur
and right radius, hospitalized for five weeks at the height of SARS in
*-being diagnosed with type-2 diabetes (despite being alarmingly
*-being diagnosed with bipolar II (which may turn out to be the best
thing that ever happened!)*
*-losing my older brother (a mentor who was also gay, also HIV+) in a
freak fall on the sidewalk in 2007, resulting in traumatic brain injury (he
was on life support for about two weeks)*
*-personal work and therapy intermittently on all of the above.*
I don’t expect I’ll hear Coping: Part 2 over the air this weekend, which is probably just as well given the family gathering which may find me underneath a giant pile of leaves! However I never miss the weekly Tapestry podcast.
6 Sep 2012
I’ve just entered three photographs in Touched By Fire, a non-profit program “to celebrate, support, and inspire the work of artists with mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. An initiative of the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario, the project includes a non-juried, inclusive on-line gallery and a juried annual gala ‘the art show you have to be crazy to enter.’”
Sunrise-Cathedral Bluffs, Scarborough
Different But Equal
Those of you who have followed me, be it through my writing, my tweets, or home from the convenience store will have picked up on the fact that I have a fair amount on my plate.
I’m a very slow eater.
I recently joined a support group for long-term survivors of HIV/AIDS – in my case it’s been no less than 23 years. Even more recently I quit the group when I convinced myself that there was something to the quizzical looks I was getting from existing supportive friends, surprised that I might have anything I couldn’t discuss with them.
Particularly those who were also HIV-positive; also long-term survivors.
It felt good to formally end my relationship, short though it was, with the “support group” and to tell them why.
I don’t want to compartmentalize my life any more than I’m ever convinced I have to – if at all.
I want to safely, sanely integrate the many facets of my life – which too often feel like they’re in individual silos – into something that I can present to anyone I choose.
To recap what loyal readers already know:
I am a survivor of childhood trauma at the hands of an elementary school head teacher/principal.
I was bullied – by him and by peers both in early grades and in high school. I survived.
In my adolescence I was sexually abused by strangers, i.e. more than once, in a part of my home-town that I would only, as an adult, recognize as a “cruising area” for men seeking casual sex with other men (or, since I was there, with boys).
I buried that sexual trauma until I described the first incident in the third person at a HIV/AIDS-related workshop in 1990, some eighteen years after it started.
Then I buried it again, for the most part, but it kept reappearing particularly in the context of dealing with alcohol and other addiction.
I sought support for the addiction but only occasionally mentioned the trauma(s), believing that help was not available as one-stop shopping. (It was also too much to deal with in the context of my HIV progression to AIDS-related illness, the support and care of friends who have long since succumbed, and my inability to stay sober for more than five to seven years at a time maximum.)
When my brother Craig died tragically in 2007, and I was drinking at the time even if not in the presence – not even the same town – of my grieving family I came to a critical point of despair. Thoughts of suicide both tormented and comforted me.
Earlier that spring I had considered running for political office. Me! On long-term disability insurance! I had also wasted the bulk of an insurance settlement from a 2003 accident as if I wasn’t going to live long enough to enjoy it.
I was assessed and diagnosed with/as (I’m not sure which) bipolar II, one step on the spectrum from the more notorious bipolar disorder or manic-depressive illness, as it used to be called.
Believe it or not it was a relief to get a better understanding of what had begun, to me, simply as an absence of depression – for which I had been treated since around the time I tested HIV-positive – and to make sense of what had clearly become episodes of hypomania and depression.
The cautionary experiences of my peers, plus the general stigma still associated with mental illness, have made it difficult to articulate all that I have been discovering about myself as I review the years but one thing is for sure: I can no longer just be a gay, HIV-positive and (to some a recovering addict) friend or relative to some while hiding the largely successful, but ongoing, treatment of my psychiatric illness. The silos drive me crazy – and anyone with a passing acquaintance of farming will know that silos can spontaneously combust!
I do not know to whom any, or all, of this is news. Please let me know. Maybe this is just a rant I occasionally need to let rip. My emotions are not helped by a temporary physical malady today but, then again, I know that’s what it takes to move me sometimes!
The bottom line is that I want to be able to describe the whole picture, even if I mix oil with pastels, chalk with water. The silos aren’t all filled at the same time, usually, but that’s just the point. I don’t want silos any more. Could you at least help me with a better analogy? I would be so grateful.
No one can say they’ve had the life of Neil Armstrong, who has died at 82 – my mother’s age.
I will never forget that night, July 20, 1969, the way people just a little older than me remember where they were when JFK was shot. I was a few months shy of ten years old and was spending some time at “the lake”, the cottage of Auntie Dot and Uncle Homer near Portland, Ontario. I remember sitting – more likely sprawling – in front of Homer’s old TV set (and he had probably needed to go out to the mosquito and cobwebbed back of the house to turn the antenna beforehand). I remember Auntie Dot, and me in turn, being amazed that we could hear the astronauts that far away, let alone see them.
Speaking to Mom tonight, she remembers us all heading outside after to look at the moon which is fitting since today’s statement from the Armstrong family urges us to do just that in Neil’s memory – oh, but with a wink to him as well!
For a young peoples’ video look at the history of the Tay Canal please click the link below, by which I mean…
I am so proud! Not that I had anything to do with this (and I didn’t) but because the video shows how the appreciation of Perth (Lanark County, Ontario, Canada) history is, and will continue to be, alive and well!
Congratulations to everyone, particularly the young people and their mentors, who made this possible.
I know I’ve posted this before but I ventured to submit it to Northern Cardinal Review, an online magazine I happened upon today:
Ripples lick the rocks
As the pines and birch politely applaud
Gulls catching their petits déjeuners
In the waking lake.
Sky’s amethyst shroud cascades
Towards the western shore
And the water’s silky blue
Becomes the pewter and emerald of armour.
The fleeting storm rumbles to the west and north
Dragging a chair across a distant wooden floor
But our only thunder is from a train
Rolling to market behind its mournful whistle.
The winds shift, the shroud – like a chameleon -
Becomes soft pillows of gray and white.
Lake Simcoe’s armour is but a duvet;
The white top-sheets being turned down toward Windigo.
Once here, and with dusk approaching,
The sheets are smoothed, the pillows fluffed
And the sun sinks past the foot of the bed
Leaving colours of peace and wonder.
No sooner are distant pinks orange, and oranges purple,
Then a star pierces the darkening blue
And the trees begin to sigh, knowing the moon’s glow
Over Windigo will keep watch another night.
(July 30, 1993)
Kenn Chaplin is a Toronto, Ontario blogger, amateur photographer and long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS. Windigo is the name of a cottage on Lake Simcoe, north of Toronto, which support groups for people living with HIV/AIDS were graciously loaned, in the late 1980s and early ’90s, as a place of quiet retreat. Kenn was grateful to have been a part of several of these retreats. In one group photo he is the lone survivor, apart from the facilitators who – in the case of that particular group – were not HIV-positive.
There are at least a few, if not many, important people with whom I need to have my own conversation about…
21 Aug 2012
It’s certainly not too early to think about Mental Illness Awareness Week
When I read the Ottawa Citizen article (linked above) I immediately thought, “Mom will have read that yesterday,” and what an opening it would give me to discuss my own mental health history with her.
Not long after sobering up five+ years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar II and, although it might seem strange, the news came as a relief to me. It helped to explain behaviour, over and above (and below) drunkenness and depression, which had dogged me most of my adult life. The eventual absence – thanks to treatment – of depression, which became hypomania, went undiagnosed for so long because I quite enjoyed said absence of depression, despite the danger, stupidity and recklessness which accompanied it.
Of course, as my 1,002 posts here can illustrate – at least in part – there’s been more going on in my life than depression so, absent or otherwise, there have been many other factors contributing to my state of being and my sense of self.
I cannot deny, and quite enjoy reporting, that seeking help – even if it took sinking to “rock bottom” to do so – has me feeling mentally stronger than I have in a long time, the occasional extraneous screw-ups notwithstanding.
For that I am truly thankful.
I’m delighted to be at the top of the list, perhaps it’s random, of 16 Five Star Rated AIDS Information Sites & Blogs – and I’ve found a few fellow travelers in the process!
What I really like about this is that it could just as easily have been said by my Mom or Dad. (They said and wrote almost exactly similar sentiments when Craig and I came out 31 and 35 years ago, respectively.)
So there you have it, according to WordPress and Price-Waterhouse accountants, my one-thousandth post!