When the Media Takes it Too Far

Trigger Warning: The following article discusses suicide and self-injury.

We’ve all heard by now: Paris Jackson was hospitalized yesterday for an apparent suicide attempt.

I say ‘apparent’ because we just don’t know the specifics of what happened. Perhaps we will never quite know the details surrounding Paris’ medical emergency.

Not that the media hasn’t tried to put the pieces together:

There you have it: the play-by-play of Paris’ ‘apparent’ mental breakdown.

Except there is a problem with this story. There is an obvious detail that the media forgot to include. A fact of the story that we already know to be true:

  • Paris is a 15 year old girl.

Erase the close resemblance to her late father. Forget everything you’ve ever heard about Paris over the past 4 years. What’s left?

She’s a teenage girl who’s struggling, and a teenage girl who needs support.

Let’s say, for a second, that all of the ‘apparent’ events of yesterday are in fact true. Let’s assume, for a minute, that Paris was thinking about suicide, that she did hurt herself, and that she is in hospital getting psychiatric attention.

If all of this is in fact true than Paris did exactly what she was supposed to do. When she felt like she was at risk of hurting herself, Paris called a suicide hotline. She reached out for support.

That’s what hotlines, regardless of what type they are, were made for. They are available for us when we are at our most vulnerable, when we are in crisis, and when we need someone to talk to. And if she did in fact call the helpline, and the crisis interventionist did in fact call the police out of worry for her, than it may have saved Paris’ life.

All because Paris did the right thing.

And now? The media is punishing Paris because she reached out for help  and because she was taking care of herself. She is the butt of jokes, the source of gossip, the new ‘wild girl’ with the likes of  Britney SpearsLindsay Lohan, and Amanda Bynes -all female celebrities who have endured personal attacks because they were forced to battle a mental health concern in the public eye. All relatively young women who were not granted privacy in their time of need. I have to wonder – would the media be focusing so much on their downfall if they were men or is this yet another attempt to further perpetuate the ‘irrationality’ of women?

More than likely Paris, like any of us, didn’t call the helpline with the forethought that others, anyone besides those helping her, would find out. And why should she? The helpline is meant to be confidential. Regardless of whom your father is.

Someone obviously breached her privacy. Multiple people, who are employed to help her, broke her trust for the sake of a news story. In their eyes, she didn’t have the right to keep this story to herself.

What is the likelihood that Paris will ever call a helpline again, knowing that it was non-confidential? In reality, how many other young teenage girls, after hearing Paris’ story, will be deterred from calling under similar pretenses? Or seeking help in general, knowing they will be characterized just as these other young women have been.

And that’s the danger of exploiting a celebrity with a mental health concern. You send a message to the rest of society that mental health doesn’t really matter. That mental health is something undeserving of respect. That those who struggle with mental health are weak, damaged, crazy. It all makes it seem as though such individuals are not worthy of our support.

It is this very mentality that has caused the stigmatization of mental health that is so prevalent in our society. It is this line of thinking that keeps far too many in pain and isolation.

This time, the media took it too far. What happened to Paris isn’t funny, and it’s not newsworthy. It’s her life. And it’s the life of millions of others who are struggling with mental health and remain in harm’s way.

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The ‘Elephant in the Room’

On May 9th, thousands of  Canadians traveled to the nation’s capital and took part in the ‘Campaign for Life’ – an annual gathering of the anti-choice community to protest Canada’s pro-choice stance. In ‘solidarity’, regional chapters of the Campaign for Life coalition organized similar small-scale protests that will occur throughout the month of May.

Today was New Brunswick’s turn.

A few hundred anti-choice protesters met at our provincial legislature in Fredericton and engaged in a walk throughout the downtown corridor ending at the ‘Women’s Care Clinic’,  the aggressive New Brunswick anti-choice headquarters that is disguised as a women’s center. As New Brunswick lacks a law protecting women from anti-choice harassment, this ‘center’ is  conveniently located next to the Morgentaler clinic, the province’s only public abortion provider.

Yet I hesitate to even use the term ‘protesters’. The group, although dominated by adults, contained many children who were forced to walk alongside their parents. Forced to take a day off of school to protest a social issue for which they lack understanding. Forced to hold signs projecting hate – with faces of children, outlines of fetuses, and frightening words.

Forced to convict the 50 or so of us pro-choice activists who formed a human chain of protection around the clinic as ‘murderers’.

But for many children who group up in anti-choice households, associating abortion with murder is the only reality they know. In their eyes, there are only two options that are morally just: motherhood or adoption.

In their eyes, it’s really that simple. Isn’t this, after all, what women were ‘made’ to do?

But for those faced with an unwanted pregnancy, and for those stemming from the result of one, their reality is anything but.

I have accepted that I am the product of an unwanted pregnancy.

I was not wanted. Was unintended. Unexpected.

I won’t lie: to write that, say it, even think it, hurts. And it would for anyone. Most of us fear rejection from our family, friends, and partners. But for adopted children, like me, we were just that: rejected. And right from the get go. Some refer to this as the ‘ultimate rejection’ or the ‘first trauma’. But, over time, I’ve come to accept my reality, just as my birth mother had to accept her reality that the child she was bearing was completely and utterly unwanted.

In 1984, when I was born, my birth mother didn’t have a lot of reproductive options. It wasn’t until 1988 that Canada saw the introduction of a law that supported a woman’s right to an unrestricted abortion. While I don’t know the specifics of her situation, I assume my birth mother saw three options available to her at the time – an illegal and potentially life-threatening abortion, raising a child she did not want to raise, and adoption.

And so she ‘chose’ (if we can call such limited options a choice) the latter, and here I am. In my eyes, her decision to pursue an adoption was brave, selfless  and loving. I imagine the social stigmatization she faced. The discrimination she feared. The isolation she more than likely encountered. And following months of such unjust treatment, not to mention the pure physical torment of pregnancy, she then had to give me away and say goodbye for good.

Maybe leaving the hospital without me was easy, and perhaps it wasn’t. But the process she was forced to endure resulting from a lack of reproductive choice was definitely anything but easy. Anything but ‘simple’.

Neither is the reality of adoption. Living life, as a twitter friend of mine so brilliantly coined, as the ‘Elephant in the Room’.

It’s the issue that no one wants to talk about, and no one really understands. As a result, there is a lack of discussion about adoptive issues: rejection, isolation, a general lack of knowing about oneself. Adoption seems to make people uncomfortable, as if an adoptee has an illness that lacks societal compassion. People view us as shunned, unlucky, and ‘injured’, as if we all inherently have someone wrong with us.

They see us, as many adoptees continue to see themselves, as unwanted.

So no, adoption is not ‘simple’. Not for the mother, or the child.

Adoption is a wonderful choice, and a choice that I am beyond proud that my birth mother ‘chose’ for both of us. But adoption is not the right choice for everyone. Not all women are wanting or able to proceed with the challenges associated with adoption.

And even if they all wanted to, or if all were forced to, the harsh reality remains: there are not enough loving families in the world to adopt all the children that result from unwanted pregnancies. MILLIONS OF CHILDREN would grow up without families, would remain unloved and, just as they were born, would continue to live their lives unwanted.

A world without abortion hurts women and children. It’s as simple as that.

This is why abortion is such an important reproductive option. This is what the anti-choice community needs to understand. But perhaps more importantly, this is what the children of anti-choice families, like the ones I witnessed today, need to learn. A world without access to abortion is a world where ‘choice’ does not exist.

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Only Zombies Don’t Have to Support Mental Health

Today marks the end of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)’s Mental Health week. I am beyond grateful for the hard work of all the CMHA branches and the dedication of mental health advocates nationwide who worked tirelessly through social media to bring attention to this vastly important issue.

From the bottom of my feminist heart, thank you! All of your works, this week and every other week throughout the year, means the world to me.

Yet amazingly, not everyone sees mental health advocacy in the same light as we do. Even after all of this work. Some, incredibly enough, just don’t seem to see the point. At all.

Throughout this past week I have, like many of you, focused my twitter posts on mental health and, in particular, on the importance of mental health awareness.

Not all my posts, however, have received positive feedback. As a rather out-spoken feminist, I’m used to the occasional ‘falling out’; the anti-choice trolls live for a good twitter battle. But a ranting about the limited importance of mental health advocacy? That’s a new one to me.

The private message that I received went something like this:

“Only people with mental health problems should care about mental health. There’s no point going on about it”

Upon reading this response, I initially got angry. Well, if I’m being truthful, I became blood boiling, fits of rage, ‘imaginary fire coming out of my ears’ kind of angry.

And how could I not? 1 in 5 Canadians struggle with some form mental health concern. That’s 20%  of the population. Statistically speaking, we are all affected my mental illness, whether directly or indirectly. And for those of us who don’t have a mental health concern, we may not even be aware those around us are struggling. So yes, it is a big problem, And yes, advocacy is important.

It’s insensitive and misinformed remarks such as this that deepen the very stigmatization that plagues mental health. It is this lack of mental health literacy that causes far too many to remain concealed about their mental health concerns, choosing instead to forgo health seeking.

Put simply, misunderstandings = stigma = harm. Enough said. This is what advocacy attempts to change.

But perhaps there are those among us, regardless of the copious mental health awareness campaigns and the countless efforts of brave mental health advocates, that still don’t understand why we should care about mental health. How is absolutely beyond me. But, the good feminist in me says, “Kathleen, don’t judge and don’t respond with anger. Educate!” So that’s what I’ll do (I’ll go back to punching pillows later).

After much consideration, I decided to create a rubric, of sorts, to help those who are unsure whether they should care about mental health make an informed decision. Here it goes:

How do you know you should care about mental health

1) Do you have a brain?

  • If you answered yes:  HOORAY! You aren’t a zombie. That’s fantastic, because if you’re like me and are readily addicted to ‘The Walking Dead’ you know how miserable the life of a zombie truly is. You can continue to question 2.
  • If you answered no: Since you have no cognitive abilities (from, you know, the zombie brain) don’t move on to question 2. You do not possess a brain, have no mental health, and therefore do not have to care about it. I have heard, however, that ‘The Walking Dead’ is always looking for extras. This might be a perfect role for you!

2) You have a brain. With this brain, have you ever felt a thought, feeling, or emotion at any point within the entirety of your life? 

  • If you answered yes: YOU POSSESS MENTAL HEALTH AND THEREFORE HAVE TO CARE ABOUT IT.
  • If you answered no: You are either lying or are a zombie and, because you lack any a brain, do not realize you should not have moved on past question 1. Go back to question 1 and really consider the new career venture I suggested. If you lied, that shows thought and therefore your answer should have been yes.

There you have it. It’s really as simple as that. If you think, feel, ponder, question, day dream, or anything else that is at all cognitively related: YOU HAVE MENTAL HEALTH. Because you have it, you are obligated to care about it. And because you live in Canada, and 20% of the population struggles with a mental health concern, that means that likely you or someone you know is struggling as you read this. As a result, your obligation to care is heightened and you must support the advocacy work of others.

So, to all the non-zombies out there: PLEASE start taking mental health seriously. As we have physical health, we too have health of the mental variety. Would you ignore a zombie bite? No – you would attempt to treat it (if treatment is possible). And so you should for mental health – you must (and deserve to) take the necessary steps to maintain a healthy mental self.

And by being attentive to your own mental health that means you also must ensure not to perpetuate the stigma that mental health isn’t important or not worthy of public attention.

Because one day, if you struggle with a mental health concern, you are going to hope all the non-zombies out there are supporting you through your process.

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Struggling in the ‘Ivory Tower’: Mental Health in Grad School

Monday marked the start of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) Mental Health Awareness week (May 6th – 12th). Across the country, various branches of the CMHA are holding a whole slew of awareness events that can be found by visiting their official awareness week page.

Improving mental health literacy is a crucial step in the breaking down of the wall of stigmatization so often associated with mental illness. We need society to understand that struggling with a mental health condition is IN NO WAY DIFFERENT from struggling with a chronic physical illness; both are exhaustive and all-consuming, both require assistance from health professionals and, more importantly, both are deserving of respect. We wouldn’t tell someone with cancer to ‘suck it up and bear it’, so why ask that of the 1 in 5 Canadians struggling with a mental illness?

The point is, those of us with mental illness aren’t asking for sympathy or special treatment, we’re just asking to level the playing field; we want society to recognize the importance of mental health in the very same light and with the same amount of compassion as physical health.

This week also sees the launch of Partners for Mental Health’s #NotMyselfToday campaign. Starting tomorrow, this fantastic national initiative will aim to improve awareness and acceptance of mental illness within the workplace. Each and every day approximately 500,000 Canadians will miss work as a result of mental illness. This has huge economic ramifications: nearly 30% of short and long-term disability claims are the result of mental illness. What does this mean for the Canadian economy as a whole? Of the staggering 51 billion dollars mental health costs the Canadian economy annually, nearly half, or 20 billion dollars, is the direct result of mental health related workplace losses, including missed work days or reduced productivity.

But more important than financial costs are the challenges faced by those attempting to combat mental illness within a toxic work environment. A 2008 study found that only 23% of Canadians would feel comfortable disclosing their mental health concern to their employers. And can you blame them? When society sees mental illness as dangerous, unpredictable, unreliable. When society continues to lack awareness, information, and understanding about these common health concerns. Can you blame them for not wanting to talk? For choosing to conceal? For preferring to struggle in isolation from employers and work colleagues?

It’s time for a change – it’s time that we begin the conversation about workplace mental health. By engaging various businesses and their employees in discussions about mental health, it is hoped that we can create mental health stigma-free work environments and improve the overall wellbeing of the millions of Canadians struggling with mental health concerns.

Now, it’s hard for me to speak about the topic of workplace mental health for one major reason – I have never worked. Sadly, it’s true. I started my university education when I was 18 and haven’t stopped, continuing directly into graduate school, completing two master’s degrees and now on the way to finishing my doctorate. So I can’t specifically speak to what it’s like working in a unhealthly workplace, and I can’t begin to understand the shame and isolation associated with a secretive mental illness at work.

But I can, however, speak to these same experiences during my long tenure as a graduate student. I’m not employed per say, but I have a ‘job’. My ‘workplace’ is just a little unconventional.

Graduate school, in many ways, is a lot like employment. As graduate students we work consistently long hours, we are generally underpaid, and there is always someone overseeing the work we do.

But unlike work, graduate school has other stressful elements:

  • the funding is never consistent (or if it is, it’s consistently lacking) and we are limited by the amount of hours we can work outside our respective institutions.
  • our ‘field of work’ costs us money (we pay tuition in order to make our institutions look good).
  • the pressure is always on (weekends and holidays mean nothing and the hours worked are up to us).
  • we must always ‘up your game’ in order to get ahead (‘publish or perish’, as they say).
  • there is no definite end in sight (there are limited jobs and we are all fighting for them).
  • for those of us in graduate school who work as research or teaching assistants, our workload in the same environment is doubled.

And the mental health stigma that shows its ugly face in the workplace also ravages graduate school. Graduate students may be afraid to disclose their concerns to professors and colleagues for fear of discrimination and further stigmatization within close-knit faculties. Resources on campus are overcrowded and underfunded, and most student health plans have limited coverage for off-campus help seeking. Additionally, the graduate work itself may be emotionally and psychologically taxing and support systems may not understand how to best assist the struggling grad student. It can be all too overwhelming.  Putting it bluntly, the stress is high and the support (financially, emotionally, psychologically) is low.

For me, graduate school has been a difficult journey. Struggling with anxiety, I have found it challenging to manage my excessive and often times emotionally taxing workload and various other responsibilities all the while ensuring to take time for self-care and anxiety management. I have found it all the more difficult to disclose struggles with graduate school colleagues; the cut-throat nature of the academic environment has made me fearful of telling my story for fear of not getting ahead, not competing at the level expected of me, and, worst of all, of my mental health challenges being ‘used against me’. It sounds neurotic (even as I write it), but sadly I’ve seen it happen before.

Along the way I’ve learned that balance is key, but still struggle to maintain it. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a great support system that includes family, friends, and healthcare professionals. Also within this group includes several professors and colleagues. Disclosing my mental health concerns wasn’t easy, and it hasn’t always been a positive experience, but it has made all the difference in my work, my graduate progression, and in my everyday life.

But this is not the norm. Many other graduate students aren’t fortunate enough to encounter the same positivity as me. Many still struggle and do so in silence.

This is why the #NotMyselfToday campaign is important. Because regardless of where we work, what our work environment entails, or what work we do, those of us with mental health concerns will likely feel afraid and will likely become victim to the societal misconceptions about mental health that plague our workplaces, just as they do in any other setting.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. We deserve better and we, as a united collective, can work to change our current reality.

As part of the #NotMyselfToday campaign we can advocate for workplace mental health literacy and make our workplaces more accepting, safer, and healthier for all of us now, and for those joining the workforce in the future.

So I encourage all of you, whether you’re a grad student like me, or a top executive in a corporation – please become part of the #NotMyselfToday campaign and advocate in your workplaces on behalf of mental health: pledge your support for mental health, plan an event in your workplace, invest in the future of mental health awareness.

Because millions of us are counting on you.

For more information on how you can get involved with the #NotMyselfToday campaign, please visit http://www.notmyselftoday.ca/home

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When it all becomes too much: Reaching Feminist Exhaustion

Yesterday I reached the point of feminist exhaustion.

Jessica Valenti has referred to this as ‘feminist burnout’. And thanks to her and a fairly recently blog she wrote about the subject for The Nation I know that I’m not alone. Sadly, knowing that I’m one of many feminist advocates who feel overwhelmed, deflated, and at a loss with the world doesn’t really make me feel that much better.

In my academic day job I spend most of my time writing, reading, talking, and counselling about eating disorders and concurrent mental health issues including body issues, self-esteem, self-injury, and suicide. My research involves an exploration of the secrecy and stigma that surrounds eating disorders; a primary symptomology of these syndromes that causes far too many to remain isolated, refrain from seeking help, and more often than not, become sicker. It’s a terrifying but very true reality and it’s one that often hits me like a tonne of bricks.

Many with eating disorders struggle, suffer, and do so in silence and completely alone. In my, albeit very biased opinion, little has been done by way of research to assist those with concealed eating disorders. Why? Perhaps the research is too difficult, too complex, but more than likely under-funded and under-appreciated. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, eating disorder based research receives $0.93 funding dollars for each individual affected, in comparison to the staggering $88 funding dollars granted for each individual with Alzheimer’s disease. Yet eating disorders affects an approximate 30 million Americans, while Alzheimer’s reaches 5.1 million. The numbers just don’t make sense, but it explains why my area of research is so lacking.

So I continue to work in an area that is not really respected but still sees millions suffer. At times it becomes too sad to think about.

Outside of academia, I volunteer and advocate for reproductive justice and an end to violence against women. Currently, I volunteer as a client escort for the Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton, New Brunswick – the only public abortion clinic in the Maritime Provinces. I often write about my disgust with the lack of care for women’s reproductive health out East, and the limted attention that neglect of New Brunswick women receives nationally. I also recently started training for a new volunteer position as a crisis interventionist with the Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre (FSACC). As a city with the third highest rates of sexual assault in the country, FSACC is a vital, crucial, all-too important resource. I have always wanted to get involved with this fantastic organization and, when I heard that they were in need of more volunteers, I figured it was a great time to give it a shot.

But blocking the way of angry anti-choice protestors so a woman can receive an abortion (A CHOICE THE CANADIAN GOVERNMENT HAS DEEMED ALL WOMEN HAVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE) and constantly devling into the harsh reality of rape culture – the lack of sexual assault prosecution, the limited resources for survivors, the shame, blame, and stigmatization that surrounds the victim rather than the rapist – it becomes all too unbearable.

At the end of the day, the world is still a very patriarchal place and women are still forced to make the best of it in the hopes of coming out for the better on the other side.

It’s unfair. It’s unjustice. But it’s reality. So as I’m sure all good feminists do from time to time, I became overwhelmed by it all and wanted to shut down. Tune out the world. Pretend things aren’t as bad as they seem.

But jessica Valenti, in her wise feminist ways, has advice for us exhausted fem2 advocates: embrace it, connect with like-others, use energy where it’s most needed, and remember how important the work is. Because it is important. We have a long way to go, but look at how far we’ve come. It’s the hard work of strong and more than likely exhausted past and present fem2 advocate that got us here.

Prehaps most significantly, Jessica tells us to get creative with our exhaustion.Do something that helps the cause but HELPS YOU at the same time. Activism and self love all at the same time-  that’s something I can get on board with.

Hence why I’m writing about how I feel. I’m not overly creative in the t-shirt making, song writing, ‘paint out your frustration’ kind of way. But I love to write, and I love complaining and forcing others to take part in my frustration (that’s a joke…sort of). Writing is how I express myself, reach a larger audience, and give important topics a stage.

So I use my favorite of forums now to reach out to others in the hopes of connecting in our mutual exhaustion and beginning a dialogue to empower, enlight, and recharge us through the rough feminist waters.

The world will get better if we can make it through the undercurrent of androcentric mentalities and continue doing what we do best – fighting the good feminist fight. But we need each other, creative sounding boards, and lots of complaining to get us through a little less burnt out and a little more hopeful for the women of the world.

 

 

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To my Partner on his birthday

Firstly, I’m sorry. I apologize to anyone reading this blog and see it as overtly mushy and completely unnecessary. Yes, this is a blatant public display of affection which, for anyone who knows me well, knows I CANNOT stand. Cringe-worthy and awkward to say the least.

Ok, back to the point. To make a birthday ‘card’ (of sorts) so public could be viewed as narcissistic, perhaps self-entitled, and just plain odd. But I promise you, the reader who I have yet to alienate and scare off by the long-winded preface to this blog, there is a method to my madness.

My partner, Dave, got me into blogging. He’ll deny it and say it was me who ventured into it myself. But in actuality, it was his influence that got me to where I am today. A loud-mouth, blunt, out-spoken feminist blogger and activist. If you dislike my rants, blame him. If you enjoy them from time to time, he’s to thank.

But more importantly, Dave saw something in me long before I had the chance to see it for myself. He saw that I had a passion for change – a desire to make the world a better place, but do so but putting myself on the line and actually watch it happen. As an academic, we often sit back in the safety of our ‘Ivory Tower’ offices and watch the world go by as we research about societal phenomena and hope it will end up working its way to the people that need it most. This, more than anything, is the most frustrating element of being in academia: the lack of pragmatism. Dave saw this – and told me to do something about it instead of complaining.

I still complain, from time to time. But I also started writing. And tweeting. And protesting. And getting progressively angrier and angrier. Now I volunteer. I work in the community. I demand action and call out those who perpetuate injustice.

But this side of me never existed before Dave.

Dave came into my life at a particularly challenging time. I felt lost within my work, unsure of who I wanted to be at the end of my scholastic road, and was extraordinarily lonely. I met him in the most cliché of locations – at a bar. Don’t judge! The bar was merely the location, the fact that we met was fate.
It was fate in that we were meant to find each other, as those who believe in soul mates believe to be true. I needed to be brought out of my shell and he did that for me. He helped me form into the Kathleen that I am today, the Kathleen that I am proud to be, and the Kathleen that sees a bright, rewarding future ahead.
He did this by being himself: kind, considerate, compassionate, kind of silly, deeply serious, yet always supportive.

Dave, without sounding corny (any more so than I already have) is the very definition of love. As a young teenager, Dave founded a not-for-profit to help children he had never even met. As he got older, he worked to fight against child poverty and social inequity. Now, he works to help the women of New Brunswick by acting as an abortion clinic volunteer and speaking out against sexual assault within our community. His academic research focuses on the people of Somalia. He wants to better their lives in the only way he can – by bringing awareness to their plight and finding progressive ways to work with them to help them make their lives better. Collaborative work at its finest.

Dave wants the world to be a better place. If we were all a little bit more like him, I have no doubt it would be.

So on his birthday, I want to thank him for just being him and choosing me to be his partner and (without realizing it) his project. He’s made me a better person. He’s made me develop a love for life I never thought was possible. He’s made me want to do amazing things, and allowed me to see that I actually could.

Dave, thank you for being you. Never change – you are perfect as you are. Except that you’re messy – you could change that.

Happy birthday, with all the faith, hope, and love that I could ever hope to offer. Thank you for letting me spend this, and every day, with you.

Because all children deserve ‘Forever Families’: On the Importance of Same-Sex Adoption

I have a ‘forever family’. It consists of a mom, and dad, and me – their adopted daughter. I grew up in a permanent ‘forever home’ with a loving, supportive family in much the same way other children do with their biological parents.

And with all this love and support I was able to grow into a healthy child who played basketball, roller-bladed, and begged to quit ballet shortly after my very first lesson (you just can’t do a lay-up in a tutu). With the backing of a dedicated support system I was granted every opportunity to flourish into what I consider to be a (relatively) successful adult.

My parents and I don’t share blood, medical histories, or DNA but instead share a bond much deeper than any non-adopted family could possibly begin to understand.  And for that, the privilege that was granted, I’m incredibly lucky, as are many of the 1.5 million Americans who have been adopted into what I hope are similarly loving ‘forever homes’.

But often times I sit back and think about what my life would have been like if my ‘forever family’ hadn’t found me. Who would I have become? Would I have had the chance to go to university? Would I have had the security of knowing that, just a phone call away, I would have a family member who would be willing to help me fight any battle?  Would I even get a birthday card? Or would I have been just another child caught without a sense of permanency, caught within a flawed social system?

Thankfully I wasn’t. And while I’m grateful to all those who had a part in granting me my present-day reality it is tragically not the norm.

Worldwide, adoption is still very rare; the United Nations estimates that 260,000 adoptions occur each year, which equates to fewer than 12 adoptions out of every 100,000 children under the age of 18.What this results in is 13 million double orphans (children who have lost both parents) in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean who lack ‘forever families’.

13 million.

Let me put this into perspective. In Africa alone, it is estimated that the current rate of domestic adoption would need to be multiplied 2000 times in order to guarantee the approximate 8 million African orphans are adopted into permanent homes. Globally, the number of adoptions of AIDS-related orphans would need to be increased by a factor of 60.

Another 119 million children are single orphans (children who have lost one parent) and may also require adoption into permanent homes.

Within the United States, more than 250,000 children are forced into the foster system each and every year. Approximately half of these children will return to family members, leaving approximately 105,000 children stuck in limbo: with luck finding their ‘forever families’, or, like the nearly 20,000 children in the US, aging out of the foster system, without one. In Canada the situation is not much better: over 78,000 children are still waiting for permanent homes.

This isn’t the first time I’ve spoken about my adoption, the need for increased awareness about adoption, or the importance of viewing adoption as pro-choice. But over the past two months we have been witness to a new intensification of the adoption debate. Or at least, in my opinion it has. It’s time to talk about it.

We have a new Pope. For us non-Catholics this doesn’t exactly change anything ; I doubt any of us, particularly in the feminist world, anticipated a newfound acceptance of our ‘liberal values’ – a modernization of old conservative, misogynist worldviews. But what Pope Francis brings is a particular dislike for same-sex marriage, which he declared a “destructive attack on God’s plan” although coming from a country which has openly accepted same-sex marriage since 2010 (a year, in fact, before New York did). But perhaps even more appalling, Pope Francis has a particular hatred for same-sex adoption.

Not that the Vatican has even really been a fan of same-sex adoption either. In fact, just weeks before the election of Pope Francis, the Vatican once again voiced its distaste for same-sex adoption, believing that children should grow up in “the ordinary way…with a father and mother”.

According to Pope Francis, same-sex adoption is not wrong simply because it’s not ‘ordinary’; to him, the adoption of children by same-sex couples is a “form of discrimination against children”.

But what’s obvious to me is the Pope’s misunderstanding of the term discrimination. Perhaps if he had a more formal understanding what it means to be discriminated against he would view this situation a little different, a little less harshly…or simply with a little more compassion.

So let me provide a definition:

Discrimination, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex”

So, the academic in me could say that we could perhaps validate the Pope’s ‘discriminatory’ view of same-sex adopted children if there was evidence to suggest that children adopted by same-sex couples were at risk. Lacking. Limited. Affected negatively in any way by the sexual orientation of their parents.

But here’s the problem: there is none. Empirical evidence supporting the Pope’s ‘discriminatory’ standpoint just doesn’t exist. Thirty years of extensive research finds nothing to suggest that children of same-sex parents are any less likely to thrive. Excel. Be loved in the exact say same that I did with heterosexual parents.

So, who is really being ‘discriminated’ by discouraging adoptions by same-sex couples? The LGBT couples who wish to offer ‘forever homes’ to deserving children, and the deserving children wanting to find ‘forever families’.

Because what those against same-sex adoption and, by virtue same-sex marriage, are essentially suggesting is that children like me – children who have, by no fault of their own, and for reasons mostly unknown to them, been placed for adoption are not deserving of a loving family.

It is better, says those who believe in the abomination of same-sex adoption, that millions of children around the world grow up without ‘forever families’ than to live with a loving couple, who by no fault of their own, just happen to be of the same sex.

People who don’t support same-sex marriage, or the adoption of children by same-sex couples, are in essence denying both deserving children and deserving couples the right to a ‘forever family’. I can find nothing Christian about that, nothing moral about it, and nothing just. This, in my albeit very biased opinion, is the very essence of discrimination.

In the words of Ezra Klein, “adoption by gay couples is one of the best arguments for gay marriage”. Well said, because as far as I’m concerned I would much rather grow up with a ‘forever family’ that happens to have two moms, or two dads, than to live without one.

Cross-posted with permission on Fem2pt0

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On Becoming Kathleen: The Journey from Shy Kid to Overbearing Loud-Mouth

I would characterize my ‘present’ self as a loud-mouth. That’s not the say that I feel that to be a loud-mouth is a bad character trait; the term has a negative connotation that is truly unfair and discriminatory towards all self-described loud-mouths.

Indeed to be a loud-mouth is, for the most part, a great thing. While I cannot speak for others who would define themselves this way, I can say from my own experience that being a loud-mouth has brought with it a universal lack of caring for the way I am perceived by the general populace. More importantly, this lack of shame allowed me to acquire greater confidence, stronger self-awareness, extreme stubbornness, and overall personal contentment.

Becoming a loud-mouth is, by far, one of the greatest accomplishments of my 28 years. Because, from where I started, becoming relatively ‘ok’ with myself and my worldview has been a long and often difficult journey.

As a child I was fairly shy. In fact, it would be more accurate to characterize myself as extremely shy. I was afraid of what people thought about me – what I looked like, what I said, how I acted, what I thought. I assumed that whatever they were thinking about me on a daily basis was obviously bad, therefore meaning I was flawed. I constantly worried about fitting in.

More than that, I worried about everything.

I was also afraid of burning the house down if I didn’t turn off a light switch the ‘right way’. Afraid of hurting someone if I forgot to turn off a burner. Afraid of flooding the house if I didn’t turn off the tap ‘just right’. Of causing someone to develop a terrible illness. Not locking the door and causing a break in.

There was whole lot of fear. I was consistently afraid to fail at something…anything.

So, I developed coping mechanisms. I became a perfectionist, because it’s impossible to fail if you work incessentantly, until the point of exhaustion, to ensure you’ve performed at your best each and every time. I developed obsessive counting tendencies – first the light switch, then the door knob, eventually the taps. Always five times.

I often had difficulty sleeping. I was afraid of trying new things, knowing the consequence of interrupting my schedule.

Worse still, I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I assumed that if others weren’t discussing it then it was obviously me being my weird, awkward self. I was fearful of judgment, ridicule – what I now understand to be stigmatization.

I wasn’t really Kathleen – or at least the Kathleen I had the ability to be.

I eventually sought help when the stress of being ‘the perfect student’ became far too exhausting; physically, psychologically, and emotionally. I learned through therapy that I was far from alone in my struggles. 1 in 5 Canadians battle some form of mental illness, each and every day, most of whom do not seek help. I developed positive coping mechanisms and began opening up about what I was going through.

The fear of failure will never fully leave me, but it has dissipated over time. More importantly, I know how to deal with the anxiety when it shows its ugly face: I work with a fantastic mental health professional, I have a loving support system, and I feel able to ask for help when I need it.

My mental health journey also gave me a mission: I knew I wanted to become a mental health professional and researcher. I wanted to provide the therapeutic support that was so helpful to me but simultaneously find ways to help make it safer to seek help, discuss concerns, and connect with like others. Pragmatic academia – the best kind.

Perhaps more importantly, I developed a strong sense of self, becoming someone that was no longer fearful to live the life I wanted to live. This, as opposed to one that I thought would please the greater number of people.

In my newest venture I have become a Community Correspondent for Partners for Mental Health, a great organization looking to improve mental health awareness through social media. It gives me another hat to wear – I now act as a mental health advocate. While I get to work with individuals and research about their experiences, I now have an opportunity to speak on behalf of those still silenced. Hopefully, I can help bring about the necessary change to improve mental health literacy and give a voice to this all-too stigmatized problem.

And while society is still not a huge fan of individuals who are unafraid to speak their mind and those who choose to ignore societal norms, I have learned to accept my ‘loud-mouthed ways’ and use it for good (not that evil was ever really an option). I am proud of my unabashed feminist self (see my work as a regular contributor for Fem2pt0 for examples of this) – it was a long time coming, but for the first time I’m the real me. The true Kathleen.

And who knows, as an advocate, this ‘loud mouth’ thing may turn out to be a real benefit.

An Introduction

So here it is – yet another blog. I resisted from making my own site for as long as I possibly could. Who needs yet another blog? And to be brutally honest I didn’t even start reading blogs until about two years ago; the academic in me saw them as inappropriate, as a medium for uneducated ranting. More than that I just didn’t understand technology. Texting still throws me for a loop and I have absolutely no idea what Instagram is.

While blogs are a fantastic place to rant (and there are a lot that are basically just that), there are many fantastic sites out that are so much more than random raving about life and society. When written by the right person, with the necessary passion, blogs can be a powerful medium.

Blogs can provide so many of us with a voice when otherwise we wouldn’t necessarily have one. They connect us in our difference and indifference; unite us on a common front. They provide a platform to speak against injustice and discuss challenging topics. Unlike other arenas, blogs can be a safe place for us to start conversing about otherwise taboo topics.

My wonderful partner (whose blog, which is far more eloquently written and intellectually focused, can be found here) introduced me to Fem2pt0. A life changing experience. The women who write for Fem2 are strong, talented, and dedicated individuals who wholeheartedly advocate for the rights of those marginalized by the rest of society. They don’t write for fame but for the sure desire to add a feminist voice to an androcentric world. And so I read and became inspired. I started talking about what they wrote about, becoming angry about the injustices they provided a voice against. My partner convinced me it was time to ask them if they were looking for a new blogger (whether because he felt I was up to the task or was hoping I’d stop ranting at him is yet to be debated). Thankfully, they gave me a chance.

I’ve been writing with Fem2 for nearly a year now and it has been, by far, one of the greatest experiences of my life. It’s opened a window to a new world; one that is often sad, frustrating, and terrifying, but also so full of hope. It has provided me with an opportunity to talk about topics near and dear to my heart: mental health, feminism, reproductive rights, adoption, and gender equality. It has given me a voice and connected with me so many (mostly) supportive others. It has made me a better feminist, advocate, academic, and person.

So I’ve decided that, in addition to writing for Fem2, I’ll give my own site a shot. While I call my blog a rant, and I can guarantee that it will be just that from time to time, I hope it to be another forum for constructive conversation. Like Fem2, I’ll be my feminist self; it’s impossible to separate my feminist worldview from my sense of self. But as I’m also a mental health researcher, practitioner, client, and advocate (as a newly appointed Community Correspondent for Partners for Mental Health) I’ll often write posts concerning issues from the mental health world. I’ll also write about adoption and my experiences as an adoptee, reproductive justice in Canada (specifically within the Maritime Provinces), and other important topics.

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