By Nonie D., Toronto
Mine is a good story. Quite a gift for a writer to receive.
I grew up on a rural sustenance farm in Cold Springs, Ontario, the eldest of 4 girls in a blended family, growing organic asparagus as the only non-sustenance crop – before there was organic and before anyone knew about asparagus. We were kept busy putting vegetables away for winter via canning, freezing and cold storage, and raising grass-fed, antibiotic free swine and chickens. We had a very limited fresh water supply in certain seasons and only a potbelly stove in the kitchen of a two-story home to keep us warm in winter. We did not walk up hill both ways to school but the rest of that story, I assure you, is true. One set of new clothes and shoes once a year was a particular treat and sometimes it was difficult to get into them by the time the next outfit came along.
Warmer months were often spent planting, grooming, and weeding the garden to one of the handful of eight tracks we owned, picking rocks, snapping beans, digging potatoes, feeding the chickens or pigs, cutting the lawn, painting the fence, or collecting and storing fruit to can or jam. Cold months were devoted to felling and stacking wood for heat. That pile is where I learned about magic in the universe - it took months to build up and always only a few short weeks to burn down.
Lest you think this fairy tale lacks a villain, let me assure you I also have that covered. My alcoholic step-monster could have walked right out of the pages of Cinderella. True to form, she was consumed by jealousy (lachesis maybe?) and in my naiveté I mistakenly thought perfectionism and grace would win her over. Obviously, that’s not how the story ended. I escaped, but because my other 3 parents were also alcoholics - just barely - and with battle scars. I loved animals and nature and was innately religious, the three of which gave me strength and reprieve. Sometimes all you need is a good escape! I took what I learned at school of morning exercise and Christian theology and blended them into a daily routine, long before I had ever heard of yoga. It served to ground me, give language to my spirituality, and helped me learn to listen to my body. I became academic for the easy approval at school and lost myself in creative writing for a number of years… the only way it was safe for me to speak.
I envied girls at school with modern homes and new clothes and parents that weren't divorced or drunk and these things somehow got mixed together in my mind. I dreamed about a future of happiness and modernity, of a loving nuclear family that ate together - in style - every night. I imagined the bustling city, a beautiful home, an important ‘professional’ job where I was more than a writer, more than a gardener, and a glamorous me complete with perfect make-up and modern clothes with high heels I could wear all day and not have to change into work clothes when I got home. A me that felt comfortable with people and not just with animals and plants; with standing straight and looking up and not just with looking in or looking down. A future lit up even at night. A life sans the smell of fire, and complete with modern amenities, cable tv, parties and dancing, a shower when I wanted one, a warm house in winter, shops and neighbours all along the street, some money to spend, friends my own age (people - not dogs or grandmothers), stimulating ideas, a sitcom family love.
A frog came along that I mistook for a prince and I did what Cinderella does and dressed up and fell in love and waited to be rescued.
But they don’t tell you that part of the story. The frog showed his colours and I found my walking boots. It turns out I like boots better than shoes anyway. The bigger, the better, as anyone who knows me will tell you. I also found I didn’t need a prince. I had my beautiful son and knuckled down to raise him on my own.
But I felt lost. I attended College for massage therapy, but was unhappy with the fit. Then I moved on to Bible College – and ditto. (Apparently women are not supposed to go to Bible College for anything other than a prince or a music education. Who knew? They didn’t write that in the fairy tales either.) If Bible College wouldn’t teach me theology, University would, so I transferred and there, finally felt I belonged. How I love learning! I learned how to conduct research, how to analyze, how to write for different purposes and audiences, and words like Heilsgeschichte, womanist, gyn/ecology, sustainable, organic, social justice, disaster capitalism, ECONOMY, freakonomics, student loans, ecclesia, praxis, politic. And separated myself as far as I could from that small, dreary life on that small, dreary farm.
I struggled at home, as my son had mental health and developmental problems from around 18 months of age. I turned to modern medicine for answers and he was indiscriminately drugged, institutionalized, and even criminalized, by the tender age of 7. He was diagnosed defiant, no bipolar, no ADD, no schizo-affective, no epileptic, no brain damaged, no PDD-NOS, no Asperger's ... and still it continues. I sought alternative solutions out of horror and faith – and was thrilled to stumble onto the research and writing of Dr. Abram Hoffer and his Orthomolecular Medicine. I took my son to see him, and my son markedly and quickly improved. The other children I knew using modern medicine got markedly worse. As long as we followed Dr. Hoffer's advice regarding diet and vitamin therapy, my son's improvements continued. Dr. Hoffer tutored me with my son until his passing.
I studied everything I could access about this new medicine, and suspended my other studies to return to school to pursue it. I had people in the community calling me to ask me what I had done to help my son. Could they also use it for their child? Could I direct them? And I was full of my own questions. How did it work? What research supported it? Where was the research that disputed it? Why wasn't it being embraced after 50 years of clinical success? Who was this man who developed it? What propelled him in that direction? Where were the women in the story? Why? What role did the medical establishment play in the larger picture? Who are the medical establishment and why is that so? What is my role to play in this chapter of the collective record of our human history?
In clinical practice I discovered I have a special affinity for plants and herbs and for their therapeutic value, and for homeopathic medicine, which is incredibly powerful, yet gentle and easy to apply. I visited homeopaths through the years for both myself and my son, and was always impressed with the power of the medicine. I have come to specialize in holistic solutions for mental and emotional health, including addictions, and find best clinical results with a sustainable, seasonal, and Palaeolithic diet. I enthuse about learning the properties of plants. I play with tinctures and homeopathics, eagerly keeping journals of provings and symptoms. I pick wild plants and mushrooms and roots and berries and make infusions and decoctions and teas galore - sometimes to great gastronomical distress - and learn quickly what not to do over. And a fire glows in me when I realize that I know so many of the plants by sight, by touch, by smell, from the labour of gardening when I was young.
I read that Dr. Hoffer was raised on a rural Canadian farm where he grew to understand the role of diet in the health of animals, which later influenced his thoughts on the role of vitamins and diet in human health and disease.
I now live in Toronto. I have access to all the modern amenities like abundant heat and water, Internet, shops, fancy clothes, modern foods, and abundance all around. And yet...
I find can't sleep at night if the house is warm, and have to open a window. I'm dubious about wireless signals and electronic ghosting and turn things off when not in use. I boycot cable tv, which promotes private profit from publicly funded infrastructure, and I would do it with electric, too, if I had another option to heat my home. There are lights all the time in the city, but I find I miss the stars. Store bought meat is suspiciously the wrong colour and OMG, fruit is supposed to have seeds!
I become bitchy every time I buy a tomato that has no damned flavour and IS MOST DEFINITELY NOT A TOMATO.
I twitch at the pace of life, the homogenous, phallic towers, the crowds, and the sheer gluttony of consumerism when downtown, and when forced to brave it, I retreat home to (sigh) change into my work clothes or denims and have a cup of foraged or otherwise home-hacked tea and put on some music.
I've discovered that modernity doesn't become me. I can't run or dance well in glass slippers. If I wear make-up too long it makes my eyes red and my face feel icky and just imagining an important office job makes me claustrophobic. Natural women and not synthetic ones garner my admiration, and glorious imperfection is my new ideal.
I still miss my grandmothers. And I have yet to find a human whose company I enjoy more than that of my dogs. I frequently still feel uncomfortable and intimidated speaking more than listening in anything other than a classroom or clinical setting. Books still call to me when I get a moment to myself, although I prefer to listen to them while working or driving, as opposed to reading them while sitting still. The smell of wood smoke and the sound of childhood songs 'sends me,' as my Nanny used to say. I can have a shower any time I like but a slow, hot bath – like I had on the farm – after a long day is far more decadent than any shopping spree.
The things I thought I wanted are not what I long for anymore. And, while my story is still being writ, already the things I was most afraid of have come to face me down and transform me - and tutor me in the alchemy of miracles.
I live in the largest city in Canada, in a small multi-cultural, residential enclave beside a dense conservation area with paved walking paths and a lovely little stream – part of Don Mills – which is Canada’s first planned community and a picture out of a story book on the dichotomies and beauty of urban Ontario at its best. And the highlights of my life in the city are moments spent in my small garden and kitchen, planting and entertaining, and walking my dogs along Toronto’s hidden trails, through her forests, and along her shorelines, exploring the plants and trees and magic medicines therein.
My son remained well on the diet therapy for over 10 years, with no pharmaceutical interventions, no regression, and no hospitalizations. Learning disabilities were reversed and he was an honour roll and model student, with a passion for anti-bullying in his community. It wasn’t until we lost all our supports as he turned 18 that he gradually discontinued his diet therapy. On slipping, he became seriously paranoid and defiant and without supports, it was all down hill from there. I am grieved to say he has been in and out of hospitals and paltry group homes, and even homeless, since. He does not improve with even the most aggressive pharmacology. I explain to each medical treatment team that a specific diet therapy reverses his symptoms but I have yet to find anyone willing to implement dietary restrictions in a hospital or even a group home environment, even when I prepare and deliver the foods and supplements. The resistance to holistic medicine is ingrained and systemic. It’s just easier to use pills. They do not understand what power the diet has to change the brain! Clients are always amazed to see it first hand. And bringing my son home to intervene myself became too dangerous for me. I don’t know if I will ever get him back from the psychosis he has become rooted in.
It has broken my heart a thousand times to watch my son’s decline after such victory and hope. I continue to do my best to help him, but it’s not enough. Sick children really do require a village to raise them. Larsh and similar community home models give me renewed hope that we can build a better future support network and quality of life for Canada’s mentally ill peoples if we are willing to look behind the curtain of the system we have now.
Even though it has not yet reached resolution, I recognize that our story MATTERS. It's the story of many, political in scope, and I have faith that one day one of us will write it such that it is like the seeds of burdock on a dog, tenaciously sticky, accidentally brought home to prick and bother when she lays down to take rest, yet a miracle medicine for bad blood and skin problems when properly prepared and consumed.
Let my story prick and bother you. Let it spur change that brings healing to a very broken mental health system. And let the universe conspire to bring me the means, the strength, the vision, and the opportunity to play my role in that.
As I said, mine is a good story. Quite a gift for a writer to receive.