Concepts: This is a first draft. There are likely some parts that will come out, get put in and otherwise changes will occur.
Humans, friendship, interaction, perception, shame, communication, boundaries, abuse as perceived and done, power dynamics, bullying, privilege, mental health, intention, mental health resources in Canada
Introduction: How did I get here to be standing in a clown costume about to tell a big room of people a bunch of highly personal things and THEN hopefully have them laugh at me while I do it? Well. It’s a big long tapestry of bullshit and I’ve had the chance, luck and privilege to be able to weave it into something that I am starting to like.
Tragedy and comedy are the highs and lows of life. When we can laugh at the absurdity of all the tragedy around us and within us I believe that we can remove stigma and shame… that we can hopefully find some brevity and common ground in this world where common ground is so hard to achieve.
We all have tragedies in our lives. And at some point, we ALL have to read some bullshit meme about how if you’re experiencing negativity it’s because of all your negative thoughts, you negatory negatron… right at the moment you are going through something that is starting to feel unmanageable. If you’re really lucky, you’ll hear this in person. If your family horseshoes are malfunctioning; you’ll hear it in response to you asking for help with the unmanageable bad feels that you don’t know how to deal with anymore.
It’s not you. The person you asked for help doesn’t know how to deal with them either.
Most people in our society do NOT have a plan for how to deal with negativity. They have a plan for AVOIDING negativity and if that doesn’t work they are fuck out of luck and they shut down their higher empathy and cognitive processes and shunt it onto the first person they can because oh god oh god the bad feels. They are not comfy. I am not those people. I will follow you into the dark. But OH BOY if you aren’t interested in a plan to get OUT of the dark and just want me there to hold my flame in the darkness for you to feel like things might be a bit better… maybe put up some lights. Make it comfy… except it’s the FUCKING DARK and I by all that’s good and green I will leave you there if I have to because I don’t live in the dark anymore. But I’m not afraid of it.
Call out question: Who here was bullied? Expected response: everyone.
So you might think y’all have something in common but really you all have your own experiences of bullying and your own way that you dealt with them. Your experience is different than theirs (point) and their experience is different than that person’s (point) and all y’all’s experience is different than mine. They aren’t better. They aren’t worse. They’re YOURS. But they could be getting in the way of your empathy; because our language is imprecise and our society doesn’t communicate well. We use significant symbols to communicate meaning. The term bullying for example… when I tell someone that I was bullied; more often than not people don’t understand how I could possibly have PTSD because of BULLYING. Because they don’t have the conceptializational ability to figure out what kind of bullying will give you PTSD when they feel they were bullied and they got by just fine.
Reality is hard to deal with for me now because I have mental problems PTSD is the most manageable of the bunch. 😀 I didn’t get here because I started life with a chemical imbalance. I got here because I spent six to eight hours a day, monday to friday, every school day of the year from 1992 to 1999 being so pervasively bullied that my little amygdala was running on overdrive expecting the next time the kids were going to physically put me in the garbage can, or the next time they were going to mob me and mash chewed up candy in my hair. I didn’t have friends as a child, I had people that were sometimes just as mean to me as the bullies were and because I was a little psycho, sometimes I was mean to them too. I wasn’t able of forming authentic relationships as a child because by the time I was nine I was already so traumatized I was a mess.
It never just one kid, it was a big group of seven or so; boys and girls; but that extended into any kid for whatever reason at any time their little lizard brain told them they needed to feel better I was the acceptable kid to be mean to… this includes teachers. If you know me, you know how much I love singing… I didn’t sing in front of another soul from the age of 9 to 13. “A choir teacher will change your life indeed.” So this atmospheric reality bending situation that a school counselor when I was eight literally sat me down and told me I was asking for it all because I was ‘acting like a victim’… All day. Every day. Anyone, Any time. All year. For YEARS.
I have ten thousand hour’s worth of practice in victimization. I’m a master.
And because I’m a master, I also have superpowers. Honest to god superpowers. Need to find something? I’m an expert finder; I notice everything. About to break down? I’m on it and with you because somehow… I can tell. Freaking out? I will talk you right off that ledge because I do it to myself on a regular basis. Need someone to sit with you in the dark and make a plan for how to get out? I got you.
But I have weaknesses too. The crazy; as I like to call it, has always plagued me. I spent twenty six years on this planet thinking I knew who I was and how I operate… and yet .. having these insane problems and though I do have some pretty amazing problem solving skills… when it comes to emotions and feelings I had some debilitating deficiencies that meant I spent twenty six years running around on this earth being absolutely bat crap crazy totally unaware of how crazy I was… and since I’ve just been aware how crazy I am… I’ve not stopped running around. But this is why I don’t trust young people.
This isn’t to say that I think young people are all running around with no idea of who they really are… In fact. I think that young people know the core thread of the truth of who they are inside better than anyone… but what they don’t always know is what they are carrying. Young people come rolling out of high school disorientated and thinking they’re about to be adults and all their time has trained them to be thus. But it’s a LIE! Formalized schooling is the most gaslit institution that I’ve ever experienced and for that matter it’s likely the most gaslit institution YOU’VE ever experienced as well. You take all these kids from inequitable situations because we live in an inequitable society and you tell them they’re equal in that space. Except they aren’t. Because every day they go home and have to deal with whatever inequitable spaces they come from.
My family did the double life like nobody else. Until I realized (when I was twenty fucking six years old) that I viewed home life differently than my younger brother because school was SO bad for me… and that my brother hadn’t had an easy time at school but for him, his most pervasive bully lived at home. I never realized. I always thought my dad had kind of crossed the line a few times with me and moreso with my younger brother… but that he’d always been trying and certainly he could have been worse – But coming to realize that the ‘he could have been worse’ bit was something my dad himself planted there. As he reminded us fairly commonly: he could be beating us with 2x4s. It was a threat and one that he expected good feelings and rewards of being a good father for not following through on.
Now here’s where we mock my father. Because this is a person who complains bitterly about his life and the evils of feminism and how his demonic ex wife has stolen everything he worked for and turned the kids against him. Well. More than once my mom described her husband as the grasshopper who played fiddle all summer … guess who was the ant: my mother, my amazing, wonderful and talented mother. And all this is the most generous perspective informed by the change in my opinions from a teenager that formulated every single world view she had to excuse her father’s piss poor behaviour… because society had not enabled my father to be his best.
My mom pretty much always worked and when she wasn’t working because she’d had a child or lost a job because childcare fell through… she was on welfare. My dad was perpetually lying to welfare to get a single person’s pay when my mom worked enough to put him off of welfare if he’d been honest: welfare being designed to keep people like my dad off but failing to do so… instead keeping everyone who needs it off.
The first job I remember my dad having was having gleefully swindled his way into teaching an afterschool class on inventing to the local high school. Because HE was an INVENTOR. Sadly this job went like his inventions… it was made clear he has no credentials and he was asked to leave… what he invented that first round was actually kind of ingenious… and I really have seen it in the years since. It’s one of those wheels that you screw into the bottom of your cabinet and slide your bagged spices into and then it spins and you can see and store your spices.
Well. My dad saddled it with a bad name, (the space wheel) an ugly prototype and tried to market it himself. Would you buy an ugly white round wheel with triangles of plastic that you slide your spices into? It was functional but gross. I can’t remember if he wasted one of the inheritances we got on that or if he just went into debt and declared bankruptcy that time.
Getting an inheritance when you’re poor is the cruelest irony. Because if you don’t have enough for a down payment on a house and you most likely don’t… but you have enough to kick you off welfare… well. You just try and save that money and use it to better your life poor person. Good luck with that. My family got inheritances three times.
The second time my family got inheritance money my dad had a new invention. And that inheritance was definitely wasted on this paper mousepad glued on four sides that cleans the ball of your mouse so that the ball of your mouse doesn’t get all grungy AND YOU CAN WRITE ON IT. Do we remember mouses that had balls everyone? Well. My dad invented this at the EXACT time that laser mouses came out. Mousepads were not in vogue. And because they weren’t made of recycled paper from the get go because that’s expensive David Suzuki refused to endorse them. But that’s my personal beef with David Suzuki. It wasn’t his job to endorse this cool thing that I’ve definitely seen around these days because they’re so retro but useful… It just would have changed my life maybe.
The second inheritance my parents weren’t on welfare. They were running a cleaning business. Or rather, my mom was doing all the administrative work of getting clients, billing clients and keeping clients that my dad was busy pissing off and getting them fired from. Is it any wonder my mother makes more as a single woman than she did working with my dad?
Well for one, he’s not there to spend her money. My dad loved all the things that upper middle class people do. And he demanded to have them on a welfare wage and then later on a lower middle class wage. At the same time I was struggling in university during their third inheritance that my dad tried to run through but my mom managed to get the down payment for a house together out of… my dad was gloating to his friends about how he liked to spend five hundred dollars a month on whatever he wanted because that’s how much he thought my mom spent on cigarettes. The money came to her. They paid for a semester of school for me one of those years and some of my books. And then after that the money was gone.
During the off times when we didn’t have money to be ‘investing’ in my dad’s piss poor inventions. My dad wanted to be a writer… but he doesn’t read and is very poorly cultured. In this time, he produced a screen play called the producers… failing to realize or care that there IS ALREADY a critically acclaimed screen play called the producers… and he wrote a star trek Christmas special. Which was poorly received. That and he wrote a lot of hate mail.
Who here remembers times before the internet?! I’m raising my hand. But really we just had intermittent internet access because of finances before my dad discovered porn was on them there tubes of interweb. Did anyone else ever go through the files on the computer and just read all the word files? … just me? Well. I told you was weird (alternate answer for a few , Congratulations, you’re my kind of weird).
When my parents homeschooled me for grade six, I read all the hate mail all saved on the computer that my dad wrote to various people, officials, organizations and etc. My favourite started DEAR PIGS. And this is how I developed my trolling skills before trolls were a thing.
But to say that I had a weird childhood is …. Understating it because now I have the crazy. (Maybe she’s born with it) *whisper* Maybe it’s years of inconsistent care from a narcissistic douchewaffle of a father and more years of consistent trauma at schooooooooolllll.
Some brief and un-brief examples of my crazy:
I quit every job I ever had until I was twenty nine years old within three to five months because I had no conceptualization that if I was having a problem at work that it could be fixed by telling someone about it and then having them fix it. This resulted in a resume that does not just lie. It resulted in a resume that RELIES on LIES and or clever misappropriations of the truth.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary… I never thought of myself as an angry person, but I also always knew that I was a really hyped up kid. Reading an old psych evaluation they mentioned an “undercurrent of rage” which I was very surprised by seven years later. I had begun my lifelong love affair with metaphors by the time I was a teenager and I used to describe it like a graph. So there’s nineteen year old Amie explaining what she’s observed, that if everyone on earth has this emotional level and they have spikes and drops into high emotion low emotion…. like so (motioning a like with spikes and drops like a heartbeat) mine looks like a fucking earth quake graph. There’s too much going on inside me for there to be a consistent baseline of emotion.
The back room guys at the book store I worked at used to say I have berserker rage. This was during the great American Canadian dollar parity of ’07 when people thought that if they were just the most massive douche canoes that they could get the books for the American price. Not caring that the book was printed in Canada and the American price is a lie. No sir. You cannot pay the listed American price, the book was printed in Canada and paid Canadian costs to print and the factual price of this book is the Canadian price and that is the price you must pay. Yes. Absolutely complaining to me and refusing to complain to my manager because that would take time for you is going to change the overarching publishing and global finance trends that influence what’s happening here. Totally you’re not doing this so that you can feel better about your stupid life. Right? Right.
I once threw a wet soggy diaper at a teenager. This sounds bad. It wasn’t my diaper. And I was certain it didn’t come from the road which was about thirty five feet away with my shed between the diaper and said road. I was certain it didn’t come from the sweet but nosy elderly neighbor on the other side of the complex… and so I’d long ago at the point of the throwing decided that it came from the young family that just moved in that kept loudly tromping from their door around the side of the house they lived in right behind my fence. They had a stroller and teenagers. So the diaper appeared some time around November? It stayed there all winter as I went to the glass door and gazed upon my yard resentfully. Resenting the diaper. I refused to throw it away. I refused to touch it. I refused to deal with it. I froze.
For me, discovering what I’m feeling, and then using that knowledge to ASK. FOR. APPROPRIATE. HELP. has always been hard but when I was young I was particularly bad at it. What I needed to do was ask my husband at the time to remove the diaper for me. That’s not what I did. Instead… for months. I stared at this diaper and resented it. Then one day in the spring I was staring out at my yard resentfully and lo and behold. There was a flurry of activity in the corner by my back fence. The cloud of dust and general debris flooded into my yard and I saw this teenager face and their little dirty little teenager paws shaking out their vacuum dirt compartment into my yard.
I exploded. Yelling incoherently I slammed my door open; my vision blurred and narrowed until all I saw the diaper, I picked up the diaper… and I threw it at the teenager. There was no stopping me. I was not in control. It being soggy from a winter outside, splattered all over my fence and said teenager who ran away. Then her mother came out spitting mad (rightfully) and denied the diaper came from them, we argued about it until I got it across it could have come from NOWHERE else by referencing the sweet elderly but nosy neighbour and the thirty five feet of space between road and my yard. When that happened she began threatening me (not ready to climb over the fence and fight me) to “watch where I step.” to which I responded, “Try it.” And that’s how my silent summer feud that never had any resolution or further incident began.
And those are just some of the funnier examples. I’ve become periodically convinced that certain people were simply out to use and hurt me when they were not in fact evil abusers… I was just incapable of stating my boundaries. I thought if I needed to state a boundary that it was the end of the world and I had been wronged. And everyone that makes you state your boundaries is EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEVIL. Well… I hurt a lot of good people this way. Because eventually I observed and I grew and I realized that the common thread in me having issues with others and not issues with other others is that the people who had good boundaries with me. Had good experiences with me. The people who had bad boundaries with me were intense… and short friendships where we both ended up hurt with each other. This pattern continued until I realized that predominately I really was the problem.
To then say that everything I know about boundaries and how to set them and communicate them is something I learned intentionally on my own as an adult… is putting it lightly… I didn’t just start with no information… I started with MISINFORMATION, nobody in my family was allowed to have good boundaries. My father ensured that. It’s been a crash course in humanity for the past few years for me and I’m more human now than I ever was before.
But I exist within this dominant society that is … objectively terrible. Its inequitable and the cards it dealt me out were different than the cards it tells me it handed me. We all get told as children “you can be anything” but really they aren’t talking to everyone in the room. Don’t get me wrong. Everyone has a bright future… some of us just have more work to do to get there. And that second portion is what we don’t talk about, acknowledge or WARN PEOPLE about.
We do celebrate it… but only after the successful person has succeeded. Because… our society can’t deal with negativity. We don’t honor the struggle, and we do honor other people’s right to treat their kids and their wives and their husbands pretty much HOWEVER THEY WANT.
I like to say we don’t live in a rape culture, we live in an abuse culture wherein rape is a subsection of that. Where your specific situational placement in society dictates to whom you may be abusive. In our society, there’s a whole set of more or less generally accepted situations where people can shunt their bad feels onto another human. I know this in my soul because I grew up watching my father explode in rage and intimidation on random people. The service desk, because he broke the TV he wants to return and knows if he yells enough he can get it returned. Cashiers, for the grave sin of asking his postal code because their boss makes them. Specifically only the flight attendants he thought were pretty while he was decent to the ‘ugly ones’. The park ranger; because we sailed onto the beach and didn’t see the no fires sign that he wants to alert us to. Telemarketers; when they were a thing, for daring to be a telemarketer. My mom’s bank; because he thought they were a telemarketer. Tech support (which I took over calling when I was twelve or thirteen). And so on and so on. In the situations where he overstepped his placement within the abuse culture that we live in… the cops got called.
Let’s do a call out. After you hear the question just call right out with the number that your SOUL says is the acceptable number of events where your father either has an altercation with the police or the police get called on your father in your presence?
- I tricked you. The acceptable answer is “any”. But as you all identified we kind of aiming for a lower number. I’m pretty sure my dad didn’t look at me in his arms as a newborn and say to me “aww sweet baby girl, I’m gonna put you in fucked up situations your ENTIRE LIFE.” But he did. And so I’m here, a weirdly intense child come weirdly intense adult standing in a clown costume on a stage talking about personal shit to strangers.
I used to hold onto the idea that I had never seen the back of a cop car proudly in my soul. Until I ran afoul of the ‘we don’t be crazy to governmental officials who are telling us how insignificant our insurmountable problems are’ rule… and the cops got called on me: I got apprehended under the mental health act which gives police officers the ability to truck crazy people into the psych ward. Which is where I really needed to be.
While I don’t think that the resources of an ambulance (deserve to be considered an emergency service!) should have been wasted on me. I do feel it says something about mental health resources in Canada. Because in the psych ward, I thoroughly explained to the social worker there that my problems were most exacerbated by the fact I was perpetually almost homeless because I could never work enough to pay rent AND food (luxuries) and all she could tell me was that everything I was doing to was the right things and even if they were slow and appointments take me over a month to get that I was doing everything right. She told me that she hoped I lived… and that there was nothing that she could do for me.
I mentioned that I am privileged wayyyyyy back in the beginning. Let’s just have a collective laugh about privilege, because its something WE DON’T DO as a society. AHAHAHHAHAHAHAHA, privilege. But I am privileged. Insanely insanely privileged to be here on a stage talking to you folks rather than outside downtown asking for change. Both these futures were possible for me. THIS one … took a lot of luck. A lot of smarts. A lot of personal connections that other people might not have been able to make.
But really, here comes the tragedy: we don’t tend to use privilege as a tool to introspect and calculate our resources intentionally or to understand the world… we use it to talk about OTHER people’s lives. Which negates the power of the concept completely. Privilege is not ‘you gained something because you didn’t work for it’ Its “you never had to play the bad cards you had dealt to you and were allowed to play your good cards.” It’s not denying that you worked hard. It’s saying your hard work WORKED FOR YOU. It’s saying that you found yourself in positions from which you were ABLE to play the good cards you were dealt and have them work for you. In the card analogy, disadvantage is like having to put good cards in your opponent’s crib and then having your play fail when the cut card does nothing for you. The metaphor falls apart when we remember the card analogy isn’t about cribbage but privilege is not about what you GET. It’s about disproportionate consequences.
If I had only known how thin the tightrope was, how much I was carrying and how little my legs worked to be unicycling on a highwire from my childhood to what I thought was a bright future… I certainly never would have let my divorce go the way it did. The couple privilege I experienced for years was the most intense form of delusion. My poor expartner. He came from a family with no abuse and wanted to marry someone who was abused. Well. Hurt people hurt people. Part of what informed my negative opinion of my father is that I went through five years of treating my partner like crap sometimes and having to introspect and figure out why I thought it was acceptable. And I realized I had a choice and changed my behaviours. I did what my father couldn’t/wouldn’t. I came to the decision that I was abusive to my partner after we broke up and we never have talked about it but I suspect he is doing well and wish him all the happiness. How could he have known I wasn’t human yet?
Now that I understand (distinct from knowing) how bad it really was… I can hold my hand of cards to my chest and say honor it and say “wow… despite all these shitty ass cards, I’m still living what I think is the best life that I had access to… and because I have these shitty ass cards I can understand other people who are living them and I can stand and represent and say it could have been me and USE my privilege fight for them.