Tag Archives: northern voice

the fun in social justice

i commit to writing a blog post exploring the fun in social justice.

once again, northern voice, vancouver’s annual blogging and social media conference, was a lot of fun. two inspiring sessions were about making a difference in the world: one about doing good by darren barefoot, and another about social media and social justice by ajay masala puri and jeremy osborn. the one about social justice, which took place outside in the grass on a beautiful sunny afternoon, challenged all participants to commit to doing one thing towards social justice.

social justice plays a relatively large part in my life – among other things, it’s one of the categories here on this blog. also, right now i work for an organization that is entirely dedicated to social justice, the mennonite central committee. as i was thinking about a possible commitment it occurred to me that while i do dedicate a good of amount of my time and some of my money to social justice, there are moments when the term seems a bit heavy, maybe a little too serious. that’s how i came up with the commitment of looking at the fun side of social justice. fun is important for me; fun sustains me. it makes sense, then, to invest something in the fun side of this – it’ll keep my interest in social justice going! so here are a few thoughts on the fun part of social justice.

each and every organization committed to social justice started out as a volunteer project, and i know of no social justice organization that doesn’t still rely heavily on volunteers. the cool thing about volunteering is that it can be tons of fun. who wouldn’t want to volunteer for the vancouver laughter mission society? how about collecting kids’ artwork for the canadian flowers for food society? one of the volunteer jobs i had a lot of fun with was organizing a fancy english afternoon tea party in the middle of the drug-infested downtown eastside to help collect money for bus fare for people who couldn’t afford it to go to doctors’ appointments, job interviews, etc. volunteering can give you a carte blanche – whatever you want to do, you can probably find a non-profit organization who will want to engage your services for it.

people engaged in social justice are often leading-edgers, pioneers. i think that’s why social justice and social media go so well together – they both tend to attract those of us who will never be happy unless we’re standing right at the cliff, looking at new possibilities, new landscapes. there’s such an excitement that comes with trying out something that no-one has ever done before (one reason why raul and i are so into mental health camp).

super cool people
and the people you meet! fascinating! one of my co-workers has assisted first nations people for decades – but he also has an awesome bluegrass band. another one of my coworkers, who is incapable of going through a week at work without coming up with at least one completely novel way to help our clients, has worked with the amish, busted his chops as a waiter in japan, and researched thai monks somewhere in a remote forest. granted, you can meet interesting people anywhere, but i don’t know of any other sector where the company of stimulating people is so easy to come by as in social justice circles.

community building
“it’s fun, you walk up and down the street and you know everybody. you sit and chat with people and you hang out,” says my friend micha, who works with a group that does neighbourhood-based restorative justice. of course there’s many ways of building community but again, people who feel passionate about striving for a common, elusive goal such as social justice – they just build a special kind of community.

where have you found fun in social justice?

bryan alexander improv

unable to hear internet legend’s bryan alexander’s keynote address at northern voice (the reverb was awful), i decided to turn it into an experiment. for about 15 minutes, i recorded the words i could hear (maybe every 10th word or so), then i categorized them and turned them into an improv style remix. here is bryan alexander (captured by bionicteaching), and below him, the remix

bryan alexander at university of richmond

good design minimizes confusion and empowers the user. good design is for anyone. so many anyones, they are a whole congregation. the first generation of users talked to nobody. that raised a lot of eyebrows, even frankensister’s. but then, brother, the creature changed, although not into a mouse. the congregation became an audience; there was a different character to it. they changed from puppets to humans – great human characters! “and that character acts,” said kathy sierra to bryan and sean, “it has footsteps! if you do it right, they will pay you the great fee of attention.”

at that point, everyone started thinking and reflecting and more thinking, and they came up with reasons and answers. there were times in 20th century technology, not like right now, where you simply began with two things: a new game, and a moment of confusion. you couldn’t just jump from china to the united states, that would have killed you. you would have become a casualty of science fiction horror stories, landing in the eerie, creepy graveyard that everyone fears. but then it’s never the shininess that pulls us in but the darkness.

let’s get back to technology, like twitter, twitter and more twitter. or turn on the TV, and you have virtual reality! media infects your computer when you download a podcast or some videos from flickr. actually, there are some series of videos i can’t really describe, they’re new gadgets (but really new versions of old machines).

how spirited they are! amazing! what a great way to design things! the intensity sure gets our attention. excellent! it brings up people’s self esteem – aaaah! very attractive, a wonderful gift to the world.

and what is that gift, you ask? it’s text! it’s storytelling. yeah, stories about science fiction, stories about writing stories. their titles can be so good, they themselves bring in large amounts of comments. stories are important. stories are the keynote.

of course, this needs to be explained, even though it’s not explainable. it’s a puzzle but it can be explained in part. you like a sense of mystery, don’t you? it’s a surprise. it brings contrast into your life. surprise is crucial, it’s a shocking shift to suddenly reveal the mysterious, to make it visible. like in a murder mystery. mystery, of course, is a thing of speed. it’s about the hidden chamber, the pregnant pause, the sense of awe and terror that comes with just a few very strange shadows …

and that brings energy into the design, an extra force. the power of it is engaging, it pulls us in. at the same time, we must draw on the balance of power. “it needs to be expressed,” she said, and after a moment of friction, it can be dumped, if only reluctantly.

all of this can lead to addiction. but there are a lot of ways. if you’ve ever heard the twilight, you’ll find out that it’s designed so that the covers are the series. it’s a classic, classic endemic economy that sets you up to trust each other. it can look like a facsimile, and i understand that concerns you.

you are silent now.

but you have the scoop.

good design is mysterious.

mental health and blogging: a summary of questions

this is a summary of the discussion we had on monday about mental health and blogging. thanks for all the great comments! i will use this as my guideline (guidepost?) for my participation at coping digitally, a panel discussion about mental illness and social media that i’ll be part of at the northern voice blogging conference here in vancouver today.

the motto for my participation:

“therapists don’t have a holy batphone or the latest insider trading tips from god but i think their inclusion in events like this panel is both important and helpful”

here are the questions people proposed to be discussed at the panel:

  • how is blogging an adjunct to therapy?
  • is blogging a more or less helpful medium compared to private journaling?
  • online communities forming among people dealing with mental health issues
  • what are the psychological aspects of blogging and social media in general, and over the long term? specifically,
  • does the flood of information we receive alter the way we think about ourselves/others? how does the inclusiveness of social media break through psychological barriers?
  • how might the increasing integration of mind, real life and technology affect our emotional lives?
  • what about the danger of ‘designing a world’ online in which we feel comforted and stimulated – it may be empowering and useful but can also isolate
  • blogging and language; i.e. the language of “mental illness” vs. “mental health” or “personal growth”; how does language stigmatize?
  • what problems has “being out” caused in personal and professional life?
  • how to deal with commenters/bloggers making “antipsychiatry” suggestions (“don’t take medication” or “you don’t need to see a professional”)
  • how can the blogging culture subvert the dominant therapeutic paradigm?
  • how to deal with trolls on mental health blogs
  • how long to blog about mental health? when you reach the point of truly getting over your problems, what happens next?
  • what happens when a person’s distress increases due to blogging (as in peer-reinforced delusions, one-upmanship in “i’m more depressed than you are” virtual community interactions, internet addiction etc)
  • does a feeling of exposure sometimes arise which can go beyond discomfort and become crippling?
  • many famous people have been bipolar or unipolarly depressives. i would like blogs to mention more about the amazing visions of people like edgar allen poe and the long list of others who have given without focusing on their disorder.

here is what commenters saif about how blogging works with mental health issues:

mental health bloggers as a therapeutic community

  • in the process of researching our global family, identifying issues/crises, and finding spiritual quotes to induce a higher perspective, i work through my own spiritual challenges, issues, and crises-“as above, so below”-as is in my global family, so is it in me…
  • “here’s the problem, what am i going to do about it?” or, “here’s some psychological info that could be helpful for you.” … blogging has a dynamic, moving-forward spin. this, for me, is the therapeutic twist that goes beyond simply stating & restating the problem.
  • i know i often get a feeling of relief when i read someone else describe a struggle that i am privately experiencing. this validation is priceless, and one piece of professional therapy that patients find so helpful. “oh good. it isn’t just me.”
  • my mental health is enhanced by the presence of blogs; blogs to read and blogs to comment on, like this one, and blogs to post to;
  • sometimes i need support. sometimes my need for support seems overwhelming. at those times, the telephone, email and social media such as blogs on the internet fill in the gap and give me a reality check while i wait for a specialized resource (like therapy) to be available.
    my blog gives me a place to vent once in awhile. it gives me a place to pass along my thoughts to those who might benefit.

stigma / privacy

  • when starting, i took great pains to protect my identity, including getting email accounts with false names, locking out viewers from whois info, etc.
  • my blog is not anonymous because my purpose is to fight stigma and i believe the only way to do that is to come out of the shadows.

other comments:

  • the proliferation of blogs cataloging the lives and suffering of those with mental illness is uncharted territory. the same can be true regarding the many sites offering solutions to any of life’s problems. these range from traditional “snake oil” to ones that may be very helpful to a number of people.
  • the more educated we become, the more accepting of the reality of mental illness we also become.
  • the stigma of mental illness in my opinion is as damaging as the disease itself. as we continue to educate ourselves and others to remove some of these stigmas, i hope people will seek help sooner leading to more effective treatment.
  • there are two (broad) sides to this discussion, i assume: (1) writing the blog and (2) reading blogs, websites, discussion forums, and the like.
  • i don’t mind investigating alternative therapies or researching different angles, but anything that says it has a 100% success rate needs to get out of my sight. unfortunately, it is not just spam, but well meaning real people doing this, often in response to extremely painful personal posts.
  • we need to acknowledge vulnerability. the mentally ill are statistically more likely to be victims of crime than your average american. add to that the effects of mental illness on income (and the reverse, so it becomes a vicious circle) and you’ve got a recipe for disaster if it’s not factored into the equation. it’s important to recognize though, that they’re factors; they’re not the whole equation.
  • the problem i see with the label “mentally ill” is that it misses the fact that all of us suffer from mental and emotional pain.
  • recently “a man” commented on my blog about his addiction to online pornography. he is so desperate about keeping this secret that he won’t even buy a book on the subject or take one out of the library for fear of this getting back to his family. he certainly won’t go to a therapist for the same reason. that means he’s cut himself off from all resources and was asking me for help.
  • my blog has become a place where i can try to educate and where i can support those who have a faith in god but feel rejected by fellow christians. i can turn my anger into something useful by communicating the truth to those who don’t understand.

panel discussion on mental health and blogging

northern voice blogging conference in vancouveryesterday i told you about coping digitally, a panel discussion about mental illness and social media that i’ll be part of at this year’s northern voice blogging conference here in vancouver this coming friday and saturday (february 20 and 21, 2009). it was airdrie’s idea to begin with; the other person who will participate is tod maffin.

tod maffin is a national CBC radio broadcaster and a busy international keynote speaker. in 2005 he suffered a debilitating depression and addiction and is working to recover through his writings online.

airdrie miller will be the moderator. she is a vancouver public school teacher,
blogger and podcaster who shares openly abut her own battle with unipolar depression. she is passionate about breaking the stigma of mental illness.

the conference is just about the best bang for anyone’s buck – high quality and fabulous food for a ridiculously low price – so it sold out in two days.  a full list of speakers and presentations is listed here.

i’ve already asked a few people what they think might be good topics to discuss at the panel. here are a few:

sandra from psych central made a few suggestions already, via twitter:

  • commenters/bloggers making “antipsychiatry” suggestions (“don’t take medication” or “you don’t need to see a professional”)
  • trolls on mental health blogs
  • online communities forming among people dealing with depression

blueberrio asked:

  • what problems has being out caused in personal and professional life?
  • blogging for enhance mental health, or blogging about mental health issues?

finally, a post from my blogging friend revellian:

i have a lot of blogging friends who suffer depression, ptsd, addiction recovery and a myriad of other problems-many far worse than anything i’ve ever been through. many have built their entire sites around depression and so forth. my question to them is how long must it go on? when you reach the point of truly getting over your problems and the healing is done, what happens next? some people may never find solace in their minds and struggle for the rest of their lives. i decided that will not be me. i will be free of this hell. i will be healed. there is only so much catharsis a person should have to experience before an apex occurs . . . right? there came a point where empathy of others and writing about my own problems made me feel like a cry baby . . . it’s a weird realization, but that’s what happened.

here’s my question to you:

blogging and mental health (and that includes addiction and eating disorders) – what would YOU like to see discussed at the panel?

northern voice collage by injenuity

february buddhist carnival – on mental health

a laughing buddhist nunfor this month’s buddhist carnival, i’d like to focus on buddhist approaches to mental health issues. this is partly in preparation for coping digitally, a panel discussion about mental illness and social media that i’ll be part of at this year’s northern voice blogging conference here in vancouver this coming friday and saturday (february 20 and 21). airdrie came up with this fabulous idea; the other person who will participate is tod maffin. i’ll be talking more about this conference tomorrow.

we always start this carnival with a poem. today i’ll open it with one of my haiku:

feeling rising when
i see the kitchen: messy.
oh, hello anger!

and here are the blog entries. i’ll present them in two parts; overwhelming people with information is not the buddhist way …

meditation and medication

the buddhist blog talks about the need for both meditation and medication.

as many of you know i have been living with schizoaffective disorder for most of my life and have found great refuge, relief of symptoms and calm from buddhism and meditation in particular … i notice that the more i meditate the easier it is to deal with my condition. yet meditation alone isn’t enough in my situation because despite meditating i still am debilitated by disabling symptoms such as paranoia, hallucinations, delusions (psychiatric delusions such as being convinced that you are the most horrible person on earth), mood swings and chronic depression. thus i have found medications help fill the void and basically keep me alive because my depressive episodes easily lead to suicidal thoughts.

buddhism and borderline disorder

the american buddhist muses on how buddhist approaches may be helpful for people with borderline personality disorder. he goes through the dsm-iv criteria for this condition and suggests the use of specific buddhist concepts for each of them. it’s a bit simplistic – as a counsellor, i certainly wouldn’t suggest to a person battling with a fear of abandonment to meditate on impermanence right off the bat – but the ideas are nevertheless interesting. for example

the problem of splitting, or seeing others in the extremes of idealization and devaluation (as “all-good” or “all bad”), is a matter of delusion, failing to see the enormous grey area that we all inhabit. perhaps a meditation on the qualities of a candle can help. begin by seeing the positive qualities: light, warmth, dance. but acknowledge also that it may burn us, that it will not last forever, and that it is certainly limited in its power to please us. through this we learn a gentle acceptance, even appreciation, of the candle. people are the same. they may be the light of our life, or they may badly burn us – or both at different times.

will buddhism drive you crazy?

kyle takes up the fear by some people that delving into buddhism can drive you to the brink of insanity, and right over it.

i have heard so many different misguided opinions about how buddhism is ‘dangerous’ and can cause ‘psychosis’ and even ‘permanent mental illness’. i have heard leaders and the priestly class of other religions say this, i have heard psychiatrists say this and even some historians. they claim that the kamikaze pilots in world war two shows how twisted buddhism can make one become. some psychiatrists will point to patients having psychotic breaks sometimes needing hospitalization and even having permanent mental issues caused by practicing some form of buddhist meditation.

kyle’s conclusion is that it’s important to have a teacher. generally, i’d agree with it, except that the teacher has to know what she or he is doing. i’ve had a few experiences with another approach – kundalini yoga – where the teacher actually denied that anything out of the ordinary could happen, which was contrary to my own experience. that felt pretty crazy-making for a while!

go on to part 2.

image by poorfish