Category Archives: DTES

Downtown Eastside

Both Sides Now: Reclaiming Treatment

apparently this was published in 2011 in The Network, the newsletter of the West Coast Mental Health Network. who knew. 

Name-Calling

After the dust clears from your first encounter with the apparatus of psychiatry, you’re diagnosed. “Dia” as in (“diameter” or “dialogue”) means “across.” “Gnosis” means “knowledge”. So the psychiatrist is naming you according to his knowledge of you, acquired during a meeting of perhaps five minutes, which likely occurred while you were in a bad way and completely unable to resist such naming.

The big book containing all the names is called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), and has been through four editions so far. New, exciting names are expected in the upcoming version. And, by the by, once you are named, it sticks. You’re “bipolar” or “schizophrenic” – and keep in mind that you may get the wrong name; misdiagnosis is common. 

Disorder This

When you’re loaded up with psychoactive pills that knock the energy right out of you, you have lots of time to think. “Treatment” mainly means pills and visits (assuming you’re lucky enough not to be subjected to electroshock). In many ways, both constitute an invasion of the privacy of your own mind. You end up in a struggle for self-preservation, resisting the silence that pervades the world of mental illness, still stigmatized and relegated to the margins.

Then too, psychiatric treatment is generally uniform, taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Regardless of your uniqueness – your glorious difference – you’re reduced to a peg hammered into some pill-shaped hole; which of course does not leave you whole. The integrity and complexity of your personhood – the most important aspects of what makes you, you – is part of what ends up being subsumed under the label of “illness.” But illness/ disorder doesn’t define who you are, and no pill can do that either.

Resistance is Useful

I’m not suggesting that pills are all bad: I take mine, and they help alleviate the debilitating symptoms of serious mental illness. But we must always be careful – they are overprescribed, and their long-term effects (despite the claims of safety and efficiency promulgated by the pharmaceutical industry) are unknown. All of us who receive psychiatric treatment are experimental subjects – or rather, objects. And part of our struggle is to become subjective persons again. There are many ways in which this can be accomplished, including joining with others who have had similar experiences to share knowledge and ideas, and initiate action.

An army of lovers cannot fail, and treatment can be redefined as the way in which we work with each other.


postscript 2018

i was taking my meds at the time, apparently. this was also a time of very disordered and chaotic illicit drug use for me. everything exploded, soon enough, and i wound up in the hospital, “on leave” from gachet, and because drugs, respectable types in the art/mental illness space deleted me from relevant existence. i tried to fight my way back…

i don’t like that last sentence.

An army of lovers cannot fail, it’s said. But this war makes everything a battle. The treatment we get every day can really only be changed by the ways in which we choose to treat each other.

historically trained

i’ve been thinking about the ways we take care of our past. and the ways we don’t. and how it gets written over and over.  and sometimes people are more concerned with taking care of the past than they are about casually discarding human lives in the present day.

as you may know, i have historical training.

so while trying to avoid some task, i came across a lost folder – an archive. the fact that this document exists is a testament to qualities not conventional among public officials –to understand that our lives are an ongoing argument to mean in the world, which as i understand it, is to become what we are seeking, rather than demand it of others, and refuse to situate ourselves as endlessly lacking, rejecting the power we inherently have. or, in Tracey’s words, “don’t ask if you’d never give.” i’ve tried to follow through with a bit of the stuff she was working on. and in doing so have learned a lot about government. much of which, as any reasonable person, i didn’t want to know. but holy shit people, am i glad i did.

and if it’s not clear, i do consider the obscenely exploitative and stipended poverty-dependent local activist culture a primary cause of tracey’s death. exploitation and enforcement is a good deal at 10$/hr in this housing market when people are this poor. i’ve done as much as i can at this time to point out these contradictions and hypocrises, and seriously people, this is your fight.

we talked a lot about what the downtown eastside means, and all that had to be figured out. she loved it and she was rooted here but was of more than this place, through relations and connections and networks locally unperceived.

i am not sure if this was posted publicly when i was at vandu, or by the city at the time. it would take me 4-8 hours to prove, one way or the other conclusively, and nobody is paying me right now to do that or even anything i am actually good at or might possibly even enjoy.

on the editorial history i am a little unclear. in any case, this is the city’s proclamation of Tracey Morrison Day, July 21, 2017.

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for this and much else, thanks Andrea Reimer

when his friend c.s. lewis died, tolkien was shaken. he wrote that he was  “like an old tree that is losing all its leaves one by one: this feels like an axe-blow near the roots.” and he was over 60 then — he was an orphan at twelve, he was in the mud of the “great war” and on his return all his close friends were dead — and as his authentic self, a tree, experiences lewis’ thoroughly natural death as a near-sunderinng from the earth itself 

i first read that last winter.  it stops my heart, and i don’t have a sense of rootedness. or a family. i said in 2014 that the neighbourhood was the closest thing i know to what people meant by “home.” that tentative sense has been gone for about 15 months. it seems to me that most people in the DTES who have been affected by (ie. seen up close) the realities of the “overdose crisis” in this place, have been changed profoundly. to claim otherwise is to embrace denial and a perverse stoicism. or people keep themselves busy – anything as long as there’s never a moment to think – or get really involved with researching the derangement of their senses, or become so involved they can believe themselves indispensible to the situation, invincible, and later indifferent, while the bodies pile up.

i reject that completely. the DTES was predisposed to react in these ways. in fact we were all already traumatized and damaged before this all happened.

i need a bit of time to think. so i’ll take this.

i presume she’d laugh at some of the absurd situations i have found myself in; others she’d enjoy for rather different reasons. but there was an election, the meter has clicked over, i did what i could. wondering what she’d make of all this.

Some people, even elders say, this is sick land, meaning it’s bad land, right. And well, it could be, but you know, how sick could it be when this is where I found compassion, friendship, family, love, hope, faith in people – this is where I found it.

i remember this conversation, her speaking with an elder. we continued walking down the street to deal with some messed up shit that was happening. we talked about that conversation later, though. “maybe its too sick right now,” she said then, and added quietly, “we have to heal ourselves first.”

there’s clearly no interest among the surviving powers in the neighbourhood to do anything different, acknowledge some collective wrong, and rethink the way all our interactions are about power. and i don’t share Tracey’s faith, especially faith in people, not after all this. so i’m not not interested in continuing in this manner, in maintaining these ways of living, or working , or being, in this place.

“that’s just how it is down here,” i hear all the time. “that’s how people are,” i heard often (when i talked to people more). such beliefs condemn even the possibility of positive change as naive – this reflex condemnation is another reason why we are in this mess. so, much thanks, therefore, for showing me (or reminding me?) that these beliefs are both bullshit and chickenshit at the same time. and that there are others. and nothing needs to be this way, down here or anywhere else. there’s nothing natural or acceptable about this disaster. 

on Hastings, it’s just more rain

to quote gord downie, i had a job before this. like – everyone – some of my interests and skills are not about despair. but even i find myself difficult to be around, and i’m concerned that i’m going to start hating the neighbourhood (as so many of its self-appointed ‘leaders’ do, which explains a lot). so if i’m ever going to be any help to anyone around here, i need a few steps back from this. and it’s a little silly to be this frustrated both that i can’t do exactly what i want and that i quit too many jobs.

i need to get back to my other work, and see if i can find it. and i need a break. seriously, at least 6 or 8 months. away from vancouver entirely. i have some writing to do. i haven’t been out of town for years. i have zero 100% reliable income other than disability, no resources, nowhere to be. things to do; i’m restless. bored. time to go. ideas welcome. accepted but help would help more (particularly the non-financial) but as i have no money, small donations would be helpful too 

all the crisis

many of the issues – massive, structural, civilization-damning fails – that i focus my efforts on are very local and immediate to me: deep poverty, homelessness, mental illness, drug use/ harm reduction, catastrophic overdose deaths, colonial murders, ecocide. because i live in the downtown eastside – vancouver, british columbia, all the unceded territory. this is canada’s lost & found box, and everyone in it is broken or breaking. maybe i am close to understanding it. but we must not replicate this

one thing i am sure of – these crises will spin endlessly if marginalized people continue to be dependent, and continue to make demands of Them (and so cede the possibilities of our own expressions of power). ongoing total dependence, after all, is a growth industry for everyone but us

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we must instead demand more of ourselves and each other.

“i could do that better if i was given the chance,” lots of people say and i agree. but that’s not a thing, that chance, it’s not going to be given. so take it.       take the chance

history – which is to say, time – does change the meaning of things. mine was, and is, a decision made with an awareness of consequence and risk. it signifies something, surely, to abandon a liferaft. but that’s ok! everyone return to your islands so we can watch each other drown, better than being shot into the sun, past some mathematical horizon

for whatever’s waiting    on the other side of that graph

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