RNAO Region 7 Mental Health Workshop

On Monday, March 21, I attended the last event for the academic school year hosted by the RNAO: The Region 7 Mental Health Workshop. The aim of this workshop was to educate Ryerson’s nursing students about the importance of Mental Health in health care and the application of medicine. There was also an emphasis about actions nurses in the field can take to prioritize and maximize optimal outcomes for the mental health of the patient population. The evening consisted of a dynamic panel of speakers – all of whom are professionals in the field of mental health – that provided a unique and comprehensive perspective on the role of nurses play in mental health. Some of the speakers who spoke out on the issue of mental health include: Alumni of Ryerson’s Nursing degree program, representatives from the Toronto Police Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT), and a new graduate registered nurse working in Psychiatric Emergency.


Each speaker shared their personal experience in dealing with mental health throughout their clinical practice. The first speaker of the night – a Ryerson Nursing alumni who now worked at Ryerson to guide current nursing students as they navigate through this program – spoke about her experience with mental illness and working with nursing students. She spoke about nursing students being one of the most notorious group of students who experience the highest level of stress. This is all credited to a demanding, highly difficult, and competitive program; having to balance academic work with clinical placements; balancing extracurricular activities; balancing personal life; etc. All of these aspects can create quite a toll on the student’s mental health, as they begin to feel overwhelmed and over-stressed. Without a strong social support network, and without adequate coping mechanisms, the nursing student’s mental health may be compromised. They may feel isolated and depressed, their grades may suffer, their personal life and self-care may be neglected, etc. This speaker spoke about the importance for nursing students to seek help for whatever they may need; whether that’s academic or otherwise. She emphasized the importance of building a strong social support network, whomever that may include, and to take advantage of on-campus resources at Ryerson. Attendees were attentive and receptive to this speaker’s insights, as often times, nursing students neglect to take care of their self as they are too focused on taking care of others. Personally, I found it refreshing to be reminded that my own mental health is important as well, and that while the mental health of my patients is an important prioritization, it is important to take care of my own mental health. Providing care for others begins there.


The next speakers for the evening were representatives from Toronto Police’s MCIT program. One of the representatives included a Toronto Police Officer who is specially trained to handle cases with individuals suffering from mental illnesses. The other representative from Toronto Police’s MCIT program was a mental health nurse, who is specially trained by Toronto Police to respond to cases with individuals who are compromising their conduct in society, due to their mental illness. This was a significant topic for the night, as the involvement of nurses in the industry of forensics is a relatively novel concept. Nurses typically work in the traditional health care environment – acute or community – whereas police officers work in their separate jurisdiction. Although there has been significant co-operation between both industries in several cases, the concept of merging both industries to address issues of mental health has only just been introduced. The speakers spoke about their individual experience with mental health as a police officer and as a mental health nurse. The police officer drew on different strategies he would employ to de-escalade situations where individuals who suffered from mental health were at jeopardy of experiencing trouble with the law. For example, as a police officer, he would often exert force and assertive actions in order to de-escalade situations and calm the individual down. If the situation escalated any further, he would be forced to apprehend the individual and take them to hospital to treat their mental illness. The mental health nurse described her role as the individual who would be typically more successful in de-escalating the situation and calming the individual down. She noted that most individuals tend to avoid police officers when in this state, for fear of repercussion, so they would prefer to talk to someone else. In this scenario, the mental health nurse is particularly useful in communicating with the individual, negotiating with them, and working with them to ensure they receive the most adequate care for their mental health illness. With both roles working together in the community, they prove to be a very successful service for the municipality of Toronto. They promote health and safety within communities in Toronto but addressing mental health crises experienced all over the city.


The final speaker of the evening was a new graduate RN, working as a psychiatric emergency nurse at St. Joseph Healthcare Hamilton. This final speaker was especially significant as not only was she working in the mental health field, she also experienced mental illness herself early on in her life. This was a highlight of the evening as not only did we get to hear the insights and perspective of someone working in mental health, but she was also able to enlighten us with her experience as a mental health patient. She spoke about the struggles she faced making sense of her illness as a young child, how it progressed when she entered university, how difficult it was for her to find the help that she needed, and what resources she used when she was finally able to find the help that she needed. She talked about ending the stigma related to mental illness, and emphasizing how important it is to understand that mental illness is a biological and chemical imbalance in your physiology, not an “attitude you just need to fix.” She spoke about not being ashamed about having to take medication for your illness, and how taking medication can be life-saving measures to take. It was refreshing to hear a perspective that was beyond nursing and professionals. Hearing this perspective from someone having experienced both sides of the spectrum – both the patient and the health care provider – renewed my personal way of thinking, and my own clinical practice. She talked about how her personal experience has catapulted her career and how she uses it to affect positive change in the mental health of her own patients today, and how her personal experience today not only shaped her as an individual, but has shaped her personal clinical practice.


Needless to say, this workshop provided quite a dynamic and varied range of perspectives and insights on mental health. Nurses are often used to hearing quite similar and repetitive talks about mental health issues and what we can do to address such issues with the patient population. During this night, new perspectives and thoughts word brought to the table. It gave eager nursing students something to really think about in terms of new ways to tackle mental health issues. It opened eyes and doors to different opportunities that will enable you to affect positive change in mental health on a larger scale. At the end of the night, attendees were able to leave with a renewed understanding of what mental health means to them, their patients, and to their clinical practice.

#OscarsSoWhite – Black History Month


In honour of February being Black History Month – a time where we celebrate Black culture, shed light on and stand in solidarity with the Black community on Black issues, and recognize the strength and resilience of the Black community and its history – I thought it would be prudent to talk about a recent issue on hand that is affecting the Black community.


For those of you out of the loop with Hollywood-related issues, or simply for those of you who don’t know, there has been significant controversy surrounding the annual Academy Awards Ceremony. The Academy Awards (“Oscars”) has been a night of celebration and recognition of actors, actresses, directors, producers, and motion pictures. It has been an opportunity to acknowledge the success of such people and such projects and has been a way to encourage the film industry to continue producing quality creative content for its viewers.

I would like to say that this issue is recent but if we’re being quite honest, this has been an issue for several years. That issue being: There is a significant lack of diversity in Hollywood, especially, the Academy Awards. #OscarsSoWhite is a campaign initiated to urge the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to be more inclusive in their acknowledgements and recognitions. It is a movement for diversification and equity – it is a movement to urge a very influential platform to facilitate an industry that accurately represents its target audience. This year – quite similar to last year – all 20 actors who have been nominated for lead and supporting acting categories are white. Significantly “Black” films are only recognized for a white actor within that film.

For example: Creed, whereby Michael B. Jordan (a black actor) was the lead role throughout the whole movie as he played Apollo Creed’s son, is only being recognized for Sylvestor Stallone (a white actor) and its screenwriters who also happen to be white, Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff. It seems quite ludicrous that a movie where a black actor is the clear lead throughout the entire movie is not being acknowledged, but his white co-star is being recognized, as well as the movie’s white screenwriters.

To give you even more context, in the last 88 years that the Academy Awards have been an established industry, only 14 black actors have actually won an Oscar, one of them being Lupita Nyong’o for her role in 12 Years a Slave. Only 5 Latina actors have one in the last 88 years as well and quite disappointingly, only one Indigenous acting winner (Ben Johnson for his role in The Last Picture Show in 1972). Furthermore, the Academu Awards Industry is made up of 94% white voters and 77% males.

It has always been clear that movies have misrepresented minorities for so many years. You have white actors playing black/Asian/Latino/Indigenous people. You have a predominantly white industry who is seemingly in charge of whether or not you get recognized for the hard work that you do, and will no doubt have a bias for their own kind. You have a completely un-diverse industry who is only willing to shed light on “white excellence” while Black excellence takes a back seat. It’s backwards, it’s completely un-progressive, and it’s disheartening to be misrepresented and unrecognized on such a public and popular platform.

Change has to start. This is such an influential platform and the more we emphasize visibility and diversification, the more society will mimic such ways and adopt such ideologies. We have to challenge white dominance and privilege, which seems such a strange thing to say in 2016, but don’t think for a second that we’ve overcome racism just because it’s not as apparent and “in your face” as it was in the 50s. We have come a long way but there is so much more work to do. I encourage you to look into the #OscarsSoWhite issue; get educated and be aware. Stand in solidarity with one another and fight for what’s right. This is so much more than movies at this point; this is about equity and unification as a global society.

Will you be boycotting the Oscars this year? #OscarsSoWhite

Resource: http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2016/02/02/oscars-academy-award-nominations-diversity/79645542/

A Word About Mental Health

In honour of today being #BellLetsTalk day, a national campaign to end the stigma surrounding Mental Health and Illness, I have a word or two to say about mental health.

It’s not always obvious.

As a student nurse who has seen different forms of illnesses and diseases in front of her face, I can tell you that a fracture or wheezing in the lungs tends to be one of our easier cases. There are routine assessments for that sort of thing that have been used and developed by medical professionals and clinical specialists for many years. There are actual diagnoses that these medical professionals and clinical specialists can validate and the rest of the medical team can get behind by. There are treatments and medications for these diseases/illnesses, like insulin or morphine, which have been commonly used and prescribed for these illnesses. So when someone comes in for having an unusually high blood pressure or for spraining a joint, the medical team is prepped and ready to treat it. It’s taken with a high degree of seriousness.

When someone comes up to another person and says they’re feeling depressed, the most common responses are:

“What for? You have a great life – you have nothing to be depressed about!”

“Just try smiling and going out with your friends more!”

“You’ll be fine, just make more of an effort.”

They are quite rarely treated seriously. It is only when very serious things occur due to depression when people begin to realize the magnitude of their words or actions. Why do we have to get to that point?

It is important to be conscious about the effects our words and actions have to other people. It is vital to be understanding, empathetic, and a source of comfort for other people, and not a place of judgement. I believe this to be an “everyday rule” but this significantly applies to mental health. Your mental health is incredibly important. It’s the source of your ability for self-care, the source for your ability to function productively on a day-to-day basis, the source for your ability to interact with others, etc. It’s important to ensure that that part of you is well taken care of.

Mental illness is therefore a physiological, clinical illness that affects that part of the person. Mental illness is a product of neurological and psychological defects. Social construct refuses to see it in that way. Society would have us to believe that mental illness “isn’t real” and that it is just a way for people to “be lazy” and “complain.” I cannot stress this enough but that ideology is 100%, completely and utterly false.

If we buy in to this way of thinking, if we adopt this ideology about mental illness that society would like us to believe, we are facilitating the stigma that surrounds this issue. We are silencing voices that need to be heard. We are condemning the people who have these illnesses to fight a difficult battle alone and to suffer this silently. We are not allowing people the right to access safe, efficient health care that can possibly save their life.

What’s funny is that we wait for when someone takes their own life due to depression to be sorry for our actions.

Mental illness is still so heavily stigmatized. People still don’t take it seriously. People are ignorant about how debilitating it is emotionally and physiologically. You can provide someone with as much clinical proof as possible – that depression, anxiety, bipolar disease, schizophrenia, etc. are all physiological illnesses – and they’ll still tell you to just “get over it.” Get real. Your mental health is equally as important as i.e your cardiovascular health. Be educated. Be kind and understanding. Think before you speak. Reach out. You can be saving a life just by being an open-minded and kind person.12651241_10156543597845457_5977017614954725656_n

The Story Behind The Storyteller

The Storyteller Logo

The Storyteller Logo

I think the Internet is full of trolls and it’s not necessarily the safest place to share things, that’s why I love the idea behind The Storyteller.

In a nutshell, The Storyteller is an online platform that gives people the opportunity to speak about things they might not be open about sharing with other people. It is not affiliated to Ryerson or the RSU. The only relation The Storyteller has to Ryerson is that it was started by Ryerson students.

I had the honour of meeting up with the creators of The Storyteller and learning about the inspiration behind it all.

Banner with 'The STORYTELLER' written on it

Banner with ‘The STORYTELLER’ written on it

Trisha Rolfe is a fourth year Child and Youth Care (CYC) student here at Ryerson. She told me that she learned a lot from other people’s stories and that’s why she wanted to start the blog. She’s found that she tends to be a person people come to when they need someone to talk to and it’s made her realize how much she’s learned from being an open ear. She wants to give people an opportunity to learn about aspects of peoples’ lives that they may not necessarily share openly with others. The original plan was to start a blog with her friend however that kept getting pushed back so she just ended up spearheading The Storyteller alone. Now there is a team of four working together to maintain the blog and various other social media sites.

The team! <Jamie Lupie, Kiri Witmer, Trisha Rolfe, Deanna Aguiar>

The team! Jamie Lupia, Kiri Witmer, Trisha Rolfe, Deanna Aguiar

Trisha first recruited her friend Jamie Lupia, a 3rd year student double majoring in creative writing and labour studies at Brock University. Initially, Jamie was just to help with the blog’s illustrations but she eventually started contributing posts based on some of her own experiences as well. She is the one responsible for the beautiful illustrations found throughout the blog. Afterwards, two more CYC students, Kiri Witmer and Deanna Aguiar, joined them.

Around the same time the blog was started Kiri had posted a video talking about her experiences with suicide. Kiri expressed how important it is for people to talk about issues however she felt that she keeps a lot to herself. Trisha saw this video and approached Kiri because she thought that she embodied ideals that would fit well with The Storyteller. Similarly, Trisha approached Deanna as well because she also thought that she would also be a good fit as she is extremely supportive. Each of the four members contribute to the blog in their own way.

Trisha started The Storyteller blog back in April 2015 and it is amazing how much it has grown since then. They have had several events one at Brock University and an open mic night in Niagara as both Trisha and Jamie are originally from there. They also showcased The Storyteller here at Ryerson during the FCS Student Achievement event. Trisha told me that this was her favourite event as there were a lot of people interested in reading stories. Also, it was a great way to bring awareness to our faculty to inspire people to do things outside of the classroom.

The Storyteller booth at the FCS Student Achievement Event at Ryerson University

The Storyteller booth at the FCS Student Achievement Event at Ryerson University

However, the classroom has helped fuel some of the ideas behind The Storyteller as Kiri has told me that they use concepts they’ve learned throughout the CYC program. One extremely important concept being self-care which is something that we can all relate to and should practice. It’s meant to be an outlet for not only sharing experiences but also to educate as well as to be a sort of therapy. The Storyteller also incorporates a strength-based approach because they want to focus on one’s strengths as well as celebrate the challenges or barriers one was able to overcome.

The Storyteller stresses the idea that “You are not alone” and that all of us are The Storytellers. That’s why submissions are strongly encouraged as sharing may find the solution or sharing might very well be the solution. It’s a way for people to get things off their chest so they want your rants! Submissions can be about any topic and in any form of media: stories, poetry, art, songs, etc. You can choose if you want your posts to be anonymous. They will be accepted and shared as long as posts aren’t racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist, ablist, sanist, or discriminatory in any way. If you’re interested in making a submission click here! 

Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 10.19.46 PM

OR if you would like to know more or if you would like to contribute in other ways you can email thestorytellerweb@gmail.com or visit any of their social media platforms: the blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Fifty Shades of Rape Culture

Cover of the book, Fifty Shades of Grey

Let me start by saying I have never read Fifty Shades of Grey and I have no intention of reading it. I am not condemning those who have and those who enjoyed it. But I would like to rant a little about some of those coming out in condemnation of the book and movie. Some analysis of the movie and book has been quite thoughtful, quite well written, but the vast majority that has been snaking its way through my news feed is perpetuating rape culture and the repression of female sexuality.

One post that I have sadly seen more than once is entitled, A Psychiatrist’s Letter to Young People about Fifty Shades of Grey. Some of the points are valid; abuse is never good, women do not need to be meek to attract a mate and so forth. However, near the end the author commenting on sexual experimentation states “Maybe for adults in a healthy, long term, committed, monogamous relationship, AKA “marriage”. Otherwise, you’re at high risk for STDs, pregnancy, and sexual assault.”

No, no, no! Women experimenting and expressing their sexuality does not lead to sexual assault. Rapists are the cause of sexual assault. By all means, let’s encourage both men and women (as if pregnancy should only be a female concern) to practice safe sex, but let’s NOT encourage repression or suggest that if a female is sexually adventurous then she is the cause of an assault.

Yet another response that I have seen more than once is, Don’t Let ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Lead Your Daughter Astray: A Concerned Mother’s Response. The author states, “Pornography is not healthy for any relationship: Approximately forty million men currently watch pornography on a regular basis. Men who need to watch porn become addicted to it in order to achieve arousal. Soon your relationship won’t satisfy.”

It’s only men who watch porn or who want visual stimulation? I find it hard to believe that there are 40 million men who can no longer engage in relationships because only porn will get them off. Why is it so hard for us to accept that humans like sex and that is okay. And why is it so hard to believe that women want to express their sexuality, their desire. I mean, if women were as against porn and erotica as this author believes than Fifty Shades of Grey wouldn’t have been so popular.

Read Fifty Shades of Grey if you want, see the movie if you want, but please don’t tell women that we shouldn’t express our sexuality or that if we do, it will mean we were asking for it.

Blogging Inclusion

photo of a computer keyboard with a finger hitting a key which reads 'blog'

At its most basic definition inclusion means the act of being included. But who gets included, included in what, included where and how? Inclusion is a messy idea. An idea whose meaning for me maybe very different from your meaning. Part of this may depend on the different levels of privilege or oppression that are our starting points.

Inclusion is now a buzzword. Agencies and organizations all want to ensure they are providing inclusive opportunities for disabled persons. What does this means for those who are labelled as disabled? In some cases, it means buildings and spaces are now open to everyone, that services are available to those who require accommodation. Creating a society in which everyone can be included if they choose to is of enormous value but is being included in the dominant narrative what everyone wants? Social inclusion has become more about ‘a set of normative practices’ – about consumption and lifestyle, and identity – than the transformation of society. The emphasis is now being placed on the individual, and their social engagement and activity rather than the societal structures that create exclusion and marginalization.

So how can people speak back to this excluded process of inclusion? Storytelling and personal narrative is one way. The internet and blogging platforms have enabled some marginalized people to create their own space, an online community in which new forms of normality and inclusion can be shaped. Disable people have expressed their lack of desire and/or ability to reach the standards set by social inclusionary policy and practices by seeking out and developing other ways and spaces within which to experience inclusion. One disabled blogger, Agent Fang, writes, “originally when I started this blog, it was for the purpose of cathartic ranting. Rubbish hotels, dealing with my impairments, crappy employment experiences, you name it, I bitched about it. It was great. Another great thing was that a lot of other people were doing it too … I felt a real sense of online community with other disabled people. Blogging was a new craze and we owned a little corner of it.” (http://fangworld.blogspot.ca/).

While bloggers and their sites ebb and flow over time, the pronounced desire for an inclusive community outside of normative values does not. Blogs and communities like The Body is Not an Apology, Diary of a Goldfish, Ragged Edge, Blogging Against Disableism Day and Autistics Speaking Day – Taking Back Autism Awareness, to name a few, are some of the online communities who are alive and well who are forging pride online.

Poetry Slam with Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha with her arms behind her back, her eyes closed and a large smile on her face about to burst with laughter

I walk up the ramp into the smaller-than-I-expected room. I see a friend, wave, sit. There is food in the corner, vegan friendly I hear. I am not sure what I expected but I feel like this isn’t it. Maybe it’s that the room isn’t full or that there are no obviously disabled folks. I have heard the work of Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha before, seen video of her performances with Sins Invalid. In fact, I have studied her performances and poetry in classes. I have attempted to see her perform several times in the past and always been turned away at the door because the space was packed.

The room is quieted. The organizer recognizes the land that we occupy from native peoples, our nature as colonizers and our duty to respect the land and each other.

Leah begins talking. There is less poetry than I expected at this poetry slam but her talk resonates. She talks about the work of loving ourselves. The second by second revolutionary work that is loving a body subjected to multiple oppressions. The collective nature of this work. The need to change organizing to include bodies in all their leaky, needy, sexual, beautiful, reality so people don’t closet parts of themselves.

She moves into disability justice. Which is a reaction to the predominately white, wheel chair using disability rights movement. Disability justice seeks to create a movement in which people of colour, sick, crip, trans, queer people are not just members of a movement but leaders. A movement in all forms and expressions of disability and difference are accepted and where the hierarchy of disability/ability is abandoned.

Lastly, she speaks of prefigurative government. This is a new term for me. Rather than writing a paper on how to change things or describing what is wrong… You just do it. You put your practice where your theory is. I want to live in the world that Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha describes. She describes it so passionately with her talk, with her poetry. I can envision it. One where bodies, all bodies, queer, trans, people of colour, disabled, fat, sick, crip can just be. Not needing to be changed or fixed. A world in which the work of loving ourselves, all aspects of ourselves, is made less difficult by the social acceptance of our differences.

I will end this post with a poem by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Check out other poems and her blog on her website.

Working class lullabye

lost wallet out of your pants biking home

with EBT card and $100 to your name


I keep saying

it’s gonna be okay

it’s gonna be okay

in that mindless brain-stem rhythm

bred into me

cut hours

and $30 in the mahmoud darwish book for rent

going to the free queer clinic

and selling your father’s watch

rent party

and can I come over to use the washer cause I’m broke

means I keep saying

you’re gonna figure it out

you’re gonna figure it out

cause what else can I say

cause saying it

means it’s gonna happen

cause it’s a prayer

intention follows thought


and repetetive

a lullabye

that lets us get some sleep

in the bed we still own

as times continue to be hard

and sweet

because no promises

but our thin skin scamming greyhound

sharing a 92 accord

getting through


Short Hair, Don’t Care


“Short hair, don’t care”.  Short, simple and my mantra.  I cut my long ponytail when I was 16 years old.  It was damaged, discoloured from all of the hair dye and I loved Mandy Moore’s hair in How to Deal.  It was always chin length until I turned 20.  Since then my hair has been a pixie style, cut around my ears.  It wasn’t until then that I noticed the war against short hair.

I don’t remember the first time a male told me they disliked short hair and thought I should grow mine.  I may not remember the first time but I remember the procession of men that followed that first comment.  I used to argue by telling them that short hair looks a lot better on me than long hair.  There were many times I almost listened and grew my hair out.  It grew a bit, I would get annoyed at how flat it would sit, found a cute short hair cut and that was that.  Now I don’t argue, I simply say “I don’t care”.  It doesn’t matter which length of hair looks better on me.  What matters is if I like my hair.

I like my hair short.  After learning about third and fourth wave feminism I realized that is really all that matters.  My hair is mine.  I’m the one who owns it and looks at it everyday so I will do what I please with it.  I don’t care if anyone likes it other than me.

Women are often afraid to take the plunge and chop off their hair because they fear how men will perceive them.  Yes, men have assumed and asked about my sexual orientation.  To that I say, drop your stereotypical ideas about women, sexual orientation and short hair.  Yes, men have made comments about my hair and how they like long hair on a woman.  To that I say I don’t care about your preferences.  When it comes to my body and how I look, my preference is the only one that matters.  I’m not here to be visually appealing for you.

I’ve been asked how short hair has impacted my dating life or relationships.  It’s been a main tension in some of my past relationships but in my eyes, it’s a good thing.  Having short hair makes it easier to weed out men who care more about what’s on my head than what is in it.  I don’t want to date someone who is more concerned about what my hair looks like than who I am as a person.

Whenever I come across the war on short hair, debate growing it or start to argue I remember my mantra, “short hair, don’t care”.  I think we should all wear and look the way we want.  Women’s bodies and looks are constantly picked apart in the media and in our personal relationships.  By saying we don’t care and looking how we want, we take back our bodies.  Saying you don’t care feels really good.  If you want short hair, cut it.  If you want long hair, grow it.  If you want blonde, red, brown or rainbow coloured hair, dye it!  It’s your body and your hair.  Find your “don’t care” mantra.

Mediations on Aging

depicts a young girl, a middle aged woman and an elderly woman

They streak through the brown waves. Little streams, trickles of silver. Unruly, they spring, wild, untamed. Refusing to be hidden, they revel in their freedom. My age proclaimed by their unrestrained rivulets.

I have celebrated the thirty-fifth anniversary of my birth. I see the streaks of silver, the laugh lines, the aging process reflected in my physical self. Nothing else seems to have changed. Oh, I may have gained more knowledge, more experience, but I my character is no different.

Until recently, I would have argued that I refused to buy into the defined limits and demarkations of aging as a woman. I notice these limits more frequently now and can see myself reflected in their definitions. Society tell us to be good little girls when we are younger, the teenage and early adults years are a confusing mix of the saintly virgin and the desirable whore. Many of us become mothers, ‘the hot mama,’ squatting and sweating our way through baby boot camps. The over arching theme being that we are told to age gracefully. We pluck, shave, and dye our way back to youth; to beauty.

I am tired of being told how to be a woman, how to be feminine, how to age. I am tired of us doing this to ourselves. There is nothing wrong with looking and feeling your best, but why must this ideal come out of a magazine or an ad and not from our own understanding of ourselves? Why must aging become yet another trend that must bend women to its will?

I refuse. The creases by my eyes tell a story. The many times I have laughed till I cried, the times I squinted in concentration learning a new concept, the times I attempted to read a map in my travels, the times I wept. I see my ancestors in the creases. The women who came before, who cried and laughed with me. The women who stroked the hair that would one day become streaked with silver.

I wear the silver in my hair like a badge of honour. The streaks glimmer and shine. Silver is a valuable commodity, is it not?

There is a trend to embrace our inner child. Let us not forget our inner crone. Let’s laugh with the abandonment of children at our streaks of silver, but let us celebrate the lives that created them. I may yet choose to change my appearance, but it will be because I choose, not because I am bullied into hiding my age.

What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

After hearing the term ‘body dysmorphic disorder’ for the first time during the Miss Representation documentary (I highly recommend this documentary for both sexes!), I decided to do some of my own research on the topic. I researched what was available in the form of books and online resources and decided to purchase the book written by M.D. Katharine A. Phillips entitled “The Broken Mirror: Understanding and Treating Body Dysmorphic Disorder”. Reading the book, which contains case studies, some of her patients shared stories and Phillips’ recommendations based on factual research for appropriate treatment methods was both terrifying and relieving. Having been a woman who mainly looked in the mirror and saw someone much larger staring back at her, there was something relieving about being able to identify with others after reading this book. Not only were there other women similar to me, but there were also individuals who saw a lot of various flaws that weren’t apparent to others. It’s a disorder like this that surfaces obsessive behaviours like skin picking, camouflaging with excessive makeup or baggy clothing and constant mirror checking to name a few. Some of the most popular ‘imperfections’ based on these case studies include fear of losing hair or that one’s hair doesn’t look right, fear of blemishes on the skin, fear that one’s body is too big or too small, fear that one’s nose is too big, fear that one’s breasts are too small and the list goes on.

body-dysmorphic-disorder-1Some of the case studies mentioned in the book were so horrible it was hard to believe they actually happened to everyday individuals. One woman was so nervous about her skin (even though according to the author, there didn’t appear to be any imperfections) that while driving down the highway, she began to panic when traffic slowed to a stop due to an accident up ahead. She was so nervous that the cars next to her were starring at her skin and thinking how ugly she was, that she got out of her car, left it in the middle of traffic on a major highway and walked until she found a payphone to call her mother to pick her up. It’s hard to believe that a disorder based on looks can cause such emotional turmoil and in extreme cases, can even cause individuals to remain at home for months, and even years in order to not be seen.

In order to diagnose this disorder, an individual must experience all three of the criteria listed below:

  1. Preoccupation with an imagined defect in appearance (if a defect is visible, it is a minor defect which results in excessive concern)
  2. The preoccupation causes significant distress or impairment in everyday functioning
  3. The preoccupation is not better accounted for by another mental disorder (e.g. body dissatisfaction in anorexia)

In order to treat this disorder, it is recommended to speak with a doctor or psychiatrist who can prescribe a serotonin-reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), which is an antidepressant and appears to decrease obsessive behaviours in many individuals. It is understandable that some individuals may wish to avoid prescription medication and in these cases, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is also an option. CBT involves changing the way you perceive and feel about an anxiety-provoking situation and taking small steps to confront that anxiety-provoking situation. The most recommended treatment (which of course would depend on the individual and how severe the symptoms are) is a combination of both an SSRI and CBT. The main thing to take away from this is that there is a way to treat this disorder, no matter how severe it may be. It may take time to experiment with medication to find one that works for you, and/or it may take time to gain the confidence to face anxiety-inducing scenarios, but with the assistance of friends, family and a trained professional (i.e. doctor, psychotherapist, psychologist etc.) it is possible to overcome this disorder.


The Broken Mirror: Understanding and Treating Body Dysmorphic Disorder by Katharine A. Phillips, M.D.

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