My Autistic Experience – What IS So Funny About Mental Illness?

So about a month ago, this video was posted on the UOIT Student Mental Health Services Facebook Page:

“Diseases of the body garner sympathy, says comedian Ruby Wax — except those of the brain. Why is that? With dazzling energy and humor, Wax, diagnosed a decade ago with clinical depression, urges us to put an end to the stigma of mental illness.”

I saw this and in doing so I was inspired. I wondered “Yeah, why is that?”

Ruby Wax urges us to put an end to the stigma of mental illness – and it is certainly a good thing that there are people like her to champion this cause – but she never addresses the reasons why there is a stigma in the first place. While I enjoyed the video, I was disappointed that she did not answer the question that she asked.

It seems to me that everyone wants to try to solve a problem without understanding the cause, but what we have to understand is that there is a reason that people hold this stigma. If we’re going to bring an end to the stigma, we’re going to have to understand why it is that there is a stigma in the first place. With this understanding, it is possible to come up with a solution that reaches the core of the problem, instead of just treating the symptoms or preaching to the choir.

So what is the cause of the stigma? This is what I hope to answer, at least partially.

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Fantastic University Services and Where To Find Them!

By Michael Cassar – Peer Employment Advisor

A great athlete once said:

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

Arthur Ashe, a former World No.1 tennis player, once said this. Unfortunately, Mr. Ashe died in 1992 of AIDS-related pneumonia. He was a champion of many firsts: Ashe was the first male African-American player selected to the United States Davis Cup team and the only African-American to win the singles title at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open.

Before his many successes in sport and his advocacy and charity work to fight and defeat AIDS, Arthur went through the adversity of losing his mother at a young age of just seven years old, and experienced racism and segregation in the USA in the 1960’s with the Civil Rights movement in full-swing.

But Arthur knew that if he could envision what goals he had, what he dreamed to achieve, he could get through it and persevere forward to be successful no matter what adverse situation, hurdle, or problem he was facing. That is the beauty of success; it does not care about race, religion, colour, creed, or origin. If you define what success means to you, the odds of achieving what you want shall always be in your favour.

Being a student whose post-secondary journey did not originally begin at UOIT, each day I am on campus I am inspired and forever grateful for the many student services and avenues for improvement available at the Student Life office (located in the U5 Portable on the North Campus and at 61 Charles Street on the Downtown Campus)! These great services were a large part of the reason why I wanted to transfer and continue my post-secondary journey at a university that is closer to my home and my heart.

One of the big hurdles I often quarreled with during my time as a first-year student attending the University of Ottawa was trying to find a way to balance maximizing my grade point average, attending as many on-campus club and society events of my interests, having a social life with friends and family with those who are around and far away from me, all while managing the sweeping life change that was living on my own for the first time!

Looking back, that was quite a bit of responsibilities and aspirations  to juggle! And the juggling part was not easy, as I have yet to complete my degree from Clown’s College! Hahaha!

I thought I’d throw in some mild clown humour! Someone told me that it’s a nice “jester” to do so…

Okay, I promise I’ll stop with the clown puns (for now).

But back to the story: juggling my life when I was on my own. There were times where school work, my social life, relationships, athletics, eating habits and day-to-day routines felt like a giant blur; all being vacuumed into a black-hole like portal of ambiguity. I am using this outer space analogy because it often felt like that my future is constantly in flux.

There were many things that probably could have attributed to that. Maybe it was that my grade point average was not at the level that it was at in high school and had dropped significantly? Maybe it was the change of sitting at a dinner table without my mother and father right beside me? Maybe it was that for the first time in my life, I got to truly begin being the adult in my own life? Maybe it was the combination of  all of those things?

There are two things I learned from this that have helped me to be the student I am today. First, that a future influx can inspire possibility and not fear, and secondly, that I should embrace my future of tomorrow by taking actions today!

It was in March of 2015, when I had made the decision to change where I was going to complete my undergraduate degree in Commerce. There was this lovely little place close to home known as the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. It was really  a homecoming of homecomings because not only had I already been aware of this school having lived and been raised near it, but I also was accepted into its commerce program back in grade twelve along with my brother who studies engineering. It was at this point in my life when I learned that no matter where you currently stand, where you used to stand, and where you eventually want to stand, to have any place to stand, you must first rise.

Do you want to know one of the best known secrets in my life? Simple, I know that nobody can get there on their own, no matter where their ‘there’ is. It is interesting to note how the words there and where both have the word ‘here’ in them. In any good story where the protagonist wins in the end, there is always a sidekick, mentor, or friend who has shared their wisdom, empathy and compassion towards them to help keep them motivated along the way.

One cool and interesting story I recall from my time in the nation’s capital is when I spent a night participating in uOttawa’s Long-Night Against Procrastination, hosted by a faction of their many student services, the Academic Writing Help Centre and the Student Academic Success Services in November of 2014. As you all may be very well aware, procrastination often occurs to students who put off, forget about, fail to plan for, or just don’t have the energy to complete a assignment, project, or regular study time for midterms and final exams.

So I was down there, sitting at the table with two friends of mine and passersby I recognized on campus when I was on my way to my classes; I was amazed at just how many people had turned up for this event. The entire Academic Writing Help Centre had become full of students who were talking and engaging with each other about something many people go through in the creative thinking process. Whether it was the fun games and activities we as students all shared and took part in, or whether it was when I was studying with two friends of mine from my first year calculus class, it was a memorable time where student services helped me feel united and connected early in my time in our campus community.

Fast-forwarding from that event, when I would often speak with my older brother, who just a mere eighteen months older than I. He will be returning to UOIT this fall to complete his fourth year of engineering after his internship with a company called Napoleon Fireplaces, a division Wolf Steel Ltd., located in Barrie, Ontario. Back in March of 2015, when I transferring to UOIT and considering the very big decision to transfer to a university that is much closer to my hometown of Bowmanville, my brother was in full-swing of his application for co-op and the internship searching process of finding an employer. Thanks to the helpful and optimistic coordinators and employment advisors I now have the pleasure of calling my co-workers, I am proud to say that he had two offers and he is really loving his experience with a company that offered him an internship opportunity of a lifetime.

It is inspiring to know that we are at a really dynamic time in our school’s history. Being a youthful and new institution, we are very fortunate to have much closer relationships with those who can provide students with the services and resources we may need. I fundamentally believe that the stronger those relationships and bonds are with such resource providers, the greater the student’s potential for success and happiness in their field of studies and life going forward will be.

So today my friends, when you next gaze upon our lovely campus and see the sun shining in the sky, or setting in the west, remember that each every day, as the current one ends, and a new one begins, there is a committed, energetic, and enthusiastic team of people who are looking to provide you with the services you need to succeed in your future! From financial aid to the career centre, from the student learning centre to the conversation cafe, your dreams and aspirations of tomorrow can start by finding and unlocking the power and potential you have to change the world today!

Until the next article, good morning, good afternoon, and good night everyone!

P.S. Much apologies for not having this lovely article up sooner, I just need to wrap my head on what I wanted to write.


Learning to Look Back, Learning to Move on

My first post for this blog is quite personal, a little philosophical, and written in just over a thousand words. I highly recommend skipping the next five paragraphs that sound like they came right out of a journal entry, so you can read the section of this post that looks like it came out of a priest’s autobiography. Or just rebel against the writer and read it all, I’ll try my best not to regret revealing my life.

Ever since I was young, I had always been extremely shy and quiet. Growing up I usually had one or two friends at a time, either that or I would quietly join a group without taking part in major conversation. This made it a bit difficult to enjoy my childhood. I couldn’t join any clubs, continue learning to swim, or become close friends with kids my age.

It wasn’t until I moved to a new school halfway through fifth grade that I became friends with more social and outgoing people, and a new personality of mine started to show. I was still quiet, but not as shy as I began pranking my friends and acting mischievous to my classmates. I would silently take books, pencil cases and phones, and give them back after giggling at them trying to find out where I put them. I would play pranks on my friends by pretending to have amnesia during lunchtime and giving out fake love notes hidden in lockers and within binders. Of course, I would only go as far to see their reactions, to which I would halfheartedly apologize a few minutes later. This helped generate a whole list of nicknames from “Evil” to “Monster” and “The Beast,” which would never die down in my later years of middle school when I began to display my amazing volleyball skills during gym class (I’m not exaggerating here; no one could catch my spikes).

When I started high school, this personality had for the most part disappeared as I went back to being quiet. I was no longer shy as I joined sports teams and participated more in group activities and class presentations. However in my later years I didn’t put as much effort in being social and outgoing as I did in my studies and being conflicted over what I wanted to be when I grow up, what career path to take, and which school to go to.

Even now, I sit in this summer heat having changed programs, training for my newly acquired part-time job, editing for a magazine online and spending the rest of my time watching Korean dramas (for that I have my friend to blame for introducing it to me in the first place). I’m more open to new experiences, and I’m still just as worried about my future as I was a few years ago.

I try not to think about it most days. But some nights I find myself awake in the dark consumed by my thoughts and worries about my future, my career, my goals and my dreams. I start panicking and my breathing becomes uneven. I calm down after all the tears have dried up and I’m fast asleep. It’s hard to stay in contact with friends when it feels like they’ve all moved on in life with new jobs, new schools and new friends. Talking to my family is even worse when all they talk is sarcasm and humour; it’s near impossible to be serious enough without ending up in a shouting match. For me, summer is worse when I come back home with little to do and fewer people to talk to, as well as being holed up inside with relatives who question three things: school, career, and marriage (I come from a Desi background so even though we try to break stereotypes, these conversations come up more frequently when the older generation come to visit).

When I think about it, I’m just feeling stressed, paranoid, and lost. There’s no instruction manual on how to live, and growing up I realize there will no longer be anyone there to hold your hand. When I was young I was hiding behind my parents, teachers and relatives. Even in middle school when my character spiked a change, I always had a friend willing to join me and the expressions on my classmates’ faces when I joke around with them. It’s that thought of having the strength to push myself to talk to more people, try out new opportunities and learn to explore outside of the house more (thank you Pokemon Go). Until I try, and until I put in all of my effort being involved in different activities, I won’t ever be sure of future goals in life. For now that’s all I need, short-term and long-term goals. Whether that be focusing on a particular career I want, volunteering for different organisations, meeting the right partner for marriage in the future (at least that’s my relatives’ goal) or even saving enough money to earn a place to live for when school starts.

I am happy with the short-term goals I have now. Earning decent money from my job, writing and editing online, catching up with my dramas and exploring local parks with my sister. Of course, I will always want more in life. More goals, more dreams, more friends, more opportunities. Looking back, I’ve been faced with all  sorts of fears and problems and situations. I learned from my behaviours and my mistakes, and I learned how to move on. The biggest thing I learned is that I have changed, whether I know it or not. And I should learn to accept these changes, because if I was able to make it through life to where I am now, then I can make it through the next twenty years, or thirty years or more.

People grow up with different memories, experiences, emotions and opinions. It’s not worth comparing my life to someone else’s. And for that I am still growing, maybe not in height but definitely as an individual. I’ll end this long post with a quote I saw displayed on the electronic sign board of my local mosque, responsible for being the main conclusion point of this essay:

“A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.” – Muhammad Ali

My Autistic Experience – Dungeons, Dragons, and Ideas

Turns out I have something to say. Perhaps my ‘extended break’ will not be as long as I thought. Maybe I’ll just have to take it later…

Awhile ago I made a post where I suggested I would discuss my experience with Dungeons and Dragons. Finally I have been able to link it to my autistic experience, and I figure it’s best to open with that before I decide to go off the rails.

It begins with this: Real life is either boring or depressing.

Real life is boring. Everybody goes about their business and nobody talks about anything particularly interesting. People focus on what they are doing at the moment, and I suppose it makes sense that people would do this. All the same, I find it boring when the only thing people want to discuss is what is going on at the moment.

Real life is depressing. Events in the world today fill me cynicism, and I find that the way people try to solve these problems is laughable. It’s as if they either have no idea how the world works and come up with simple solutions that are obviously wrong, or that they are okay with the way things are going and maliciously come up with ineffectual solutions that don’t actually solve anything.

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