Stay Cool, Pony Boy.

Mental illness has always played a part within my life. Whereas most people remember spending their childhood days running around like mad/semi-drunken fools, kicking their friends into the dirt as they ate as much junk-food their grubby baby hands could carry, I remember mine as being far more stressful. Admittedly, I probably ate enough raw sugar to drown a small herd of cows, and kicked my friends so many times that it is a wonder they weren’t permanently crippled, yet it is the style with which I accomplished said tasks that was strange. My behaviour could be described with one word: nervous.

My mother’s stories surrounding the attitudes and behaviours of my siblings and I usually follow a specific pattern; my brother was a kid who deserved more credit than he got, my sister was “tough, big-hearted, and stubborn”, and I, the youngest of the three, was “easy to raise”. The reason for this comment makes that less of a compliment, and more of a case-study.

I was a child who was so terrified of breaking the rules that if I were to break any house rule, I would find a punishment for myself. For example: if I were to swear, I would wash my own mouth out with soap. Why? Because my mother had once told me that this was what happened to her as a child. I would take the punishments she described as having been inflicted upon her, and assume that it had bridged the generational divide like a regal title.

Not only had I a constant fear of parental law, but I was horrifically indecisive. When my Father would ask me to choose (out of 2 places) where I wanted to get coffee, I would take quite some time to decide. Wrapped in abysmal indecision, sweat shining upon my pre-pubescent brow, I would finally plead for him to choose instead. When I talk about these trips now, he laughs. Apparently he had once asked me why I had such a hard time making a choice and I replied, “if we [went] to Macs, the doughnuts at Tim Hortons [would] know and get mad.”

This feeling of dread has remained constant throughout my life in one form or another. I remember staying up most of the night before my first day of grade 9 worrying about what I wanted to major in for University, and thinking that if I didn’t figure it out that night I would fail in life. I was in a constant state of anxiety throughout high school, and oftentimes found my mind obsessing over the ‘what ifs’ of my day-to-day. It was only when I got to University that I realized perhaps this had gone a bit too far.

In 2013, about the time I was diagnosed with ‘General Anxiety Disorder’, an estimated 3 million Canadians (11.6%) aged 18 years or older reported having a mood and/or anxiety disorder (Government of Canada). Although I had always known that having a mental breakdown over what to choose on a menu, or crying for seemingly ‘no reason’ was not normal, it had taken me until I was almost 20 years old to get help.

Mental illness is invisible, and because of this it is highly stigmatized. When someone has a broken limb they are given treatment and compassion. When someone has a ‘broken’ mind they are given the cold shoulder, and told to “calm down”. I will not speak for everyone, but when I am told to “just relax” in the midst of a panic attack, an inner beast awakens (an inner beast that is frequently just two steps away from clawing out the eyes of the well-intentioned speaker). Sadly, people have been left in the dark  as to how they can help those experiencing mental illness. It is not necessarily the public’s fault either; our entire culture is based on the “Conceal, Don’t Feel” format of interactions. If someone is able to discover your inner ice-queen, you are seen as already having lost. That is why it is so important to talk about mental illness; if we talk about it, then the mystery is gone.

I encourage you, dear reader, to go from this humble blog post and talk about that which should not be the ‘Dark Lord’ of our society (Voldemort, not Trump). If you are suffering from a mental illness, know that you are not alone. More and more people are coming out of the fold to speak about their own experiences with mental illness, and we are slowly eliminating the stigma associated with getting help. You do not have to to be alone in this. The more we talk about mental illness, the closer we are to sending the Mystery Gang back to unmasking ghosts instead of complacently patting Shaggy on the shoulder and telling him that he should “just stop worrying”.

For information on how to help someone you know who is suffering from mental illness, go here. If you are suffering from a mental illness yourself and do not know where to turn, call 1-866-531-2600 (if you are in Ontario), or find a number that can help you here.

-J. Dixon-

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The Case of the Pay Phone Pimp.

With new technology busting forth from the minds of companies (and an eager market’s voracious appetite for all things new and shiny) pay phones seem to be a useless reminder of a time without portable devices. In my experience, pay phones are used for two things: 1- to find in an emergency when your phone is dead/are suddenly the main character of a horror film, and 2- to discover what 1-800 name-to-number combinations produce (for those of you wondering, my name can be linked to a sex-line). Pay phones are frequently considered as useless relics of times gone by…

But if that were true, I would not have started writing this post.

Downtown bus terminals of most metropolises have an array of things to offer. For example, Saint Catharines’ has a few vending machines, a sandwich station, and (of course) the aforementioned pay phones. On this particular day that my story takes place, I was waiting for the bus to work. Dressed in my casual uniform I watched as a man clutched onto one of said pay-phones for dear life. This man, presumably within his late 20s or early 30s, was speaking to whom I can only guess was (for if she still is, I worry) his girlfriend. The nature of their conversation pulled me from my music.

Teary-eyed and sharp-toned, the man began to talk about a variety of things. From what I could surmise, the main focus was that he had money and was leaving town for Alberta to avoid being arrested (again, he said loudly). His voice choked up as he counted down the minutes left that his conversational partner had to speak with him before his Greyhound bus arrived. Calling his ‘beloved’ a series of derogatory names, he confessed to possessing a large amount of some illicit drug at his home and having “over $5000.00 cash on [him]”. This connoisseur of pay phones was beginning to attract quite a bit of attention as he lamented over how his “other girls” had provided him with more cash flow for specific (here unnamed) acts. It was at this time that I realized the private investigators of the pre-cell phone era probably had it easier than those of today. The Pimp (who everyone was now watching) again burst into a fit of tears, expressing a loud remorse at the caller’s reluctance to see him ‘one last time’ before he left in spite of his threats of violence.

I have known an array of colourful people; having grown up in a small-town with an even smaller-town feel I have seen quite a lot, and heard quite a bit more. Yet the experience of seeing this man arrange a meeting with a woman whom he simultaneously threatened and confessed his love for was entirely new. Pimp-man arranged to meet this person in front of a local tattoo parlour (which will remain nameless), exclaiming that he would wait there far beyond the time advisable for him to meet his count-down bus. He bravely asserted that she could call the cops if she wanted, and the scene ended to the sounds of his snuffles and shuffling away.

Pan to my alert and worried reaction.

I am from the school of thought that hesitates to support full on fist-fights, even between two consenting adults. I had a cell phone however, and so decided to call the place where the meet up was to occur. Sadly, after my strained and awkward description of a ‘white man in a hood with his face mostly covered’ (which prompted an “… alright… thanks.” from the establishment’s call-taker), I was forced to put the events from my thoughts to catch my bus. In the end, I was off to work and the stranger was off to a potentially MMA-themed meet-and-greet.

Is this the new direction for pay phones in our cell phone saturated society? Maybe the TV shows that depict an assortment of criminally charged conversations held on such devices are not so far off. Perhaps the days of Steve Martin-like business men calling their loved ones to complain about the interruption of services to their Planes, Trains, or Automobiles is over. Then again, I have a cell phone, and so it could be that Mr. Strange Pimp is an entirely new manifestation of pay-phone users. I may always be left wondering what happened after my inspired transition into the lamest rendition of Batman. Perhaps even now that stranger is drifting from pay phone to pay phone, guaranteeing the relevance of this older technology and calling an assortment of people to threaten… or perhaps he used some of his $5000.00 to buy himself a phone. Either way, he will always live on as a story story of mine, and a devoted customer of our nation’s pay phone industry.

-J. Dixon-

The Beginning of an Origin Story…

Life doesn’t always pan out the way you think it will. Sometimes you think you know which way you are headed upon the clear-cut path of life, only to get a phone call or email that informs you that you need a better GPS. I am sure everyone has had that sinking, life-changing experience at least once within their lifetime. For example, last week I found out that the Graduate program that I had set my heart out for had preemptively decided that we should see other people. This is by far the worst break-up story I have…

Of course I handled the news in a very mature manner (only crying for a half an hour, and moping around for two additional days in my room before picking myself up of the ground of failure). Finding a way to be optimistic about falling off the trail you had thought you were destined for over the past two years is hard, but sustaining life through left-over pizza and a nonstop stream of Netflix shows is harder. Somewhere between the stale crust and tenth marathon-ed episode of Arrested Development you begin to realize that although you are very upset, you are still alive. At that point you start to understand that ‘just because I have not gotten into the career that I had I thought I wanted, doesn’t mean my life is over’.

So here I am, Dear Reader; a soon-to-be English Graduate of twenty-two years with a new list of possible dreams to pursue. I have decided that this changing time is the time for optimism! Moving forward, I will fight even harder for what I want, despite its place on my initial road map of life. Starting with this blog, shall begin anew. I will document the day-to-day, and overcome the issues that will surely arise in ways that I will be proud to look back on. Here is to looking towards the future, and side-eyeing the past!

Until next time!

-J. Dixon-