Catherine Vernon-Diamond, Andrea Howick and I discuss the benefits of introducing sex education as part of a mandatory school curriculum:
This week, the NFL and the CFL have announced they will introduce a new sideline concussion test this season. The NFL was founded 1922. The CFL had its genesis as the Canadian Rugby Football Union in 1884.
These sports have been around for more than a century. Finally, with a not-so-delicate push by documentaries such as League of Denial and lawsuits brought by former players suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., professional sports organizations are beginning to admit what they don't know about concussions.
Now, children should hope there is a trickle-down effect to coaches, and especially parents.
I suffered a concussion at the age of 12. I regained cognitive function while standing in my living room, unable to explain the scrapes down the right side of my body.
I had apparently been in a bicycle accident. After spending 24 hours in a hospital observation room—being awoken every hour—I returned home, and resumed my regular sporting activities a short while later.
That course of treatment could have killed me.
It would not really have been anybody's fault. Little was understood about concussions in 1984, or 1994, or even 2004.
But, in 2015, there are fewer and fewer excuses for coaches, doctors, trainers, and parents to rely on when they send an athlete back onto the field after they've suffered a head injury, as minor as it may seem at the time.
Knowing that, there will still be young hockey, rugby, and football players (three of the most violent sports as far as concussions are concerned) who will be told to "Man up!" or to "Get back out there!" because "Everybody gets hit; it's part of the game."
John Boulay is a certified athletic therapist, a part-time professor at Concordia University's Department of Exercise Science and Athletic Therapy, and teaches Advanced Emergency Care in Sports.
He is also part of an provincial body studying concussions.
His first suggestion, even before I began the interview, was to post this great YouTube concussion primer, put together by Doctor Mike Evans:
Mr. Boulay emphasizes how difficult it is to diagnose a concussion, especially for parents. The real problem is, if you aren't careful, you could be ignoring a dangerous situation.
As hard as it may be, it cannot be left up to (parents) to decide when our children are free to return to the field.
Why? Because a concussion hides a potential life-threatening entity.
Somebody hits their head, and they have all these concussion signs. Is it a concussion? We’re not sure, we’ll tell you in one week if it was.
If you survive the next 20 or 30 minutes, you’re okay.
The next timeline is the next 3 to 4 hours; you’re okay.
The next 24 hours? You’re okay.
This continues for up to 4 to 5 to 6 days.
These guidelines, he mentions, are in place for anyone, over the age of 25.
For anyone younger than that, the wait period extends to two weeks because the frontal area of the brain only matures between the ages of 20 and 30.
It is imperative that parents and coaches are able to identify the signs and symptoms of a concussion in children.
There are 22 of them:
- Headache - Nausea
- Balance Problems - Dizziness
- Fatigue - Sleep more than usual
- Drowsiness - Sensitivity to Light
- Sensitivity to Noise - Irritability
- Sadness - Nervousness
- Feeling more Emotional - Feeling slowed down
- Feeling "foggy" - Difficulty Concentrating
- Difficulty Remembering - Visual Problems
- Getting confused - Clumsy
- Answering questions more slowly.
Of course, John Boulay explains, it's important to understand how these symptoms compare to your child's baseline behavior. If your son or daughter normally gets headaches in a moving car, or has a habit of being a little clumsy, you would look for these signs to be worse than usual.
So, you child gets tackled heavily, or is the recipient of some other form of head trauma on the field, and they exhibits any of these signs or symptoms for only a day or two, Boulay warns against shrugging it off and saying "Oh, they're fine. They can play again on Sunday."
Your job as a parent is to recognize these signs and symptoms of a concussion. If they abide within 15 minutes, don’t worry about it (they don't need to go to a hospital). But they’re still off for two weeks. Even if he’s fine after 15 minutes.
We don’t know if it’s an evolving catastrophe or not. And we don’t know if those symptoms are going to pile onto each other.
The new protocol is to have an asymptomatic week, and it is now "Return to Learn" before "Return to Play".
"Return to Learn" is a return to cognitive function. (After one week) you have to be able to read, you have to be able to focus, you have to able to do homework assignments, and exams (symptom free).
There’s another phenomenon, which is outside the concussion realm, it’s called “Second Impact Syndrome.”
It’s not a bleed, because bleeds are what we usually die of. You don’t die from a concussion, except for this rare phenomenon.
What happens is, when a child hits their head a second time while they still have symptoms, there is a great amount of swelling to the point where it’s pushing so hard it’s herniating the brain and causing extreme congestion….intracranial pressure.
The second impact only happens if you play with symptoms.
IGNORING THE SYMPTOMS, OR HIDING THEM FROM PARENTS OR COACHES CAN BE FATAL
I’ve been a therapist at judo camp for 22 years. In my 22 years we’ve had 2 deaths—a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old—exactly for the reason I’m talking about. Not a second impact, but rather going back and not being monitored. The 16-year-old in Manitoba hit his head, told his parents, but never told the coach. He went back, hit his head again two days later and died. An epidural bleed.
The second one, in Alma, Quebec in 1997, hit his head, told his parents, but never told the coach. He went back. He didn’t hit his head again, he just started jogging to warm up for judo, and the clot dislodged and he died.
In those two cases, if they had been withheld, they would have been alive. So that’s why we only know after a week.
It used to be, since 2001, a six to seven day layoff. As of last year, more literature is coming, it’s changing all the time. It’s now two weeks for anyone under 25-years-old. One week "Return to Learn" before "Return to Play."
If the symptoms continue to worsen within the first fifteen minutes, or the child vomits three times within the first twenty-four hours, he or she should be taken to the hospital.
Otherwise, they can be kept at home, and monitored. But, even how parents should monitor their child has evolved. No more waking them up every hour or two overnight.
At the time of injury, you take the signs and symptoms. If they’re okay 2 or 3 hours later, they’re probably okay to go to bed. Two hours later you go and see that they’re okay, that they’re not seizing, that they don’t have one eye open. Or, if they’re awake, you’ll know why they don’t feel well the next day; because they didn’t sleep well all night.
For now, you leave them be, you go and check on them in two hours, and then you go and check on them in four hours.
Then 24, 48, and 72 hours. It takes six or seven days to find the evolution. What you want is to see the symptoms (improving). If they’re not doing well, then you have to get yourself to a concussion clinic.
BUT WHAT ABOUT PARENTS WHO SAY, "BUT LOOK AT HIM, HE'S FINE!"
There’s two things. If he has active symptoms, he could dislodge a clot; he could recommence a bleed. So you can have an acute evolving catastrophe. Or you’re adding more sub-concussive hits to an already accumulating problem. After they’ve had two or three in a row, it doesn’t take much; the threshold decreases. The next hit they have, instead of having a little concussion, they’re going to have a big one, and this can throw a kid’s life out of whack for weeks, for months, for years.
DO HELMETS PREVENT CONCUSSIONS?
Helmets can help reduce the impact, but there is no helmet that will help reduce the incidents of a concussions. You can still get skull fractures, too. If you're skiing at 30 km/h and hit a tree (with a helmet), you’re going to get a concussion. Maybe it helps with a reduction, but is won’t prevent it 100%. With the mechanisms of injury, you don’t have to hit your helmet; you can hit your chin, you can fall on your buttocks. It’s the brain hitting against the inside of its cell.
John mentions a frightening statistic: two out of three concussions are not properly diagnosed and treated. Which means those children are returning to play before their brains have healed.
It's one thing to be your child's cheerleader, it's another to push them past the point of what is safe and logical.
Listen, concussions happen. We’re not going to put the kids in a padded room. Play rugby, and football, and all that. But, play by the rules. And the rules are: you cross the line, you’re out. You have concussion signs? You’re out for two weeks. It’s only 2 weeks! It’s only a game.
Especially elite athletes. Why are they going to school? You want to leave with a degree, right? You want to leave with more intelligence than you came in with.
It is not worth it. I’ve worked at the professional and the Olympic level. I will pull my kid out. It’s an Olympic Games? I don’t care. People will look at me, “You can’t. This is so important.” I’m the advocate for the kid, I should protect the kid; I should be sued if I don’t do that.
Parents should be even more careful than I am.
What role should the federal government have in child care?
There is a constant debate between putting in place a structure of affordable daycare versus providing funds directly to parents (read: baby bonus, family allowance, etc).
Stephen Harper's conservative government has opted for the latter.
The Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) will send monthly cheques to all Canadian families for each child under the age 18.
For any family who had registered for the program prior to May 15th 2015, the first cheques will arrive in July; those families who register after that date will have an appropriate delay in receiving their payments.
The first cheques will include payments retroactive to January 1st 2015.
For each child ages newborn to 6-years-old, the monthly allowance will be $160.00. For 6-to-17-year-olds, the monthly payment will be $60.00.
As of today (May 17th, 2015), the federal government claims 200,000 eligible families are still not registered to receive the payment.
If you have not yet applied for the benefit (and have one or more children under 18-years-of-age) you can register online at www.canada.ca/taxsavings.
The program is not without its critics.
One of those criticisms is that, since the plan—and the amount of the payouts—is universal regardless of a family's income, a family earning millions will receive the same contributions as one earning in the five-figure range.
On Friday, I spoke with Pierre Poilievre, Minister of Employment and Social Development and asked him about millionaires receiving equal benefits as a family struggling to make ends meet:
The Universal Child Care Benefit helps 100% of families with kids. It gives them almost $2,000.00 a year for kids under 6 and $720.00 for kids 6 through 17. Now, the point is, it’s universal. Everyone gets it. Regardless of what you make, or the child care you choose, you get the money. The Liberals and the NDP would take away the Child Care Benefit, and even after they do that, they have billions of dollars in shortfall in their own plans. So the message is, with our approach, people know what they get and they can count on it, regardless of their income or the choices they make in child care.
As far as the cost of the program to the federal government (about $1.1 billion in 2014-15 and $4.4 billion in 2015-16), Minister Poilievre says the money will come directly from the general revenues of the Government of Canada. These funds, he says, are available thanks to the Prime Minister's balanced budget.
I also asked him specifically to comment on a common point of view held by residents of Quebec—my home province. In Quebec, we have a "Universal Daycare" program. The daily cost of the program to parents is anywhere from $7.30 per child for a family earning $100,000 or less, up to a maximum rate of $20.00 per child if the family income is greater than $150,000.
This new sliding scale, instituted by our provincial government, has been scorned by many middle-income earners. However, the real challenge of the program was—and still is—a lack of space and a waiting list which can be as long as two years or more.
I asked Minister Poilievre about the decision to use government funds in the form of cheques sent directly to parents versus using that money to create more daycare spaces:
If we put all the money into government run license daycare spaces, that would exclude about 90% of families. If you have a stay-at-home parent, you get nothing; if you have a grandparent who takes care of the kids, you get nothing; if you have a neighborhood family, you get nothing; if you rely on a private daycare, you get nothing. So the approach of putting all the money into government run license daycare would exclude at least 90% of families. The other thing I would point out is, the Liberal Party promised for 13 years that they would create such a program nationally; they spent billions on it and it didn’t create a single daycare space. All the money was vaporized by bureaucracy, researchers and lobbyists. None of it actually delivered daycare spaces. Even if people want a licensed daycare, the chances that the Government will produce it by the time their kids are still young enough to benefit are next to none. The simplest, easiest way is to put the money in the mail and send it to the parent.
One motivation for our provincial government to provide relatively inexpensive daycare is that it encourages both parents to return to the workforce, thereby generating more taxable income. When asked whether the UCCB will instead encourage one parent to stay home with their child to the potential detriment of government coffers, he said:
Any politician that wants to make child care policy that can maximize how much money the government can take out of people’s pockets deserves to be defeated. I think we should let parents make child care choices in the interests of their children, not in the interest of the taxman.
Minister Poilievre insisted the timing of this program's rollout was not done intentionally to coincide with Canada's federal election in October, but rather he insists this was only now possible due to the balanced budget.
When asked whether the program was contingent on the Conservatives being re-elected:
Yes. The Liberals have said they would take away the UCCB. They would cancel it and spend it on a child care bureaucracy, so the only way that these child care payments would continue is with a re-elected Conservative majority.
Note: The Liberal Party, as well as the NDP, were contacted and given an opportunity to react to these statements. Comments from both parties should be forthcoming and will be published in this space.
During the first part of my conversation with Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas, psychologist and CEO & co-founder of the Carson J. Spencer Foundation (CarsonJSpencer.org), we discussed the support systems fail men who are at risk of taking their own lives.
One of the many reasons these victims of often undiagnosed mental illness continue to suffer is because they fail to feel a connection with available resources. They are worried that if they call a 1-800 number provided to them through work (if they're lucky enough to have an employer who provides one) they will be met with the same skepticism they encounter when they discuss their feelings of frustration, fatigue, and anger with their social circle.
Dr. Spencer-Thomas and her organisation have taken the unusual step of surveying members of high-risk categories (working-age males in high-stress jobs who suffer from an undiagnosed mental illness) about what they feel is lacking from conventional treatment options.
We asked a number of men that we considered double jeopardy men - men with a number of risk factors who were not going to seek care on their own - what would work for them; what would reach them?
What they told us they wanted was humor.
There was certainly evidence from some other campaigns that used humor to touch some of the social barriers around difficult topics. A number of men had told us that dark humor is the way we get around a lot of difficult things. We tried to strike a balance of how to make it fun, but not offending.
The foundation needed a vehicle which would be taken seriously. But they also needed a portal which was welcoming; one which users could share with friends who would understand the appeal of seeking help from this interface in the first place.
Naturally, the challenge was to create a resource which could integrate humor into therapy offered for such distressing conditions as bi-polar disorder and depression.
The Carson J. Spencer Foundation teamed up with the Colorado Department of Health & Environment and Cactus - an ad agency in Denver - to create ManTherapy.org
They created a character called Dr. Rich Mahogany. He is a man who talks about mental health in a way that our double-jeopardy men can relate to, and they pass it on to each other. It really takes the things that we know about mental health and translates them to a tone and a language and a format that can reach these men who can be very challenging to find and to benefit.
At ManTherapy.org's homepage, the actor portraying Dr. Mahogany brings an immediate grin to the face of any web-surfer. He is a robust character; that next-door-neighbor type who never misses a chance to yell "Good Morning!" to you in his boxer shorts as you hurriedly scramble to your car in the morning, while also being the kind of guy you could pass hours with sitting on your front porch.
What is also notable on the homepage are the buttons which let you instantly - and anonymously - access the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) as well as the Veteran's Crisis Line.
Rich will also guide you to information on "Gentlemental Health" and Man FAQ's about Depression, Anxiety, Anger & Rage, and Substance Abuse.
But Dr. Mahogany's real goal is to encourage men to dig a little deeper.
When you get to ManTherapy.org, Dr. Mahogany welcomes you in, and you can fill out an 18-point header section, which is based on actual standardized tools for screening depression, anger, and anxiety which quickly evaluates for the person taking it - how bad is it? Most of the people who access the online tool are people who need help in that moment but a lot of the time it’s the people surrounding them who are worried about them, and we also encourage them to take this training tool.
Even the questionnaire is created with humor. The header above the first question "Tell Me About Your Sleep Habits" reads: "Did you know koalas sleep eighteen hours a day? Lazy Bastards."
Who wouldn't want to move on the next question?
Once the eighteen multiple-choice questions have been answered (it took me less than ten minutes), Dr. Mahogany gives you a quick oral evaluation - speaking to you directly. The screen then reveals an official piece of paper (I know it is one, because it says "Official Piece of Paper" at the top) which can be printed. This contains a written evaluation as well as a percentage score in several key categories. It also immediately provides links for support (there is also a free search function to access a therapist near you). The idea is, Dr. Spencer-Thomas explained, that people will print this report and use it as a tool if they decide to seek help from an outside source. The site has been a tremendous success, but it has also highlighted how great the need is for support of this type.
We’ve had almost 500,000 people visit the website. The average time spent on the site is 6 minutes, which is an eternity.
Our organization has been doing quite a bit of work with the first responder community and fire fighters and law enforcement. Obviously they’re not all men, but the vast majority are men. They have been asking “Can we have a fire service version of this, or a police version of this?” Also, with the veterans' community, they’re looking for more of a warrior angle, because soldiers have specific needs.
So we are looking for additional funding which will target those specific populations. When we did our evaluations after the first 18 months, we asked people "What would you change? What is your favorite thing?" They said “We want more. Can you make one for gay men? Can you make one for women?” And we answer them by saying "Sure! Can you help us find some funding?"
Where healthcare is concerned, financing is always a challenge. However, specifically when talking about the challenges of dealing with mental health, stigma may still be the greatest obstacle.
Too often people who suffer from depression or bi-polar disorder are left to wrestle their own demons and turn to self-medication through drugs or alcohol.
Dr. Rich Mahogany is a welcome resource with a patient ear and an encouraging voice. One can only hope he can become an example for the individuals, families and friends of those who feel they have nowhere to turn.
He was coming home from his shift...sitting at this crossroads, ready to say goodbye to the world.
He said “Before I go, I’m just going to kiss my daughter goodbye one last time." So he went into her room and he kissed her, and he said “I can’t do this to her.”
He told me this a few years later: "She would never know what she did to my life in that moment."
Sally Spencer-Thomas is a psychologist, and CEO and co-founder of the Carson J. Spencer Foundation (CarsonJSpencer.org) - a non-profit organization which "works to prevent suicide using innovative methods to address root causes of suicide in schools, homes, and businesses. The Foundation also assists those coping with the pain and grief resulting from the death by suicide of their family, friends, or co-workers."
That opening anecdote was true recollection from a police officer - a typical representative of a group with an elevated risk for committing suicide.
Sally's brother was another member of that group, until he took his own life in 2004 after a losing battle with bi-polar disorder.
He was 34-years-old.
I originally contacted Sally because I was interested in writing an article about teenage suicide prevention. Our conversation followed the same course as her research had years earlier:
If you had asked me 10 years ago "Who is the primary person who wants to take their life?" I would have said high risk teens. But, in fact, they're people just like my brother: a working-age male with a diagnosable mental health condition.
Diagnosable. That is an important word. It implies that a condition is treatable, or even preventable. But - unlike a rash or a broken limb - depression, bi-polar disorder, or anxiety do not make themselves visible. They fester within the mind of their victim, gradually altering that person's perception of themselves, of the people around them, and of their ability to deal with day-to-day living.
For a mental health disorder to be treated, it must be acknowledged and accepted. Then it's victim must feel secure in asking for help, and their support system must be open-minded enough to accept what for many people is an uncomfortable reality - someone they love is in distress.
Unfortunately, as Dr. Spencer-Thomas explains, working-age males are conditioned to believe that cries for help are unacceptable.
(They) have been told from very early ages about how to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and be strong; it really can be quite a fatal trajectory for men. There are a lot of reasons from a conditioning standpoint why men are taught to be the strong ones, be the ones that people rely on. There are a whole host of barriers here. Reaching out to strangers seems desperate for men, and they just don’t have a lot of benchmarks or blueprints to help them. It can feel very intimidating, with very little evidence that there is going to be a return on the investment if they are bold and brave in that situation.
Like most people who suffer quietly from a mental illness - such as depression - outsiders are often of the opinion that these people are simply lazy, or attention-seeking. Consequently, that person withdraws even further and continues to deteriorate. Dr. Spencer-Thomas explains that this pattern leads to a loss of connection with those most important to them, which can ultimately prove fatal. This is especially true for men who, through divorce or loss of employment, begin to lose connections within their community, or even within their own families.
There are a number of psychological qualities that increase risk for men, and one of them is about belongingness.
All of those transitions can be very very challenging for everybody. But...men traditionally do not have a strong, in depth network built around them where they can be vulnerable and get support when they need it. When they lose these primary relationships, its hits men harder. So when men are experiencing transitions where they are losing connection, or when they’re losing purpose and meaning in their lives, they’re at risk.
For most people, the downturn of losing a job, or becoming separating from their spouse, or relocating to another city without a strong sense of connection to that new community can be a formidable obstacle, but not insurmountable.
However, with the added burden of an undiagnosed mental illness, the stress can deteriorate into thoughts of suicide. Unfortunately, suicide itself has a stigma. It is perceived as an act of cowardice. This perception is now being turned on its head. This is in large part due to the research related to "Burdensomeness", being done by Dr. Thomas Joiner - a professor of psychology at Florida State University. Sally Spencer-Thomas continued:
He found that a lot of the common risk paths really related to people feeling like they have become a burden to people who love them. So their thinking is: their death becomes (more valuable) to the people who love them than their life is; that they’re doing these people a service; that these people would be better off if they were not there. To most people this is absolutely twisted thinking, but this is also what depression does to the brain when people get completely overwhelmed and the brain isn’t able to generate a solution or see help in any way. People get a strong sense that their lives have lost meaning; that the world will move on just fine without them.
The combination of men not having a strong support system, while also being conditioned to hide psychological weakness, has a tragic consequence. Even the men who do seek help, are unwilling to share that experience with others, leaving each person believing they are unique and alone in their suffering.
Education and understanding from those closest to person suffering is vital. Most often, the warning signs are misconstrued:
A lot of people think “Maybe they’re just having a bad day.” and that’s simply not true. We really need to prepare family, friends and co-workers on what these fine points are. Usually there is some kind of mood disorder that comes in initially. A lot of times it’s self-loathing and withdrawal. There will be anger; a lot of disconnect from responsibilities; withdrawal and alcohol abuse...a passive way of coping, a real sense of giving up. They rarely come out and address these as “I’m going to kill myself." or "Why am I here?" It tends to be very subtle. They are actually shouting from a mountain top that they’re not OK, but they’re (outwardly) so subtle.
Dr. Spencer-Thomas, however, has slowly begun to re-think and revolutionize how support and treatment for men suffering from mental health issues are made available.
Through her research she discovered there is a common theme men do respond to when investigating possible therapies: humor.
In part two of this two-part discussion, I will talk with Sally Spencer-Thomas about her Man Therapy Program. This unique online portal is an anonymous, welcoming, and invigorated resource aimed at men who for too long felt they were running out of options.
The following is a fictional short story I submitted for the Quebec Writers' Federation Short Story Competition. Apparently, it made the first cut but did not qualify among the ten finalist. Following my story's elimination from competition, I was struck by two ideas: 1) Brene Brown and the idea of Daring Greatly, and 2) Remembering I began a blog specifically for the freedom to publish what I want, when I want. So, here is the submission.
Thank you for reading.
The pill was on the table’s centre dot. The red dot. It was fifteen dots from the left edge, fifteen dots from the right, fifteen from the bottom, fifteen from the top.
The table itself was twenty-two inches square. She measured it each Wednesday at 6pm before setting her dinner plate upon it.
Other than the fifty-seven blue dots - and the one red one - the table was featureless white melamine, supported by hollow reflective aluminum legs.
The table was not identified as being the product of any particular manufacturer.
Unlike the table, the pill was identified.
The ‘C’ began at the pill’s eight o’clock position and continued to spell the drug’s brand name along its circumference until coming to an end with the second ‘L’ at the four o’clock position.
It was small – one hundred milligrams worth.
She had taken two others that day, as she had done for the past twenty-two years, four months and thirteen days. One at 6am, another at 2pm, and her final daily dose at 10pm. A twenty-four hour day, equally divided into three by one-hundred milligrams worth of anti-psychotic.
It was her 10pm dose which currently covered most of the table’s only red dot. Eight hours earlier, she had swallowed the last chalky, white, stale pill she ever intended to digest.
It was 9:58pm. Once the green colon, which separated the hours from the minutes on her clock radio, blinked eighty-one more times, it would be 10:01pm; she would officially be overdue for her meds. And overdue she would stay.
Cheryl was diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was twenty-four. Symptoms began tapping her shoulder and sharing her space when she was sixteen.
The first apparition was that of an odd reflection in her bedroom window.
The reflection was a man’s face. He was old. His hair was grey and thin, reaching unevenly over his ears and gradually disappearing from his crown. His left eye was blue, his right was black.
His whispered to her, this man reflecting outside her second story window.
“You will visit.” He said.
“Visit where?” She whispered in return, aware she was not alone in the house and could be overheard through her thin walls.
“Far.” He answered.
“I don’t understand.” She tilted her head and squinted as she strained not only to hear, but also as much to understand, his message.
“Far. He repeated, and then the image faded.
She stood mesmerized for a short while, and then became distracted by the accumulation of dust on her baseboard heater. She removed the can of Lysol from its shelf, and, using the rag which had dried nicely since yesterday’s cleaning, proceeded to remove the tenacious lint.
That was the first of many visits from the old man, and he was the first of many visitors.
He, in particular, seemed content to speak to her through her window at night.
His voiced pierced even through the worst of the regular screaming emanating from her parents’ bedroom, which shared a wall with her own. He would sometimes come to her before their conflicts, often during, and occasionally only once there were no sounds to be heard other than a door slamming or silent sobbing.
Cheryl enjoyed the man’s company.
This was not the case with all those who visited her.
Marsha’s voice became more persistent as Cheryl attempted to remain focused on her twelfth grade English lectures. Marsha couldn’t bear the classroom boredom and would taunt Cheryl relentlessly. Eventually, Cheryl spent those fifty-minute periods on a bench facing a monument in the park across the street from the school.
Michael only spoke to her at night.
He tormented her with abstract questions she did not understand and was therefore unable to answer:
“Where are they?” Where are who!?
“Why don’t you go there?” Where??
“We are too old…” Who is? Too old for what?
Cheryl eventually became fearful of overnight hours, relying on caffeine pills and network reruns of old films to accompany her until morning.
Her fifty-minute mediation sessions on the park bench eventually became afternoons asleep in a nearby field.
Torrence finally broke her.
He would not only inhabit her thoughts, but somehow had the ability to assume the form of objects as she passed them – a fire hydrant which seemed to turn towards her as she passed; a tree branched which protested as she ducked under it; an orange and black sandwich board at a construction site which screamed “Not here!!” just prior to falling in her path.
Eventually, she found no peace. Between her parents’ relentless conflicts and the bombardment of suggestions and commandments being hurled at her elsewhere, Cheryl imploded.
It was then she resorted to what everyone now refers to as “The Attempt”.
She remembered nothing of it.
There was no recollection of the ambulance; or the tubes; or the chalk in her stomach.
All she understood now was the fog she has been in since “The Attempt.”
People addressed her differently now…and much more infrequently.
It was just as well, since she was so consistently tired.
The Old Man, and Marsha, and Michael, and Torrence were all gone now. Along with them went anything else that was at one time vivid: her friends’ voices, music from her record player, and her will to engage.
She still slept during the day, in a recliner which felt more comfortable than her bed. She didn’t know whether nighttime wakefulness was the result of a habit formed years earlier - before The Attempt - or a side effect of her new body chemistry created thanks to Abilify, and then Geodon, and finally Clorazil.
All these pills.
No more voices. Only a quiet fog, and a two dozen extra pounds, and a small apartment with a melamine table.
She was hardly ever disturbed by anyone anymore. Her mother called her every other day.
“How are you?” She would ask. “Just hope you’re doing well.” No more Attempts. Right?
Her father followed up the first week of every month; Cheryl was convinced turning the page on his calendar reminded him they hadn’t spoken.
“Hi.” He would always being. “Just calling to say hi…” Please, no more Attempts.
Most others avoided her, which was fine.
She didn’t mind the lack of attention, and didn’t care to answer banal questions.
Alone for nearly two decades, there was only one thing she missed; the voices.
They had left her before she had really understood them.
What became of Torrence after her Attempt?
Was he speaking to others?
Was Marsha still occupying the back row of her old 12th grade classroom?
Cheryl was curious.
With the spoon in her right hand, she pressed down on the Clorazil tablet.
She slowly increased the pressure until in crushed.
She inhaled deeply, and blew the anti-psychotic dust off the table, watching it scatter among the dust particles within her small living room.
Then, she waited.
Not for the phone to ring.
Not for her friends to knock on her door.
But rather for those voices to provide some company once again.
She waited for someone to talk to.
Now a graduate of the programme, Xiaoyang Luo completed her thesis "Organisational Factors Impacting Fathers’ Use of Parental Benefits in Canada". Some of those conclusions have been summarized in this article she wrote for the Vancouver Sun.
It is another set of findings which further support what more and more dads are accepting as fact: an involved father enriches his children's lives and also builds a stronger relationship with the other parent.
The article also discusses the importance of employers accepting the merits of flexible paternity leave. The full thesis is available here: Organisational factors impacting fathers' use of parental benefits in Canada
READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE:
Tags: canada, canadian fathers, fatherhood, Kenny Bodanis, men get pregnant too, mengetpregnanttoo, parental leave, paternity leave, sfu, simon fraser university, study, survey, Xiaoyang Luo
I'm often amazed how one week parents are thrilled to be nearing the end of the school year grind, yet a few days later they express worry about an overbooked summer.
On yesterday's appearance on City TV's Breakfast Television, I talk with Joanne Vrakas about how parents can, with their kids help, keep control of their summer schedule, as well as their sanity:
Tags: breakfast television, city tv, daddy blog, Kenny Bodanis, MenGetPregnantToo, parenting, parenting blog, sports, stress, summer activities, summer schedules