“My Self-Harm Never Involved a Razor” by Kristine Harwood

“Have you ever been treated for an eating disorder?” My counsellor’s words were ringing in my ears as if she had screamed it. Moments before, I had inadvertently admitted I hadn’t eaten anything solid in four days. My mind began racing. An eating disorder? Me? ME?! Someone who is all about body love, acceptance, and health at any size, an eating disorder? Someone who had supported my friends through very real, painful bouts with eating issues? Sure, I could be a bit critical of myself at times, but who isn’t? I didn’t have an eating disorder. As I sat flailing for the words to reject her question, her eyes softened and she kindly suggested: “I think you’re suffering from anorexia and bulimia, and I think you’ve been self-harming for a very long time.”

I spent years in counselling (on and off) and I never seriously considered that I was struggling with intense body dysmorphia until that day. In retrospect, I suppose there’s a few reasons for that. First, I was very good at masking my bad eating behaviours. I never put myself in a situation where I would feel tempted to do it around others and because I was so open about my mental health struggles, most people never suspected I would even consider it. Second, and relatedly, I was even better at lying to myself. I wasn’t purging because I had an eating disorder; I was purging because sometimes you just get too full! I didn’t starve myself for beauty, I was just less hungry. I didn’t need breast implants because of societal expectations, I was just ugly.

But I think the main reason I was in such denial is because truthfully, I never considered an eating disorder as a form of self-harm. When I thought about eating disorders, I thought about them as distinct illnesses, directly related to body dysmorphia, intense and unrealistic beauty standards, and genetic makeup. Sometimes people are just predisposed to these issues, and for some people struggling with eating disorders, this is the case. However, eating disorders can also manifest in people with intense insecurity related to things like bullying and abuse. Abusing your body through unhealthy eating and modifications can be an outlet for pain. This is what my counsellor meant when they asked me.

See, when I was a child, I was placed into foster care and by the time I was 7, I had already experienced sexual violence. This continued on and off during my time in the system. When I eventually got out, I was old enough to begin understanding what had happened and it crushed me. I went from being a happy-go-lucky kid to being intensely distrustful of others. I no longer enjoyed hugs or other forms of intimate physical affection. Because of who my abusers were in care, I didn’t even trust my own parents to not hurt me. At the same time, I was intensely bullied for my physical appearance and for always being the new, former foster kid. I began to think my abuse was my own fault. Later, I would seek out relationships where the abuse was reinforced, an ex-boyfriend even going so far as to point to my self-loathing and say “You deserved it”.

I looked around me and saw (what I thought were) stereotypically beautiful, happy girls. When I was around 11, I remember thinking: they’re so wanted and accepted. I bet no one would ever hurt them. If only I was more beautiful, more normal, maybe then I would be worth something, too. This eventually manifested in the self-harming behaviours my counsellor sought to address years later. I didn’t like the idea of cutting myself, so instead I pulled, scratched, picked, and starved my body into submission. I spent hours looking at myself, imagining all the things I’d be able to change when I was older and had the money for a plastic surgeon. Any time I’d get rejected, I’d just binge and purge and pick and abuse a little more, reminding myself that one day it wouldn’t be so hard. One day I’d fix this broken body people only wanted to use. I was in so much pain and I thought by “fixing” the outside of me, the inside would heal, too. As I got older, it got worse. Compounded by other mental health-related issues, I began obsessively thinking of suicide as a viable option to end my pain.

As we all know, victims aren’t abused because they’re unattractive or worthless; they’re abused because other people are abusive. I spent years craving the love and respect never shown to me by my abusers while fearful of getting it. Yet hurting myself by reaching for an objective, non-existent physical perfection didn’t make me any happier; it only made me hate myself more. Each time I failed to achieve whatever unrealistic goal I had set for myself, another piece of what little self-love I had chipped away. What did make me happier was eventually going to counselling and being honest; talking with my friends; and letting the pain seep out in healthy ways.

In a few months, it will be four years since I began addressing the self-harming prison I built within the confines of my body. I still have days where I think my fat symbolizes someone unforgivable, stupid, and incapable. I still have days where I don’t like my skin or hair. But most days, I look in the mirror and like what I see. Because my body isn’t just an outlet for pain anymore; it’s an outlet for creativity, love, sorrow, anger, passion, and so many others things. I treat my body with good foods and I use fashion as a way to express all of those things because they’re all beautiful and real, unlike the expectations I allowed my self-harm to dictate.

I can finally say I love my body because as much as I will always be those people’s victims, I’ve made a choice to be my own survivor.

I hope one day you’re able to get the support you need to make that choice, too.

Social justice and religion – where and how do they connect? By Jamie Lupia

I grew up skeptical about religion because I have seen the harm it has done when encountered from a judgmental lens. I have seen the hate it spreads and the people it oppresses. I’ve seen anti-abortion protests on the streets of Toronto, shameful Christian signs about how the gays will go to Hell. I’ve seen it all. I was raised in a Roman Catholic household, and in return, placed in a Catholic school in which I was not proud to go to. Last year when I began a journey with my partner Caleb, who is a devoted and passionate Christian, I really took it upon myself to open up Christianity and to reflect about what identifying as Christian entails and if it was something I could be proud of. The only way to do this was to fully educate myself on the religion itself. I just wanted to share some of my thoughts in hopes to allow people to see that yes, there are people from all religions that hate and do harm — but that it should not reflect on the religion, but rather displaced as an improper reading of spirituality. With all religions being equal and incredibly close in morals, I will use the bible specifically to discuss this connection due to access and knowledge, as well as personal connection.

The first stigma I had about devoted Christians was that they were all homophobic, and that if I were to outwardly identify as Christian, that I’d be seen as harmful and hateful. Supporting human rights — by default outwardly and passionately supporting LGBTQ+ rights, I was scared to what I’d find out about what the bible says about this. What did I find out? The bible has probably one single line about homosexuality. That is less attention given that what the bible says about eating pork and beef. One line in a book that has around 8 million words in it. If there are people spreading hate about something so minor in the bible, forgetting the whole purpose of Jesus (to free us ALL from sin), then I feel like they may have missed something that takes up quite a larger sum of the bible… to not judge. In response to hateful people using Christianity to oppress rather than to spread peace… I will direct them to the passage James 1:26. “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.” If you spread hate, if you speak hate, if you emulate hate, even God himself has said you are doing it all wrong. The purpose of Jesus’ messages — from his birth to death — was to bring good news to all. Not some random group or clique, but to all. Hate to preach, but if you turn to Colossians 3:11, it begins “In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are jew or gentile, circumsised or uncircumised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.” In religion, it is often stated that the ideal world is one free of hate and free of judgment. Jesus requested to the people to put down the stones they cast if they themselves can say they have not sinned. He wanted to welcome the sex workers, the orphans, the poor. The outcasts. Because Jesus himself came from one — the Virgin Mary. The O.G. outcast… there was no room in the inn for her the night of Jesus’ birth because she was socially and morally separated from having a baby out of marriage. God did not punish her. God’s plan was to free those from punishment. So, after seeing this side of religion… I decided if you are Christian AND hateful — then you aren’t really Christian. If you hate gays, you are not Christian. You are homophobic. Identify with that instead. Does the bible contain hateful things? Yes, without question. Can we ignore these hateful things? No, of course not. Can we look at the larger picture to contradict them and be hopeful, optimistic, loving, rather than shame, blame, point fingers, and look for reasons to say ‘my beliefs (or lack of beliefs) are better than those beliefs? We can, and we should. If you focus on a few google searched passages to back up your hate, then yes of course you will find them. They exist. But you are missing the other 99% of the religion. If we are going to be so specific, then we have a lot of other literature to look at it.  Because God does not hate. The lengthy new testament that displays the “new life” clearly demonstrates that hateful ways are just old fashioned, and that peace is needed to save the world.

Another judgment I had about religion that really caused me to hesitate with associating myself with it was the notions of marriage. Don’t do this before marriage, don’t do that with this person, and so on. As a woman and a feminist, I believe I can do whatever I want with my body. Is this belief therefore not Christian? From a feminist standpoint, women likely love Jesus. He broke patriarchy and always spoke to the women first. He also preached about how men should treat women so properly and vise versa, for equal represent results in happiness and families.

Anyway, getting back to marriage points… I was worried that not being a virgin before marriage would make religion a write off for me. I thought I would seen as worthless and dirty. Researching more about Christianity, I realized that God does not care about my sexuality. If I was having sex within commitment, that is my decision to make. If people have sex outside of commitment, also their decision. The great thing is that it effects no one but the person doing it, and is therefore no one’s business. God asks for commitment. To do things with commitment in mind. That is all marriage was at the time, and the world of marriage has changed drastically in terms of weddings and marriage being a lengthy, expensive, legal process. To be honest, signing a piece of paper in order to have sex or live together actually is not anywhere in the bible. If you choose to do that, you are choosing for you — because God outwardly states that his words are not law, but advice to a life that will make you feel best. If you think women have zero agency with their bodies and connect their virginity to their worthiness, you are sexist. Not religious. Religion is not one thing, but something that each person can work to their individual means. If you can warp it to fit with your life, then why can’t anyone else?

Religion wants you to commit. To pray or take time to reflect. To be mindful, gentle, kind, and compassionate. Religion wants you to believe that there is more to life than this, and that you have power as an individual to lead the best life possible. Religion wants people to understand that we live strictly to serve others, and that a fulfilling life is one that does minimal harm to our environment, the people in it, the animals around us, and the spirits of people from ALL walks of earth. Religion wants you to stop judging — not to use it to perpetuate HATE. Or maybe, just maybe, that is just what religion is to me. But based on some research and reading, it’d be hard to convince me otherwise on what religion’s purpose is. And to me, this is what social justice is about. So if you use religion as a grounds to hurt people, oppress people, hate people, judge people, do harm to other living and non-living things, force violence, or start war — then should find another belief system to identify with. Colossians 3:14 states, that “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us together in perfect harmony.” Love is all we need, and it’s all we have because it is the only thing does not do harm to your neighbor. Religion is about love. Social justice is about love too. The bible actually promotes good deeds and collective, supportive action – it reads “Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works” James 2:26. Go out and do good, with or without faith.

Note: I am not excusing any hateful events and oppression that religion has outwardly reinforced, nor am I saying that religion — especially Christianity — does not have questionable violence and awkward passages, and can be used to justly explain unexplained tragedies like why children die from cancer, people abuse animals, wars in developing countries, etc. The world is not a pretty place, and I get that. And Religion cannot explain what humanity does. This is simply a way to take the blame off a system of belief, and give the believers autonomy. It is also a way to allow people to use their religion to promote social justice, instead of use religion to work against peace. Social justice can be found almost anywhere. Please read with an open mind. Much love.

A Story about Depression by Lavinia

I’ve been cooking up the courage to post something like this for a very long time, because I think it’s important for people to read.

Since starting University in September of 2014, I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression. I had walked around with the weight of it since before starting high school. It asserted itself into my life through a series of fights with my parents, failed friendships, bullying others, closeted insecurities, avoidance of parties, skipped classes, skipped track practices, skipped cadet events, more fights with my parents- and more. Most evenings I spent during my formative teen years behind my closed bedroom door alone, thinking about how I was worthless, annoying, stupid, fat, ugly, a bad friend, a bad sister, a bad daughter- and I believed this was how everyone felt when they were alone behind closed doors. I saw no point in growing up. I once told a friend that I had no image of myself at 20, because if this is life then I don’t want to be doing it for that long. I interpreted these things as the awkward parts of adolescence; those bits of life everyone has, and I considered it average. But the severity of these beliefs I cycled through my brain was the abnormal part.

The rate at which these negative thoughts multiplied as I got older began getting out of hand, and that’s where I differ. I absolutely hated myself inside and out, and believed the rest of the world walked around feeling that way, too. It wasn’t until a conversation with my first year roommate when I learned that insecurities are normal, utter self-hatred is not. I went to see a counsellor for the first time. She suggested I speak with a doctor, and I wrote her off as a conformist, a corrupted big-pharma worshipping sellout, and I didn’t go back until a year later, when I completely broke down again in November of 2015.

I had been fighting with everyone I knew. I had been incorporating depression into all of my art. I had been reading about artists, writers and musicians whom took their own lives, and related with their stories. I was at war with my emotional health. I took it out on the people I lived with, worked with, my boyfriend, my mom, my professors, my assignments, my close friends and myself; I became SO guilty for feeling like such a toxic, bad person. Until something clicked one night, and I finally detached myself from my depression. I accepted the concept that it exists outside of my personality, that it functions as an imbalance in my brain, and that it’s okay to need help fixing that. I briefly returned to counselling, and fled with the mention of medication again.

I spent the following year in a state of mania desperately attempting to fix myself. For the first time, I legitimately tried to take control of my thoughts. I adopted an over-functional attitude, most notably towards organization and positivity. But the chemical imbalance still spun in my brain, now it just hit harder when it knocked. My depressive moods were escalating into depths they’d never reached, but only when I was alone. To compensate, the manic highs of my day-to-day life became so pleasurable that while living within them, I felt as though my other feelings never existed. And I strategically avoided being alone, exhausting my inner introvert and confusing my feelings even more.

Needless to say, regretful self-hatred continued, fights with my parents continued, trouble at work continued and my time management continued to suffer. Given the ambiguities of university life, this year thus far I’ve spent a handful of nights alone and realized how impossible they seemed, and how not-okay that impossibility was. I spent them in a frenzy of loneliness and self-loathing, like those nights at home growing up, but with a broader awareness of debt, academic struggles, career struggles and suicide. Where the average person would read a bit or watch a movie and go to sleep, I was being emotionally strangled by my depression. But as soon as someone came around, I went back into manic-fixing mode.

I didn’t want to be that weird girl who always needed someone around. I didn’t want to be that negative-thinking person who was open about suicide. I didn’t want those associations. So I kept it to myself for the most part. Until recently, I started opening up about the worsening of these feelings with counsellors, close friends, my boyfriend and my doctor.

Given my current lifestyle as a third year undergraduate student with a boyfriend, working part time, I don’t have ample opportunities to do the things that google tells me my mental health needs me to do. I don’t have time to go for those runs, those walks, those therapy sessions. And even if I did, as I have in the past, given my emotional track record their benefits will be short lived. Because as badly as everybody wished it did, fresh air won’t rearrange the make up of my brain. Running from those thoughts only gives them time to become louder and stronger for when they reappear next time.

November 2016, I finally spoke with my family doctor. A man whose known me my entire life and whose been in the medical profession longer than these “mental-illness-stigma-breaking” fads. He handed me an SSRI prescription for Celexa. I didn’t take them. I didn’t want them. After attending a group CBT depression course later that same month, and completing it only feeling slightly relieved, I considered that the things I learned and practiced in that course would reap full benefit with the assistance of an SSRI. I started to read. I read online articles, researched peer reviewed articles, watched youtube videos, read survival stories, read SSRI horror stories, read online forums, read antidepressant sub-reddits, hashtags and reached out to admired artists about the subject. I spoke with all of my close friends and family, and made the scariest decision I’ve ever made in my life. For two weeks straight, I took the white pill out of the bottle at breakfast and put it back without taking it. Staring at the pills for the third week now, preparing to just put them back in the cupboard again, I said aloud to my boyfriend one morning that “this is just part of who I am. I am depressed.” To which he looked back at me and said “regardless, who you are sometimes wants to kill themselves.” And hearing those words thrown into the air and existing outside of my head finally completed the perspective I needed to gain. It became real. How not-okay I have been, how okay it is that I need help, and how necessary this form of help is for me. I started taking Celexa two weeks ago. Six months minimum, two years maximum. This will be utilized as a temporary solution to help me get my footing as I enter into adulthood.

I wrote this for a few reasons. One being that writing is my strongest outlet of communication, and I wanted these things communicated. Another because I think an openness about these things is important. I know that it is for my general coping strategies, but also if this piece reaches anyone going through something similar, they might consider my words helpful.

In conclusion, it is important to note that I don’t blame anybody or any external thing for any of this. If I came from a family of wealth and privilege, I would feel the same way. If I had different friends, I’d feel the same way. These issues are rooted within the make up of my brain, not my life or the people within it. I love my parents with all my heart, and endlessly appreciate their guidance, patience and inspirational perseverance. I love my siblings, and all of my crazy cousins. I cherish and love the memories of my childhood, and carry with me always the strength I attained from all of my setbacks and struggles. The pure, genuine love and support I receive from my boyfriend is immeasurable, and combined with that of my close friends provides me the warmth I thrive on during this venture to mental stability.

For the first time in what feels like my entire life, I am genuinely optimistic about my future and excited to move forward with a better grasp on emotional balance.

🙂

Polytechnique Remembrance Post by Jamie Lupia

December 6th, 1989, at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, 14 women were shot to death, 10 were wounded, and any man that tried to help was shot as well. A murderer who does not deserve to be named went into a classroom with a rifle and ordered all men to leave and the women to stay. Many of the men who obeyed the perpetrator committed suicide later on due to feelings of guilt for abandoning the women. The reason for all this? The man claimed to have hated “feminists”. He hated the radical idea that men and women could be seen as equal.

Take a moment of silence today because women matter. Take a moment of silence because antifeminism still exists. Take a moment of silence because it could have been your daughter, sister, mother, friend, partner. Take a moment of silence because these women were victims of hate. Take a moment of silence for Geneviève Bergeron, for Hélène Colgan, for Nathalie Croteau, for Barbara Daigneault, for Anne-Marie Edward, for Maud Haviernick, for Maryse Laganière, for Maryse Leclair, for Anne-Marie Lemay, for Sonia Pelletier, for Michèle Richard, for Annie St-Arneault, for Annie Turcotte, for Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, and their families and friends. Take a moment of silence to reflect on the importance of not doing any harm, especially not based on gender, class, race, ability, sexuality, and religion. Take a moment of silence because feminism in NOT the F word.

STOP VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN.

“How I Feel” by Jobim Novak

I don’t really feel like the fuckin world is shit
Even though shit was tough growin up as a kid
I always show love I refuse to be pissed
I wear my heart on my fucking sleeve regardless of risk
People bash and hurt me, I get little respect
I understand the word lonely, especially neglect
So I walk around strong, im protecting my neck
I pulled myself up and out of the wreck
Makin the trek, cuz im tryna stay sober
Tryna make peace with my ends, and get me some closure
Maybe spit bars and get me some exposure
I fight wit mics, I won’t quit til its over
Satans closing the curtins but I fight for my life
Tryna put down the pipe and clutch to the mic
Life’s hype.. I see beauty in pain
Fightin my addiction like those spottin for trains

Most of my songs sad, they reflect how lived
How I was way at the top then fell off the grid
how I was stuck in the system cuz of shit that I did
how I battled my demons in attempts to get rid
I fukked up, it wasn’t hard to notice
But learned from my mistakes and most people know this
Saved by magic potions, wasn’t no hocus pocus
Now I’m back in the game and im ready to focus
I’m on my pivit same pivit as drugs
But it’s all about building a world with love
I love y’all, despite all the hate
Knowin only im in control of my fate
I create works of art with words
Makin sure I have a voice that don’t get kicked to the curb
Im slangin mad rhymes, it’s the time of the verbs
Inner city hustle, I don’t live in the burbs

“My Experience w/ Death & Addiction” by Angela

I was 17 years old when my father died from a cocaine and heroin induced heart attack. He lived above a strip club in Toronto and had been dead for two days before he was found. I was in my final year of high school and I had not seen him for two years. In fact, the last time I saw him, I did something I’ll regret for the rest of my life. I got the call about five minutes before my alarm. I went to school that day and every other day, actually… for the rest of the semester. I told one teacher on the same day that I found out because she noticed that I wasn’t like myself. I told another teacher ten days after when I had to explain to her why I was asking for an extension. After that, I don’t remember what I was like and I think that that is the scariest part. I don’t remember the next couple of days or maybe even weeks. I don’t remember how I felt. For me, that’s a big thing because I like recalling memories and the feelings associated with them.

I am now 21 and get uncomfortable seeing cocaine at parties. I’m tired of this. I’m so fucking tired of explaining (or having others explain ..A+) why I don’t want to go to a party. I’m also tired of people doing cocaine at the party, but not in front of me. It’s totally not obvious when 5 people go into a room, come out 20 minutes later, all sniffing and touching their noses WHILE HYPED or anything. When did doing molly, coke, acid, and k become so accepted and common? Why am I the only one freaking out at the parties? Why is it that more people aren’t shocked, or scared? I want this war to end because I’ve seen how the personal war ends. I want people to realize how the drug itself isn’t causing an epidemic, but how untreated mental health issues are a root cause of addiction.

Something needs to change.

TW: drugs, addictions, parties, death.