Note: The Healthy Mind Body Planet Tour is also producing
audio podcasts to accompany these blogs. Hear them here.
The Healthy Mind Body Planet 2006 Tour concludes…
After the tragic suicide in 2004 of the revered environmental, peace and justice activist Tooker Gomberg, I Angela Bischoff, Tooker’s soulmate, began a personal journey of research into the cause of his death. Before long, friends Kelly Reinhardt and Bridget Haworth contributed their multi-media and organizing skills, and the three of us spawned a cross-country odyssey documenting and cross-pollinating info on the dangers of antidepressant drugs and the pernicious influence of Big Pharma.
By comfort coach on VIA Rail, from April through June 2006, Kelly, Bridget and I visited 24 Canadian communities from Halifax to Victoria and every province in between, presenting 27 times to just under 1000 people in library theatres, church basements, cafes and campuses. We produced and distributed 25,000 Depression Expression newspapers, a 20-page tabloid documenting critical news and views surrounding antidepressant drugs. We produced video and audio podcasts and posted blogs. We documented people’s stories and shared them with the world, receiving more than 100,000 website hits a month. While the commercial media shut us out, indy-media jumped on board.
The good news of the Healthy Mind Body Planet Tour 2006 is that the tide is turning. While use in psycho-pharmaceuticals skyrockets – one in five women in BC was prescribed an antidepressant in 2003 – just as many are rejecting big-pharma’s promise of a pill for every ill. Public confidence in pharmaceutical companies and regulators is plummeting. People are wising up to the marketing lies and are turning to alternatives.
We were impressed and humbled to witness the depth and breadth of public critique and outrage of the abuse of psychiatric drugs, and to learn of people’s positive experiences with alternative treatments based on more holistic and thoughtful mind-body analysis.
These blogs attempt to articulate Canadians’ concerns and experiences with pharmaceuticals and alternative treatments when dealing with depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses.
June 21, 2006 – Sherwood Park, Alberta
The church basement of my hometown seemed like an apropos venue to close our tour. The room was filled with mostly women of all ages (see May 23 blog below for a fuller discussion about women and antidepressants).
One woman testified how her antidepressant prescriptions increased her anxiety, while good nutrition and exercise decreased it and indeed enabled her to become drug-free. Another woman testified that her niece became suicidal after changing antidepressants and killed herself. Still another woman studied depression and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a type of talk therapy that aims to change our dysfunctional patterns of thought) and learned that long-term outcomes with CBT consistently show greater improvement than drugs.
It seemed we’d heard the same stories over and over and over again across the country during our 27 presentations, as well as during informal conversations on the train, at parties, check-out counters etc. Horror stories of addiction, suicidal urges, psychosis, agitation, sexual dysfunction, weight gain, mania – all caused by psychotropic medications.
After tearing down the set of this final presentation, Kelly, Bridget and I stood exhausted, but also exhilarated. Six months ago we’d put our lives on hold to organize this tour and create our multi-media presentations, and three months ago we took to the rails. We’d set out to speak to Canadians across the entire country, to provoke thought, to inspire action – and we had. We spoke to the media in every locale, distributed approx. 1000 Depression Expression newspapers in each town, brought almost 1000 people together to network and shed light on a taboo subject, gave voice to those who suffer with mental illness, and encouraged discussion on alternatives to psychotropic drugs to treat depression and other mental illnesses.
No less importantly, we’d told Tooker’s story, our great friend and teacher who’d unsuspectingly sacrificed his life at the alter of Big Pharma. We felt it our duty to warn others. We did what we could, and we did our best. Tooker would’ve been proud.
June 20 – Edmonton, Alberta
Tooker spent many great years in this city. As an outspoken and articulate advocate for the environment, peace and justice, Tooker was elected to City Hall where he spent a 3-year term promoting sustainability. His green legacy lives on to this day in everything from cycling facilities, waste reduction and composting, energy conservation and more.
One hundred people attended our event here in the library theatre. One fellow testified how he suffered headaches and depression for a decade. During that time he saw six different psychiatrists, and was cycled from one antidepressant to another, often lured by free samples. Not once was he asked about diet or exercise. The drugs didn’t work, nor did the shrinks. He did his own research, improved his diet, consistently exercised, and healed himself. Similarly, a woman testified that she felt like a lab-rat as she moved from one antidepressant to the next, which only made her feel worse. In the end she claims improved nutrition, vitamin and mineral supplements, and marijuana got her out of her multi-year funk.
Another woman spoke about how a series of personal losses lead to high stress. On her doctor’s recommendation she took a three-month leave from work but was prescribed an antidepressant. She refused to take the drug, choosing to explore alternatives instead. Based on this choice, her employer refused to pay her sick leave. She grieved this decision through her union and won. Employers take note – employees cannot be forced to take drugs in this country! (Unless you’ve been hospitalized or otherwise institutionalized.)
Another fellow spoke eloquently about the ill effects of commercial fats, which decrease the function of our cells, leading to heart disease, depression and more. On the other hand, hemp, flax and fish oils replenish and feed the cells, providing essential fatty acids – required nutrients – which have been removed through modern processing of commercial oils primarily to extend shelf life.
June 15 – Calgary, Alberta
In Alberta, pharmacists are now entitled to prescribe many drugs; several people referred to this as a dangerous direction for the medical profession to head. One fellow expressed concern that general practitioners (GPs) prescribe dangerous mind-altering psychiatric drugs without any psychiatric training or deep understanding of the adverse reactions and need for careful monitoring. Indeed, four fifths of SSRIs are prescribed by GPs, yet the average visit to the doctor is 6-7 minutes; how much information can be exchanged in a 6 minute visit that will likely result in a prescription for a psychotropic drug?
June 5 – Vancouver, BC
I like Vancouver. Set amongst the mountains and the coast, it feels relaxed and cosmopolitan. It has great bicycle facilities and employs beautiful traffic calming techniques. Good vibe.
Our downtown presentation was well attended. We kicked off World Mad Pride http://www.gachet.org/site/news.php?id=50 , a month long series of events which aims to challenge stigma and create dialogue on issues of mental health, human rights, social security and more.
One woman at the event testified how as a teen she was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), a diagnosis that is virtually unheard of in lesser developed countries but is now all the rage in the west. She cycled through all the pharmaceutical stimulants and antidepressants, and they did nothing but make her manic and suicidal. She is now drug-free and much better for it.
Another woman testified that at age 17 she was confused and sought attention. She was put on an antidepressant that made her manic for which she was prescribed Lithium. With the support of nutritional supplements, she went drug free. At age 23 she relocated which caused stress. Again she was prescribed an antidepressant that again, lead to mania. With the support of the anti-psychiatry movement, as well as a naturopath and homeopath, she is drug free to this day. Learning about her food allergies has helped balance her moods a tremendous amount.
A student of homeopathy spoke about the impending threat of Codex Alimentarius http://www.netctr.com/healthenviron.html, already part of CAFTA, FTAA and WTO agreements. Once fully implemented, it will immensely restrict our ability to acquire vitamins and other supplements. It represents tremendous financial wealth for the pharmaceutical industry at the expense of the health food industry and our health. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people die annually as a result of iatrogenic illness (medical error and adverse drug reactions), while not one has died as a result of vitamins or other nutritional supplements and untold numbers have been helped. Codex is without a doubt the single most catastrophic event in health freedom in our lifetime.
Another momentous event happened earlier in twentieth century with the Flexner Report, which resulted in the closing of most of the homeopathic and alternative healing schools on the continent, virtually eliminating all competitors to allopathic medicine. This dogma was later adopted by the UN’s WHO (World Health Organization), dealing a blow to health freedom around the world.
An employee of Vancouver’s Compassion Club http://www.thecompassionclub.org/main.html attended our event and spoke to the benefits of medical marijuana. There is indeed evidence that marijuana can alleviate symptoms of depression. http://www.mpp.org/releases/nr20051117.html Marijuana users are also more likely to report positive moods and fewer somatic complaints such as sleeplessness. No surprise millions self-medicate with the herb.
There are Compassion Clubs across the country, but Vancouver’s was the first, formed in 1996 to provide the city’s chronically ill with can alternative to underground drug dealers. The non-profit organization has evolved into Canada’s largest medical marijuana buyers’ club.
Up to ten varieties of cannabis are generally available, at prices ranging from $5 to $10 per gram. Along with smokeable cannabis they also provide various baked goods and cannabis tincture. Also, clones (small plant cuttings) are sold when available to help members grow their own medicine.
The Compassion Club has been welcomed as an essential service by doctors, patients, and the public. In addition to distributing clean medicinal cannabis to over 3000 members, the staff of 34 provides a much-needed support network as well as access to natural therapies and counseling services.
Although the other Compassion Clubs across the country are continually getting busted, Vancouver’s club has never been busted, touch wood. Signs of sanity!
Another woman spoke of the danger of one of our culture’s most pervasive drugs – alcohol. Alcohol is a mood altering depressant drug that slows brain activity and affects the neurons, causing poor judgment, bad coordination, and a host of other problems. It disrupts sleep patterns, distorts judgment and lowers inhibition. Research suggests that continued alcohol use can cause depression.
Another woman spoke with me about the work of Dr. Paula Caplan (see page 8, Depression Expression http://www.greenspiration.org/images/DEweb.pdf ) She critiques the ways in which the American Psychiatric Association arrives at the diagnoses listed in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), which is used by almost all mental health professionals. She claims the process is sexist, dangerous, and motivated by profit.
Another woman spoke to the power of compassion in getting her through her dark night of the soul. The last word goes to the Dalai Lama: “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. ”
June 1 – Roberts Creek, Sunshine Coast, BC
What a piece of paradise this place is.
At this presentation a woman testified eloquently that she was married to a man who traveled with his work. They had three young children and lived in a fairly isolated location. She was harried, and unhappy. Her doctor prescribed an antidepressant, as if that would improve her life circumstance. She refused to take it and instead worked to build community, which indeed did change her life circumstance. Bravo to her.
After the presentation a young man told me privately how much Tooker influenced his life, how Tooker inspired him to move through the world with integrity and courage. This was his first opportunity to process Tooker’s passing, to mourn publicly, to honor him, to wrap his head around our collective loss. It was a sad, sad moment.
Being amidst the coastal rainforest however buoyed my spirits. Everything was wet, huge, lush, alive and vibrant. My eyes feasted on the bold hues and my lungs stretched with each deep breath. I took a yoga class where we visualized ourselves as seaweed dancing on the ocean floor. The crystal shop diffused my urban energy. The beach engaged my vision beyond my limited horizons. Fungus on the forest floor focused me on the delicacy of the here and now.
We happened to catch a huge outdoor private party that was nothing I’d ever experienced before. There were vegan treats, cappuccinos made with organic beans and hand-ground almond milk, a free-bee clothing swap, fire-pit, tee-pee with international electronic music, fire-performers, visual artists projecting blended images onto giant screens and objects in the trees, trance dancing indoors, a sacred alter of flowers and Hindu Gods and Goddesses and gems, drums, and costumes galore, all set amidst a rainforest clearing with a quarter moon hovering above. I felt like I was beamed into a Star Trek party scene. Very trippy, very beautiful, very fun.
May 30 – Victoria, BC
While in Victoria we visited Dr. Abram Hoffer, one of the granddaddies of orthomolecular medicine http://www.orthomolecularvitamincentre.com , a science which aims to correct imbalances or deficiencies using vitamins, minerals, amino acids, trace elements, and essential fatty acids. Hoffer’s latest book is called Naturopathic Nutrition: A Guide to Nutrient-Rich Food and Nutritional Supplements for Optimum Health.
Dr. Hoffer told us he’s treated more than 5000 schizophrenic patients with great success. Eighty five percent of his patients are “normal” after two years of treatment. By “normal” he means that patients are working again, paying taxes, having relationships, being productive. So too in less developed countries where schizophrenics are not treated with drugs, they have much higher rates of improvement and integration, not being sick for the rest of their lives. By contrast, western psychiatric medicine doesn’t even try to cure schizophrenics; in fact, it presumes the patient will be disabled and on drugs for the rest of their life.
Dr. Hoffer, a psychiatrist for 55 years, just retired last year at age 88. He is very critical of psychiatry, saying it’s “entirely dysfunctional”, giving itself over to the distribution of toxic drugs. He said that infant mental illness was very rare 50 years ago. He believes that mercury in modern vaccines, plus food additives and preservatives, sugar and allergies are leading to vitamin and mineral deficiencies that alter our mental states. These deficiencies, he claims, can be cured through nutritional supplementation.
Problem is, corporations can’t patent vitamins and minerals, and so his research is ignored and occasionally vilified, even though no patient has ever died from an overdose or improper use of vitamins, while 110,000 Americans die annually from improper use of prescription drugs.
Hoffer’s healing remedy for schizophrenics includes:
1. housing – fully half of the homeless are said to be schizophrenic
2. food – wholesome and nutritious
3. civility and respect
4. orthomolecular medicine – the right combination of vitamins and nutrients specific to each patient’s needs.
Following the interview Dr. Hoffer wrote me this: “Thanks for coming over. I think it went very well due to you and your two colleagues’ interest. We all have to work together to get the message out. We can live without drugs most of the time, but the system has become sick sick sick and the end result, if we do not change, is that we will all be medicalized with a diagnostic number starting from infancy. We already see infants being diagnosed as bipolar and given Seroquel (an anti-psychotic) as a treatment . The Boston study I referred to was studying children ages 4 to 8 on heavy anti-psychotics. In the future any child that gets a little restless will be pumped full of Seroquel – which will certainly quiet them down but at what price?”
We then interviewed Alan Cassels, author of Selling Sickness. He spoke about ‘disease mongering’ – the pathologizing of our life experiences like menopause and PMS (“pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder”), shyness (“social anxiety disorder”), grief (“depression”), anger (“oppositional defiance disorder”) etc. to benefit drug sales. http://collections.plos.org/diseasemongering-2006.php
Janet Currie, Health Researcher and Consultant, spoke about the need to broaden out the dialogue beyond antidepressants to include barbiturates, sleeping pills, benzodiazapines (tranquillizers), mood-stabilizers, stimulants and anti-psychotics. The medical profession often cycles from one type of drug to the next, combining, altering, experimenting. Bi-polar disorder, or manic depression, for example, seems to be the disease du jour. A common protocol for treating a bi-polar patient is with four drugs – a mood-stabilizing drug, tranquillizer, antidepressant and finally, an antipsychotic. Alan Cassels says of these drugs, “the target drugs behind the bipolar marketing are – and I don’t use these words flippantly – powerful, anti-psychotic treatments, capable of causing horrendous, sometimes irreversible, adverse effects in some people.” You’d never know it from the ads.
Many believe that the recent dramatic rise in mania is itself an adverse reaction to our increased use of antidepressant and other psychiatric drugs. Indeed, manufacturers of antidepressant drugs include mania as a “common” adverse reaction, common referring to a minimum of one percent of users. Could it be much higher? Certainly we’ve heard the story from Canadians that they only experienced mania after they had begun antidepressants. http://www.thestreetspirit.org/August2005/interview.htm
Our presentation in Victoria was in the Dreamspace, a charming, underground hovel covered with inspired graffiti. Forty of us filled the space to share knowledge, ideas and testimonials. One fellow testified how his doctor cycled him through every antidepressant drug, and every one made him suicidal. He saw the correlation with the drugs, but his doctors wouldn’t acknowledge the connection. They refused to see him unless he continued with drug therapy. He was almost forced to go on drugs to qualify for social supports.
A woman responded by speaking to the need for a minimum livable income http://www.livableincome.org . Half of Canada’s tax filers earn less than $20,000. That’s a lot of poor, stressed and vulnerable Canadians.
Did you know that in the 70’s, the average wage of a shop-floor worker compared to the senior executive was one-thirtieth? Today it’s one-onethousanth. How obscene is that.
A woman testified that she was having mild panic attacks. Within just two minutes her doctor prescribed an antidepressant. The drug made her crawl under her skin, feeling as though her skin was inside out. The experience was so horrible that she wanted to kill herself.
Another fellow spoke about how one shrink at one point misdiagnosed him with schizophrenia and bi-polar, and although other shrinks disagreed with this diagnosis, he is not able to wipe the label off his medical records.
Another guy spoke about how provincial Mental Health Acts support unlawful committals and compulsory treatment that leads to rampant abuse. Amending these acts, in view of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is an ongoing issue for mental health advocates. http://www.broadpowers.com/
A woman succinctly stated that no one should go off psychiatric drugs quickly. All psych drugs cause dependency. Most doctors do not know how to taper off psych drugs. However people can withdraw safely from psych drugs, as Dr. Joseph Glenmullen details in his book The Antidepressant Solution (2005) http://www.greenspiration.org/drug/articles/Withdrawal.htm
A gentleman spoke about his success with L-Tyrosene, an essential amino acid important for the neurotransmitters, suggested for depression. Another gentleman spoke about his success self medicating with cannabis (marijuana) and fasting. Another man found healing through organic raw food and social activism.
A female physician became so concerned about allopathic, pharmaceutical drugs that she was prescribing to her patients, that she gave up on her profession and turned to homeopathic medicine instead, which she claims has far fewer side effects and indeed more success.
A woman spoke about how her cousin suicided while on an antidepressant drug. Although she and other family members suspect the drug connection, they won’t talk about it. Perhaps now, armed with copies of Depression Expression, she’ll initiate the discussion.
May 23 – Jasper, Alberta
Tooker and I always came by train up to Jasper together to hike and bike in the Rockies. This time I came with three friends. We hiked and climbed. We breathed deep. We watched a thin mama bear meandre alongside her three cubs. We squatted and stared into the crystal clear Maligne River, nesting home of the Harlequin Duck. The roar of the river drowned out my cries.
After dropping off our gear at the presentation site, we all hit the streets of Jasper armed with posters and handbills. We fanned out, wandering through the streets, chatting people up. “Hi. I’m speaking at 7 tonight at the high school library about the dangers of antidepressants.” I emphasize and slow down the words “dangers of antidepressants.” One elder guy, out for a jog, decisively shakes his head, “Naww. I don’t need them”. A hulky cyclist says, “I wouldn’t touch ’em.”
Many more women than men show interest in what I have to say when I’m leafleting for our gig. Similarly, our audiences are about three quarters women. Can you believe that one in five women in BC was prescribed an antidepressant in 2003? One in five. These drugs are making billions for corporations like Eli Lilly and Glaxo SmithKline.
Why are women prescribed two thirds of all antidepressants? Two thirds.
Women are more expressive and tuned in emotionally. We visit doctors more than men, and we’re also taking our kids to the doctor, so we’re more connected to the system of western – or allopathic – medicine. Our jobs are often high stress, and we have more familial and childcare duties. We’re often victims of child or sexual abuse, which may result in depression or anxiety in later years. We’re generally poorer then men, which carries with it lots of added stress. And most insidiously, for over 50 years, pharmaceutical companies have promoted the concept that emotional distress experienced by women in reaction to normal or traumatic life events as a “biological disorder” requiring treatment by potent drugs. http://www.whp-apsf.ca/en/documents/ssri.html
Given the serious side effects that accompany antidepressant drugs, it’s incumbent upon us to try all the safer alternatives first, like exercise – that is aerobic, creative, that stretches and strengthens, and that is daily.
An improved diet of locally produced, organic, alive and unprocessed food is a no-brainer. Cut the sugar. Check for allergies and then honor them. Take supplements of vitamin B, and essential fatty acids found in hemp, flax and fish oils.
Community is essential. We need to embrace inevitable change and transition. And we need to stick together, support each other, and embody compassion. Drugs can’t do that; they delay the awareness, and worse, they carry dangerous and even deadly consequence. Remember – for every person helped by an antidepressant, another may be harmed.
At our Jasper presentation, in the school library, a young traveler shared that he was looking for his niche in life, and having a hard time in the process, questioning where he belonged. Another audience member gracefully lurched forward and shook the lad’s shoulders, saying with glee “Right here man, you belong right here. You are a child of the universe.” The kid smiled. It was a very profound and generous moment.
We moved onto Vancouver where a friend is caring for his brother who is despairing our cold, cold world. My friend questioned what was the point of his caring when the ever increasing needs just seem to cloud and exhaust his own life. And then I read what Matthew Fox had to say: “There is universal agreement from all the world’s wisdom traditions that compassion is the best that humankind has to offer, and that compassion is not beyond our capabilities… From Buddha to Jesus, from Isaiah to Muhammad, from Black Elk to the Vedas of India, from Lao Tzu to the wisdom teachers in Africa, our species is admonished to respond to life by compassion.
“Compassion is the living out of our interdependence. (In today’s physics and cosmology, interdependence is once again the basis of all our relations.) Compassion is about sharing the joy and the pain, and doing what we can to relieve that pain. Compassion requires the calling forth, the educing, and the education, therefore, of our deepest capacities as a species: our capacity to act as if we truly are part and parcel of one another, in joy as well as in sorrow.”
May 16 – Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Presenting in Saskatoon was a real pleasure, not only because it’s a gentle, friendly city, but because a half a dozen young women organized our stay with complete competence and enthusiasm. They’ve all been touched by mental health issues – either themselves or a friend – and saw the relevance in encouraging broader community dialogue on the topic. Their efforts paid off: 64 people attended our presentation, another 50 attended a zine launch of On Edge, and another 9 showed up to a smaller discussion around sustainable activism.
At our public presentation, a young woman spoke about being forced to take antidepressant drugs as a teenager, which made her suicidal. She eventually got her power back and turned to healthy food and constant prayer to get her life back on track.
A young man spoke about how in his teens he was angry and depressed at the state of the world. He was put on antidepressants, which had a numbing effect on him and on his emotions. He got off the drugs because he felt justified in his anger. He asked the audience, “Why shouldn’t I feel outraged? Why shouldn’t I feel the pain and sadness of the world around me?”
A woman spoke of her depression lasting many months. Her doctor prescribed an antidepressant. She resisted but her doctor persuaded her. Immediately she became agitated and couldn’t sleep. She was prescribed a tranquilizer. Her antidepressant dosage was cranked up. She began to have thoughts of self harm. One day she accidentally burned herself while cooking. She liked the sensation. Over the following 24 hours she continued to burn herself, giving herself a third degree burn. She went to the hospital. They treated her burns and sent her home with advice to stay on the drugs. Luckily, a friend stayed with her. Her doctor prescribed an antipsychotic (in addition to the antidepressant and the tranquilizer). A few days later she admitted herself to the hospital where drugs for bipolar were added to her regimen. Once out of the hospital she read a book by Dr. David Healy (Let Them Eat Prozac) and became determined to wean herself off her drugs. Her physician did not support her in this and refused to treat her through the withdrawal, so she did it on her own. She was ill for weeks with nausea, vomiting, headaches, and more. She’s now drug-free. She copes well with the help of art therapy, community theatre, improvisational dance, friends, meaningful work, and she’s produced a zine on issues of mental health. She’s come out of the closet on this issue, and says that it’s the most meaningful activism she’s ever done. By sharing her own story, she’s enabling others to share their stories, and together they realize they’re not alone.
A Social Worker in the room spoke about her frustration at there not being adequate and affordable resources in the community for her clients to access, such as talk therapy, art therapy etc. As a direct result, the police are used as a taxi service, ferrying her clients to hospitals like a revolving door where they’re fed invasive and harmful drug and shock treatments which do nothing to reach the source of people’s problems.
An art therapist told me that in BC her work is recognized by the health care system, whereas in Saskatchewan it isn’t. For that reason she’s planning on returning to BC, having given it a go in Saskatchewan but without success. She says that art therapy provides unique healing and growth experiences, connecting our conscious with our unconscious self. The artistic process taps into the right brain, connecting to symbols, images and perceptions, releasing repressed memories, calming us, enabling self awareness.
A man later told me that he dealt with his depression by taking daily doses of hemp oil (containing essential fatty acids that have been removed from our processed foods to extend shelf life), eating as many raw fruits and vegetables as possible, and smoking weed. Many people have told us privately that marijuana has been an effective antidepressant for them.
I later spoke at the zine launch about sustainable activism. We must organize, yes, but we must do it within a context of health, balance, compassion and joy. We must work with others and share the load. We must take time to hug a tree or sing a song. We must cook, alone and with company. We must nourish our minds and our bodies – we are physical beings. We must laugh and pray and stretch – which will make being in the trenches fun. Imagine that.
Tooker wrote in his piece Letter to an Activist http://www.greenspiration.org/memorial/letter.htm “Stay rounded. Do the activism, but don’t overdo it. If you burn out, or tumble into depression, you’ll become no good to anyone, especially yourselfŠ It’s honourable to work to change the world, but do it in balance with other things. Explore and embrace the things you love to do, and you’ll be energetic and enthusiastic about the activism. Don’t drop hobbies or enjoyments. Be sure to hike and dance and sing. Keeping your spirit alive and healthy is fundamental if you are to keep goingŠ The world needs all the concerned people it can get. If you can stay in the struggle for the long haul you can make a real positive contribution, and live to witness the next victory!”
Percy Schmeiser http://percyschmeiser.com/ is an elder who has stuck it out over the long haul, and his efforts are now playing out internationally. We interviewed him on his farm in Bruno, just east of Saskatoon. This farmer is a gem, an eco warrior par excellance. When Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds contaminated his fields through cross-pollinisation, Monsanto sued him for theft. He defended himself through the courts – and lost! He went all the way to the supreme court and lost there too – even though no one disputes that the GMO seeds got there through unplanned for cross pollinisation. It’s beyond belief, certainly beyond rationale, that our judicial system would support the rights of transnational corporations over Canadian farmers. His outrage took him all the way to the United Nations World Court where he presented his case just last week, charging Canada for stiffing farmers and consumers. A decision is expected within a few weeks. In the meantime he’s working with other governments in Europe and elsewhere to develop moratoriums on GMO products. (To hear a mind-blowing audio interview with Percy on Pharma-crops, or the introduction of pharmaceuticals in plants, produced by boilingfrog.ca, click here: http://www.rabble.ca/rpn/episode.shtml?x=49400 )
May 12 – Winnipeg, Manitoba
A young woman at our presentation spoke emotionally about her experiences being “incarcerated” in a mental institution and forced to take drugs. For her this was a human rights issue. She stated her opposition to forced or coerced treatment administered without genuine informed consent. She noted new draconian legislation creeping in around the continent, such as Brian’s Law (and Community Treatment Orders) in Ontario, and Kevin’s Law in Michigan, making it even easier to commit people to inpatient and outpatient treatment against their will. http://psychrights.org/index.htm A young man testified about his own forced hospitalization. He said that his psychosis got much worse in the hospital while forced to take drugs that made him disagreeably high. He’s now drug free – no street or pharma drugs. He goes for natural highs – music raves, eating nuts, saunas, and lifting weights at the Y.
A man who has spent time living on the street spoke about how cops routinely beat up, verbally assault and physically intimidate mentally challenged people. He said that people look at him like he is subhuman, or refuse to make eye contact with him. He said society doesn’t give a “tinkers dam” that there is a story in his eyes about abuse and neglect by a system that has written him off. A true test of a conscious society is how it treats its most vulnerable.
A Doctor of Homeopathy spoke about how homeopathic medicine treats every patient as a unique individual with different symptoms requiring different treatments, in contrast to allopathic medicine that has a handful of drugs from which it chooses to treat patients. Homeopathic doctors consider a wider range of aspects of the patient’s condition – personality traits, physical features, the effects of a variety of environmental influences, patterns of disease within families, and family and social relationships. This same doctor also mentioned that the Indian subcontinent recognizes 6 different modalities as primary health care treatments, in contrast to North American health care (or sick care) systems that only recognize allopathic medicine as legitimate.
A woman came up after the presentation with tears in her eyes, saying that I affirmed her nightmarish experience with drugs. She said she’s weaning herself off her antidepressant drugs slowly and replacing them with running. There is a plethora of evidence showing that regular physical activity is the best long-term treatment for depression and anxiety. It focuses and calms the mind, burns fat and excess energy, aids digestion and circulation, tones muscles, strengthens bone, improves heart and lung function, gets endorphins flowing, sheds excess weight, and, best of all, makes you feel good.
People are continually telling me that our public presentations and Depression Expressions http://www.greenspiration.org affirm their experience with drugs. They tell me that their physicians don’t really believe their reactions to the prescribed medications, but rather encourage them to stick with the program even if they feel worse. No surprise: doctors’ Continuing Medical Education is provided by drug companies. The drug industry spends $20,000/doctor/year in Canada “educating” physicians. In my presentation I show a glossy 12 page bilingual full color document produced by GlaxoSmithKline, makers of Paxil, that was sent to every physician in the country in 2004. This propaganda encourages doctors to “reduce patient drop out” by giving prescribing physicians all the arguments to convince patients to continue antidepressant drug treatment, without even so much as mentioning the potential adverse reactions to these drugs. This should be illegal.
One woman spoke about how the medical profession was unable to treat her fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. She found relief and healing through different modalities, including Chinese medicine and art, which she said gave her space and confidence to heal herself. But talk therapy based on a feminist analysis was critical in helping her situate her trauma in a larger social and political context of class, race and gender. Her partner spoke about how he used herbs to heal, calm, and connect. His dog grounded him. And he stretches daily, developing flexibility and strength. Both spoke about DIY (Do It Yourself) culture, where everyone, regardless of skill level, is encouraged to create and express themselves through art, theatre, sport, activism, etc. in a way that is uniquely genuine for them.
May 10 – Sioux Lookout, Ontario
Although Sioux Lookout is primarily a First Nations community, just one of 17 attendees at our presentation was a First Nations member. We have a long ways to go before genuine solidarity and relationship with our First Nations neighbours becomes a reality.
The first response to our presentation came from an older gentleman who proposed that the increase of depression today comes from urbanites imposing their lifestyles and economic system on rural folk. By definition, rural folk have always been more connected to the land and to their communities. As long as we’re disconnected from nature, we’ll remain disconnected from ourselves.
There is a branch of psychology called EcoPsychology, which suggests that there is a synergistic relation between planetary and personal well being; that the needs of the one are relevant to the other. It makes sense. It’s all connected. Given the tragic environmental decline we’re all witness to – climate change, species extinction, deforestation, genetic mutations – plus chemical warfare, massive social inequity, and an economy concerned not with life but money, it’s a wonder we’re not all depressed!
Another fellow spoke about how traditional diets of persons living in less-developed countries were much simpler and more nutritious than western diets. True enough. It’s been said that traditional diets of indigenous communities around the world where cancer is unheard of, are much more raw, basic and bitter. How can we expect to have healthy minds when we feed our bodies a steady stream of processed, fatty, genetically modified, artificially enhanced, chemically laden, sugar-laced foods that have zero nutritional value and stress our systems? British researchers have shown that healthy diets improve children’s capacity to learn, focus, and read. We must get back to home-cooked (and raw) meals made of organic, local, whole, non-processed ingredients. Support your organic farmers’ markets. Experiment in your kitchen.
A physician in the room spoke eloquently about Integrative Medicine, a branch of medicine that aims to integrate allopathic (western or conventional) medicine with complementary and alternative (eastern or holistic) medicines. Practitioners of Integrative Medicine believe that the combined knowledge of old and new healing modalities is ultimately superior to a single-model approach to health and wellness. Unfortunately, our health care system only recognizes the value of allopathic medicine and its treatment of choice – pharmaceuticals – to the detriment of millions Canadians who want access to treatments other than drugs, drugs and more drugs. Treatments such as Massage, Counseling, Reiki, Yoga, Shiatsu, Biofeedback, Chiropractic, Hypnosis, Homeopathy, Naturopathy, Cranio-Sacral Therapy, the Arts Therapies, Ayurvedic, Orthomolecular, Western Medicine and many others can work in conjunction with each other as part of a unified team rather than in competition.
We were presenting in the basement of the town’s United Church. One woman spoke of the value of spiritual life in connecting us with ourselves, our soul, our community, and our world. Whatever your penchant, connecting with the inner self, quietly, privately and in community, can provide a resting space for the heart and mind. Rituals communicate beyond words, and can wake us up to ourselves in a penetrating way, allowing transformation, healing and awareness to emerge.
April 28 – Hamilton, Ontario
I spent a few hours leafleting for our event on a busy street corner in Hamilton. I was surprised what a multi-cultural and working class town it was.
Our event at the Sky Dragon Centre (worker-cooperative dedicated to progressive social and environmental change) was well attended. A couple spoke at length about the nightmare their family has been in over the past 5 years. At 12 years old, their daughter suffered anxiety, not uncommon for girls approaching puberty. She was prescribed an SSRI, and since that first prescription she has cycled through various antidepressants, tranquillizers, and anti-psychotics. She has since harmed herself repeatedly, even writing a diary of all the ways she might kill herself. Since going off all antidepressants 6 months ago, her suicidal urges have disappeared. Both parents believe that her behavioral problems were exacerbated by her psychiatric drugs, and her suicidal thoughts were created by them. They’ve researched Orthomolecular Medicine www.orthomed.org/ which prevents and corrects imbalances or deficiencies using nutrition, vitamins, minerals, EFAs, etc. They have requested OrthoMed be part of their daughter’s health regimen, but her doctors have refused to consider it.
There have been many doctors throughout the ages who have had great success with non-drug therapies, although they tend to get marginalized (Quacks) and even excommunicated from the profession, such as Quebecois Ghyslaine Lanctot, author of the Medical Mafia.
April 27 – Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario
At our event in Kitchener, an older woman spoke about how she developed epilepsy in her 20’s. Tics were an adverse reaction to her meds, and she didn’t like her dulled emotional state. So she weaned herself off her meds by taking up grass (medical marijuana). Pot kept her seizures at bay for many years. Eventually she didn’t like being high all the time, and she was always worried about getting busted, so she experimented with proper diet, supplements, and exercise, and before long was able to wean herself off weed. She now has very few seizures, and controls them strictly through self-care.
Another woman told a tragic story of how her best friend was forced drugs while incarcerated in psychiatric hospitals. Initially he refused, but later agreed to take them in order to be released. Secretly however, he “cheeked” them. He hated the way they made him think and feel. His last act of resistance was running away from a cop that he feared would incarcerate him yet again, only to meet a river that swallowed him up. Enforced drugging, electro shock, incarceration in mental hospitals, and hi-risk experiments are too often used to control or coerce many patients – particularly women, children, the elderly, and prisoners. http://capa.oise.utoronto.ca/index.html
Our driver shared how he had been part of the FTAA protests in Quebec city in April 2001. He commiserated that just like Tooker, myself, and tens of thousands of others, he was poisoned by agents of the state with tear gas and other nerve agents banned by Geneva Convention. The only time in his life that he’s ever “broken down” was in the weeks following that mass poisoning. He believed at the time, and still does, that his break down was a direct result of the toxins he was forced to inhale.
April 26 – Guelph, Ontario
Guelph is a quaint town west of Toronto. The woman we stayed with uses ‘cyclotherapy’ as well as art to quell her grief. A woman at the presentation testified that she healed her depression with a one-week fast to detoxify her body. Another woman turned to gardening.
Another woman spoke about how as a foster parent she resisted the use of drugs for children in her care. She preferred raw, organic, vegan food to calm and balance their moods, and she had great results. Nevertheless, Children’s Aid Society chose to remove her foster children in favour of parents who would agree to drugging, and it breaks her heart to visit her children and witness their drugged states.
April 24 – Windsor, Ontario
Just 3 women attended our presentation in Windsor, which made for a very sweet and personal exchange. One woman spoke of her outrage when her daughter’s school-teacher suggested she be put on an antidepressant, just because she is shy! The mother refused, and the daughter is blossoming.
A young women shared that she was horribly shy as a child, and she shuttered to think that she may have been prescribed drugs, or diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder, or Social Phobia, or Avoidant-Personality Disorder, along with millions of other north Americans who now constitute a $4 billion/year market for the antidepressant industry.
The push to sell drugs is turning healthy people into patients by “disease mongering” and pushing “lifestyle” treatments. Shyness, once an accepted and even admired trait, has been hijacked and given the status of a syndrome. Bashfulness and modesty have suddenly become socially unacceptable and that to succeed we must be vocal and assertive. Medicalizing a common human emotion such as “shyness” is fraudulent and dangerous. http://collections.plos.org/diseasemongering-2006.php
April 20 – Toronto, Ontario
We were nervous about speaking in Toronto in front of our peers, but we passed the test. Toronto was our best gig yet with 100 people in attendance.
The opening was auspicious. Some young folk who we’ve never even met, showed up with 100 CDs as a gift to the tour. They wrote, produced and dedicated a song Here is Well to the Healthy Mind Body Planet Tour, and donated them to us to use as we wished. You can hear the Team of Captains tune here www.myspace.com/teamofcaptains
After playing it a few times, and then the memorable Tooker – Le Monde a Bicyclette, the song written by Mike Ford and dedicated to Tooker’s memory www.greenspiration.org/memorial/song.htm , we shared our knowledge and multi-media presentation with the eager audience.
So many wished to share their stories. One older woman spoke softly about how when she was a new mother with 4 kids under age 5 with little support from her husband, her doctor prescribed psychiatric pills to help her cope. Can’t we do better? One in 5 women in BC was prescribed an SSRI (most common class of antidepressant) in 2003. Two thirds of SSRIs are going to women. Meanwhile, which gender is prescribing them? And which gender sits on the boards of these companies that are profiting?
One man clearly and emotionally articulated the pain of the world – environmental devastation, genocide in the middle-east, increased government surveillance. While expressing solidarity with the 6 Nations community in Caleidonia, he asked why we weren’t all depressed?
One woman who did a school paper on “informed consent” called for more complete patient information on prescribed drugs. Indeed, I called for this on the back page of Depression Expression: “We call on Health Canada to immediately issue safely advisories for all antidepressant drugs, which would include the risks of suicidal ideation and violence as well as other reactions, stating how often such reactions occur. These safety advisories should also include information on withdrawal, adverse reaction reporting, and alternative, non-pharmacologic approaches to the treatment of depression. This information should be standardized for all pharmacies, written by Health Canada under direction of a public advisory group, and give to patients every time they get a prescription for an antidepressant drug. Every physician in the country should also receive these advisories.” For my other recommendations see (page 20) www.greenspiration.org/images/DEweb.pdf
A woman who works with Fight for Kids www.fightforkids.com spoke passionately about protecting children from drugging which will impair them for life. While no antidepressants are approved in Canada for children under 19 years of age, doctors are prescribing them to children in unprecedented numbers off-label (which means, prescribed for a use they were never explicitly approved). On top of it, there is little to no evidence that SSRI use with adolescents (or adults for that matter) is effective, and increasing evidence that the drugs can cause substantial harm including suicidal thoughts and gestures, hostility and aggressiveness.
A man spoke up about the hoax around serotonin deficiency. We’ve all had it grilled in us for years that depression is a chemical imbalance, and if so can be cured by chemical treatment. But these claims are just not supported by scientific evidence. http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pmed.0020392 In Europe companies cannot make these claims, but despite no supporting evidence, companies and the medical profession continue to espouse the theory as fact.
Following the event, a few dozen of us retired to the patio across the way for some camaraderie, the surest protection against depression – community, laughter, and friendship.
April 19 – Peterborough, Ontario
There was a study that measured the moods of people before and after yoga classes, and particular types of yoga classes. They found that happiness levels increased most substantially during classes that focused on back arches and back bends. Most of us are so used to slumping our shoulders forward out of insecurity or modesty, that pulling our shoulders back, arching our backs, lifting our chest to the sky and dropping our heads back feels incredibly good and brings us great joy. The endorphins start flowing as our muscles engage in new and unexpected ways. I’m now closing all presentations by inviting audience members to stand, arch, stretch, breathe deep, release and smile. After that exercise, there’s not a person in the room without a smile on their face. I rest my case.
April 18 – Kingston, Ontario
In Kingston, a young fellow at the presentation who was labeled schizophrenic theorized that in fact he was telepathic, something not accepted as real by the medical establishment. Since it’s well understood that we only use 10% of our brains, why not allow for the possibilities that some of us are able to tune into other frequencies? At one time witches were burned at the stake for their spiritual capabilities – now they’re being drugged.
One woman stormed out half way through our presentation. Outside the room she challenged me: “I think your presentation is dangerous because you’ll influence people to go off their drugs. Do you think schizophrenia is a brain disease or don’t you?” I responded respectfully, “I understand that there’s no evidence of brain disease with any mental illness. With depression for example, there’s no evidence that a depressed person’s brain has any less serotonin than a non-depressed person’s brain, although SSRIs, now a $14-billion market, are built on this hypothesis that is based on marketing rather than science.” She was clearly miffed by my response, but left rather than counter it.
Another woman at this same event wrote in her evaluation that our presentation was biased. But of course it is! We do not apologize for this. We aim to counter the media and medical bias that favours a biomedical model of treating mental illness. This mainstream bias presents itself daily through television and print advertising, industry-sponsored consumer advocacy groups, and through our medical system, which legitimates pharmaceutical options while marginalizing alternatives.
Meanwhile, iatrogenic illnesses (those caused by medical intervention) are the 3rd leading cause of death in North America! (See Death by Prescription by Dr. Ray Strand, or Death by Modern Medicine by Dr. Carolyn Dean)
April 13 – Ottawa, Ontario
While in Ottawa we met with and interviewed some great minds.
Dr. Dean Fergusson of the Ottawa Health Research Institute and Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa published a shocking study in Feb. 2005 http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/330/7488/396 . His meta-analysis reviewed data on 90,000 patients from some 700 clinical trials and found that patients were twice as likely to attempt suicide on antidepressants as on sugar pills. I was surprised to find out that no one from Health Canada has been in touch with him since his ground-breaking findings were published in the British Medical Journal, one of the most respected medical journals on the planet.
We also interviewed Dr. Michele Brill-Edwards, a prescription-drug expert with Health Canada for 15 years. She resigned in 1996 because she wanted to speak our publicly about how they are “excessively lax in regulating high-risk products such as blood and prescription drugs but unjustifiably strict in cracking down on herbal products and nutritional supplements.” She became convinced there is a systemic problem within Health Canada, ensuring it is more influenced by (pharmaceutical) industry forces than by consumer needs.
At our public presentation, a vibrant woman spoke about the grace of yoga to help us touch the earth, and connect our bodies and minds. Yoga practice can lead to improved physical health, emotional well-being, mental clarity, and joy in living. Another woman spoke about the importance of spirituality in grounding us in hope. Yet another practitioner spoke up about her success treating depression with homeopathy www.wchs.info, a natural, holistic system of medicine that uses highly diluted doses of substances to stimulate the body’s own healing mechanism. Homeopathy works with body to stimulate its own healing mechanisms, unlike western medicine, or allopathy, which attacks the body’s symptoms.
Our event closed with a young man performing with his decorated staff, twirling it like a baton, spinning, tossing, and dancing to a David Rovics tune called Oppositional Defiant Disorder, an actual diagnosis that made its way into the most recent DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the bible of the psychiatric profession). “Oppositional Defiant Disorder, I think I’ve got it too. Oppositional Defiant Disorder, I’m sick and so are you.” www.soundclick.com/pro/view/01/default.cfm?bandid=111310&content=lyrics&songid=1122865
April 12 – Killaloe, Ontario
Killaloe is a beautiful, conscious community just west of Ottawa where Tooker and I had spent a summer just prior to his passing. We lived in a quaint cottage off the grid and hauled our water on our bicycles. See www.greenspiration.org/environ/articles/OnNaturesGrid.htm and www.greenspiration.org/environ/articles/AngelasHammer.htm , both brilliant and hilarious stories Tooker had written about our life in the trees.
This time I slept alone in the A-frame on the hill, a wooden shelter no bigger than a walk-in closet. Serenaded by the night sounds of the wild, I recalled a Japanese study www.japanfs.org/db/database.cgi?cmd=dp&num=1247&dp=data_e.html that showed that significant results in fighting cancer were obtained by “shinrinyoku,” or “forest bathing.” The study showed that spending time in a forest activates natural killer (NK) cells, a type of cell known to attack cancer cells, and to increase three types of anti-cancer proteins. I’d bet that spending time in the trees also helps mental health.
We were invited to speak at the Friendship Centre. Christina, co-owner of Cool Hemp (non-dairy organic frozen desert made from hemp seeds and other fair trade products www.coolhemp.com ) spoke articulately about how hemp seeds contain omega 3, 6 and 9s, Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) that are known to boost brain health. Western diets were once rich in EFAs, but with modern processing methods, these oils are now removed to extend shelf life, to the detriment of our mental health. Other sources of EFAs are flax and fish oils. British researchers have found that EFAs can improve the behaviour of rowdy kids and help language skills.
A woman who healed herself of depression spoke of the importance of Vitamin B supplements. Stressful, toxic environments and poor diets create an increasingly greater demand for essential nutrients to restore and replenish overworked and damaged organ systems. The nervous system is especially dependent on the B vitamins. Stress, caffeine, sugar, cigarettes, drugs and alcohol destroy B-complex and C vitamins.
This woman also spoke about the importance of deep breathing. Meditation, yoga, and other athletics teach us to breathe deeply into our diaphragms, deflecting anxiety, giving us pause to listen to our breath and our bodies, relaxing us. Deep breathing also aids the lymphatic system, our body’s sewage system.
A massage therapist in the room spoke of the success he’s had treating people with Bach Flower Essences, which are believed to correct emotional imbalances that lead to disease. These flower essences contain infinitesimal amounts of plant materials, and work on the flowers’ subtle energies, or life force. This is consistent with the classic book The Secret Life of Plants, a fascinating, scientific account of the physical, emotional and spiritual relations between plants and people.
A quiet fellow suddenly spoke up with furtive anger, asking who specifically are these Big Pharma corporate criminals that are profiting off our illnesses that they themselves create through marketing, biased research, and ever-expanding definitions of mental illness? He wants names and addresses of company directors, salaries, and company profits. True, my research has focused on what governments should do, and on what consumers should know, while the corporate villains hide behind the corporate curtain of obscene wealth. He and I agreed to further develop this angle. If anyone else would like to work with us on this, let me know (greenspi(at)web.ca).
April 10 – Montreal, Quebec
Seeing Tooker’s father and brother in Montreal was hard, professing we’re all doing well, trying to forget our shared pain and confusion. The life of a suicide survivor is a difficult one, forever running stories over and over in your brain, wondering “what if” you had only done this or that, agonizing over “why”, grilling yourself, regretting, forgiving, suppressing, questioning, blaming, expressing.
A friend held a potluck dinner in honor of our tour. We facilitated a group discussion. The issue was new to most people in the room. One fellow, an antidepressant user himself, promised to read Depression Expression www.greenspiration.org . The next night at our public presentation, he announced that he had spent the entire day reading the paper cover to cover, and was now committed to further research and weaning himself off his drug, which he was never quite comfortable taking.
A young man shared that he was taking Valium because antidepressants didn’t work for him. I responded by referring to a zine we’re carrying called “What People Need to Know about Psychiatric Drugs” http://www.psychmedaware.org/publications.html which states that Valium is a benzodiazepine (a.k.a. benzo, or tranquillizer), a central nervous system depressant widely prescribed for anxiety, insomnia, bereavement, menstrual difficulties, and normal life stresses. However, benzos are highly addictive and should not be prescribed for more than 2-4 weeks. At normal doses, they can cause sedation, loss of balance, confusion, memory impairment, agitation, depression, and emotional blunting. Serious withdrawal symptoms can last months to years. He wasn’t aware of any of this.
Withdrawal, dependence and addiction have historically been the death knell for different psychiatric drugs including benzos. It’s becoming crystal clear that antidepressants are also highly addictive, affecting between 60% and 78% of users, although drug companies in North America continue to promote their drugs as “non habit forming”, choosing instead the term “discontinuation syndrome”. This is psycho-bafflegab at its best, and it is criminal. Corporations are playing with people’s lives. We’ve heard one horror story after another of people who’ve battled withdrawal, some breaking their capsules open and counting the beads, reducing a few day by day. Withdrawing from these drugs can prove deadly. Symptoms of withdrawal may include flu-like aches and pains, sweating, electric shock-like zaps in the brain, crying uncontrollably, hallucinations, violent urges, irritability, depression and thoughts of self harm. For more on this issue see www.greenspiration.org/drug/articles/Withdrawal.htm or Joseph Glenmullen’s book The Antidepressant Solution.
One older gentleman referred glowingly to Ivan Illich’s seminal text Medical Nemesis, wherein Illich argues that the medical establishment has become a major threat to health. Iatrogenic disease (illness caused by medical error) is the name of the new epidemic.
This same man also spoke about how lighting can affect our psyche. Indoor light pollution is everywhere. All neon lights, which are more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, are harmful because the color spectrum is falsified. On the other hand, full-spectrum fluorescent lighting (FSFL) has been credited with causing dramatic beneficial effects on a wide variety of behaviours as compared to other fluorescent lamp types. Studies have shown improved classroom behaviour in school children, enhanced academic achievement, and improved mood in cases of seasonal depression. (See Health and Light by John Ott).
One fellow in the room spoke passionately how there’s no community anymore, how the community centres no longer have services or meeting spaces for single people to network and spend time together.
An MD came to the defense of the medical profession saying that it has lengthened our lives by several decades in the past few centuries. A woman responded by saying that individuals in many indigenous cultures often live to age 100 and older, and that longevity in our urban centres is due more to improved sanitation than anything else.
This doctor also mentioned that patients ask for certain drugs, and doctors feel obliged to honor the patient’s requests. This is supported by recent surveys showing that patients who ask for a prescription get it 4 times out of 5, and about a quarter will go to another doctor if the first won’t prescribe a medicine they want. This is one reason why direct-to-consumer-advertising of pharmaceutical drugs is prohibited in Canada, although that will change if the CanWest media conglomerate (which owns many newspapers including the National Post) wins its charter challenge. Apparently it’s all about money.
April 6 – Halifax, Nova Scotia
Halifax was a very difficult city for me to be in. Dark memories of grief flooded back as I retraced tracks along the harbourfront that Tooker and I walked so many times together.
Still, I managed to drum up enough courage to meet with the Chief Medical Examiner, and with staff of the Justice Minister, to ask for a Fatality Inquiry into Tooker’s death, and ultimately to consider the systemic failures of the medical profession in prescribing and monitoring the use of psychiatric drugs.
I also did an interview with CKDU – check it out here.
Our public presentation on Dalhousie campus drew out some very interesting testimonials on successful alternative therapies to treating depression. One woman who proudly proclaimed that she was now drug-free after 2 decades of drug saturation, spoke passionately about yoga, fatty acids such as hemp seed oil, and aromatherapy. I responded by referring to Dr. Ann Blake Tracy http://www.drugawareness.org who claims that nothing reaches the brain faster and begins the body’s own healing process faster than essential oils.
A physician in the room spoke about how new healing modalities, such as acupuncture, are gaining ground in the mainstream medical community. She also spoke to the value of dance and music, and how they synchronize us with others.
One fellow emoted his distress at not finding meaningful work, and how selling his labour to the machine disrupts his mental stability. Another woman spoke about her weight gain being due to her psychotropic drug. Still another gentleman questioned the definition of mental illness: who defines illness? Why aren’t people allowed to have quirks or eccentricities, bursts of energy, or solitary times of retreat?
On the way to the train station, we stopped at the bridge where Tooker was last seen. Kelly, Bridget, Bruce and I peered over the edge, shared our love for Tooker, and dropped a tear-stained Depression Expression over the edge. It fluttered down, separated into 5 sheets that wafted in different directions, down, down to the harbour below, resting on the surface, floating toward the ocean, to be eaten by fish, absorbed by the water itself, transformed into Gaia’s global consciousness…
April 4 – Fredricton, New Brunswick
Fredericton, New Brunswick, at least south of the river, is a student town. We were hosted by the Underground Café, a non-profit collectively-run space by and for youth. Several members of the collective shared how belonging to the non-hierarchical group, pursuing a common goal, gave them community, purpose and joy.
One guy shared that playing chess was his meditation. An older man labeled with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) stated emphatically “we are not stupid.” One young woman shared in horrific detail how her antidepressant lead from one adverse reaction to another with serious consequence, through a host of drugs to counter the adverse events, to eventual hellish withdrawal. Only after withdrawal from all drugs that had clouded her mind and complicated her symptoms, was she was able to deal with her original problems.
A psychologist in the room referred to a study done by Dr. David Healy wherein he had healthy adults take antidepressants. He had to end the study after just a few weeks because people were becoming actively suicidal.
I encouraged everyone to support their friends and loved ones when they’re down, knowing they’ll in turn support you when you’re down. That’s the true test of community. Depression is cyclical, and when you’re down, you can justify anything. During those dark moments you need a reality check, someone who can give you a more objective perspective. Likewise, if you know someone who is suffering, ask them to promise that if they ever have thoughts of self harm, they’ll call you before acting. This simple pact between friends can save a life. Talking about self harm doesn’t encourage it; rather it brings it into the light and gives you an opportunity to address it with the person.
April 3 – Elispogtog, or Big Cove, New Brunswick
I had read that native youth are 7 times more likely to commit suicide than the general youth population, and that native populations had higher rates of addiction and drug abuse, but that was an academic understanding. Now I was seeing it first hand. The impact of the pharmaceutical drug industry on the First Nations community of Elsipogtog, or Big Cove, in northern New Brunswick, was beyond understanding.
We met with and heard dozens of stories of families torn apart from addiction to pharmaceutical and street drugs, used interchangeably, like pain killers Tylenol 3 and Oxycontin, or stimulants Crystal meth and Ritalin. Kids crushing, combining and snorting. Adults doing them openly. Every family it seemed was impacted directly. Dealers, many of them white outsiders, hang around the band office on ration days like vultures. Everyone knows who they are.
One woman spoke in frustration of how her teenaged daughter was supporting her boyfriend’s drug addiction. This same woman’s best friend stole her money to buy a fix, and killed herself that same night. Her brother had lost his children due to his drug addictions. Everyone had a story.
We were shown a letter that had been mailed out anonymously to every family in the reserve signed by “A confused youth in need of your support!” Here’s a few quotes: “One puff leads to one snort which leads to a whole new world and believe me it’s not a good one. I once had a tv, a dvd player, a nice stereo, a ps2, a whole bunch of dvds and games. Now all I have is a bed and some clothes I know many people think that they are not addicted and it’s not a problem for them but if you have pawned everything in your room and stolen things just so you can afford one pill, then sorry but you do have a problemŠ Drugs are all around the community more now then ever and it surprises me that it’s the adults of the community who are literally giving these drugs out to us youths If this continues then we can all kiss this community goodbye because it is going to fall and fall hard.”
During our presentation in the Healing Lodge, which professionals and public attended, I facilitated a brainstorm on how the community could respond to this letter. The group came up with a plethora of fantastic ideas, such as group training rather than individual counseling; street reclaiming; excommunicating the dealers; expressing concern to the doctors; organized recreational activities; traditional spiritual teachings; and working with the local media. One woman invited everyone to a spiritual gathering on her property in July. Two women agreed to write a response to the letter and submit it for publishing in the local newspaper.
Meanwhile, roaring outside was a large bonfire heating rocks for our sweat lodge. We changed in the teepee while Joe John prepared the ritual. Warming up beside the fire, Josephine, a traditional healer, said to me: “I have a story to tell you. It didn’t become clear to me until I saw your presentation. Two years ago I was at a conference in Halifax when news of your husband’s death swept the room. We paused and gathered in a large circle. I lead the group in a prayer for your husband, and I prayed that his story would live on. Now I see that my prayer was answered.”
Another elder then said to me, “Let’s go in now, sweat, and pray like there’s no tomorrow.”
Inside the sweat lodge all light was obliterated except the tobacco sparkling on the steaming rocks. The pipe was passed, prayers said and sung. The drum was beat and rattle shook. We prayed for the boys and men, for the girls and women, for ourselves, and for our planet – like there was no tomorrow.
April 1, 2006 – Launch from Toronto
After several months of full time focused work, we found ourselves outside Toronto’s Union Station doing yoga with a dozen supporters. Yoga means union in Sanskrit, and we, as the Healthy Mind Body Planet tour, were committed to making the connections between physical, mental and spiritual well-being. So there we were, arms outstretched, backs arched, reaching our chests up to the sliver of blue sky that peaked between the skyscrapers of the financial district, breathing deeply and visualizing joy before we folded forward, touching our toes, letting the blood rush to our brains, reveling in the slow, steady stretch.
Yoga is known to enhance inner peace and physical strength. It is the union of mind, body and spirit, and it is gentle on the planet. Kelly, Bridget and I committed to doing 30 minutes of yoga daily along the entire journey. Bridget committed to quitting coffee. Kelly committed to quitting smoking. We committed to sharing information across the country, honoring Tooker, our community, and ourselves, and saving lives.
Armed with gifts of almonds, biodynamic carrots, CanRail passes and seven boxes of our hot-off-the-press newspapers – Depression Expression http://www.greenspiration.org – we were bound for the Maritimes – the east coast leg of our 23-city journey.
We were stoked.
See pics of our launch (thanks Graeme!)