Sunday, 25 January 2015

Hidden in plain view for 35 years

Bonding time with my Dad! (Around 1972)
The following is an adapted and condensed excerpt taken from a story I wrote about my Dad (Douwe Vanderlaan 1937 - 1999) a few years ago. Many thanks to Bell Media (#Bell_LetsTalk on January 28) for their ongoing campaign against the stigma surrounding mental illness and to Brett Rothery and his supporters, of Crescent Heights High School (#CHHSLetsTalk) in Calgary, Canada for their current campaign to raise awareness of mental health in teens. This one's for my Dad who was a 16 year old teenager with OCD in 1953.

I’m not entirely sure when we found out. It could have been the summer after my freshman or sophomore year ('86 or '87) at university. Dad came home late from work...a visible wreck. He threw me his car keys and said, “DRIVE”!

“Where are we going?”, I said.

“Just drive”, he replied.

I headed down our road and after traveling a few kms he told me to slow down and began to frantically look out the side window. Still unsure of what was going on, I asked him what he was doing.

And there on the side of the road, he confessed that he had spent the last few hours driving up and down the street looking for someone he thought he had hit.

You see – Dad suffered from OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Dad was a survivalist and he had lead a ‘double life’. He had suffered since he was 16 years old and he hid it from everyone until he was in his early 50’s. For approximately 35 years, Dad waged a mental battle that none of us, including my Mom, were aware.

Dad’s mind was trapped in an endless cycle of uncontrollable, irrational thoughts. Dad was (in OCD terms) ‘a checker’.

Was the door locked? It felted locked when he tugged on it, but was it truly locked?

Did he put out his cigarette? The smoke is gone, but is the fire out?

Did he hit someone while driving? He didn’t see blood, but maybe the victim is lying in the ditch.

Did he pay his mortgage bill in the 1960’s? The loan holder hasn’t asked, but was there a missed payment they didn't catch.

And on...and on...and on.

The harder he tried to reassure himself, the more he sank in the trap. Survival was as natural to him as breathing. He couldn’t focus on relationships, on himself, or on hobbies. He was simply trying to exist and, all the while, tension anxiety was building endlessly.
Dad was a 'pioneer' - one of the first patients to be given Prozac to combat his anxiety and obsessions. Medication after medication was prescribed to try help him cope with life. Often times, the medication would create in Dad a zombie-like appearance, which caused him to sleep his free time away. Sometime during the late 1990’s, with the help of medication and therapy, I think Dad finally lived a somewhat ‘normal’ life again.

Dad died on April 30, 1999. He was taken away from his house on a stretcher never to return. He had fought the good fight and was tired. God didn’t want him to suffer anymore. Dad had helped to raise a family, loved our Mom and his children, helped a friend wage a war on OCD - including his own, quietly lived his life for Jesus, and was 62 years old and his life was finished.
One of my regrets is that I would not tell him what I meant when I included a poem by Dylan Thomas during my 1986 valedictorian address for high school. I can recall several times, even years after giving my speech, Dad asking me about the poem's meaning. I would simply shrug and say, “It’s what you want it to mean.” But, if I had the chance today to explain, I would tell him, “Don’t give up Dad. Keep up the fight. Be an immigrant boy.” And with the lines: “And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray...” I would say, if all you could say was a curse, then I would know you still had a fight in you.

So, before I lay down my ‘pen’, I’d like to dedicate the same poem by Dylan Thomas to my Dad:
Dear Dad,


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I love you, Dad.

Before I go Dad...just one more it too late to say I'm proud of you? No? I didn't think so.

Henry (Mij Yonk)
Photo taken about a year before Dad went 'home'.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

This ain't no joke

There're a few things that I consider 'cringe-worthy'. I'm not talking about pet peeves or minor nuisances - I'm talking about things that really cause you to pause, count to 10, and, in extreme cases, ask for forgiveness later! Well, let's just say I had one of those cringe worthy moments last week.

Here's how it went down:

Guy #1: "Haven't seen (let's say his name is John) in a while."
Guy #2: "He's in the loony bin."

And, that's when my cringe erupted.

Yup. That's what he said. The 'L' word. Now, I'm not the most politically correct guy on the block, but I do try my best not to use words that are insulting and hurtful. I happen to be firmly rooted in the camp that tries to avoid usage of the 'W', the 'N', the 'P', the 'C', the 'B' words - as in 'Whacked', 'Nuts', 'Psycho', 'Crazy', 'Bananas' and 'Loony', of course - and all the other pejorative, debasing, derogatory, derisive, deprecatory, irreverent, rude, and unpleasant (I can keep going) words used to describe persons with mental illness.

Be honest. When's the last time you heard someone use the 'R' word to describe a person with "low intellectual ability". I'm almost certain you haven't in a long time. I won't spell out the word because we all know what it is and we all know that it's usage is insensitive and edging towards abusive when referring to a person. We should all be thankful that somewhere along the line that part of our language has been redeemed. Roget's 21st Century Online Thesaurus even includes a special usage note of the 'R' word. Here's part of their explanation: "In reference to low intellectual ability, the terms 'R'ed, 'R'ation, and mental 'R'ation are now usually perceived as disabled people." Awesome. Well done, Roget's.

This brings me to Bell Media's lastest #BellLetsTalk campaign: #LanguageMatters ( Through well know TV personalities, comedians, and athletes, such as Howie Mandel, Michael Landsberg, and Clara Hughes, Bell Media is once again doing its honourable part to end the stigma of mental illness. On their latest commercials, the message you'll hear is that saying words such as loony, nuts, bananas, crazy, etc to describe those with mental illness is off base and out of line. They're not acceptable. They're in the same category as the 'R' word! And, people with mental illness perceive those words as insulting!

Now...let's get Roget's to do the right thing and acknowledge the same guessed it...they don't. When you ask Roget's Online Thesaurus to find synonyms for mental illness you'll find lots of substitute words that I don't mention above.

Mental illness is real and it hurts. Take it from one who knows first hand what Howie Mandel deals with daily. And...that's no joke.

Sunday, 4 January 2015


Read quickly. You'll find out why at the end!

Let me set the scene (circa 1983):
My Dad: "Henry, Mom's not home and I need to wake up at 6 AM for work. Can you set the alarm for me?"
Me: "What? How hard is that? There're just a few buttons. I can't believe you. It's so easy!
Dad: "Just do it." (He came out with the slogan long before that sports gear maker - which will go unnamed - ever did!)

Fast forward (circa 1988):
My Computer Science Professor: "Henry, what can I do for you?"
Me: "I'd like to drop your class."
Professor: "Why?"
Me: "I'll never need that stuff."

That's a decision I'd like to erase from life's hard drive! 'Cause I think I'm still paying for my lack of foresight!

It's tough keeping up with technology, if you're not submersed in it everyday.

I wonder at what point someone just decides to allow the new electronic gadgets and gizmos to leave them in the proverbial dust?
Do you just wake up one night in a cold sweat and say, "I'm done, I can't do it anymore, here's your turn to carry the torch...I mean mouse."
Does your smartphone - or dumb (as in "This dumb phone!) - crash every time you try to download a new app?
And, there has to be a limit on the number of passwords you have to memorize! It was way simpler when I only had to memorize the three digit code for my locker back in high school! Now, I have more passwords than underwear! (Too much info...I know.)
What about Siri? Try calling your wife using the hands-free function while driving and Siri starts dialing another person without waiting for your 'Yes'. And, in a panic you reach for your phone and press every button known to Apple in desperation to end the call!
Is there a technological hill we're all destined to die on? Is there an icon for that so I can speed up the process?
And, the one question I can't seem to find any help with: When passing someone in a hallway, do you acknowledge that you're friends with that person on Facebook or do you pretend that you don't chill out on FB at all? I think it's a secret because no one's telling me the answer!

As soon as you master one app, or game (which I don't do), or some software, or a piece of hardware, and you start feeling good about yourself you're already behind. I need an app just to keep up with all the apps! I just used the word 'app' three times!

I can't quit trying to keep up! I'll have to ignore the cold, night sweats because my recent car ride with 4 teen-aged boys reaffirmed my commitment to stay current. Gotta keep up with the Jones'...or is it the iMacs and Samsungs? Otherwise, I'll be like my Dad who had a hard time hooking up the rabbit ears on our B&W TV back in the day. (Sorry Dad - yokes! LOL!)

So, you're welcome. Thanks to me you're even farther behind the tech curve after reading this article, I mean post, or blog, or whatever I'm doing.

Game hard boyz n girlz, game hard! #Justsayin.

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