Medicine Stories: Grandmother Moon watches

I see red dresses and my body goes into a panic — it’s May 5 and I should do more (I hear my guilt say), but threats to my safety are a lived experience for me — housing insecurity, assault. I live with panic attacks now, and a constant low level anxiety that somehow always threatens to steal me from the beauty of a delicately healing life.

This is one of the first years I am experiencing this day from housing I can safely call stable. Somewhere I call home. Somewhere I cannot be taken from. I had to give up my home six years ago when grieving my grandmother became insurmountable and I stopped going to PAC meetings and working for the school board — functioning as a ‘healthy’ member of society — when depression became real, and mental health supports couldn’t, wouldn’t, answer my questions — even when a doctor told me about “intergenerational trauma” and impacts of colonialism on mental health and stopped me from taking any further medication.

In honour of MMIWG2sp and visibility – this is a picture of the author, me – self-portrait by Cassandra Blondin Burt

When I was a young(er) person, after trauma had turned unspoken pain into rage and I had run from my home in the city to a small, rag tag coastal town like some beatnik poet seeking truth in the maddest of houses — my mother used to call me Queen of the MIA. This was before the phrase “MMIW” (or, now MMIWG2sp) appeared and the correlation scared me in reflection, in my later years.

In my grief I allowed my life to slip away from me but what still shocks me in hindsight, always, is how quickly this socio-political economic system let me, no matter our previous contributions. The steps between housing stability and house-lessness are far fewer than many of us would like to realize, and lacking even a home address complicates the unspoken contracts this nation holds with us as citizens — creating circumstances that practically criminalize trauma-based behaviors, addictions, and mental health or housing insecurity. The socio-economic illusions of stable housing and incomes keep us divided, social norms going unnoticed thanks to classist biases we are only made aware of, sometimes, through lived experiences.

It’s been more than four years now, and I have a home rented from my family that I know I will not lose. But when these days come around, May 5 for instance, I feel the urge to say to whoever needs to hear it: our survival is enough, our growth, our peace, our healing, our finding new ground to stand, or sit, or lay on weeping, our space to be and heal and breathe — just breathe — for long enough to come back to ourselves, even momentarily. Humanely, we all deserve this: to bathe, to sleep, to recollect ourselves. No medication can do what rest and safety can, but in this socio-economic world we hardly have room to care as citizens.

On days like May 5, I reflect on these histories of mine, and shared histories of ours, and I wonder what our future systems will look like. Will they be systems of community care? Or economic bias?

We have the capacity to transform our systems, to see and perceive one another as equal in the eyes of Creator, but realizing these humanistic, or life affirming systems, is a different challenge. To fight the system implies that it is inherently needing change, or negative, but to evolve our capacity to perceive these political systems, economies and governments as even capable of caring is a necessary starting point. Because I often hear that this is ‘just the way it is’ — but we are the system. Each one of us and how we choose to do our jobs, what we choose to do with them, what we do when we go to work and go to sleep and how we dream, what we believe is possible and why?

So, even if this is the way it ‘is,’ I will choose to dream.

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