If a cyclist yells at a driver, it’s because they’re afraid they’re going to die.

On Friday morning, I biked to work. This summer I have cycled about two or three times a week. It’s about 15 minutes to bike from my house, most of it down a six-lane major street that is busy by Winnipeg standards but would seem relatively calm to anyone from Vancouver, Ottawa or Toronto. 113009943_b3f865ac39_o

Friday was different, because I was still reflecting on the death of a cyclist in Ottawa on Thursday. Nusrat Jahan was 23 and killed while cycling in a bike lane, only two blocks from her home.

As I was thinking about this, a car passed me to my left, way too close for comfort. At first it sounded like it was right behind me, then I realized it was squeezing past me, only about two feet from my back tire. A small deviation on my part of the car, and I knew I was done. It was incredibly scary, and I swore loudly while trying to keep my bike very straight so as to not get in the car’s way.

About five seconds later, I found myself stopped at a red light, right behind the car that had just passed me.Without pausing to think, I pulled up between the car and the curb. “Hey!” I yelled. “You can’t do that here”. I was having trouble expressing myself, partly being out of breath (a strong prairie wind was working against me that day) and partly out of anger and fear.

“You can’t do that in Manitoba”, I said, as a woman in the passenger seat rolled down her window. She looked at me like she thought I was crazy. “he was just going around you”.

If you’ve ever genuinely feared for your life, you might know the anger I was feeling.

“You have to leave a meter of space” I yelled. “You can get fined for that. It’s extremely dangerous.”

I swore again as I backed up my bicycle behind the car. The light turned green and I made it to work without getting hurt.

I wear a helmet. I follow the rules, except occasionally when I bike on the sidewalk for safety reasons (and when I do that, I slow down so that I’m not a threat to pedestrians).

The thing is, cars don’t follow the rules. In Manitoba when you pass a bicycle, you are required to give them a full meter of space between you. If you can’t, then you shouldn’t be passing. And yet it happens at least two or three times every time bike to work.

I know that drivers want to get to work quickly, and getting stuck behind me might be annoying. But here’s the thing: my life is worth more than shaving ten seconds off your commute. If that driver had waited for a couple of blocks, he could have passed me safely and easily.

My worst fear as a cyclist in Winnipeg is swerving around a pothole at the wrong moment. If there’s a car behind me in the wrong spot, I could die. A small mistake by me or the driver and I wouldn’t be writing this today.

Drivers, apparently, mostly think cyclists are rude and badly behaved. They’re probably right, to a degree. Cyclists aren’t as worried about drivers’ manners. We’re more concerned that drivers will kill us.

Progressives advocate for more bike infrastructure, and that’s great – I’ve even complained to my city counsellor about the pitiful stretch of bike path that suddenly appears in the last five blocks of my route to work. But Nusrat Jahan was killed in a bike lane. Clearly, infrastructure is not enough. Drivers need to take some responsibility for the amount of power they have; the fact that their negligence could so easily cause deaths. We need an attitude shift. We need drivers to look out for our safety.

I will keep cycling. If I yell at a few people, so be it. My safety is more important than the speed of someone else’s commute.

Photo by redjar is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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Calling Trump “crazy” is lazy, ableist and counterproductive

There are so many ways to describe Donald Trump. Entitled. White. Wealthy. Hateful. Ignorant. An asshole.

None of those facts make him “crazy”. Unfortunately, “insanity” of some kind seems to be the only explanation that the mainstream media can find for the phenomenon that is Donald Trump.

This is going to sound repetitive for anyone who read my last blog post, but throwing around language about mental illness like this, without evidence, is not okay. Not ever. And when it’s about someone like Donald Trump, it carries even more power and potential to do harm, even when our intentions are good.

Trump’s ideas and behaviour are based in ignorance, selfishness, scapegoating, and most of all hatred. This is not mental illness, it’s just an extreme version of hatred that is seen in the U.S. (and elsewhere) every day.

Take, for instance, his racist, anti-muslim and anti-immigrant policies (if they can be called policies). Trump uses these to fire up the emotions of white supporters who are angry at the system and looking for someone to blame.

People in America are right to be angry at the system. The wealth gap is wider than ever. Good jobs are disappearing, and household debt has soared. This is the result of capitalism and decades of neoliberal policy by successive governments, both Democrat and Republican.

(While I obviously don’t support him, Trump is doing a way better job than the Democratic establishment of tapping into emotion and recognizing that the U.S. has real problems that need to be fixed)

Since the beginning of capitalism, the capitalists have incited hatred against people of colour so that white people will blame them instead of the system. It’s an age-old tactic to divide and conquer: convince the white people that the black people are the reason for their problems, and watch them fight each other instead of the system.*

Donald TrumpDon’t believe me? Remember that just a few months ago, one of Nixon’s advisors admitted that the war on drugs was invented to stifle black people and “hippies” who were fighting for equality.

Trump has just taken this to a new level. He’s feeding off the previously-quieter racism of white America. It’s a divide-and-conquer tactic: the anger of white americans is directed at people of colour instead of at the wealthy and the system.

Trump has very clearly and obviously incited violence, not just in passing but as a central part of his campaign strategy.

Then there is his “erratic” behaviour. His behaviour is not the behaviour of a person with mental illness. His behaviour is a lot more like an extreme case of a man-child who has always gotten his own way, never learned self-awareness, and never cared about other people.

Sure, he could be a sociopath, but even sociopaths can be raised to be pretty decent humans under normal circumstances. Given Trump’s self-centered attitude and privileged upbringing it’s a lot more likely that he was simply never taught to think about anyone but himself. That’s not a mental illness, it’s the natural (and terrifying) result of patriarchy, entitlement and privilege.

When we call Trump “crazy”, or speculate that he might be mentally ill, particularly in public, we gloss over all of this. We take the very real problems of our world – racism, capitalism, patriarchy – and scapegoat an illness.

When we call him crazy, we ignore the real issue, and we refuse responsibility for ridding the world of hatred.

But more than that, when the word “crazy” gets thrown around, we create stigma. We conflate illness with hatred and violence.

When the word “crazy” gets thrown around, we even risk inciting violence ourselves, by making it okay to hate people with mental illness. People with mental illnesses are at a greater risk of being shot and murdered by police others, in part because there is a huge misunderstanding of mental illness and intellectual disability in our society. Anyone who misuses any language around mental illness is guilty of contributing to this problem.

This is the reason that activists have been saying for years that it’s time to stop casually throwing around the words “crazy”, “insane”, “lunatic” and countless others. There are better ways to use language that do not marginalize people who have mental illness. The only people who should be using the word “crazy” is people who have mental illnesses when they describe themselves.

And frankly, it’s lazy to talk about insanity instead of hatred. The world is in crisis. There are not enough options on the table for the governance of this continent. There are better ways to go about this, and calling one powerful man a lunatic doesn’t help anything.

We have a responsibility to talk about what got us here, to this place in history. Not just if you live in the U.S., but everywhere. Why do people like Trump come to power? Because good people refused to have the hard conversations.

*To learn more about the connection between capitalism and the scapegoating of people of colour, I highly recommend the books Caliban and the Witch by Sylvia Federici and Dixie be Damned by Neal Shirley and Saralee Stafford.

Are you interested in learning more about how to combat mental illness stigma in your community? Consult with me

Photo by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY 2.0.


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Your pro gun control rhetoric is dangerous for people like me

Last week, I read this column by Aziz Ansari in the New York Times about how Donald Trump makes him scared for his family. It’s an important message: people like Trump (and plenty who are less obvious and less powerful than him) make the U.S. more violent and less safe when they make it socially acceptable to be racist. It may not be safe to be a muslim in the U.S. right now, and that’s something that deserves a lot more attention than it’s getting.

And then I got to this part:

One way to decrease the risk of terrorism is clear: Keep military-grade weaponry out of the hands of mentally unstable people, those with a history of violence, and those on F.B.I. watch lists.

“Keep the guns away from the mentally unstable people.”

Let’s break this down.

First of all, I completely agree that keeping military-grade weapons out of the hands of people who might do violence makes sense. Buy why name the “mentally unstable”?

I mean, who really needs military-grade weapons anyway? Nobody needs them, unless you’re planning to commit murder. So why are they being sold at all? I don’t think I need to explain that further, because I think my readers (and Aziz Ansari) understand this argument.

So why say “mentally unstable”?

This idea gets thrown around all. the. time.  If you read the news at all, you should be familiar with the theory that mental disorders cause mass shootings, and if we just do keep the guns away from people with a history of mental health issues, the shootingss will stop.  But we know that is not actually true.  It doesn’t work that way.

Mental illness has become a scapegoat for systemic violence.”Mentally unstable” is not a diagnosis, or a medical term at all. “Mental disorder” is understood as a category, but it is so broad it’s almost meaningless, because it includes everything from anxiety to autism to psychosis, schizophrenia, and borderline personality disorder – all incredibly different, and all having different relationships with violence.

I believe that people talk about violence this way because they are looking for a simple and logical explanation for horrific events like the Orlando shooting. The problem with blaming the mentally ill, apart from the fact that it’s factually wrong, is that it distracts from the real problem.

In most cases, hatred is the real cause of violence. In the case of the Orlando shootings, it’s pretty obvious that homophobia played a big role. Of course, talking about homophobia and hatred is harder than blaming an illness, because homophobia is such a difficult thing to tackle, and it’s easier to blame an individual who is “sick”.

This scapegoating represents a misunderstanding of what mental illness is, and contributes to stigma. As one researcher said:

the distortion is leading to a stigmatization of people with mental illness, sometimes preventing them from seeking treatment or even becoming victims of housing and employment discrimination, which in turn often perpetuates the problem.

This is a direct cause of stigma. When we throw around the word “mentally unstable”, speaking as if it is inherently violent and worthy of trembling in fear, we are directly creating stigma.

This is the reason we are still afraid to tell our friends and family what we are really dealing with and what our real needs are. We are scared to ask for support through our real illnesses. This is the reason that so many kids are afraid to talk about their issues.

Just like it’s not okay to blame all muslims for the actions of a few, it’s also not okay to pin the actions of some  criminals on all of us who live with mental illness. Doing so makes us less safe.

I absolutely believe that guns should not exist except in some specific situations, and military-grade weapons shouldn’t exist at all. Of course, this is a tough sell, and it’s easier to just say “let’s not give weapons to people who are mentally ill”, than to have a complex conversation about hatred and violence in our society.

But equating mental illness with violence in the eyes of the law is a dangerous road. When we equate mental illness with being violent or dangerous, I’m afraid of what’s going to happen, of how mental illness could be further criminalized. I’m afraid that background checks, which are supposed to keep violent people from certain jobs, will hurt people who have no history of violence at all. That people with depression or autism won’t be allowed to cross borders, buy hunting rifles, or work with kids.

If I had a chance to speak with Aziz Ansari, I would let him know that if you’re going to write about mental illness, you need to know what you are talking about, and be specific. You need to think what you are saying and what kind of impact it’s going to have on people.

Learn to know the difference between mental illness and pure hatred, and what role they each play in society.

Otherwise you risk putting us in danger.

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A free resource on disability & the bible

The Student Christian Movement of Canada, a radical left-wing, political and inclusive organization of young christians, wants to think through disability, and wants to encourage Christians to do so too. So when they asked if I would help them create a resource on disability and the bible, I was only too happy to do so.

Click here to download a free copy of the booklet (some assembly required). It has seven days worth of short bible studies and discussion questions on disability and ableism. It is a great resource for church leaders looking for a theme or creating a bible study, or for groups who want to think about how their churches can be more accessible.  I think it is worth doing on your own, too, if you just want to think about the questions or journal on them. If you are using it, I’d love to hear about how.

The SCM also has a number of similar resources on different themes, including migrant justice, feminism, and peace and nonviolence. You can check them out here.

Happy reading!


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No, hating “big pharma” is not ableist

“Big pharma”, the corporations that control the world’s prescription drugs, consistently take advantage of sick people for profit. Contrary to the headlines I’ve seen lately, hating that is not ableist.

What is ableist is judging people for doing the best they can with the options that are presented to them.

The problem with big pharma is not that drugs exist. The problem is that so much is driven by profit, and not by human need.


Photo by Clever Cupcakes, Licensed under Creative Commons.

There are many times when prescriptions are necessary and important. Hello diabetes and HIV. But corporate lobbying has created a system where the go-to solution for almost everything is to just take a pill, without thinking about the other options.

For many common conditions, including the common cold, anxiety, depression, yeast infections, fever, insomnia, and chronic pain, there plenty of good treatment options that don’t involve drugs.

In an ideal world, pharmaceuticals should be one of the tools in the toolkit, along with massage therapy, physiotherapy, home remedies, herbal medicines, diet change, and rest. For most conditions, there are plenty of options, and in an ideal world, chemical drugs would be only one among many.

The real problem, as with so many things, is capitalism. Corporations need to make a profit just to exist, so they are always looking for ways to expand their profit. To do this, they work hard at convincing people (including doctors) that pharmaceuticals are the best option, instead of one among many.

The effect of this is that more people are on drugs than who need to be, and we’re all paying more than we should be.

But this isn’t the fault of any individual who takes drugs. People who take prescriptions are usually doing the best they can with the options they have, and they deserve respect for that.

Hating big pharma isn’t ableist. What’s ableist is judging people for trying to take care of their health.

And if you say you hate big pharma, what you really hate is capitalism.


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DIY, self love, and re-defining legitimate knowledge

That last couple of years I have been trying to eliminate chemicals from my life.

I started by using only vinegar and baking soda to clean my house. Then I started washing my hair with vinegar, dyeing it with lemon juice, and moisturizing it with coconut oil.

Then I stumbled on a blog post about how to make your own makeup from flowers and stuff that’s in your kitchen. Now I make my own deodorant, foundation powder, moisturizer, laundry detergent and sunscreen. I order homemade bug repellant from a local woman. My friend Andi is an herbalist, so I’ve bought remedies from them, and I’ve started reading about herbalism on my own, too.


My homemade foundation powder. It is safe to eat.

It started as a small attempt to get rid of unnecessary chemicals. But, coupled with my passion for growing my own food, it turned into an effort to learn how to take care of myself. After a couple years of random reading of the internet, googling, reading, and experimenting I have gained an incredible amount of knowledge about how useful and amazing the natural world is.

The knowledge is freeing. On one level, because it reminds me how much we do not need capitalism. We do not need corporate research and development on how to prevent sunburn, because we already have what we need. Capitalism only makes us want what is unnecessary because there’s money in it. I knew that already in theory, but proving how unnecessary these chemicals are feels especially great. I wonder how many other things that we think are necessary are actually not.

Then there is the implications for my body. Using some of these homemade products was weird at first. My hair has a different texture. The homemade sunscreen leaves a bit of a film on your skin. My homemade foundation powder is finicky, and many of these products have to be applied more frequently than the chemical versions.

But then I got used to them, and I feel so good using them. Not only is my skin visibly more healthy, I also started to feel different in my body, and to think of it differently. I love it more. My body must be pretty wonderful if I don’t need chemicals to make it look and feel good, right?  I feel so much more in-tune with how it works, how it is feeling, and what it needs and when.

I am graduating university this month. I have weird feelings about it. There are times when I am happy about it, and other times I feel ambivalent. Mostly I remember how much the academy has fucked me over, especially as a disabled student.

But here’s the thing: regardless of what I learned in university, or didn’t learn, there is knowledge I have that is far more useful for taking care of myself. I have learned how to protect my skin from the sun, to make my own clothes, to grow my own food. I can learn to make my own remedies, to repair my own furniture, and fix my own house. To do those basic things that make life happen.

Being in tune with my body and knowing that I can learn to take care of it this well has so much more practical application than anything I learned in university. These are things you can’t learn in the academy, and I’ve learned some of them. I plan to keep learning them.

For someone like me who once thought I was stupid because I have nonverbal learning disorder, and who was told that I shouldn’t go to university, having this knowledge feels  especially powerful. Being increasingly self-sufficient feels powerful.

There are different types of knowledge, and I have access to many of them, but it’s good to remember that the academy is not superior. It is one way of learning and knowing. Those of us who are neurodivergent have different ways, and they are legitimate ways of knowing, too. We have our own bodies of knowledge that are important, useful, and good, even though they often go unrecognized.

There is so much unshared knowledge among neurodivergent folks about how we take care of ourselves. There are so many methods of taking care of our bodies that our ancestors used and were stripped from us by the medical establishment, by patriarchy, and by imperialism. This knowledge is valuable. I want to go to every neurodivergent person I know and say, your knowledge is valuable. Especially your knowledge of your body and yourself that you have learned and that probably many people have discounted.

We have so much knowledge to share.


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I am invisible

img142There is almost nothing written about nonverbal learning disorder in adults. Almost nothing. What little there is, is written by the so-called “experts” – psychologists and the like, often about how to recognize it in adults, or tips for surviving the workplace. I have found exactly one published book written by someone with NLD.

It’s an invisible topic. When we talk about learning disabilities, we almost exclusively talk about raising (or putting up with) children who have them. Occasionally we talk about the education system and how to make it more accessible. But there’s more to learning disabilities than that. For one thing, there is the experience of those who actually have them. For another, there’s adulthood.

I’ve been wondering how to write about this for awhile. What’s the impact of it? Why does it matter? How do I describe that?

Then I saw this story today. In brief, Alex Johnstone, a young woman politician, faced a major setback because she told a reporter that she didn’t know what “Auschwitz” was. Only it wasn’t that she didn’t know what Auschwitz was, it’s that she has dyslexia and she didn’t recognize the word.

And it hit me what the problem is.

A learning disability has nothing to do with your intelligence. In fact, many people with learning disabilities have above-average intelligence (although I recognize the problems with the social construction of “intelligence”). People with learning disabilities lean strongly towards certain forms of communication and away from others. Dyslexia means you have trouble with reading and writing. NLD, among other things, means you have trouble organizing thoughts, communicating the big picture, and understanding nonverbal communications (like hand gestures, tone of voice, and facial expression).

Like Alex, as I have grown up I have learned to deal with my learning disability and I am mostly a competent adult. I have learned to play to my strengths, and that’s how I get through life. But also like Alex, I occasionally I mess up and do something really embarrassing and shitty.

What I wish is that our society would acknowledge that this exists. So that’s it’s not such a shock when someone accidentally does something seemingly stupid. So we can give people the benefit of the doubt when they don’t recognize word on the page.

Can we give people the benefit of the doubt when they mess up?

Can we learn to acknowledge learning disabilities in adults? Can we talk about them?

I know lots of people don’t want their disabilities to define them. They probably don’t want to be associated with the stigma of developmental disabilities. But we can’t be understood if we remain invisible.


Posted in ableism, neurodivergence, nonverbal learning disorder | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments