The Lives of Canadians With Disabilities and Mental Illness Matter
My background may be different than tens of thousands of people across Canada, but somehow, regardless of our stories, we have all ended up in the same place: government forced poverty. When COVID-19 hit, the Canadian government decided that C$2,000 monthly was what the average person needed to survive. As lockdowns arrived and prices soared, money was sent coast to coast to millions of people to help them through the pandemic. I am glad the government was able to step up and help so many, however, I am wondering why thousands and thousands of people with physical disabilities and mental illnesses have continually been cast aside and treated like we’re as disposable as the trash.
If the average person requires C$2,000 monthly, then why do we not qualify as average citizens? How is anyone expected to live in this country on C$1,169 monthly? Who decided that C$497 a month is supposed to cover one’s rent? You cannot rent a room in a house full of strangers for less than C$700-$800 monthly.
We are looked down upon and treated poorly by the majority of society:
“Just get a job.”
“They’re too lazy to work.”
“They’re a drain on the system.”
“Why should I have to work while they get to stay home and do nothing?”
There are thousands of statements like these.
They are nothing new to us, but that does not make them less hurtful or less degrading. Do you think we choose to have disabilities and mental illnesses? Do you not think we would prefer to live a societally accepted life, rather than being discarded? Do you not think we would like to be able to eat daily, or not have to choose between food and toiletries? Do you not think that just once in a while, we would like to be able to go out or buy something for ourselves? Do you think we choose to live with depression or anxiety, or so many other illnesses? You point, you condemn, you judge, yet you know nothing about me or any of us.
You can’t fathom the traumas some of us have had to live with, day after day.
To give you a brief, summarized example, I shall share a bit about myself. I am 49 years old, and I have never known a day without trauma. My birth mother was an alcoholic and drug addict. I was born drunk and addicted and spent the first few months of my life fighting for my survival. I was taken away and placed into the foster system in the 1970’s, and from the tender ages of 6 months to 18 months, I was removed from four homes: for sexual abuse, physical abuse and severe neglect which lead to me drowning when I was one. I was placed in only one safe home, and then adopted when I was 18 months old.
You may be thinking I was too young to remember, so what is the big deal? Traumas that intense scar your mind for life. Trauma is also stored in our bodies. Our muscle cells have memory, hence the physical reactions we have to certain cues and triggers.
In the 1970s, all that was needed to adopt a child was for you to fill in an application, come in for a meeting with two reference letters stating that you would be good parents, and presto… pick a kid.
I had one visit with my social worker, and then I was dropped off to live there, so traumatized and terrified I wouldn’t let anyone touch me. I slept in the corner on the floor at the base of the stairs, with my jacket on, my little suitcase beside me, and the only doll that had stayed with me from place to place.
The abuse did not stop. My father abused my mother, who then made me her confidante and protector when I was 5. My mom spent a lot of time in bed depressed and I spent a lot of time outside of my home, trying to escape what was going on there. However, vulnerable children are sniffed out by predators, like trained dogs sniff out drugs. I was sexually abused by a number of people until I got the courage to make it stop when I was 14.
The year previous, my mom was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. She fought hard for six long years, and I lost her a few weeks after her 44th birthday when I was 19. I have since had multiple suicide attempts and have been diagnosed with five mental disorders, so forgive me if my view of the world is the polar opposite of the societal norms.
I am not sharing my story with you for pity or for personal attention. I am using my words for the tens of thousands of Canadians, who, one way or another, are forced into the system via their mental or physical ailments. I am speaking to demonstrate how very broken the system is.
Basically being on disability is being kept in forced poverty. Can you imagine trying to survive and being maxed out at C$1169 monthly? If we make any money, we are punished, and that amount is then deducted from our payments. For example, this year the federal government gave a raise of C$16 a month, which in itself is insulting enough, but then the provincial government turned around and deducted that $16 from my payment. So I literally cannot get C$16 ahead.
I am being punished for surviving years of abuse. We all are.
What we earn yearly is much less than what Canada states as the official poverty line. So again, we live with being looked down upon and treated differently by society, and then the government supports that with a nice financial slap in the face, followed by a swift kick in the ass every time you have to prove to them you still have a mental illness. Perhaps if we were not constantly worried about shelter and necessities, we would have the time and be provided with the resources to help us to heal.
As it stands, the average wait for a psychiatrist covered by a medical plan is 11 months, and when you finally get in, you will be lucky to have four visits a year before you are discharged and forgotten about.
All the government wants to do is wash their hands clean of us, until we either get out of the system or take our lives.
Essentially it comes down to the stigma that surrounds both physical disabilities and mental health issues. You read my story and perhaps think I can just get over it, or I should have done so already. Maybe you think that the past is the past, and there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to work, or I’m lazy and just want to drain the system. I worked from the ages of 14 to 44, living with the effects of my trauma, until one day my mind became too overwhelmed and I had my breakdown. No one sees or understands how difficult it is to hold steady employment with multiple mental illnesses.
Unless you have experienced it, you will never understand.
These are just a few of the judgments placed on us by society. I did not choose this life. I did, however, choose to survive it, and in no way should I be condemned to a life of extreme poverty. None of us should. If the government of Canada does not do something to rectify the situation, lives will be lost. Possibly even my own. It’s time for a change. We deserve better.
Getty image by Rudzhan Nagiev