Depression and Grief

As you may know, I regularly appear on CHML900 AM’s The Bill Show as a relationship consultant. Bill and I cover a great range of issues. He’s a tremendous radio talk show host and I’m lucky to have the opportunity to learn from him. He’s unfailingly courteous to his guests and callers and genuinely interested in what people have to say, rather a far cry from the typical “shock jock” routine that seems to be prevalent these days. You know, the shows where it’s all about the host whose job, it seems, is to antagonize as many people as possible while rudely cutting short the barely expressed opinions of others. Bill’s an educated, informed gentleman, and a true master of the art of conversation.

Our last two shows were about dealing with grief and understanding depression. I think you’ll find them to be a much deeper, personal, and sensitive exploration of those two difficult topics than the usual clinical analysis typically found online. In it I share my own experience of depression and I share some stories illustrating the uniqueness of grief. Most of us have had to, and will have to, find our way through the pain associated with mental health issues and loss at some point in our lives. I hope listening to the podcasts of those shows will be helpful to you. You can hear them by copying and pasting this link into your browser window: As always, I value your feedback. Don’t hesitate to call or email.

Thank you for listening.


Our Schools Are Killing our Children

I was recently on The Bill Kelly Show talking about bullying. Yet another child had committed suicide – in my mind, murdered by persecution from bullies he felt he could no longer bear to face.

Imagine a young boy, getting into his bed, the one with the colourful picture covers, that curled up in – fresh out of the bath – soapy sweet snuggly place where stories were told, hugs, kisses, and giggles were shared, and dreams were dreamed, tying a plastic bag around his head, truly believing that it would be better to cut his life short, forgo all of life’s possible adventures and joys, leave the people he loves, rather than face his oppressors once again. Do you imagine that before he put on the bag, the one he fearfully snuck and hid upstairs, he looked around his room one last time, wide eyes lingering on familiar posters and treasured mementoes? Can you picture him playing with his favourite toys just one more time, perhaps saying goodbye to his dog – getting one last slobbery kiss? Maybe he even did his homework one last time like he knew a good boy would. And imagine the poor father who found him.

It enrages me! Despite clear evidence that there are comprehensive anti-bullying programs available (such as the internationally reknowned Olweus Program) that prevent bullying and promote peace, many of our schools remain unsafe for the children who should find these places a refuge and a haven within which to grow and be nurtured. Far too many children DREAD going to school, and far too many children die or become severely damaged from the persecution they receive.

None of this will change until we become as serious about protecting our children’s rights as we are about the rights of adults. There is no way that we adults would ever put up with in our workplaces the kind of traumatizing tormenting that our children suffer from in theirs.

Imagine if you called your co-workers names, pushed them around, intimidated them, persecuted them. How long would you keep your job? You’d have to leave, wouldn’t you? Then how is it that bullies are permitted to stay in our schools? Oh yes, they might get an occasional suspension, but soon enough, there they are, back again with no change in behaviour or attitude, and the oppression continues, only now worse because of retribution. Small wonder that kids are afraid to speak up or intervene.

Our school boards, teachers, and administrators need to start taking bullying far more seriously. Until they do, I say they are complicit in the deaths that are caused by the murderous behaviour of the bullies they harbour. Until they do, I applaud the recent law suits filed by parents against schools for not protecting their children’s rights to a safe working environment. And I encourage parents to protest unsafe schools by refusing to bring their children to school until that school is safe. Think about it; in what other unsafe situation/environment would you ever leave your child? Band together with other parents. Join or form homeschooling associations. Do anything but expose your child to risk for suicide, depression, and demolished self-esteem – especially if you know your child is being bullied!

What further enrages me is when victims of bullying oppression are blamed for their misery. The message to them really is to stop being so damn different! Be more confident, be more social, look people in the eyes, talk more, etc. etc. Would you accept that advice at your workplace if you were being bullied there? Can we please begin teaching children right from the start about valuing difference rather than being threatened by it? The emphasis should be on preventing bullying behaviour, not on changing the behaviour of the innocent who may have a different way of walking, thinking, dressing, talking, being. Let nerds be nerds (I speak as a devout nerd).

A bully who continues to bully gives up his/her right to a public education. Your rights should never interfere with the right of others to enjoy the same. If they do, you need to be removed from the company of those whom you are damaging until you can prove you are able to safely return.

Until we start removing bullies, institute comprehensive early onset anti-bullying programs, and teach children how to respect and love each other with the same time and energy commitment we have to teaching them math, science, and english, we will continue to inflict suffering on our children. They will continue to commit suicide, or engage in other self destructive behaviour, or they will become destructive of others out of their understandable pain, bitterness, and rage. And then, when they die, or take a gun to school, or blow up buildings (when young or as damaged adults), we will once again throw up our well-wrung hands and stupidly wonder, “How could such a terrible tragedy happen to…”

Thank you for reading.


Bullied Lobsters

It’s the beginning of my annual “Meatless March,” a month I dedicate to acknowledging the suffering and sacrifice of animals. It’s a month where I face the inherent contradiction between referring to myself as an animal lover and my love for eating them. It’s a month where I try to raise awareness of the need to find ways to minimize the suffering of the living creatures we use to satisfy our appetites. I’m not ready to give up eating meat, and I imagine most people won’t, but I think we would like animals raised and killed as humanely as possible. There are those that believe that from the animal’s point of view, there is no humane way—just as we humans likely believe there would be no “animanely” way for animals to raise and slaughter us. I can’t argue with them other than to say that some positive change is better than none.

What has this got to do with bullying? Bullying comes from a perception of difference, a misuse of power, and an absence of empathy. People who are bullied (both children and adults) are perceived to be different in some odd or unpopular way. Victims of bullying are vulnerable, and the people who bully them cruelly exercise power. And, it is only possible to bully someone if the bully is able to detach emotionally from the experience of the victim. That’s why empathy training in schools for children has been so successful in preventing bullying. If you feel the feelings of people, you won’t bully them, because if you did, you would feel their pain, fear, and degradation.

Consider the lobster and our ability to eat it after it has been boiled alive. It takes the average lobster 2-3 minutes to die. The only way we can enjoy eating it is by detaching ourselves from its experience. Its difference from us makes it easier for us to do so. We can accentuate the difference by focusing on the oddness of its appearance (based, of course, on the template of us being the perfect standard). It helps to tell ourselves comforting stories about the differences in our respective nervous systems, just as was done in the days of vivisection to justify dissecting live animals such as dogs without anesthetic. We can get away with this terrible cruelty because lobsters are vulnerable and it’s easy to exercise power over them. (Imagine wrestling a person-sized lobster into a boiling pot and you’ll get the picture.)

But what if we didn’t? What if we took a stand against suffering of any kind, by any being, no matter how small, vulnerable, or different? What if we didn’t cloak experience in terms such as “harassment” and “bullying” but went to the heart of it and called it “pain” instead? What if we built a society where every being, no matter how small, no matter how different, had a right to the absence of pain, fear, and degradation? What if we fostered empathy for all the beings that we share the world with, and they didn’t have to justify receiving our mercy by looking or acting like us, or being our friend, or being related, or wagging a tail, or carrying us over jumps, or purring? What if we adults modeled universal empathy to the children we admonish to not bully? I think bullying rates would drop dramatically, don’t you?

So next time you’re at Red Lobster and you’re considering eating that sweet tender meat, ask them if the lobster would be bullied
boiled alive. Tell them you will only eat it if it’s killed humanely. Tell them about the “Crustastun”: and insist they buy and use it if they want your lobster-eating business. Do your part to end bullying; one lobster at a time.