…I’m really depressed. Yeah, that’s about it. Yes, it’s taken me several months to get around to writing this, and sorry for any sloppiness because I’m just dashing this off before going to Tim Horton’s because the faint hope of winning a free coffee is the only thing that can get me out of the house today.
In Desmond Cole’s story on the City staff report on homelessness, he concludes,
Toronto’s shelter system was never designed to meet the needs it now struggles to address. According to the report, shelters now sometimes serve as permanent or semi-permanent housing for people who should ideally be in some form of assisted-living housing.
And it occurred to me, not for the first time, that this is a defining feature of our poverty infrastructure, a. k. a. the social safety net. Homeless shelters, food banks, and distress lines were only ever meant to be emergency measures. But all of these services have regular users because there is nothing else there to meet people’s basic needs. Instead of permanent affordable housing, people use shelters. Rent is so high that people are chronically unable to afford food, so they rely on food banks. Because adequate preventative mental health care is inaccessible, they call the distress line number posted up by the Bloor Street viaduct for suicidal jumpers.
It is a strained and unsustainable system that various levels of government, which ostensibly want to wipe out poverty, are slowly divesting themselves of, and “downloading” to private enterprises or individuals.
We have essentially refused to hire family doctors, and if anyone gets sick there is no help until you are in such critical condition you need to go to the emergency room. And because the emergency room is only designed to get you out of emergencies, no one will help you get healthy enough so that you don’t need a doctor at all.
You may now return to your regularly scheduled wankery about transit funding. Good night.
1 p. m., downtown Tim Hortons
Drizzly with a high in the teens(!). Picked this day to take the bike, without a jacket or umbrella of course…I will be absolutely soaked. Ah well…
Nervous because I went back for a follow-up dentist appointment and they think the tooth has a fracture and that’s what’s irritating the bone and the (periodont?). So sending me to Grad Endo to see what can be done. I really can’t afford a root canal. Will probably end up having the damn thing extracted. Then getting a night guard!
] Think de Beauvoir and Sartre. Probably why I will end up as a lone cat lady!
Budget process, too. Fills me with despair, a kind of visceral fear that I’m not sure my fellow wonks “get”. I suppose they rely on fewer public services. Transit mostly.
Also because, I think, of the extra $[ ] last month, they say my OW is temporarily cut off. (For how long? How do I get on Trillium? How much do my drugs cost out of pocket? Too many unanswered questions.) To finally get a chunk of change that could substantially improve my life — and then to have to spend it on dental work — it’s right out of a Yiddish curse. No wonder I grind my teeth.
Pat Capponi, Upstairs in the Crazy House (1992)
A memoir of the author’s post-institutionalized life in one of Parkdale’s infamous boarding houses, with flashbacks to her abusive childhood and the roots of her depression. She chronicles poverty, fleas, abandonment, addiction, and the determination to assert one’s humanity in the face of a system bent on denying it.
Capponi has since become a prominent mental health and housing advocate here in Toronto, making the city a little more humane. Once, after a spell of suicidality, I was able to stay in the Gerstein Centre which she had a hand in establishing. It helped restore the dignity that the P. E. S. U. strips away from you; I’ll always be grateful.
Stevie Cameron, On the Farm (2010)
The book on the Pickton case. Seriously, there’s nothing I’ve read about in the news from the ongoing inquiry that isn’t in On the Farm.
Cameron focuses on the lives and personalities of the missing women throughout, an emphatic unspoken assertion that they were not “disposable”, they were not worthless, they were talented and vivacious and loving and loved women—their relatives fought for years to get the Vancouver police to take the disappearances seriously. In some cases the VPD flat-out lied to the families to get them to go away; and upper brass refused to let top profiler Kim Rossmo help investigate. To the VPD, women who were poor and addicted and prostitutes and (it’s impossible to deny this had an influence) Native weren’t worth finding.
(Slutwalk is happening right now; stayed in and wrote this up instead. Is SW relevant to impoverished mentally ill women? To addicted Native women in sex work? I suspect not but I’d love to be proven wrong.)
“You are living with it, Bob.”
“Do you call this living?” I sneer, sitting up and wiping my nose with another of his million tissues.
“[…] Let me strike home for once, Bob. Let this sink in: you are living.”
“…Well, I suppose I am.” It is true enough: it is just not very rewarding.
Yesterday [July 13] was a rough day, but at least it was productive and I can rest for a bit instead of excoriating myself for being lazy. I have always had a very hard time getting myself to make phone calls. It’s even worse now because, living in a basement apartment, I get poor reception and often have to go outside to ensure the person on the other end of the line can hear me and I don’t get cut off. And sometimes I have trouble getting to the point where I can leave the house, which is probably hard to understand for anyone who has no experience with clinical depression. It takes a long time to wake up and get dressed and feed myself, and sometimes the mere thought of being around other people—even just fellow tenants or passersby on the street—is just too intimidating.
Hence it had been weeks and I still hadn’t called to schedule a doctor’s appointment or get in touch with my social worker. I finally decided that it was easier to go to the hospital (where my family doctor is) and make an appointment in person than to phone (and it was, despite being about a gazillion degrees out), and on the way back I stopped in the park to read Gateway and work up my nerve to call the social worker.
Gateway is a Big Dumb Object novel, set in a future where Earth and the colonies on Mars and Venus have become desperately overcrowded and resource-poor. Gateway is an asteroid-turned-spaceport long since abandoned by the (apparently) vanished alien race known as the Heechee. It’s filled with small ships programmed to go on round-trips to specific destinations. The problem is, there’s no way to figure out where they’re going to go and what’s at the other end. Enterprising prospectors might bring back priceless Heechee technology—or end up burned to a crisp or dead of radiation sickness or simply travelling so long they run out of rations and starve.
Our hero, Robinette Broadhead (“in spite of which I am male”), heads to Gateway hoping to strike it rich and escape the mines of Wyoming forever. The story switches between his time in Gateway and when he has returned to Earth, fabulously wealthy but spending a lot of time with his robot psychotherapist, alternately denying he has a problem and shying away from a place of acute emotional pain. Something awful happened during his trips out, and nearly all the book is spent hinting at and building up to that revelation.
I was expecting sensawunda along the lines of Chiang or Watts, but Gateway is primarily an exploration of the human mind. Well, one very fucked-up human mind, at least. When Broadhead gets to Gateway he loses his nerve and spends most of his time in a state of boredom and terror, distracting himself with other prospectors’ going-away or coming-home parties, or sex—with a woman who, despite her previous experience, has also become too scared to ship out. Of course, eventually he does go—and most of the trip is also stultifyingly boring, spent crammed in a can uncomfortably close to his fellow explorers.
(Some novels are said to have a good “sense of place”; Gateway has sense of time. The way anxiety drags out time, or compresses it.)
The therapy scenes (lying in the grass, sweating through my shirt even in the shade of a tree) really got to me, a lot more than I thought they would. I hate talking to doctors and psychiatrists and psychologists and social workers and such, I generally don’t like telling them about that kind of thing, and I’ve had to do it for years. So even the scenes in Gateway, with Broadhead snarkily parroting Freudian jargon to Sigfrid, rattled me.
I think what I hate is the feeling of exposure. Self-loathing, maybe; I feel like I’m an ugly, mediocre mess beneath a fragile veneer of normalcy. So having to open myself up to examination, whether it’s a psychiatrist asking about my depression or a social worker inspecting my bank statements, is just the most terrifying thing. Perhaps because of so much therapy in my childhood, or not getting a lot of privacy growing up in general, I have an urgent need for privacy now.
(I couldn’t explain any of this to my social worker, though. I could only say, yes, I know I should have phoned you weeks ago. No, I can’t explain why I didn’t. No explanation is coming. I just want to be let alone.)
You just sort of have to keep going, and let yourself feel things as they happen. Looking back on things, I think I prefer the fear and anxiety and self-recrimination and all that. It’s better than numbness, because it feels like you’re actually losing time—like time is going by and you haven’t spent it doing anything. I hate drifting. It’s just hard to pull yourself out some of the time.
“It is exactly what I call living. And, in my best hypothetical sense, I envy it very much.”