Cripping Quarantine: Corona Virus, Disability, and Mental Health

Content Warning for mentions of mental health and abuse

Image Description: The words "STAY HOME" written seven times in shades of green, purple, red, and yellow on a pale mint background
Image Description: The words “STAY HOME” written seven times in shades of green, purple, red, and yellow on a pale mint background

I have been in self isolation since March 16, I have only gone out twice since then and those trips were unavoidable to collect prescriptions. On March 16th, I woke up early because I knew that more serious restrictions due to the coronavirus were likely about to come into effect soon and I wanted to make certain that I had enough of my medications to hopefully weather a lengthy stay indoors so I was going to my local doctor’s office. I have preexisting conditions that may put me at higher risk for a severe COVID-19 infection. Those same preexisting conditions also put me at risk of potentially being denied life saving care in the event that I need a respirator.

I as a mad, physically disabled, autistic person may not meet the standards of the often terrifying triage that is taking place in areas where hospitals are struggling to meet the needs of too many patients with too few resources.

Better if I just don’t leave my apartment, my doctor agrees.

March 16th it turns out was the day everything was going to start shutting down, including the medical clinic I had just arrived at. The staff had apparently received word overnight that they should no longer see patients on site and start figuring out how to set up appointments over video chat.

As I and about a dozen other people waited outside the unexpectedly closed clinic for word from the staff inside, we tried to keep 6 feet apart. Ultimately, the doctors decked out in plastic scrubs, gloves, and face masks decided to see patients while only allowing us into the clinic two at a time.

My doctor renewed my two regular anti-anxiety medications and also wrote me a third prescription for Lorazepam to be taken as needed just in case. While I did not question the additional prescription I rather cockily assumed that I would be fine with my regular regiment of meds. I’d been doing very well up to that point hadn’t I?

It only took a few hours for some very severe anxiety to kick in as I realized that maintaining access to food was going to be difficult. The demand on delivery services which prior to the outbreak had never been a problem was suddenly very difficult. This in turn created a lot of financial anxiety as I realized that if I was going to get enough to eat during quarantine, I would be spending more on service fees as what orders I could get through showed up with less than half my requested items. Since then even getting a delivery slot has often been impossible. I may end up having to rely on takeout delivery which is much more accessible but also far more expensive.

I have been grateful for my doctor’s consideration that I might be put under even more stress and her efforts to lesson that burden repeatedly.

At the start of all this none of the emergency assistance measures had been put in place so the financial concerns were particularly stressful. Since the implementation of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and other form of financial assistance, some of those concerns have been alleviated but because the criteria for eligibility is ever changing and because all applications are being approved, the stress has just been put off for a later date. I now have to worry about having this money clawed back next tax season when I will most definitely no longer have it. I’m pretty sure I qualify but there is always that doubt lingering in the back of my mind.

Aside from the stress caused by figuring out how to survive in a changed world, I have also found myself succumbing to some of the symptoms of the shared trauma of this pandemic. For the first couple of weeks I tried to remain active and productive. I exercised as much as possible in the confines of my apartment, I tried to diligently work on my comprehensive exams. I ultimately succumbed to terrible emotional exhaustion which was made worse by the almost nightly vivid nightmares.

I have more recently slowed down significantly. I spend much of my time reading novels while only getting minimal work done. While I am not making great gains on my comprehensive exams, my stress level is much lower and I am sleeping better.

Please give yourselves permission to just give up expectations, it’s the best advice I can give you in this situation.

One of the things that I and several of my disabled friends have noticed during this time is that with the while world isolating, it brings the extent of our own isolation in general into sharp focus. It’s not normal to be a recluse when everyone is doing it.

To make matter worse, I haven’t been able to stay as reclusive as I’d like to. Two weeks ago, my estranged mother with whom I have not spoken for nearly two years decided to use the pandemic and my mental health history to try and force contact. She did this by calling York Campus Security on me. I have no idea what she told them. All I know is that one minute I was contentedly watching YouTube videos and the next I was answering the door of my apartment to two security guards because “a family member (my mother) had called and expressed concern for me”.

They seemed quite surprised that I was up and dressed and was not displaying any characteristics of either illness or distress. They even asked me to show them my student card so they could verify that they were speaking to the right person. While they were apologetic, it did not stop them from informing the university that I had been subjected to a wellness check. Based on the email I got from them it is clear that they did not explain that the check had been unnecessary. I also told them that I was not in contact with my family and had not been since well before the current global crisis started. I have no faith however that a security service that would subject someone to medical overreach my the university would have had the decency not to call my mother back after her interference and “concern” proved to be unfounded.

It is important to remember that abuse is actually more common now even for those of us who have put over 1000 miles between ourselves and our abusers.

That episode took me days to recover from and the university has no interest in recognizing that they have acted as a proxy for an abuser twice now.

In the midst of all this stress and coping, the one new thing that I have been working on is finally figuring out how to do my own makeup. Here is a picture of me trying to be goth

View this post on Instagram

#wednesdayaddams with better white balance

A post shared by Kim Sauder (@kimberleysauder) on

Image Desrcription: A pale woman with dark lipstick stands against a woodgrain wall. The shot is from below giving the impression that she might be lying down. She is wearing a dress reminiscent of Wednesday Addams

You can see some of my other attempts on my Instagram but be forewarned, I am not good at selfies or Instagram.

This pandemic has been hard on all of us but it has been an additional burden on disabled people as the response has not meaningfully considered our needs. People receiving disability benefits are largely not receiving further aid despite CERB being higher than disability payments. We are also a population that already relied on grocery delivery and nothing has been put in place to ensure that we maintain access to those services. Many of us do not have the option to even choose to risk our health and pop to the store. Shopping was already inaccessible to us.

This is such a stressful time and I am making my way through it, the best that I can. I hope that better policies are coming for disabled people but I’m also not holding my breath.

How to Support Me and My Work

The outbreak of COVID-19 has created a lot of financial precarity for me, so I would really appreciate any assistance you are able to offer

Please if you are able help the most vulnerable in your communities by practicing social distancing responsibly and by not hoarding resources.

I personally am experiencing financial difficulties as a result of Covid-19 and would appreciate any assistance you can offer, even if it’s just to share this blog post.

If you are able please consider helping me financially during this time. My situation is quite precarious.

You can support me on Patreon

Become a Patron!

You can buy me a coffee

Buy Me a Coffee at

Or send me money directly through Paypal

Months After Getting out of the Psych Ward: The Work of Coming to Terms with What Happened and Moving Forward

On the 27th of December, two days before my birthday, my brother texted me to see if I had any birthday plans. This was the first contact I had gotten from any member of my family in months. My last exchange with my brother ended with him accusing me of trying to start a fight because I was trying to explain how I felt post getting out of the psych ward after having been forcibly committed based on a 911 call by our sister from whom I was already estranged. An estrangement that was her decision.

This text from my brother and a stand alone “Happy Birthday” on my actual birthday is the only contact I’ve had from him. I found out later that he had actually called a friend of mine, to check up on me before he sent it. My friend who was out of town visiting family for Christmas couldn’t for obvious reasons actually give him that update.

It is hard to explain the hurt that comes from your family abandoning you during a health crisis. I’m not saying that talking with me during the period directly after my commitment to the psych ward was easy. I’d experienced a psychotic episode and the confusion that resulted from that terrifying experience was overwhelming. As a result of both my estrangement and an uncritical hospital staff, I still don’t know what was said to justify the 72hr involuntary hold that I was placed under. Involuntary holds are for situations where people are considered to be a danger to themselves or others which despite my delusional state of mind at the time of my hospital admission did not describe my situation. I was not suicidal nor had I threatened anyone. By the time the 72hr hold was put in place, I was already lucid and I remained lucid after that. The hold was justified to me by saying that my assertion that I had no interest in self-harm differed from what my sister had told 911.

At the time of my commitment, I hadn’t spoken to my sister in months. She did not have an up to date understanding of either my mental health in general or the events that led her to calling 911. She was actually describing what she had learned second hand from my brother.

I had been going in and out of lucidity for a couple of days but the events that led police to show up at my door only spanned about 10 hours. I had made several odd and harassing tweets on twitter (all of which I have since deleted) that were out of character. I had also made about 20 calls to my brother, none of which that I can remember. My memories of what led up to being hospitalized are unclear, I remembers moments of lucidity and have some vague recollections of delusions.

It is not that I do not understand my brother’s concern or even that I deny that at that point I needed to be in the hospital. It is more that the way it was done and the silence and lack of empathy that I experienced thereafter only compounded my confusion and my ability to try to understand what had happened to me.

The police, when they arrived did not even attempt to communicate with me what was going on which only fed the confusion and panic that I was experiencing. I had been pretty lucid if confused when they showed up but by the time they removed me from the apartment I was completely psychotic.

Even then, I experienced moments of lucidity. I clearly remember being in the ambulance on the way to the hospital and begging a paramedic to talk to me. I said I was frightened and confused and that it would help if she communicated with me but she just stood there silently.

When I arrived at the hospital, I was just left restrained, which caused me to further panic. I do not know how long I was left like that. I just remember going through repeated delusions where I believed that I was dying. I’m not sure if I passed out or was drugged but I eventually came to my senses, I was still restrained but now I was in a different place and I was wearing a hospital gown.

I begged to be let out of the restraints but was repeatedly refused. I did eventually convince them to release my left arm which is affected by cerebral palsy by pointing out that the angle at which it was restrained was painful and likely to cause injury (I have since experienced months of pain in that shoulder and X-Rays show a very distinct gap in that shoulder).

I’m not sure how long I waited to be released from the rest of the restraints. I was then transferred to the emergency psychiatric ward where I spent the night and most of the next day. It was here that I was officially put under the 72hr hold. I was then transferred to the regular psychiatric ward where I spent the next 7 days.

It is hard to explain the experience of being lucid but still very confused from having recently been delusional. My memory was terrible and not just about the events directly preceding my arrival at the hospital. On the rare occasions that I was visited by a psychiatrist, he maintained questions around the mystery 911 call. I mostly remember being frustrated with him both for the confusing and not constructive sessions but also for not taking seriously my complaints about the general inaccessibility of the psych ward or my concerns about my heart rate.

This part I remember quite clearly. The entire time I was in the hospital I experienced intense dizziness which was likely the result of the fact that my heart rate stayed around 180bpms until just before I left. I know this phenomenon started before I arrived, though no one actually asked me about it.

It’s still strange to think about because it was obviously a concern. When I reported that in addition to having that high heart rate my chest also hurt, I was rushed to radiology for a chest X-Ray. The nurses often commented on the fact that it stayed so high but it was never something that was discussed with me beyond, “here take this benzo”. The fact that this didn’t actually meaningfully lower my heart rate didn’t seem to bother anyone but me.

I was able to express my concern strongly enough that I spent 42hrs on a Holter heart monitor and got an echocardiogram but it was never really meaningfully discussed beyond “we’re going to make sure nothing is wrong with your heart”. The physical impact of having an elevated heart rate for days on end never seemed like a concern.

Image description: A woman seated on rock steps pulling down the neck of her blue Tshirt to show the holter heart monitor that she is wearing

It made it so I couldn’t actually participate in the psych ward the way I was supposed to and I was frightened to shower without a shower chair. It took two requests and over 24hrs to get access to that chair. The nurses also didn’t seem to understand that my physical condition differed from what I normally experienced out of hospital. They asked ridiculous questions like “how do you manage this at home?”

“Well I’m not usually so dizzy that I feel like I could pass out at any moment while upright”

The lack of communication was so complete that “the rules” were not even explained to me. When I arrived I had been shown the common room and dining room and that was the extent of my introduction to being on the psych ward.

Because I was not interested in self-harm and because I was still confused from my psychotic episode, it didn’t occur to me to consider everything I did through the lens of “could I use this to kill myself or someone else” which is how I ended up breaking the rule against having glass bottles on the ward.

I had to hyper focus on just getting through each day on a deeply inaccessible ward where no one considered my access needs and at times penalized me for having them. I wasn’t able to be “independent enough”. I’m still unclear on what they think independence is, though I’ve managed to live independently without major incident in the nearly six months since I left.

During my time in the psych ward, I had few visitors. My other sister flew to Toronto from Saskatchewan but only visited me three times. She treated my hospital stay as something that had interrupted her impromptu vacation in Toronto. While she did bring me a few items of clothing from my apartment, they were not enough to cover the 8 days I spent there.

I ended up being brought clean shirts from the two friends who took time out of their days to visit me. Though I did end up living in hospital gowns longer than I had to (you aren’t allowed clothes while on an involuntary hold). Both of these friends learned where I was through Facebook and independently volunteered to bring me things. I will forever be grateful to them both.

When I was finally released 8 days after being admitted, I had learned nothing useful about what had led to my psychotic episode. No one had discussed treatment moving forward, other than to prescribe me benzodiazepine. I was otherwise simply told to visit my GP.

The hospital wanted my sister to come pick me up and I texted her to come get me. I ended up leaving her in the hospital lobby and getting a cab home when she revealed that she had decided to stop and get lunch before checking me out of the hospital. I couldn’t after all expect her to put my needs over delaying her meal by 30 minutes while trying to get off a locked ward.

There is something terrifying about living alone after a psychotic episode. Not only are you terrified it will happen again but you are scared that once again you will have to go through it completely alone. It took several months for me to finally be prescribed a good combination of anti-anxiety meds to finally have this fear subside.

One of the frustrating things is that I’m sure that I could have just been driven to the hospital if only I had someone who cared enough to do that. Instead I was confronted by unsympathetic police officers who invaded my apartment without even trying to explain what was going on. I am still recovering from injuries sustained by being unsafely restrained while being left to panic.

My mental health is doing much better and the medications that I’m on are working well but I still feel very alone. This was a rather horrific way to find out that no one in my family was willing to sacrifice even their own comfort to support me. Not while I was in the hospital or after.

While talking about this before I have been accused of “just seeming angry at everyone”. I do in fact still feel a great deal of anger toward the police, paramedics, and hospital for how my care was mishandled. When it comes to my family though it is more a feeling of abandonment. One that was probably a long time coming. It was a final act of indifference that proved that they are and have always been unwilling to inconvenience themselves for me. Even when I am powerless in the hospital or trying to pick up the pieces after getting out. That members of my family will use one of the worst events of my life to go on vacation and feel slighted if I have the audacity to expect to be put first during that time.

I am so grateful that I am a student in disability studies and that I was and am able to be open with my department about what happened to me even while it was happening. One of my professors even offered to help break me out if I thought they might try to keep me. I am grateful that they supported my decision to change my research focus to looking at the ways family and society still hide mad/disabled women away and discourage us from taking up space in the home and in public.

I am slowly getting back into the rhythm of things and being excited at progressing towards my dissertation. I still have a lot of work to do but I am looking forward to getting it done.

How to Support My Work

So now for the very in-depth appeal for support for my PhD. Please read through this, there are so many ways to help, including just sharing this blog post on social media.

If you want to help me buy books and other resources for my PhD, you can buy me an amazon gift card and send it to the following email address

The email is

I will not be answering queries about my research through this email. It is solely a way for people who want to support my work to be able to do so. (this is a safety boundary). If you want to talk to me, find me on Twitter.

My research and supporting myself will get past the reading phase and there will be field work in my future. If you would like to help me fund my PhD in the long term you can

support me on patreon

Become a Patron!

buy me a ko-fi

send me money via paypal

send an e money transfer to the email above (if you have scruples about third party sites) use the answer “scholar” for etransfers

A Long Overdue Update

Image description: A blond white woman with cerebral palsy stands in a patch of tall grass in a garden outside the Humber River Hospital. She is smiling from her brief reprieve from the Psych ward.
Image description: A blond white woman with cerebral palsy stands in a patch of tall grass in a garden outside the Humber River Hospital. She is smiling from her brief reprieve from the Psych ward.

Hi Everyone,

It’s been a while and I’ll admit up front I might not be getting actively back into blogging for a while, though it is on my to do list (which is too long).

I’m just writing this to get you updated on why I disappeared and letting you know that going forward I need to focus on some issues in my life and really getting into the work of my PhD.

Last year, as a member of CUPE Local 3903 I participated in the longest post-secondary strike in Canadian history, something previously considered impossible for an English language university to accomplish. Quebec just has a better culture for getting angry when their educations are threatened.

The strike was long gruelling and full of emotional labour. The emotional labour of constant threats of vehicular death. The constant rhetoric from the university that cast me as an outsider despite my still being a student.

During this time I became estranged from my mother. This was an ultimately healthy decision but because of how long she had kept me isolated and emotionally dependent on her despite her abuse, it was hard. It is still hard but only in that not talking to mum tends to strain all the other family relationships.

The aftermath of the strike did not really calm things down, though I wasn’t threatened with bodily harm quite so much but I had difficulty getting myself regrounded in the academic environment.

I began dissociating and I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to pull myself out of this funk alone. So I went to the doctor and got diagnosed with anxiety, and PTSD (both conditions I am sure were not new just newly officially diagnosed).

I immediately began going to therapy but in my vulnerable emotional state, I chose my therapist very badly. She did help get me onto anti-anxiety meds and helped get me feeling slightly more grounded. Then she spent months isolating me from the few friends I see in person and isolating me more from my online presence, So isolating me from perhaps my strongest support network.

I had during the strike independently pulled back from blogging and some of my more inflammatory online activism. With a few exceptions. I stayed involved in the straw debate, though to a lesser degree than before and I admit I went unintentionally viral with #DoctorsAreDickheads

The stress of the attention was more than I could handle and I pulled away from Twitter even more. It took months for me to realize that my therapist was actually keeping me from moving forward with my life. The realization was uncomfortable and I spent some time trying to unpack it on Twitter

I had a lot of trouble processing that betrayal. I’m not sure I’ll ever know precisely what happened next because I began dissociating, this was quickly joined by a fugue state.

This means I didn’t even know who I was, what I was doing, or who I was communicating with. In my few lucid moments many online friends reached out in concern but because fugues cause amnesia, I assumed that I must have been hacked.

You see for the entire period of time I basically never left my bed. I knew I was unwell, I just didn’t realize that I was posting delirious and often hurtful things online. I’ve seen some of it and chosen to delete much of it.

I doubt I’ll ever get a full picture of what I was thinking or everything I said. I apparently called my brother about 20 times, I only remember two or three of the calls and I’m already mortified.

I understand completely, why people were concerned for my welfare. What I am still trying to come to grips with is that my sister decided to channel her concern over online posts that to my knowledge never threatened violence (there was a ton of sexual harassment and I could not be more sorry). The harm I caused during that fugue was emotional. Yet my sister decided that it was better to call the police than come check on me.

I was placed under what is known as a Form 2 which means the police are going to assume you are violent and you have no option for deescalation.

I made the mistake of trying to deescalate. I was lucid enough to know what cops and paramedics at my door meant but I was still unaware of my delirium induced online posts.

The fact that I was still unwell and prone to delusions, I remained I think surprisingly calm (by which I mean I only fought the police with rhetoric, I got loud) but I was still in a fugue state, I’m pretty sure at one point I thought I was my sister, at another I was convinced I was going to marry the star of the show I’d been watching in my more lucid moments.

I probably had at least 4 separate narratives going but I wasn’t violent.

Yet, I was still grabbed and shackled in the ambulance.

Dark bruise on pale skin from being grabbed while being involuntarily committed

That bruise is gone now but as it faded it revealed the thumb print of whoever it was who grabbed me to shackle me to the gurney.

I was shackled to that gurney for I don’t know how long. I lay there shackled long after I was removed from the ambulance. I was horribly uncomfortable and begged to be let out.

I did eventually convince security to let my left arm free because the shackle was forcing my shoulder into a painful and unnatural position because of my cerebral palsy.

This was my first clue that the psych ward is not prepared for physically disabled people.

I live tweeted much of my stay in the psych ward so you can check out my Twitter for more details on that.

I actually came out of the fugue pretty quickly upon getting to the hospital but I was on a 48 involuntary hold (known as a Form 1). I stayed for 8 days because my resting heart rate and blood pressure were disturbingly high.

I got very little in the way of psychiatric care. The attending physician seemed to be looking for the sort of person who is irrationally violent.

I was extremely compliant on the psych ward.

Well I was extremely compliant until something was inaccessible and then they had to deal with the full force of having me stay on as a voluntary patient just to figure out if something was wrong with my heart. I got cardiology tests on the psych ward that I don’t think the attending psychiatrist knew about in advance.

He seemed surprised that I was on a 24 hour holter heart monitor and was waiting for an echocardiogram. I think he was trying to discharge me.

I was ultimately discharged shortly after I received the echocardiogram. I have yet to hear back if any of those tests had any interesting results.

So I still don’t know if the dissociative fugue was caused by the mother of all panic attacks or if it was exacerbated by illness. Just like the exact details of everything I thought and did during the fugue, I will probably never know. I however, suspect that this latter ignorance is more likely to be blamed on how I was hospitalized and how my symptoms were initially interpreted. I didn’t get a blood test until I’d been there nearly 48 hours and was lucid all of the time.

Skipping ahead a bit (again see Twitter for more Psych ward details), I am now back home recuperating from my ordeals.

In the immediate I need to do two things complete my complaint against the therapist who tried and failed to derail my life (this is going to be very stressfull)

In order that my life not get further derailed, I need to get more actively focused on my PhD studies again. To that end my therapist from hell followed by my stint in the Psych Ward gave me a great idea for a dissertation topic and that is what I will be focusing my energy on.

Hopefully, if my life calms down (like after I’m done with the complaint against my former therapist) I will blog a little more regularly again.

Until then I hope you will support me in my goal of completing my dissertation in any way that you are able. Whether it be through emotional support or by financially investing in my academic success.

My dissertation is tentatively titled “We Still Hide Madwomen in the Attic”

It will be an autoethnographic (meaning I will be using myself as a research subject) study of how mad/disabled women have been and still are silenced and isolated both directly through things like abuse and involuntary committal to the cultural idea that mad women in attics are just a literary device for gothic novels.

In the immediate, I need to complete my comprehensive exams which necessitates a lot of reading. Some of the books are out of print and hard to find. I have created am amazon wishlist (it’s not exhaustive and will likely be added to). If you could support my work by purchasing one of the books on that list that cannot be had in kindle format, I would really appreciate it.

Kindle books read on an iPad are really the most accessible format for me but Amazon does not allow for the purchase of ebooks through wishlists. So I have set up an email solely for people who want to financially support my work. I would greatly appreciate gifts of amazon gift cards (I’ll even tell you which books you bought me)

The email is

I will not be answering queries about my research through this email. It is solely a way for people who want to support my work to be able to do so. (this is a safety boundary). If you want to talk to me, find me on Twitter.

My research and supporting myself will get past the reading phase and there will be field work in my future. If you would like to help me fund my PhD in the long term you can

support me on patreon

buy me a ko-fi

send me money via paypal

send an e money transfer to the email above (if you have scruples about third party sites)

I also have a generic disability wish list of things that would just improve my quality of life

Thank you for your ongoing support. and just an FYI I’m changing my name socially to Kimberley Jane Erin. You can call me Kim or Jane but I prefer Jane. I am however, not the least uncomfortable with Kim so don’t worry about messing up.

It’s time I really leaned into my identity as a scholar. I hope you’ll support me.

We Need Diverse Authors: A Review of Dancing With Ghosts


Image description: Book cover for the novel Dancing with Ghosts by Emily Gillespie. The bottom two-thirds of the cover is black with the title and author’s name in white text. The top features a galaxy background with pinks, purples and blue speckled with stars. On the left side, three ballet dancers are captured in silhouette.

I have written before on the dangerous and problematic pitfalls of people writing about marginalized experiences that they do not experience. I am a huge supporter of not only diversity in books but more importantly diversity of people writing those books. So I was pleased to hear that my friend Emily Gillespie had written a book and that it was going to be published.

Emily has lived experience with mental health* and wrote a novel that deals directly with a character who is experiencing what is possibly depression and anxiety.

The synopsis from Goodreads is,

Freshman year of university was supposed to mean freedom.

It was supposed to be her escape from parents who didn’t understand her – who turned Patricia away every time she reached out for help. New city, new school, new friends, fresh start – wasn’t that how it’s supposed to work?

Instead, when Patricia moves from her small, isolating hometown to the bustling, sprawling cityscape of Toronto, she finds herself more alone than ever. When she meets Derek – an intriguing yet mysterious classmate – she’s instantly drawn in by his worldly knowledge and easy charm.

For a while, things between them are perfect. For a while, it’s thrilling being invited into a world unlike anything Patricia’s experienced before.

But this isn’t a love story and not everyone is what they seem.

Dancing With Ghosts is technically classed as adult fiction, though could be considered a young adult novel. The protagonist, Patricia is eighteen & nineteen throughout the novel and though the book does deal very frankly with issues of mental health, sex, and various kinds of abuse (sexual, emotional, medical); the story is very much something that can and does happen to young people.

The book is a first-person narrative written in semi-journal style (by which I mean the narrator will occasionally address the reader directly). As a result of the casual narrative style, the protagonist occasionally breaks off into tangents. This was a bit jarring at first but as you get to know the character it becomes natural and I eventually stopped being aware of it.

I really appreciated the way Emily approached mental health in the novel, from how it isn’t always strictly labelled as a specific diagnosis but the impact is still real. This indefinability is not only realistic it also really highlights the issues that Patricia has in trying to set up official support systems when she doesn’t fit neatly into a box. The book also challenges that smug Canadian lie that seems to crop up anytime that a Canadian is trying to prove their moral superiority (usually to an Americal) “Yeah? Well, I’m going to have my feeling checked for free”.

Emily effectively weaves a story about someone who tries and fails to seek timely and meaningful healthcare and the emotional fallout of being failed by a system that horribly ill-equipped to deal with the volume and reality of the needs it should be meeting.

Dancing With Ghosts is not the kind of book you read all in one sitting. Not because it isn’t good or engaging. It is both but it deals with issues of abuse so head on and frankly that sometimes I had to take some time to sit with what I had read before I could continue.

This is the benefit of a writer who has experience of the thing they are writing about. Eve when they write fiction, it feels more real. I feel the shared frustration of a medical system that frequently underserves or fails disabled people. I struggled with Patricia’s frank attempts to make sense of how the various factors in her life contributed to what happened. I searched for those answers with her.

This is why we need more voices from the margins. Not people speaking for the margins.



Dancing With Ghosts is currently available for purchase in ebook form through Kobo.

There is currently no official print release date (I will update when one is available) but print copies will be available on Amazon and at the York University Bookstore in Toronto.

Dancing With Ghosts is being published through Leaping Lions Books a small independent publisher run by York University’s fourth-year Professional Writing program.

The official book launch will be on March 9th. If you are in Toronto and are interesting in attending you can find information here.




*Her current preferred label

On the Medicalization of Donald Trump

There has been quite a bit of discussion around whether it is appropriate to speculate about whether Donald Trump has a mental illness. The rhetoric and armchair diagnosis of Trump is already happening and it’s important to look at the arguments for why people are doing that and perhaps more importantly whether people should.

I am basing this post on an expansion of a comment I posted on David Perry‘s blog post on whether it is appropriate to speculate on Trump’s mental health.

Full disclosure. I am a Canadian and while my life may be impacted by a Trump presidency. I am unlikely to be directly impacted by any of the racist or harmful policies he’s suggested. He is after all only proposing to build a wall along the Mexico border.

Ultimately, though I am looking at the ethics and possible repercussions of pathologizing Donald Trump in terms of what it means for the rights of people with mental health diagnoses.

As I mentioned, people are already doing it but it’s important to question why.

Keith Olbermann made a 20 minute video applying a psychopathy test to Donald Trump. Olbermann did pay lip service to whether doing so was ok but rationalized it thusly “Trump started it” which is true. Trump has applied stigmatizing mental health language to many of his political opponents.

The problem with this justification beyond it’s childishness is that it forgets that pathologizing Trump doesn’t just impact Donald Trump. It also has implications on a broader level  to how discourse around mental health stigmatizes people with mental illness. People who haven’t been armchair diagnosed by a public just seeking to discredit a candidate that they dislike.

People have argued however that silence on mental health can be stigmatizing. Which is true but this actually assumes that Donald Trump has a mental illness. Which we do not and cannot know unless he tells us (and considering his propensity for lies, backs it up with evidence).

There is something to be said for there needing to be a discussion on people living without a diagnosis but I don’t think that a productive conversation on that is going to happen by speculating about the health of a public figure.

Particularly because of why people want to speculate about Trump’s mental health. Because let’s face it, it’s not out of a genuine concern for his well being. It’s because people want to discredit him.

Which brings us to the big issue. People are using mental health speculation as a way to discredit Trump and make him appear incompetent. This is deeply stigmatizing to people with mental health diagnoses.

If the logic is that by framing Trump as having a mental illness makes him unfit for the presidency then the message is that mental illness is equated with incompetence and that is a dangerous thing to not only assert but to advocate which is exactly what anyone saying “Trump is [insert usually bigoted term for mental illness here] are doing.

There is also the fact that much of the “evidence” people are using in their speculation is based on Trump’s bigotry. Finn has a great piece how “Wrong Does Not Mean Crazy” which focuses on how problematic it is to equate ideas we disagree with as evidence of the idea holder’s mental instability.

I cannot say strongly enough that bigotry is not a mental illness. It is also important to remind you that Trump doesn’t exist in a vacuum. He didn’t reach where he is by donning the guise of a supervillain (mo matter how abhorrent many of his ideas are) and threatening his way to the nomination.

No. He was supporters. Lots of them. People who see sense in the lies of his rhetoric.

Are we going to speculate on their mental health as well? Remember these people very likely number in the millions.

I honestly find it disheartening that people are so willing to perceive people who hold different ideals (regardless of how horrific they are) as rock hard evidence of mental illness. It buys into the “Mad=Bad” stereotype so people assume that if all bigots have mental illness then all people with mental illness must be at a bare minimum be frightening.

I refuse to believe that Donald Trump and his supporters are a case of mass hysteria. It is lazy thinking that seeks to erase the fact that humanity in large groups has rationalized the committing of atrocities.

When it comes to pathologizing Donald Trump, particularly in public forums. The goal isn’t really to have a substantive discussion on mental health. It’s a tool use to discredit him.

So no, I don’t think it’s appropriate to speculate on Donald Trump’s (or anyone else’s) mental health in a public forum.

If you want to make a point about Donald Trump being unfit to be president may I suggest pointing out,

He wants to build a wall on the Mexico border

He thinks that Mexico should pay for it

He has suggested banning Muslim immigration to the United States

He has suggested that Muslims be registered

Go after his policies. Go after his words. Go after his actions both past and present.

Speculating about his health with the intent to discredit him only stigmatizes others.

There more than enough material to suggest that Trump is unqualified to be president without supporting the existing stigma around mental illness by capitalizing on it by trying to attach that stigma to Trump.



So You’ve Made Progress in Expanding Rights to Academic Accommodation…But Do You Really Deserve It?

It is the day of my final exam, I have figured out the location for my alternate exam space. I show up early and wait for my invigilator. It is 15 minutes before the exam. 45 minutes later, they have yet to arrive. 5 minutes after that, the invigilator finally shows up, they’ve forgotten to pick up my exam from the department. I start my exam an hour late.

At a different exam, I sit in a small conference room across from my invigilator. I am concentrating on my exam. Across the table, the invigilator opens and starts eating a bag of chips. The bag crinkles, there are audible chewing noises. I try and focus on my exam.

I am writing a geology exam with two other students in an alternate space. We are seated at the same table as we have to share a single set of mineral samples. About half an hour into the exam we realize that we are missing a needed sample. Our invigilator is M.I.A.

These are just three of my experiences taking alternate exams during my undergraduate degree. They are pretty representative of my overall experience of not taking exams with the rest of the class. Sometimes getting academic accommodation is a catch-22, particular if you are writing exams separately.

This however does not diminish the importance of being able to access academic accommodations if you need them, however the process of getting them is daunting and the delivery often spotty.

This is why the new changes around accommodations for mental health disability at York University are so important.

York University PhD student Navi Dhanota (full disclosure: she’s a friend of mine) just completed a two year human rights complaint against York’s Counseling and Disability Services to be able to access academic accommodations without having to disclose a specific DSM diagnosis.

The policy change has been getting media attention in Toronto which in turn has garnered public comment (yes I know “never read the comment”). some of the comments indicate a lack of understanding of, the policy change, what it entails and how it came about.

  1. York University is far from the only university that has policies that require students to provide a DSM diagnosis or psychiatric label to qualify for accommodations. (though hopefully the shift at York will spark change at other universities)
  2. York is not the first university Navi has experienced this policy. However, York is the only university where she sought change through the Human Rights Code.
  3. The change in policy does not mean that people can simply self-identify as having need for accommodation. They still need medical documentation of need for accommodation but the specifics of the diagnosis can be kept confidential between the student and their physician. So the people complaining that fakers will be coming out of the woodwork can shut-up already.
  4. This policy change only applies to students seeking accommodation for psychiatric diagnosis. Students seeking accommodations for physical disabilities, learning disabilities and chronic illness must still provide specific diagnosis to receive accommodation. No that isn’t fair and it remains to be seen if it will require another Human Rights complaint to fix that disparity or if York will be proactive in fixing it without outside intervention.

Now we move on to why I shared those awkward and unfortunate alternate exam stories because I’m going to address the trolls. The people who have been using this as an opportunity to rail against the existence of accommodations in general. The most common complaint being “No one likes writing exams in packed gymnasiums and everyone would probably benefit from not having to do that”.

Normally, I wouldn’t spend taking them on but their sentiments were echoed by CBC As It Happens radio host Carol Off in an interview with Navi. The interview is only 6 1/2 minutes and Off waits until the very end of the interview to throw out the “but everyone hates gymnasium exams” comment right at the end, effectively making Navi defend the entire structure of academic accommodations in less than a minute. An impossible feat, though Navi managed to remain calm under the ridiculous expectation.

By bringing up this question Carol Off legitimized (though by no means invented) the public skepticism that exists any time a disabled person gets an accommodation. By providing so little time to the discussion, she all but guaranteed that the defense would be weak and therefor actively undermined the validity of the system.

I am going to take some time now to address some of these issues. I will touch on the importance of accommodations and the varying arguments around how they are distributed but I am going to primarily look at why the question from Off and the internet trolls is harmful and reinforces prejudice against disabled people. It’s the cousin of the “but what about the fakers?” Argument that has been rampant in the online comments about this story.

First let’s look at accommodations and the differing views around them. They range from the current and most common system (I’ve personally navigated accommodation bureaucracies at three Canadian universities). This system involves offering the bare minimum legally required with as many safeguards (extensive documentation and medical practitioner involvement) possible. The fear of the faker or system abuser is so high that many universities require a physician to sign off on each and every accommodation even when the condition or diagnosis has been disclosed and medically confirmed. Even if the accommodation is extremely common or universally needed by people with that condition. There is no good faith. The assumption is always that people are lying about their needs unless it is corroborated by a doctor.

Some disability activists advocate for a radical shift in the disbursement of services which addresses the mentality of “but we all hate gymnasium exams”. They argue that everyone should have access to accommodations regardless of disability status. Functionally this is untenable in a lot of ways particularly in terms of offering everyone alternate exam spaces. It also ignores that not everyone would benefit from certain accommodations and may actually find them detrimental.

Consider the accommodation of having a note taker. While people’s reaction to my utilizing a note taker during my undergraduate degree generally boiled down to “well everyone would do better if they didn’t have to take notes”. In reality this is more a knee jerk reaction to someone getting different treatment rather than better treatment. Studies actually show that when students take notes they tend to do better than if they don’t, even if notes are provided to them. So no, not everyone actually benefits from a note taker. It might actually harm academic outcomes for most people. My inability to take notes puts me at a disadvantage which is partially rectified by being able to have them provided for me. I will never be able to benefit from the academic advantage of taking my own notes.

There are accommodations that I would love to see universalized like access to speech to text software and good text to speech software. As it stands, the first is not an accommodation, it can be used by everyone at their own expense. In the case of the latter, universities might provide textbooks in alternate formats (something copyright law will bar the universal distribution of) but access to screenreading software is not provided. This software is very expensive so students who require it have to wither pay out of pocket or navigate the maze that is technology grant applications.

Many more people than those who require these programs for reasons of disability and expanding demand an access would likely bring the cost down to more manageable levels.

When people, particularly people with a public platform like Carol Off voice opinions (even in the forms of questions) that boil down to “everyone’s life is hard, why do you deserve different treatment?” it fundamentally erases the reality of disability.

Are there fundamental problems with how universities are run that hurt all students? Yes. But that is a separate issue from the systemic disadvantage experienced by disabled people. The two things should not be conflated. Doing so only further marginalizes disabled students.

At a university level, issues like crowded exams and the large class sizes that contribute to them are issues of under staffing. They can and should be addressed. The thing is even if they were, students with disabilities would still be disadvantaged in universities. Alternate exams exist not only for students who can’t write in gymnasium environments. Even a small exams can be to much for some students.

Accommodations aren’t about catering to a student’s preferences. They exist to rectify actual measurable disadvantages not experienced by other students. Constantly framing the conversation around nondisabled people and what they’re not getting ignores the fact that even though the delivery of post-secondary education is flawed, it was set up with them in mind. Accommodations aren’t perks or extras. They exist to level the playing field. To alleviate a structural imbalance.

Getting people to this understanding is crucial to help start alleviating some of the frankly overwhelming discrimination and prejudice, disabled students experience from their nondisabled peers and the university as a whole.

If the sheer rage that some people express when accommodations for disability are mentioned is any indication, people seem to view accommodations as this Utopian land of privilege. It is in reality far more often a quagmire of hurdles and stigma.

My general experience with accessing accommodations has been one where the response often feels like “ugh, I guess I’ll do this, if I have to”, that is if a professor doesn’t ignore you outright (see here for more information on that).

Add to that, the fact that accessing accommodations beyond the complex bureaucratic requirements for extensive documentation is deeply stigmatized. It is shrouded in secrecy and students are often made to feel guilty or ashamed for utilizing them.

After a classmate discovered I had a note taker (a service that is supposed to be confidential but is often not), I was told that I shouldn’t be allowed in university.

Without giving the full story about academic accommodations and their function, it is irresponsible to then question their validity more so when the respondent isn’t given adequate time to respond and has their argument be artificially weakened by the circumstances of the question. This legitimizes the already existing stigma.

As mentioned above, academic accommodations are often delivered in a piecemeal and less than respectful manner. The system is already flawed enough without adding to the existing skepticism we recipients face not only from the universities that deliver those services but from our peers as well.

Racism isn’t a Mental Illness, Stop Pretending that it is!

In the wake to the horrific shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, I and I’m sure most people are in shock. Unfortunately mass murders committed by white men are becoming all to common and we are justifiably frustrated by the lack of response that they get. I mean the news media is in overdrive churning out stories about the victims, the alleged perpetrator, the public response and the responses from politicians but in terms of a response that might actually stop events like this from happening there is little or no movement.

This is because atrocities committed by white people are all to often blamed on mental illness regardless of actual psychiatric diagnosis.

We know many things for sure about the nine murders at the Emanuel AME Church. We know that the alleged shooter Dylann Storm attended a prayer meeting there before making a statement, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go”. He then killed nine people.

The Emanuel AME Church is historically black and has ties to the civil right movement. It has been targeted by racist violence in the past. It is a recognizable symbol for black people in the United States. This in conjunction with Roof’s words should lead anyone to the conclusion that the motive behind the shooting was racism.

Yet, there are many who want to label Roof as mentally ill, they do this to erase the racist motives of the crime. Presidential candidate Jeb Bush said “I don’t know what was on the mind or the heart of the man who committed these atrocious crimes”. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said “we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.”

This is ridiculous, the motive was white supremacy and racism but they get away with claims of ignorance because the suggestion is that the shooter was insane. Mental illness in this context exists in isolation and is completely unknowable. This is false from two perspectives. The first being the automatic assumption that white perpetrators of mass violence are mentally ill at all. Secondly from the assumption that mental illness exists in a vacuum without social involvement.

The first issue is the assumption that actions that are widely viewed as horrific must be the result of mental illness, unless of course the perpetrator is not white (then they’re a terrorist or their entire race is somehow uncivilized). The idea that rational people can decide to do horrific things is really hard for people to grasp but it is true.

The second is that racism as my post title suggests isn’t a form of mental illness. People who are mentally ill can be racist, misogynist or other kinds of bigot but rest assured it’s because of society not because they’re ill.

There is also the issue of criminal culpability. Simply having a mental illness does not automatically keep someone from being held criminally responsible. A person has to either be unaware of their actions at the time of the crime or to have been incapable of knowing that their actions were wrong. That does not mean simply disagreeing with the standard public mores. Which is why Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik was able to be found both sane and responsible for the 77 lives he took, despite his lack of remorse and personal belief in his actions. People who can rationalize can unfortunately use that rationality to make horrific decisions based on virulent racist ideologies.

So why then is it so common for people to focus on the sanity of white perpetrators? A couple of days ago, I asked this hypothetical question on twitter “How can mental illness be used to humanize white perpetrators of mass violence but dehumanize peaceful people with an actual diagnosis?” It was rhetorical, I know the answer. The answer is racism and white supremacy.

White people who commit mass violence are in an interesting position in that, their crimes are softened by the excuse of insanity. In situations where the perpretrator is not white, outsiders demand accountability from the entire group. Muslims must decry acts of terror that they have no personal connection to. Black people are constantly told to look inward as a community to solve problems whether they are the perpetrator or the victims of crime. Yet here with white perpetrators they are both humanized and made other all at once. The full force of personal responsibility is removed by the label of insanity, but it is also this label that serves to shield white people from being collectively scrutinized in the way that we actively scrutinize others.

People with mental illness are deeply stigmatized (I am not going to look at that to closely here because the focus needs to be on racism right now but you can read more about how blaming crime on mental illness unfairly stigmatizes the mentally ill here). It is just another category by which white people can use to separate a person from the white male ideal. So even though the skin colour is the same, white perpetrators are still made separate from the rest of white people. This absolves white people from having to address the issues of white supremacy and how they lead to violence. The issue of violent white supremacy isn’t really just about individuals who choose violence but about the culture that fosters racist ideals and refuses to take responsibility for them.

This idea isn’t just a problem for white people who are unwilling to acknowledge the racist motivations of this crime. Even progressive allies fall into the trap of labeling racism as insane, he says “the roads that black people drive on are named for confederate generals, who fought to keep black people from being able to drive freely on that road. That’s…that’s insanity” (emphasis mine).

The video has been viewed over a million times. It has appeared in my Facebook feed over and over. The problem is that systemic racism isn’t some form of diagnosible mass hysteria. The following things were not the result of widespread mental illness.

The Holocaust

Apartheid South Africa


British Colonialism

American slavery and subsequent segregation.

Canadian residential school system

The list could really continue. Equating systemic racism and white supremacy to insanity is a cop out, one that has been used to excuse white violence on both the individual and group level. It is not only false but actually fosters that idea that these incidents can’t be avoided. Which I know wasn’t Stewart’s intent, it just shows how far the rhetoric around denying white culpability is. Racism isn’t a mental illness and the evidence of systemic racism should not be explained in those terms because in the end it just excuses it.

As a result of this shooting, if the rhetoric of mental health continues, you can be sure its connection to racism will also be lost. We won’t see calls to treat and pathologize those who participate on websites like Stormfront. No one really believes that expressions of racism are inherently insane, it is just a convenient excuse to avoid forcing us to look within. WE can continue to claim that these kinds of actions have nothing to do with white people as a whole. Our white privilege and supremacy intact even if we recognize the true motives of the Charleston shooting as racist.

More often than not mental illness is not the reason for a crime or tragedy but it is the excuse most often given to excuse the wider reality of white supremacy and white culpability