There are at least a few, if not many, important people with whom I need to have my own conversation about…


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.


What to call this: P.C. fu%ks denial?

This story from Xtra! Vancouver infuriates me: AIDS groups remove ‘AIDS’ from their names.

If “AIDS” still carries too much stigma, which it does, that is what to work on, not re-branding!

I know, at 51 years of age, I am an old fart from the club kids’ point-of-view.  Well hang on to your brain cells, honey bees, because I’d stack the wisdom gained from my life experience against your knowledge any time.

In turning your back on AIDS, you’re turning your back on a generation of survivors who know what community really means, who cared for our friends (many of whom were your age), as long as they lived.  When they died, as most of them did, we collectively walked ourselves through a thousand good-byes.  We weren’t so concerned about stigma when our community was falling around us and home-care teams needed to be assembled.  And yet, to be sure, there were many examples of stigma – a harsh reality.  On an international scale Rock Hudson was on his death-bed before he admitted having AIDS.  It was after many years of the disease before President Ronald Reagan ever mentioned AIDS publicly.

I do not consider my HIV/AIDS diagnosis to be retractable.  When I had an AIDS-defining infection, cryptosporidiosis, that was very close to killing me I don’t believe the AIDS genie went back into the bottle after a long, arduous treatment.  This is not some perverse badge of honour, it is my story of survival a few years before the advent of antiretroviral therapy.

An HIV diagnosis is not what it used to be, thank goodness, but it should result in a major change in behaviour nonetheless.  Treatments have side effects you really ought to want to put off for as long as you can so a little more I-give-a-fuck is in order.

Would changing the name make you any more likely to try to avoid HIV infection?

I responded to the Xtra! article with this:

It’s behaviour that still needs changing

If I thought for one minute that removing the name AIDS would change the behaviour of kids too young to remember when AIDS was killing – dead – our friends, or would facilitate more people seeking help, or would change the lax attitude towards infection (something like “I’ll only have HIV and there’s pills for that so why should I care if I become infected?”) then I’d be all for springing for the cost of removal of AIDS from websites, letterhead and pamphlets.

Kenn Chaplin,
Toronto, Ontario

Premier McGuinty, on sexual health this is not leadership!

I’ve had a difficult time sleeping this week which I think I can safely attribute to hypomania which, in turn, has kept me busy following the news here in Ontario of promising changes to the province’s 1998 sex education curriculum. Excuse me – Health and Physical Education Curriculum. Alas the promise was dropped like a gum wrapper by a cowardly Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Just as Prime Minister Harper’s leaky trial balloon about a couple of word changes to the National Anthem sputtered across the country like a giant fart, McGuinty’s strong backing earlier in the week of proposed changes to the curriculum has dissolved like the Communion host on his warm tongue. I’m not saying it’s his Roman Catholic faith (piled on by official Bishopdom) which led to his
– there was, after all, plenty of other pressure – but, Mr. Premier, consider some of the sources!

Charles McVety?


Not surprisingly, an Islamic parents’ group made its opposition known. And I’m sure the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed the chance to move off the Church’s sexual abuse scandal to decry some practical, age-appropriate education about sex (and how, maybe, to rebuff the advances of pedophile priests).

Thank you, Adam Radwanski, for articulating what I’ve only managed to carry around as anger, tension, sad memories and thoughts of how my generation’s sex education might have advanced the cause of compassion, tolerance and understanding in these matters had this now-delayed curriculum been in place long ago.

Ontario’s ‘education premier’ fails on sex education

“Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals have only themselves to blame for the last-minute scrapping of the province’s new sex-ed curriculum”

McVety, whose Bible memorization school acts as his political headquarters since his religious charity shouldn’t, talks of the clear and present danger of the ‘homosexual agenda’ (What?), of how it has been our mission to infiltrate schools and indoctrinate, etc., etc. – mad fantasies dutifully echoed by his Queen’s Park lieutenant, Conservative leader Tim Hudak, whose search for an electoral base begins at the churches in parking lots across the province.

Well what if this new curriculum allowed a kid to realize, without even asking any questions since that probably wouldn’t be comfortable, that some of the different feelings s/he’s had are not to be joked about by others at recess but respectfully described in class. And, quite aside from those of us who are different, isn’t it about time schools taught kids about the joys, responsibilities and risks of sexual activitiy in this day and age of “sexting” and all sorts of stuff that today’s parents – children of the seventies and eighties – would never have imagined!

Anal sex preserves virginity. That’s what many of them tell each other! Blow-jobs are the new good night kiss. This is teenage sexuality right now – not your finest hour Mr. Premier!

The American health-care debate from an HIV patient’s perspective

I do not understand all the ins and outs of the American health-care system, neither that which existed before today’s vote in the House of Representatives nor the one after.

Here’s what I do know.

Canada has a single-payer health system for hospitalizations, doctor’s visits and related expenses such as most diagnostic tests. Coverage of pharmaceuticals remains a gap with only private insurers, usually with co-pays, covering employee benefits and only provincial governments paying for drugs for those on social assistance or those in need of “catastrophic” coverage. (In most jurisdictions, the thousands of dollars for HIV/AIDS and related drugs each month fits the definition
of “catastrophic”.) These provincial plans only came about as the result of hard work by coalitions, led by AIDS activists, in the 1990s and they vary from province to province which is why a national pharmacare plans remains a dream.

Such a plan only makes sense with hospitals, where patient drug costs are absorbed, treating only the sickest of people. Most of us are able to stay out of hospitals thanks to medications.

This month my eleven prescription medications cost $2589.72, nearly all of which the government pays (to be clear). The most expensive, because they are new and freshly-patented, are the four HIV treatments. However, with buyers as large as the governments of Canadian provinces, bulk prices are negotiated to everyone’s benefit.

My single-payer health-care allows me to visit any hospital emergency room in Canada, as well as my taxpayer-financed family doctor, my HIV specialist, my psychiatrist and my dermatologist with nothing more than the swipe of a provincial government health card.

Are there ‘uninsured’? Sure but people such as the homeless are treated in emergency departments and in street clinics as necessary.

I’m curious to know how I might have fared, these past twenty-one years of living with HIV, had I lived in the United States. I am very optimistic that the system there will change – even if not all at once – in the next few years.

On smoking, Mr. President, ‘Don’t Ask’ for a cigarette, ‘Don’t Tell’ a smoker that you want one

An Open Letter to American President Barack Obama

Dear Mr. President:

I know how difficult it is to quit smoking.  I would suggest that the mere fact that you can count on one hand the number of cigarettes you have each day is a great starting point.

Quitting is a process, at least it has been for most of us, not a one-time event.  Don’t be discouraged but please don’t be shy with sharing openly about your efforts.  Being more public about it could be a very effective tool in a national campaign.

It’s time you called out your enablers.  Who is dealing you these nicotine missiles?  I’m sure they aren’t asking you for a quarter each time, just as I’m sure you aren’t going to the corner store closest to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for your pack of Marlboros (or whatever). 

Another idea – make rules for yourself around smoking.  I’m sure it goes without saying that you can’t smoke in the White House.  New rule – don’t go wherever it is on the property that smoking staffers gather.  Avoid them when they’re outside.

Your smoking, however infrequent, does not meet with the approval of Michelle, Sasha or Malia.  You promised them before the election that you would stop.  Ask for their help.  Promise to ask them for permission to smoke each and every time you are tempted.  Of course you know their answer but maybe the exercise will remind you of one of the things at stake with your smoking – the example you set for your daughters.

Why don’t you ask the American people, and those of us who follow you on Facebook around the world, for help.  We could offer tips like what worked for us.  For example, when you have a craving drink ice cold water.  There’s something about that rush of refreshing cold which curbs cravings.  You have a lot of serious national and international issues on your plate  which most of us wouldn’t trade with you for the world.  However, we can help support you if you really want to quit smoking which, in my heart of hearts, I believe that you do.

I urge you to engage with us.  We’re with you – could there even be non-partisan support for you? – and I congratulate you for continuing to try to end your dependence on nicotine.

Youth for Christ partners with Winnipeg City Hall; Stephen Harper and ‘the Theo-cons’ – are we way past ‘scary’?

A dog-eared, repeatedly-read copy of The Walrus from a few years ago sits beside my comfy chair. Its cover reads “Stephen Harper and the Theo-cons: The rising clout of Canada’s religious right”

(Simon, in comments, points us to news of the author’s forthcoming book The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada)

I was reminded of the piece by my friend John in Ottawa who has a link, sans commentaires, to the article on his blog.

I commend it to your reading.

The article came to mind, again, when the Harper government’s scariness, again, broke through the Olympic celebrations.

I was invited to join a Facebook group which, too late this time, mobilized against government funding of a building in Winnipeg to be operated by the oh-so-inclusive name of Youth for Christ.

They’re not a new name in the conservative, evangelical Christian milieu and, as they themselves describe their work, they see nothing wrong with receiving public funds while proselytizing in any number of ways to the poor – immigrant, aboriginal, “at risk”.

Columnist Dan Lett of the Winnipeg Free Press, noting “the big-box Christian churches peppered around Winnipeg regularly mix politics and religion” takes us through some of the strongest misconceptions for and against public funding of such a centre.

Existing service providers, far from declining additional help in the troubled downtown, reasonably argue against this proposal.

With all the hallmarks of a George W. Bush “faith-based initiative” (which also received public money as often as Congress allowed it) this Youth for Christ initiative has some high-ranking government cheerleaders including Justice Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

Check out Youth for Christ (Winnipeg)’s website and see if this sounds like your favourite municipal community centre.

PM Harper reneges on HIV vaccine research

When Saturday’s Globe and Mail flops down on door-steps across the country Saturday, a story will be found of our government’s cynicism and disregard for Canada’s reputation on the world stage. (Finding such a report is not usually handed to us so matter-of-factly although, given the subject matter, it’s a play to the Conservative Party base.)

Quick to campaign on the Opposition not being “up to the job”, that’s the same line the government is using to justify breaking a promise Canada made – with Bill Gates no less – the same Bill Gates who attended the International AIDS Conference held in Toronto in 2008 but which Harper did not.

Poor Mr. Harper and his flock do not like to hear about HIV/AIDS as it pertains to Canada. Bad enough they have to acknowledge the toll it takes away from our shores but to recognize that HIV is in Canada – whether among drug users who share dirty needles (which they stick in their arms!) or share crack pipes with blistered lips or – eww! – have sex (down there AND there!)…well it’s all too much for this government. Research on such matters is the last thing with which we want to bring attention to ourselves. We have a G-8 summit in Toronto to prepare for.

Way to go Mr. Harper!