Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Let's Talk Mental Health: Stigma
Bell's Let's Talk. Taken from
I have only one reason to break my post-on-Tuesdays routine this week. It is Bell's Let's Talk Mental Health day.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), one in five Canadians will develop a mental health disorder in their lives while four thousand commit suicide each year.

At the same time there is a stigma to not being able to manage one's mental health. According to the CMHA, only one in five children that need help for their mental health actually receive it while according to the Canadian Medical Association, two thirds of those having a mental health disorder do not seek help and forty percent of parents whose children had a mental health disorder would not want to admit it to others. I once read a study that about half of those asked if they would be friends with a person with a mental health disorder said no. The Mental Health Commission of Canada revealed that 46% of participants in a survey stated they believed mental health disorders to be "an excuse for poor behaviour."

It isn't fair. Mental health disorders can be caused by not only external conditions but also by genetics, personality and biological conditions. Mental health is therefore just as important as physical health. It deserves the same attention and same rights as physical health.

So today I want to tell those that are having mental health disorders, don't be afraid to seek help. Having a mental health disorder is not a sign that you failed. It isn't an excuse for any sign of weakness. To everyone, it's okay to have moments where you feel you can't manage everything. It's what makes us the human race.

We have two choices in this world. We can discriminate or we can understand. We can see mental health disorders as excuses or reasons. We can make jokes about obsessive-compulsive-disorder or depression or we can accept them. We can discourage those having mental health disorders from speaking up or we can promote an environment for them to do so. We can reconsider employees with mental health disorders or we can support them as they regain their health. Today, we carry the power to alter perspective and therefore change their consequences.

- FA

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Tuesday, 20 January 2015


Bulleting through the cold of the evening is the warmth of the train. Winter coats stand or sit in every direction. Cellular screens reflect Voldemort-blanche against the black-and-light of tunnel sifted through window against Wifi or cellphone reception. Earbuds play what is to us a static, to the seduced a helicopter decibel. The few peacoats, black dress shoes and Tommy Hilfiger jeans not on their phones steal glances at the blinking map above.“The next station is . . .” calls the automated female voice of the train. The passenger looks up.  Indeed the map blinks a green light at the name of her stop. Within one or two minutes she is standing in front of the red door that would be closest to the stairs at the destination station.

She glances at the ads above her head. The one above her shows a picture of smiling children, some with dark skin and some with light skin. One holds a ball. The ad comes from Bloorview Kids Rehab and shows a blue infinity symbol. It states that it is seeking kids aged 10-17 with Autism or Aspergers Syndrome for participation in treatment to study the effects of Oxytocin to reduce Autism symptoms.

Coupled with a silent sigh is a raised curiosity.

Oxytocin . . . why does she know the word?

Oxytocin . . .

Grade 12 Biology Textbook (Taken from
As the train nears her destination and the cool female voice announces “Arriving at,” she remembers. An almost-seventeen-year-old sat in a thirty-seat room with small lab benches between tables. She recalls the words below her eyes: Chapter 10: The Endocrine System as her friend read upon light-harvesting complexes and ATP synthases in Chapter 5: Photosynthesis and her Biology teacher announced the Chapter Five quiz for the upcoming Friday. Her friend might’ve asked her for help on the Calvin Cycle (which has little to do with Mr. Klein) as her notes on triiodothyroxine (Can you guess why the body needs its iodine?), epinephrine (for those decibel apocalypse escapes) and oxytocin (which stimulates a new mother’s milk) glared at the ceiling and awaited her return to the next paragraph.

The train’s speakers chime and steel doors slide open. The ad walks her frontal lobe as she steps off and heads up the stairs. That is, until the passenger runs to catch her bus.
I first saw the ad in December. A second time occurred either this month or in the last. I suspect a third time this Friday a few seats away from me. About a year after I studied Oxytocin (and was eventually tested on it, yet not before finishing the final chapter), I discovered that Oxytocin is known as the “cuddle hormone,” and along with its role in breastfeeding, is claimed to improved affection and trust. Some sources state that those with Autism produce less Oxytocin and research studies suggest administering oxytocin through nasal sprays to improve trust and social interaction and decrease repetitive behaviours.

Why should we, those on the spectrum be drug targets, though?

Many on the spectrum are non-verbal. Many don’t find another’s cornea important. Some dislike hugs. Some are wary to trust. Some take a while to make friends.

Many on the spectrum have repetitive behaviours. Some flap their arms. I stutter sometimes, especially if I’m excited or nervous. Some focus with the attention of a White House security guard on what they’re doing.

There is nothing wrong with this. It is a myth that those on the spectrum cannot show affection. As I mentioned in About, studies have shown that those on the spectrum have more empathy than your average person. Maybe those that are non-verbal will never say “I love you” to someone yet their actions can show it. Maybe a person doesn’t want to hug yet hugs were never the only method of being kind. What makes it right to put down a person who does not look at you in your eye but is genuine? As for repetitive behaviours, sometimes they make a person with Autism whom they are. Furthermore, the ability to focus on specific topics doubles as a strength to those on the spectrum for they can excel in their passions. What gives the right to put down a person with such ability?

Just as there are no symptoms of MBA ambition to relieve in Bachelor of Commerce graduates, just as there are no symptoms of wanting dinner to relieve in a person who hasn’t eaten in a few hours and sees a Tim Hortons, there are no symptoms of Autism or Aspergers Syndrome to relieve in those on the spectrum.

Because my university is downtown, some of my friends, classmates, TAs and professors take the subway. What will they think about Autism when they see this ad? Will they think of us as those with symptoms to remove as the overhead poster suggests, or will they see through it and appreciate the idea of neurodiversity?

Furthermore, what can you expect a person on the spectrum to think at the sight of the ad? I was able to look at it and see it for what it was but some don’t. Some want to be more than the word Disorder yet see on the poster that as long as they remain whom they are, they are not even worth a letter.
Yonge-University-Spadina Handlebars (Taken from

Tomorrow is Wednesday morning, or to me another few minutes down Toronto’s Yonge-University-Spadina line. If you too are watching blinking subway maps and you see this ad, think. Think what this implies to those that interact with others on the spectrum. Think what it implies to those on the spectrum. Think before you judge. If you’re in your car and you can think while driving (though I absolutely do not promote distracted driving and will not be held responsible for any overthinking at the wheel), consider what happens when you put ordinary characteristics to the word relieve. If you’re biking (How one can bike with ice leering at the edge of the pavement, I still fathom) or walking or boarding a flight, think the same thing too. (I don’t promote distracted biking either.) If we all thought, we could all question. If we questioned, we could impact the answer.

- FA

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Tuesday, 13 January 2015


It was almost December 6th last month when I took out my cell phone and checked the time. I was too late. I had missed the on-campus vigil for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. I didn't put the almost-reliable alarm on my cellphone (on vibrate, of course) nor had I remembered to write in a day's schedule to attend it. After thinking "I'm going to attend it" since posters had been tacked to campus noticeboards in November, I had missed it. As I retreated to the recesses of my Calculus textbook that afternoon I remembered the vigil my high school Equity Club put on in the eleventh grade. Sixteen students portrayed one of the fourteen murdered women at L'Ecole Polytechnique in 1989, the male bystander Eric Chavarie or Helen Betty Osborne. They stood beyond a thousand-seat auditorium and proclaimed a monologue each about lost ambitions and prolonged investigations to almost eight hundred. I remembered the artwork we crafted in my school's foyer the year after with over six hundred papers dangling from the ceiling, each stamped with red or black feathers on one side, the other sides embossed with Daughter, Auntie, Mother, Friend or Dreamer . . .

For all that our neurons (nerve cells) piece together at 3:01 AM in the morning, I'm quite glad that most dreams don't come true. If they did and I could control my dreams, though, here is what I would dream. I would dream of a society where you are valued for what makes you the person you are, whether it be your gender, your culture or your span of abilities and weaknesses.

I scan my twitter feed and pictures of smiling women flash against my screen. Angel Carlick,19, disappeared from Whitehorse in May 2007. She was found dead in November 2007.

Nineteen years of age when the heart pumped its last beat, when the lungs inhaled the last breath. A month ago I turned eighteen. My age lives a paradox of fear and ambition. What ambitions vaporized after the last heartbeat in Angel Carlick? What hopes were exhaled in the last breath in one-thousand-one-hundred-and-eighty-one women, added to the fourteen women killed in the Montreal Massacre, added to the many more women and non-women being killed daily for their qualities?

I scroll down my twitter feed to almost three weeks before I started Arriving at. Awetsome. The faces of fourteen women frozen in picture flash across the screen. Smiles on their faces stretch from beyond the zenith of the atmosphere. Different programs of study follow their pictures. NursingMechanical Engineering. Metallurgic Engineering. Chemical Engineering. Materials Engineering. Civil Engineering. They're the same programs my friends and I are doing. Once in a while I will ask a friend why she or he chose engineering. Amongst ideas of job security and high marks are passions for and to manipulate the Sciences. I noticed that one of the fourteen women wanted to use her degree to help the environment. That's my same ambition. How many complex minds have we lost from the surface of the earth at the edge of violence?

Yet because I have the mind to aspire, here is what I strive for. I strive to build a society crafted by compassion, grown in respect for gender, cultivated by culture and strengthened in the span of human abilities and weaknesses.

- FA

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Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Lindt. 100% Dilemma.

Trying on my first lab coat in my university bookstore, emailing upper-years for second-hand books and deliberately missing a train because I know the train after it will have fewer people signifies the return to campus (or hopefully work, if you’re not at school) and the holidays’ end. Memories of breaking my record for most hugs in a day when I visited my old school (Yes, I do hug. No, it doesn’t signal a lack of Aspergers.), a box of butter cookies my friend gave me, some Hallmark bills from birthday cards and a plethora of chocolate in my fridge still remain from the past few weeks.

Lindt Chocolate

Ferrero Rochers, the Caramilk my sister got at my cousin's birthday party and a multi-flavoured pile of Lindts pile onto a fridge shelf at home. Slowly my family and I will reduce this pile at the command of our chocolate cravings. This winter, though, I introduced the clich├ęd term Ethical Dilemma to chocolate. I just discovered that in the United States, Lindt supports the organization Autism Speaks and have donated ten cents of each chocolate bunny sold at Easter to the organization the past six years.
Autism Speaks is called the leading charity for Autism. It claims that those with Autism are burdens to their family and that those on the spectrum need to be removed of their autistic qualities. Their co-founder Susan Wright  claimed that Autism “works faster than pediatric AIDS, cancer, and diabetes combined.” I could barely start a Google search without encountering the word Epidemiology.

The musical keyboard at home

I am not part of an epidemic. It did take me longer to learn social skills than the average person. I do designate some stores in Toronto’s malls as no-go zones with their loud speakers. I can’t stand certain kids’ movies. (If you don’t count Do You Wanna Build a Snowman, Frozen was an exception.) But my music hypersensitivity doubles as a love of music, or a passion for evening de-stressing on a dusty twelve-year-old keyboard. I believe that my emotion sensitivity only intensifies my motivation to stand for human rights. I was told by my doctor that my hypersensitive hearing will benefit the natural human hearing loss in my sixties. Do I sound worse than cancer? Autism Speaks doesn’t speak for me.
Therefore it hurts that the company whose chocolates are a symbol of December, whose chocolates I’ve cherished for years, donates to an organization which insults my genome. It hurts seeing The only bunny that gives back in an article about Lindt's campaign for Autism Speaks. (If you want to see it, the link is I don't recommend it, though.) It hurts to look at my own university’s website to find a headline cheering Potential cure for Autism. It hurts when my characteristics are targeted simply because they place me outside a box of normal. I do not want to be treated as an object to any person, any organization or any chocolate company.
The fruit flavours in my fridge will tempt me in a few days. (Yes, I know they’re not pure fruit-flavoured.) Most of the Lindt chocolates I ever ate were given by someone else. How can I refuse a chocolate if it's given in kindness? I’m good at saying no to things, but how do I say no to this?
I imagine myself opening the fridge, looking at the pile of Ferrero Rochers, Lindts, Kitkats and Caramilks in the door, then closing the fridge door and heading to the box of butter cookies. At this moment I anticipate myself undecided.

- FA

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Saturday, 3 January 2015

Visibility, Visibility.

EcoSchools Lights Off Stickers
In high school as a COO of my EcoSchools team, my three teacher supervisors took one word from the English language and made it their mantra.

They stressed that the student body best responded to our iniatives if we maintained a sense of presence in the school. "Recycling posters. Announcements," they suggested. The team was under a new structure to encourage student independence. As our teacher supervisors challenged us to learn some of the ropes for ourselves, visibility was one of our biggest challenges. Though my role was to monitor sub-teams’ deadlines and send out emails rather than join the visibility movement myself, I felt the EcoSchools teachers had "Visibility" right. They weren’t the only ones. In October 2014 , a person started a petition for Disney to introduce a princess with Down Syndrome.
The mind behind the campaign is Keston Ott-Dahl, a mother of a girl with Down Syndrome. For those of you that don’t know, Down Syndrome is caused by a person having three copies of Chromosome 21 (one of the classified DNA molecules in human cells) rather than two. In Keston Ott-Dahl’s opinion, Disney is a role model for younger girls and a person with Down Syndrome would feel valued having a role model for people like her on the screen. The petition gained media attention from Huffington Post to the Guardian. As I write this blog, the petition has earned 82,399 signatures online.
Keston Ott-Dahl has a point. I think that those with Down Syndrome are unrepresented in the media and need more attention. I didn’t know what Down Syndrome was until my mom came home while doing her diploma as a Developmental Services Worker and explained it to an almost-fifteen-year-old FA. How often do today’s children and youth hear about Down Syndrome? I imagine that unless you knew a person with Down Syndrome as a child or have it yourself, you most likely wouldn’t have heard the term until you were old enough to use Google News.  (I have not found the exact statistic yet. I'll post an update if I do.) Yet children are easily exposed to movies. According to, "kids under age 6 watch an average of about 2 hours of screen media a day, primarily TV and videos or DVDs" and "kids and teens 8 to 18 years spend nearly 4 hours a day in front of a TV screen." Why don’t we introduce them to diagnosed disabilities through the screen?

Princess Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. Taken from
I have my worries about the petition, though. If Disney portrays a princess with Down Syndrome, what role will it be? Will it be a humanistic role such as Elsa (left), the princess who learns to love herself for her ambivalent cryoscopic powers, or will the character simply reflect the current challenge to accept those with Down Syndrome, possibly portraying a girl trying to erase her third Chromosome 21? Aurora and Ariel (both respectively from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid) little fuelled the women’s rights movement despite their roles as female protagonists.
If Disney brings a princess with Down Syndrome to the screen, we still don't have a panacea to visibility. Rather, I think we must all take it our responsibility to show not just those with Down Syndrome but everyone who is a little different (doesn’t that include all of us?)  that no matter how many genes they differ from us, even an entire chromosome, they belong. Parents. Teachers. Employers. Relatives. Friends. Volunteer coordinators. Those five students that run hallway recycling on a high school EcoSchools team. The person that files the cards in Carlton Cards. The person who is paid just to haul your luggage onto planes. The aerospace engineer that co-designed the plane’s wing. Don't forget the scriptwriters at Disney. Visibility is not just an idea for a minority but a job for humanity.
Meanwhile, Disney responded to the petition stating that “[Walt Disney Studios is] committed to continuing to create characters that are accessible and relatable to all children.” I want to look at the statement and think that Princess I’ve-got-Down-Syndrome-and-I’m-proud-of-it is on the table. I wished I wasn't suspicious that Disney released this statement the same way a politician builds election promises during election season yet accomplishes few once elected. Can Disney do it? I have to admit they surprised me with “You can’t marry a man you just met” in Frozen. If empowerment is not a one-time plot but an ongoing trend, I think I see the protagonist with Down Syndrome in the distance. Maybe a few movies away, but in sight.
- FA

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