Saturday, 16 November 2013

Rob Ford: Hunger Games

If you think Rob Ford is bipolar you truly need to educate yourself on mental health. It's utterly disgraceful (sic) at the ignorance of our society when it comes to mental health. I'm embarrassed to even read your post.

This was a reader response to a question I asked on the Toronto Star's Facebook site about whether the newspaper had consulted mental health professionals about Rob Ford's state of mind. Could Rob Ford be suffering from bipolar disorder? I asked.

I was shocked to read this personal attack against me. Why was the writer so angry? Why was he so quick to suggest that I was ignorant on the subject?

It's been six years since Senator Michael Kirby asked Canadians to bring mental illness out of the shadows and shine the spotlight on a condition that affects one in five Canadians and their families. Since that time, very little has changed. There has been some attention paid to suicide and bullying but aside from these social problems, which are largely examined within the context of young people, mental illness remains a problem not for polite discussion.

We're Canadian you see, a nation of passive aggressives who talk nice to your face but stick the knife in when you aren't looking. Talking smack about somebody -- whether it's Americans or Rob Ford -- gives us our sense of superiority. 

Despite the government spending millions on a Mental Health Commission, Centres of Excellence and bricks and mortar, the needle hasn't moved much since the Kirby report. That's because people who suffer from mental illness are afraid to get help lest they be judged.

The case of Rob Ford is not different from the case of Svend Robinson, the NDP MP who walked into a jewelry auction and stole an expensive watch, the high functioning politician who ended up in the bottom of a ravine, inexplicably, while hiking. It's no different than the case of Victoria Maxwell, the Vancouver actress who ran through Stanley Park naked before she was taken to a mental health facility in full psychotic flourish. Or Margaret Trudeau whose husband Pierre had to come to the National Press Club and haul her out of it while he was still Prime Minister.

Fortunately for many, medication and therapy are extremely helpful, as was the case for Svend, Victoria and Margaret.

Rob Ford might already have been given this diagnosis, which might explain why he thinks he's not an alcoholic. His psychotic break might have been triggered by the death of his father a year ago, a man who had iron clad control over his family. Rob worshiped Doug Ford.

Maybe it was something else, but clearly something happened a year or so back that put Rob Ford's already erratic journey into a full tailspin.

I'm not saying he isn't an alcoholic, God I hate that word. It is so accusatory, so labeling. The mere mention of alcoholism strikes fear into the hearts of many who have been touched by its icy hand. It's what makes people so angry with Mayor Ford. People hate alcoholics. They blame them for the ills of society. They judge them.

They don't understand that there are all kinds of problematic users: moms who use wine to self-medicate after a long day with the kids; social drinkers who are dependent on their nightly fix but not consumed by it; salespeople with expense accounts who use booze to while away their loneliness while on the road; college students who work hard during the week but binge on the weekends; doctors and dentists who use booze and drugs to take the pressure off; and of course, the drooling, cirrhotic drunks who end their lives in a puddle of their own vomit and shit.

Rob Ford displays many of the characteristics of the alcohol dependent. He's a binge drinker, he drives drunk, he makes poor decisions. He's omebody who acts like he's drunk even when he hasn't taken a sip.

As my friend Louis C.K. would say, "Of course he's an alcoholic. Of course. But maybe..."

Maybe there's something else at the root of Rob Ford's problem. Most often alcoholism and its sisters are a symptom of a deeper mental illness set off by childhood abandonment, sexual abuse and other traumas.

We may never know.

As Canadians, we want to put Rob Ford in a box to explain away his behavior. Alcoholism is a convenient scapegoat.

He needs to be sent away to rehab. Once he's out, all will be well. He will have seen the light, God damn it.

In the meantime, he has become the court jester, the buffoon.

He and his family exist in an public arena, as if he were a contestant in the Hunger Games.

Rob Ford has been judged and found wanting.

The sad thing is that people who have their own problems are watching this, huddled in their living rooms, shuddering. They can relate to Rob Ford. He is a man of the people, after all. And they've all been there.

Maybe the twenty-percent of people who are still supporting Rob Ford, despite everything that has gone on, simply understand what he's going through. They might have experienced a mental illness themselves or watched someone they loved go through it. Maybe they see Rob Ford in themselves.

If so, the media circus, and all the judginess will make them afraid.

"If someone finds out my problems," he or she might think, "will I be stoned or found wanting in the court of public opinion?"

Of course, you will.

Of course.

But maybe, maybe some day people will stop pointing fingers and give those who suffer from mental illness, with a side order of dependency, a helping hand instead of a loaded gun.

Until then, the silent minority will remain in the shadows afraid to come out.

 

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