TRINITY: Mental Health, Violence & Homelessness
Rita: “The first time I tried to go home I was picked up by some men who gave me five dollars. An’ then they arrested me.”
Eileen: “When Rita Joe first come to the city, she told me…the cement made her feet hurt.”
The Ecstasy of Rita Joe—A Play by George Ryga
Let’s take a triangle, which is fundamentally a patriarchal cultural language symbol developed over thousands of years. As culture was built through the concept of the Patriarch after he learned of ‘his’ contribution to the woman’s ability to give birth, he began the long human plight to develop and hone a culture fitting to the Patriarch and the Matriarch. I’ve decided to use the triangle because it is a valuable symbol and it holds a fundamental key to understanding the links between things in threes and it also part of scientific patterning of microscopic miraculous facets of building nature. Was it necessary to find such a symbol? Yes. Is it bad that it is part of what we now call Patriarchy? No. Because Patriarchy, as a category and a concept, is not the thing that defines the oppression of women—the oppression, the violence and between Women and Men (also humans) are born out of these concepts, categories and names that define our human experiences but, they are not the concepts themselves.
I am not a devout Catholic or a Christian. I don’t adhere to any one particular religion. But, I see the value in some of Patriarchy’s ideas and concepts as they attempted to build their religious institutions and the good and bad that came with the making of these organizational communities. The Trinity is a triangle. It describes the power and connectivity behind the Holy Ghost, the Father and The Son. Each is unique and separate and yet, each works in tandem with the others, which also means they are not separate but tied together—they have a triangular entanglement. And in so understanding the existence of Spirit, Humans and the greater Universe at large, which can also be paralleled to the Christian trinity, we can also take the real linkages between Mental Health, Violence and Homelessness among Women in early modern society.
Although these three categories have persisted throughout the advent of humans throughout time, it is because of western awareness and consciousness that we now have names or categories for Violence, Homelessness, Mental Health and their relationships to humanity. We try to be aware of them and to prevent the pain and suffering that these three things cause. I want to express my understanding by reflecting on the relationship of the three this ‘Trinity—Triangle’ and I want to share my own experience of the interconnectedness of these so that we can better understand how to improve our survival and our lives as humans and people, both genders and the various problems of identity that come with the human condition in relationship to this Trinity.
The Ecstasy of Rita Joe (Youtube talk by Artistic Director of The National Arts Centre (NAC)) is a Canadian play written by an excellent writer and playwright from Winnipeg during the mid 1960s. George Ryga lived on certain native reserves and with his experience he came to write this powerfully resonant play about a native woman named Rita Joe. She (her ecstasy) in a myriad of ways represents this Trinity. She is homeless. She has been a subject of abuse, physically, emotionally and verbally by men, by a system that disregards her value because she is judged to be mentally challenged and ill. This play was written approximately fifty years ago but for myself, my experience as a Canadian in 2015, it remains so vivid and so relevant. I find that sad and also inspiring that the playwright had such incredible foresight into our culture and the issues we are still struggling with in Canada about the ties that bind this triangle between Violence Against Women, Homelessness and Mental Health.
Like Rita Joe, my feet also hurt against the cement of my native ‘home-city’ of Toronto most days. I know what it’s like to do unfair time incarcerated and to be pegged as ‘mentally ill.’ I also know the possibilities we (Women) have today to take the time to work on ourselves and yes there’s been significant systemic improvements and awareness available to us if we really want to address this trinity of ours. I’ve done Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) for over a year with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. It’s helped immensely but it’s taken a commitment that requires a lot of attention and focus. It’s not easy. It’s a process and one that has setbacks with advances. CBT helped me to look at my own mental health and I learned how to disregard stigma, comparisons between individuals and yet the interconnectedness we each need as Women and as people in healthier ways. While I attended this program I wrote and published a creative non-fiction piece about my experience with Violence and abusive relationships. I wrote about patterning and confusion, my feelings, my thoughts. It was titled The Warm Embrace of Wreckage because that’s how I felt and that is how most women feel when they are facing abuse. They feel raw and the homelessness, the poverty accumulates the rawness, which results in desperate behaviours such as suicide attempts, devaluation and comparison and this in turn is all a part of that holy triangle of pain and suffering for each of us and our Mental Health. A couple excerpts from my piece in the book “Walk Myself Home—An Anthology To End Violence Against Women”:
“I hardly knew what was buried underneath and how it was linked to the issues of my own past and the relationships before me: my parents, my grandparents, the influences of my ancestors and my cultural background. And for a time I really believed I was to blame. It was sad and extreme but I felt he really needed me. I felt he loved me. Traditionally, in my culture women had little choice. I was expected to support my spouse, be loyal for better or worse (as they say before the church) even at my own peril and risk of my own salvation. It’s been over a decade since I pressed charges and I am still working through this. The battered-woman syndrome feels so passé today. Why bother fighting it? I’ve got the pain in my body pent up in memory, no matter how much Yoga, how many Anti-depressants or Bi-Polar Meds or how much therapy and tears.”
I recall staying at a shelter in Toronto, Women’s Residence, in 2010 and overhearing then joining a discussion about the issue of women refugees showing up at the shelter for assistance. In desperation they ran away from their husbands—some for a time and others to try to get away permanently. The social workers and the staff tried to assist them but due to their status as refuges or non-permanent residents of Canada their options were extreme and limited. It posed a real conundrum and a paradox as to how to help women in danger. Women who had little to no support from relatives, from their children—some with little children and some constantly being beaten and abused by their husbands. I don’t have any answers. I can’t offer much by way of changing a bureaucratic system much larger than me individual self but I try everyday (just by writing this article) to create change through myself by imparting an understanding to others of what we are facing in Western society and in a Global world in the early 21st century. Change is slow though time moves fast.
Here’s a quote I am impressed with from Rebecca Solnit’s recently published essay titled “The Longest War” from her book Men Explain Things To Me. (An essay about Rape and Violence Against Women In Western Society with a Global perspective.) This is a book that has hit the masses and made the New York Times bestseller list. It has, I believe, affected many people—female, transgender and male alike, to better understand what humanity means. The exposure is so important. And I am glad to be alive, to be fighting, writing and working with this story of mine. I believe in what I am doing and I am grateful to the shelters. Places like Street Haven At The Crossroads who’ve provided me with a home base where I can write, work on my experience, my mental health and share my person with the world as well as Women of similar circumstance.
“One of the most exciting new political movements on Earth is the Native Canadian indigenous rights movement, with feminist and environmental overtones, called Idle No More. On December 27th, shortly after the movement took off, a Native woman was kidnapped, raped, beaten, and left for dead in Thunder Bay, Ontario, by men whose remarks framed the crime as retaliation against Idle No More. Afterward, she walked four hours through the bitter cold and survived to tell her tale. Her assailants, who have threatened to do it again, are still at large.”