Monthly Archives: September 2022

BWS 09.14.22 report: Writing & Survival: Tips for Mad, Sad, and Neurodiverse People

Kathy Friedman is a writer, teacher, editor, and the co-founder of InkWell Workshops, which delivers free literary programming to people with mental health and addiction issues. She studied creative writing at UBC and the University of Guelph, and was a finalist for the Writers’ Trust Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Grain, Geist, PRISM international, Canadian Notes & Queries, and the New Quarterly. In 2022, her short fiction debut, All the Shining People, was published by House of Anansi. She lives in Tkaronto/Toronto, where she is at work on a collection of essays about travel, music, and mental health. Find out more at http://www.kathyfriedman.com.

Writing & Survival: Tips for Mad, Sad, and Neurodiverse People

By Kathy Friedman

From the Canada Council: “Mad arts are created by people who live with Madness and are an expression of Mad Pride. The term “Mad” has been reclaimed by people who identify as living with mental illness or psychiatric disabilities and symbolizes pride, collective identity and community building. Within this context, mental illness is not framed as pathology, but rather as integral to identity and experiences shaped by social determinants of health such as income, social status, employment, working conditions, housing and food security.”

Mad culture, including distinct and innovative literature, is thriving. Mad writers who I think are producing (or have produced) some of our most exciting literature include Roxanna Bennett, Janet Frame, Rowan McCandless, Terese Mailhot, Erin Soros, Esmé Weijun Wang, and Syrus Marcus Ware.

I would like to have called this presentation “Writing & Thriving,” but I don’t think we’re there yet. Mad folks still need far better access to secure housing, good food, clean water, and the abolition of carceral forms of punishment, surveillance, and care. Still, liberation and joy are always bound up in revolutionary art and storytelling, and as writers we have an important role to play in the Mad rights movement.

I use the following tools to manage my mental health and to keep writing through adversity:

  • Community: Truly what sustains me as a writer. My literary community includes writer friends, other Mad folks, writing mentors, and my students. Expressing gratitude and maintaining a spirit of generosity have helped me foster this community.
  • Self-Care: A relentless process (at least for me) that includes taking walks, exercising, treating myself, taking baths, cat and dog cuddles, setting and maintaining boundaries, giving myself props and encouragement, and remembering to breathe.
  • Medication: Although I experience some side effects, taking psychiatric meds helps me feel more emotionally stable.
  • Therapy: For the last ten years, I’ve participated in group therapy, support groups, and ongoing individual counselling. I’m always willing to put my name on waitlists for OHIP-covered therapy, but I also prioritize the cost of counselling as a necessary expense (along with food and rent).
  • Rest: I take breaks and afternoon naps. I don’t write every day (not even close). I try my best not to compare my productivity to other writers. And I sleep in whenever I can.

Community Resources

InkWell Workshops

  • Delivers free, high-quality literary programming to people living with mental health and addiction issues (I’m the co-founder and artistic director).
  • Currently has a call for applications for writers with lived experience to work with an experienced mentor on a book-length project; the writer will be given a $500 honorarium.
  • http://www.inkwellworkshops.com

Open Minds Quarterly

  • A literary journal published by NISA / Northern Institute for Social Action in Sudbury
  • Welcomes writing and art from people with “lived experience of what is variously called mental health challenges, mental illness, madness, neurodiversity, etc.”
  • Runs an annual poetry contest.
  • http://www.openmindsquarterly.com

Community Health Centres

  • Offer free individual and group counselling provided by registered social workers, in addition to other primary care services.
  • Focused on communities that experience barriers to accessing health care (2SLGBTQ, unhoused people, refugees, etc.).
  • Usually accept clients based on catchment area; some accept trans and/or unhoused clients from across Toronto.
  • https://www.torontocentralhealthline.ca/listservices.aspx?id=10652

Artists Health Centre

  • Located on Bathurst just south of College.
  • A nurse-practitioner-led medical and complementary clinic for professional artists.
  • Through the Joysanne Sidimus Fund, services can be subsidized for artists in financial need so they only pay 25% of the cost (e.g., RMT, physiotherapy, psychotherapy, etc.).
  • https://www.artistshealthcentre.ca/ 

Affordable Medication

  • Ask your health care provider to request free samples from the manufacturer for you. They can usually do this multiple times.
  • If your income is low and your prescription costs are high, register for the Ontario Trillium Drug Program, so no more than 4% of your income will go to pay for meds.
  • Speak to your pharmacist about getting a manufacturer’s incentive card (if applicable).

Workman Arts

  • A multidisciplinary arts organization in Toronto that supports artists living with mental health and addiction issues.
  • Offers training programs and public partnerships and presentations.
  • I find that dabbling in art forms other than writing helps my mental health and creativity.
  • http://www.workmanarts.com

Arts Councils

  • As a disabled artist, you can get funds from each of the arts councils to pay a service provider (e.g., an experienced artist/grant writer) to help you complete your grant application.
  • If your application is successful, you can also apply for accessibility funds to address barriers that prevent you from completing your project. For example, I’ve received accessibility funds from the Ontario Arts Council (OAC) to pay for counselling while I’m writing triggering creative nonfiction material.
  • The Canada Council for the Arts has a Disability Arts program and the Ontario Arts Council has a program for Deaf and Disability Arts Projects. This means that your application can be assessed by an interdisciplinary jury of other disabled artists rather than a literary jury.
  • Be sure to reach out to the program officers before you apply: they’re awesome!

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BWS 14.09:22: In case you missed it!

Click here to see the recorded live stream of our September 14th event featuring Oubah Osman, Jennifer Hosein, Kimia Eslah, and Farzana Doctor, and guest speaker Kathy Friedman, who spoke to us about writing for folks with mental health and addiction issues, titled “Writing & Survival: Some Tips for Mad, Sad, and Neurodiverse Folks.”

This was our first in-person BWS event since the beginning of the pandemic, and we’re so excited to be back!

Stay tuned for our next event on Wednesday, November 9th at 6:30pm!

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Brockton Writers Series 14.09.22: Kimia Eslah

Kimia Eslah is a feminist writer and a queer woman of colour. Her work has been featured on CBC Books, Ms. Magazine, and The Miramichi Reader. She is the author of Sister Seen, Sister Heard and The Daughter Who Walked Away. Her novels explore the effects of bigotry, rape culture, mental illness, and queerphobia on Canadian women of colour. Catch her on The Feminist Podcast (Season 2: Episode 5), YouTube, and Instagram @kimiaeslah. Email her at author@kimiaeslah.com. Meet her at local events.

Kimia Eslah, Author & Advocate

The Feminist Podcast, Season 2 Episode 5

Uphold Your Values, Break the Silence

By Kimia Eslah

*names have been changed

“He’s not talking about you. You’re not Chinese. Let him speak!” Ashraf* scolded me from the armchair across the room.

Our two families had been enjoying a summer barbeque up north. It was the first time we had vacationed together since childhood, and I had arrived with high hopes, imagining our little ones playing together as we bonded over the strangeness of being the grownups.

As a member of the Iranian diaspora, I had few relatives growing up in Canada, and our relationships had been fouled by untreated alcoholism, mental illness, and domestic violence. Once I had my own family, I was determined to build healthy relationships with relatives who wanted the same. I wanted to write a new narrative where get-togethers didn’t end in hostility.

“He’s being racist!” I insisted, glaring at Ashraf’s friend, Steve*. “It’s not okay to talk like that.”

Tears streamed as I explained how Steve’s remarks about East Asians were hurtful and inappropriate. Steve didn’t defend himself; he hadn’t needed to. He’d lowered his gaze while Ashraf stared me down. The disgusted look in Ashraf’s eyes broke my heart. An hour earlier, we had been playing Frisbee with the kids and sharing parenting woes.

Tragically, this scene was all too familiar.

“He can say what he wants,” Ashraf sneered, daring me to challenge him.

Upon hearing our raised voices, my worried eight-year-old made a beeline for Ashraf. With his little hands on his hips and his lower lip protruding, he glared at Ashraf, willing him to stop yelling at me.

To my shock, Ashraf growled, “Make him stop.” I grasped his threat. Make him stop or I will make him stop. While I shook with anger, my spouse corralled my son.

“He’s a bully, just like you,” Ashraf barked. “You’ve always been a bully!”

Ashraf was not the first person to call me a bully; my parents were the first, when I was a few years old. They accused me of bullying my siblings with my opinions. As a child, I accepted their interpretation. They’re my parents, I thought. They know me best. Choosing silence and demanding silence were their defense mechanisms, my family’s strategies to protect themselves from recognizing the tragic truth: my father’s untreated addiction was destroying our lives. When I beseeched my parents and siblings to recognize the abuse and neglect, I was scapegoated by all concerned. They lashed out at me because I was an easy target: a queer girl-child, dependent and without recourse. They exploited prevailing social stigma and shamed me with labels like bully, boor, and loudmouth.

When I speak out against injustice, my heart races, my hands become clammy, my voice quivers, and my body shakes. In the moment, I might cry tears of frustration. Long after the ordeal, I cry from the trauma of being abused for speaking out. My body relives the fear and sadness from past encounters, triggering nausea, tremors, and days of bedrest.

During encounters, I hear my tone: angry, scared, and determined. My voice is clear, loud, and unrelenting. There are also echoes, the voices of people who have called me righteous, uppity, and hysterical. They had tried to shut me up with threats and insults, even imploring others to silence me, bystanders who assured me in softer tones that I was overreacting and misinterpreting events.

As I speak out, I do worry that I am upsetting others and misinterpreting events. I worry that my companions might walk away or side with the offenders. These worries are a normal part of the experience of speaking up.

Afterwards, I remain preoccupied by the encounter, reliving the trauma and recalling the contempt directed at me. I can’t eat or sleep properly, and I struggle to relate my feelings to loved ones, a complication that can contribute to my relapse into depression and substance abuse. This too is normal, however disturbing.

Speaking out against injustice is not easy. Feeling empowered is not the same as feeling uplifted. Truth be told, my gut reaction is to walk away. For a queer woman of colour, it is dangerous to speak up–it can readily lead to violence because my humanity is trivialized by predominant messages: women are unequal to men, people of colour are unequal to whites, and queer people are unequal to cis-gendered heterosexuals. I am seen as less than human, and I am more likely to be the victim of a hate crime.

More often than not, I speak up in the moment. I don’t wait for others to take the first stand. I recognize that despite my vulnerability I am one of the bravest people in any room. I have experience on my side: experience recognizing injustice, experience trusting my interpretation, and experience voicing my indignation. While, I might fear retaliation, I still speak up.

Speaking up requires courage, conviction, and privilege. It is the courage to be wrong, to be dismissed, to be demeaned, and to feel uncomfortable. I don’t have to be perfect to stand up to oppression. I don’t need the perfect words or perfect timing. I need to be courageous: to act, to react, and to break the silence that facilitates victimization.

My conviction is founded on equality and equity. Equality is our universal humanity: we are all deserving of equal rights and respect. Equity is about fair treatment in light of present-day conditions and historical injustices. As an example, imagine a family dinner. Everyone has a plate of food; this is equality. Some members are spoon-fed; this is equity. When my conviction waivers, I ground myself in these principles.

My privilege allows me to speak up with less fear of reprisal. I might be insulted, threatened, or assaulted for speaking up but I won’t lose my job, my home, or my support network. In the past, I have been incapacitated as a result of speaking out, and it took time to recover, but I did. Many people don’t have the privilege to speak up but many of us do, and we continue to remain silent.

Silence is the weapon of oppressors, and we all have reasons for remaining silent, but know this: in the vacuum created by silence, predators and bigots thrive. The vulnerable continue to be abused and neglected when we choose to remain silent. This is the cost of silence, and we need to consider this cost. What does our silence say about our priorities and values?

Ashraf wanted me to be silent. I could have left without a word but my silence would have affirmed his behaviour and his friend’s hatemongering. By speaking out, I disabused them of the belief that they could spread hate without fear of recriminations. It was a lesson in consequences. It was an opportunity to prioritize the lives of the vulnerable and marginalized over the dogma of the ignorant and belligerent.

Breaking the silence is a step towards positive social change. It is equality and equity in action, and it is gravely underused by the privileged. Uphold your values through your actions: choose to speak up.

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