Mind the Gap

Posted: March 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

There are times in our lives when we look up and notice a space has suddenly appeared in the group of people that surround us. In these moments, we feel the gap that has been left and the emptiness of what is missing. So it was for some friends this week who lost a family member who took his own life. A hole was torn in their lives and they feel keenly the emotional and physical absence that is now a part of their lives.

It may be easy to say, “that would never happen to me” or that, “I would never do that,” but all too often this happens, and all too often those who feel the unbearable pain of their lives decide they can no longer face the hurdles life throws at them and they leave us. It would also be easy to nod our heads and make sympathetic noises, but this is not enough given the pain felt by those who attempt or succeed in taking their lives or by those who are left behind to continue on without that precious soul to journey with them.

Mental health is undeniably one of the largest challenges we face as a society and we have made some progress in recent years in trying to address this. Groups have formed, individuals have advocated, and finally we have a national Mental Health Commission but this is not enough, not nearly enough. Amongst adults, mental illness affects 1 in 4. In youth, of that 1 in 4 only 20% receive any treatment. Economically there are estimates that mental illness costs our economy $50 million dollars per year. And, according to The Canadian Mental Health Association, 15 people die of suicide for every 100,000 deaths.

Let’s think about that number. In London, our population is about 352,395. So this means that there is a potential of us losing about 52 empty holes of loss in our community every year to suicide. If we take this further and look at every 5 years we have lost 260 people in our community. This leaves me asking – are we doing enough? Are we assigning an appropriate amount of our resources and time to ensuring we don’t lose the equivalent of a plane load of citizens every 5 years to the unbearable pain and loss of suicide. I don’t think so.

Even beyond the loss of life, the pain and suffering we allow to go on in our communities cannot be seen as anything other than unconscionable. Waiting lists, under-resourced staffing, our inability to build a system of mental wellness from the bright spring of early years through the deep autumn at the end of our lives speaks to our leaders and our own lack of thought and care.

Right now, right this very second, there are thousands upon thousands of people in our community that are in pain and do not have access to the resources needed to move through their illness and into wellness. From the most vulnerable and homeless to the middle class worker in a company, the time it takes from recognizing a problem to receiving treatment and support is much too long. In many cases I have personally witnessed adults and youth wait more than a year from the time they seek help.

Despite this, we have the recent good news of the formation of CMHA Middlesex and it’s new CEO Don Seymour. This organization and this leader are deeply committed to meeting the challenges of, and overcoming the lack of, resources in London and area. Also the recent appointment of Louise Petrie as Executive Director at Family Services Thames Valley is another sign of hope. FSTV provides counselling and support in London – a kind of mental health for the rest of us.

But my friend’s family, who lost a part of itself this week, are now left to mourn their loss and try to continue on without someone they loved. For them there is no remedy but to be taken in the arms of each other and their community to try and heal and move forward. What you don’t know about this family is that they have been mental health advocates for many years and have worked tirelessly for improved mental health services for all of us. Yet despite this, they find themselves faced by this most tragic and devastating of circumstances.

Reading this, you might feel the need to help and take some action. I hope so, and if this is the case, there are things you can do to move our community forward and build upon the work already being done. Donate to CMHA Middlesex or Family Services Thames Valley. Go to the CMHA website and learn more about mental health and mental illness. Understand the resources that are available in our community for yourself and for those you know who may need help. In your workplace, begin a conversation about mental health and ask your employer about what resources are available. If there are none, then do some research and help your employer get them. At our schools and community, understand the needs of child and youth mental health and the often fractured and bewildering obstacles to getting care and speak up about it to your school boards and local leaders. Demand of our leaders at all levels that they support and fund mental wellness and health. And finally, remember this family and thousands of others that have dealt with, and are dealing with, the struggle with mental illness and the astronomical cost it inflicts on them.

Our community, and every other, needs to come to grips with mental health and our inability to deal with it. We have a responsibility to one another to do this and to take action. I have said to some that I refuse to live in a city where we leave people behind. Sadly this week we did, and the responsibly for this is one we all should share and take action on.

Intrinsic Value

Posted: March 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

As we hurdle out of the last budget of the current council to the upcoming municipal elections in October and the collective decision on who will represent us  we need to consider how and where we invest ourselves. In other words we need to consider the intrinsic value of our citizenship, how we apply it, and where we invest our resources and efforts.

We have a number of large decisions in front of us in the very near future. The Performing Arts Centre, Transit, Downtown Master Plan, Cultural Prosperity Plan, and most importantly Rethink London, our Cities Official Plan. In many cases on our local talk radio stations, and in the comments section in the London Free Press, this discussion if often reduced to the point where the only consideration is the dollar value of that investment. In Counsel we mostly see the discussion come down to a matter of dollars and cents. But is this the only measure by which we should consider our future planning and direction? I am not sure

At London X, a conference held by Emerging Leaders of which I am the Executive Director, we heard from Grant Oliphant, CEO of the Pittsburgh Foundation. Grant gave us many examples of how Pittsburgh faced their problems locally ,despite an uncooperative municipal government, and came together in a combination of public and private initiatives to retake their river. The river was until recently a picture of the refuse of that cities industrial past. But some community leaders came together and decided to do something about it.

Over the course of more than a decade the work continued until today Pittsburgh is recognized as a world-wide example of how cities can reinvent themselves and grow toward a bright and prosperous future. But in many cases in Pittsburgh the effort was not always about the dollar value but about the civic value of the projects. A great example of this is the fountain by their river.

On it’s face there is no monetary gain to investing in a fountain, What possible economic return could be gained by building such a thing? But to embrace that point of view you would have to ignore the civic value it does bring. It creates a place for citizens to gather, a place for them  to come together and enjoy and recognize the one common cause they all have. Place.

In our consideration of where we invest our time and resources lets us also consider this idea of place. The grounds and spaces where we can gather and come together in the common cause of where we live. If we build a beautiful downtown it should not only be about its cost. If we finally invest in our abandoned Thames River it should be about it’s civic use as much as it is about it’s economic value. Are we bold enough to cover the space between Covent Garden Market and Budweiser Garden permanently in Londoners creating a massive civic square? Can we, as Grant said in his talk, bend toward the light and accelerate our transit and transportation plans for the simple reason that they are good for us collectively? And is it possible to not only consider the dollars and cents of a thing we do but also the much more valuable currency of it being good for us to have these as a city and citizens?

The intrinsic value of a city and it’s citizens is not always a formula that results in an economic sum zero game but is equally, or more so, about the deep value of how we get to the places we gather and where we do that. This is ultimately a deeper value than perhaps we are considering at this time in London and, as Pittsburgh has proven, when we invest this way the benefits are there in economics and civic life.

Jay Menard, a regular commentator on London issues and ideas, posted what I thought was an important blog on Sochi and flying the rainbow flag at City Hall. Jay’s points, of which there are many, can be read here. and I ask that you please read his whole post before reading my response. 

I believe 100% that Jay is authentic in his statement that he is not a homophobe nor does he hold any prejudice against anyone in the LGBT community. I also completely believe that he is not only tolerant and accepting but teaches that tolerance and acceptance to his children. Something we should ,and can, all aspire too.

But there are a number of things with Jays post that I’d like to use to stretch my understanding by challenging some of his ideas. Jay points out that “I have a few concerns, starting with the fact that we are politicking the Olympics and forcing our athletes, for whom this has been the pinnacle of their athletic lives, to subjugate their accomplishments to a narrative in which they may want no part.”. On the surface this may seem like a reasonable point but we cannot escape the fact that the Olympics are inherently political by the very fact the athletes wear the colours of, and compete on behalf of, the countries they represent. Countries begin and continue as political entities in a political world for good or ill and we cannot escape the fact that when we cheer our hockey team  over others we are cheering for us over them. It is a political and national act that is better than us vs.them across a battlefield.

Also the idea that athletes “subjugate their accomplishments to a narrative in which they may want no part.” is also an interesting one. Using this logic then do athletes, by wearing the colours of Canada, subjugate themselves to the shames of our past, such as the way we treated and still treat our first nations, as well as the current argument in Quebec around religious symbols being worn by government workers? Aren’t our athletes, by wearing our colours, supporting our abandonment of the Rio agreements? I’m not quite so sure it’s as clear cut as Jay argues. An athlete, by wearing our colours represents, whether they want to or not, everything that our countries flag and colours represent good and bad and they understand that, or should, when they put on the uniform.

Jay goes on to challenge us with “I question where are the cries to fly Chechen or Georgian flags in support of the atrocities and violence propagated against those nationalities by Russia? Where is the call to support the itinerant workers who have been abused in the name of ensuring these Games went off on time? Where is the empathy for the native Sochi residents who are now displaced and homeless?”. Some important ideas here but there may be an important one that Jay may be missing. Jay is right, we should be aware of these other issues at home and abroad, but I’m not sure I understand that by flying a flag on one issue we are diminishing others? If by wearing a green mental health ribbon am I excluding breast cancer or remembrance day? Does choosing to support an issue necessarily mean that I don’t support others? Are we being exclusionary when we fly a Canadian Flag or the flags of the provinces or territories because someone may come from another country? I’m not sure that’s the case and don’t agree that by supporting one issue, in the face of obvious prejudice in the country that is hosting the games, that we forget or exclude other issues that are also important. One only eclipses the other if we allow it to do so.

Further in the post Jay goes on to say “And when the Olympic torch is extinguished, do we take down the flag? On February 23rd, will tolerance and love be reinstated in Russia? Is our protest tied only to the Olympics or do we continue to protest until understanding and compassion are the norm? Is this opportunism and show or is it a deep-rooted, ongoing battle?”  and also “ Or maybe I’ve seen too much symbolism turning into slacktivism. It’s easy to stick a ribbon on our lapel, attach an image to our Twitter avatar, or fly a flag and feel like we’re doing something. And if flying a rainbow flag in City Hall’s backyard is going to make some people feel they’ve made a difference, then more power to them. As I said, I’m not going to be offended by it.” . I wonder though if we don’t often, or always, start our tolerance and understanding at a surface level and deepen it through a broader acceptance of how people live, love, and grow. Is calling someones support “slacktivism” perhaps an easy way to dismiss the beginning of a broader acceptance? After all if enough slacktivists display enough twibbons ,pins, or ribbons then maybe there wont be any room for bigots left to spread their hatred. Perhaps i’m being a bit idealistic but it’s easy to dismiss some people as only being surface deep while pointing out the things we may have done for the cause. I worry that in doing so we do ourselves and our community a disservice by turning some off who may be just getting started.

Jay goes further and says something I believe in and agree with at a fundamental level. “I prefer to live a concrete example of love, compassion, and respect in reality. Every day.”.  Amen brother Jay, amen. I love symbols and believe in them. I believe in the symbol of the maple leaf on red and white not only as a symbol of where we have been but where we aspire to be. I believe in the symbols of pink and green ribbons as symbolic of the suffering and perseverance of some over adversity many of us will never face. I also believe in the rainbow flag, not only as a political statement, but as a rallying cry for the world Jay teaches his children to build. A world of tolerance, love, and understanding. Those are words and symbols I’m proud to see associated with my cities seat of government and with my countries athletes competing in another country that struggles with these ideals. So fly the rainbow flag and raise it at home and wherever we go because by doing so we, at the surface or deep down, say something not only about our own capacity for love and tolerance but maybe provide a light for those , in London or Sochi, they may not have that right now.

Happy 18th Birthday Erynn

Posted: January 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

IMG_1193

It has been a journey of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, and years. For my wife and I, as for millions of other parents, the day has finally arrived. Our Daughter, Erynn Sion Quigley, turns 18 years old today. It is such a huge occasion that I’m left defaulting to cliches like, “Where did the time go,” or “She grew up so fast,” or “It seems like only yesterday that…” I default here because it did go by too fast, and she did grow up fast, and it was only yesterday, wasn’t it?

We do this thing every morning of my daughter’s birthday, for every birthday so far, where we retell the story of the day she was born. So I’ll share it with you. On that day in Edmonton it was bitterly cold and the thermometer hit -43. I had been working night shifts and I came home at my usual 6 in the morning and Heather told me that she was feeling like she might be getting close to the time. That morning and day her body began to go through the slow building process of contractions and we, like any first time parents, consulted books and reread our birth class notes and counted contractions until finally we decided to go in to the hospital.

That ride to the hospital was unbelievably cold but we stopped at a convenience store to pick up magazines and snacks and made our way to the hospital. We finally arrived and everything was kind of slow going for awhile there. Heather told me to go get something to eat and I did and then BANG her water broke. I rushed back and my wife was in serious pain, the kind that a man would never know. Eventually the doctors suggested an epidural and then things slowed down again. Over the course of that night we went from boredom to panic to boredom to a rush of wheels and then we were in the Operating Room. The docs decided that the baby had to come out and a C-section was in order.

They tried, both the surgeons and our family doctor at the time, to talk me out of being in the OR  but I had to be there to see this miracle of our love come into the world. So our family Doc stood right behind me, in case I passed out, and the surgeon took out the knife. In minutes our daughter was brought out into the cold OR, took her first breath, screamed her head off and flew through the APGAR tests with flying colours. Heather was exhausted but I remember clearly the joy on her face when Erynn was presented to her. I remember feeling so inadequate to the task of being a father. Heather fell asleep quickly in a much deserved rest. I took our daughter, and quite against the rules, began to walk around the wing showing everyone our beautiful little girl. I wanted to show anyone I could this little miracle I held in my arms, I wanted them all to acknowledge that she was the most beautiful baby ever. I wanted to celebrate and dance and share this moment with the entire world. I remember clearly looking at her and saying we will never abandon you and will always love you and we will always be there for everything you need us for.

Flash forward 18 years and I remember the first time she rode her bike without the training wheels, I remember how beautiful she looked for her grade 8 graduation, I remember the pride we felt when she was honoured by Senator Michael Kirby, I remember being frustrated about her not getting homework done, I remember birthday parties, and tears, and hard questions, and so, so much laughter. I remember it all. I remember when our family rallied around her when she was lost and remember our community coming together to support us all. I remember the introduction of new words to our family’s vocabulary like vestibular, Bi-Polar, Hiff Hiff, and relaxable. I remember her sharing her dreams and fears and me silently reciting a a counterpoint of hopes for her. I remember her first day of school and the first time she let me read one of her mature poems. I remember and  am grateful for the work my wife has done. Heather worried, and helped with homework, and learned the the intricacies of anime, and heard our girl’s secret wishes.

So now here we are. Happy 18th Birthday Erynn. Happiest of Happy Birthdays. I know you’re worried about what will come and you’re not sure where you’ll end up but your mom and I have faith. Faith in your incredible smarts and your unbelievably generous heart. Faith that you will choose a path that’s right for you, and faith that you’ll arrive where you need to be when you’re ready. You see, we believe in you, whole heartedly, and without reservation. Sure we worry and fuss and hassle you, all parents do, but we know deep down that it will all be ok. We know, deep down, that your character and heart are strong. We know, deep down, that any challenge you face you will be able to meet. And you should know, deep down, that we will always be here for you.

We still have a long path together, the three of us, but it is the best path I have ever walked because you are on it with us. So Happy Birthday little mouse. Your Mom and I are so proud of you and love you so very much. We welcomed you into the world on your birthday and in time, all too short a time, the world will be yours.

NYC DAY 1 2011 031

When my daughter was five our family began what was a long journey that led us through a series of heartbreak and moments of unbelievable generosity. My wife and I realized when she was very young that our girl was different. She was precocious, could speak at a level that was beyond many her age, and had an imagination that dwarfed my wife and I. She was always drawn to adults more than other children and when she was four watching her mom walk down our front path said “My mommy walks with grace and beauty in the sun.” Not the typical words you hear from a four year old.

At the same time, she had a fierce and unstoppable temper. She would sometimes rage for two hours at a time and would be extremely difficult to redirect or calm when these moods were on her. So when we arrived in London, in December 1999 we soon realized we would need help. My wife was, and still is, much smarter about this than I am. She understood much quicker than I did that something was wrong with our girl and she began, as she often does, to research and to seek resources in our new community.

Through the great work of All Kids Belong we began to seek informed options regarding what was going on. Mervyn Fox, a developmental paediatrician, was the first to suggest that our daughter may have Bi-Polar Disorder and through a series of endless paperwork and questionnaires we eventually and gratefully ended up at the Child and Parent Resource Institute. CPRI is a very specialized institution in London that serves much of western Ontario and offers families, children, and youth care and resources around mental health. It was there, over the next 13 years, that we would find comfort and help when at times the world seemed not to have a place for our girl.

Our journey has evolved over the last 13years from just trying to understand what was going on with our daughter, to fighting for her rights, to advocating nationally, provincially, and locally for those families, children, and youth that are often confronted by the confusing and difficult world of the child and youth mental health system. But it was CPRI that helped us understand what was going on with our girl, diagnosed her Bi-Polar Disorder at age seven, helped us advocate for the resources she needed in the school system, provided us classes in parenting a child with our daughter’s challenges and hosted an invaluable parents’ support group that showed us that we were not alone on our journey.

We have been helped by Psychometrists, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Social Workers, Occupational Therapists, Child and Youth Workers, Behaviour Consultants and many more invaluable people. And through it all, the staff at CPRI has not only been competent but provided us with that most important and life affirming aspect of care, understanding and empathy. They were there when we lost battles and won them, they were there when my daughter became the first child who was chosen as a national face of mental health, they were there for the many public speaking engagements my wife and I did, and they were there when we had no idea what to do. And that’s the most important part of this whole post. They were there, every day, at anytime, for the past 13 years.

Our daughter is about to turn 18 in a few short weeks and she will no longer be at CPRI. Her journey will continue through the adult mental health system and she is working with some amazing people at WOTCH. But is was CPRI that informed and guided us through most of our daughter’s childhood. It was CPRI that empowered us as a family to not only survive but thrive. It was CPRI that created the possibility for our daughter to fully realize her potential and achieve her dreams.

This week we went to CPRI for the last time and held a small celebration as our way of saying thank you to the staff that lifted us out of despair to empowerment. We took homemade muffins, scones, and some special cupcakes to CPRI and invited many of the staff that have helped us over the last 13 years. And they all came. We reminisced, and laughed, and we thanked them for the possibilities they showed us and support they gave us.

I walked out ahead of my family, overwhelmed with gratitude for these people who cared so much, and as I walked out the door, I saw a husband and wife walking up with a young girl and I knew that their journey was just beginning. Their journey, like ours, will be made lighter because of the dedication and care the staff at CPRI had for us and will have for them. That little girl and her family will go through similar ups and downs to ours but they will be supported, listened to, and ultimately  will have the opportunity to lift themselves and their girl beyond a diagnosis to a full life.

Thank you is not enough for all that this group of amazing people have done for our family, but it is all I have. Thank you. Thank you for the being there during frantic calls and last minute appointments. Thank you for the many meetings and thousands of hours. Thank you for being there when no one else was. Thank you for being there for the start of our journey and for helping us move on to the next leg of it. Thank you for seeing the bright spark that was our girl and that brilliant light she is becoming. Thank you for all the small moments and all the life changing ones. And most of all thank you for seeing beyond your job titles to the the heart of what we all are together, a community of care and love. Thank you … for everything

I lift my cup

Posted: December 31, 2013 in Uncategorized
 
I lift my cup to those I fought with and those i loved
those I embraced and those who extended their hand
those that argued and those that comforted 
those that are here and those that are gone
I lift my cup to you
 
To those that don’t like me, don’t know me, don’t care what I have to say.
To the well meaning and the well intentioned
To the people who try and the people who don’t
I lift my cup to the whole of the everyone whose path i crossed
 
To the outspoken and the quiet, the exuberant and the reserved,
The careful and and the bold and the those who do what they say
 
To the intuitive, the logical, the arrogant, and the humble.
 to those who make service their life and to those who’s life is their service
To the beginning and the end, to the middle and the sides , the ups and the downs,
to the hopeful and sad
I lift my cup to you
 
To the pundit and plodder, the witty and the wicked, those on the sidelines and in the thick of it, 
To the simple and the complex, the shy and the subtle, the naysayer and the cheerleader I lift my cup to you.
 
So here’s to you on the changing of the year while I hum a little Auld Lang Syne while we count down the last of the hours, minutes, seconds and all shout Happy New Year and in the infant moments of the next year I lift my cup to you all until there is but a dribble left in the bottom
 
and then I lift my cup again

Through my fault

Posted: December 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

I want to write something uplifting and deeply satisfying here as I look back at 2013 but i can’t. I want to praise the progress I’ve made and shout a joyful YOP with my fellow citizens about how we are well on our way to making our city. country, and the world a better place. But I can’t .

Every year between Christmas and New Years I write down the 100 hundred things I believe in. It’s never an easy exercise but it is worthwhile. I carefully revisit each item on the previous years list and revise when needed and strengthen when what ever I leave. This year though it has been particularly hard. One of the things I wrote on my list was year, as I do every year, is that  I have failed. Failure is an important thing for me as it gives me a place to consider from where to improve. But this year that failure has taken on a deeper meaning.

In the car on the way to visit family over the holidays my wife and I were talking about the issues we face locally, nationally, globally and I felt myself become more and more angry. My wife asked “ why are you so angry? What’s the matter?” and I quickly felt myself on the verge of tears. I was emotional because ,as i said to my Wife, that “ we could chose, right now, with the resources we have, to end hunger, to end poverty, to make Peoples lives more fulfilling, to never leave anyone behind again and the only reason we haven’t because we have chosen not to.”

We have chosen not to. And there in five small words is the reason for the environmental, health, education, and economic miseries we continue to visit on one another and continue to not do anything about. We chose not too. Your neighbours, your coworkers, your friends, your fellow citizens, our international brothers and sisters, your family, and I chose not to. I Chose not to.

There is a great, great saying in latin “ Mia Culpa, Mia Culpa, Mia Maxima Cupla” . Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. This is what Catholics would say as part of the Confiteor  where the faithful would confess their sins. There were two forms of this, the Ordinary and the Extraordinary. I Quote here the extraordinary. I am not Catholic, though I was brought up as one, nor am I a member of any faith. I am not a believer in God nor in any form of spiritualism but for me this phrase is rang or me as I wrote my list.. Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. 

It is my faulty that I am not a better father, a better husband, a better son. a better friend,  a better neighbour, a better citizen, a better human. It is my fault that I don’t work harder to make a better neighbourhood, a better city, a better country, a better world. It is my fault that I am tempted by things that ultimately have no meaning or worth. It is my fault that I am never strong enough, or smart enough, or eloquent enough to make where I live a better place for those around me.

It is a part of my fault that the 465 generous workers of Kellogg’s were laid off. it is a part of my fault that the 455 workers of Electro Motive Diesel lost their jobs more than a year ago. It is a part of my fault that wages are so low and work is precarious. It is a part of my faulty that trees are being cleared and that waters are being polluted and that we are losing more and more of our planets beauty. it a part of my fault that there are children working in horrible conditions in other countries, that women are degraded, that my fellow human beings are sold into suffering. It is a part of my faulty that wars happen and that our indigenous Peoples are left to a life of hopelessness and woe. I own all or some or a part of each of these faults.

Why? Well what are the products I buy? What are the prices I expect to pay? Where is my patience in listening to others? When I have decided to do something easy when I didn’t want to put in the effort?  This list goes on and on.

I am very fortunate, very blessed, very grateful for the bounty in my life. I have friends of such depth and passion that they continually lift me everyday. I have family that is deeply loving and giving. I have work that is satisfying and rewarding. I have a home to share with my wife and daughter. I have an abundance of food and shelter, of family and friends, of community and neighbours,. I have a wealth of love and caring; and perhaps this is why am becoming more and more aware of my faults.

I am not asking you, dear friends, to catalogue the worlds pains and suffering with me, I am not asking you to join me on a righteous crusade, I am not asking you to protest or picket or chant or anything. I am not asking you for anything. I am only sharing with you my Confiteor in the hopes that in the next year this will spur me to work harder, to be more loving, be more aware, and to try harder to leave the world, my country,  my province, my city, my neighbourhood, or my home a better place.