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Nicole Ludwig

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Open Letter: Premier Clark and Minister Fassbender, regarding the Labour Dispute with BC Teachers

Dear Premier Clark and Minister Fassbender:

You were duly elected by the citizens of British Columbia to be our leaders in negotiating a fair contract with teachers for our children’s education. Over the last six months, we have rarely heard from either of you.

After talks stopped in June and the teachers went on a full-on strike, your agent, Peter Cameron of the BCPSEA, agreed to meet once on August 8 with the BC Teachers Federation. Then there was two weeks of nothing.

A week before school starts, and Mr. Cameron and Mr. Iker go to Victoria to meet with you, Minister Fassbender, and the best you can offer is a two-week cooling off period to allow mediation (when a respected mediator has said you’re not ready)? In the light of a day where negotiations have broken down again, this seems like it was a Hail Mary pass to appear like you’re doing something. Honestly, there was a cooling off period: it’s called summer break and you were six weeks into it before you attempted to do anything.

More troubling than this lack of leadership, however, are clauses E.80 and E81 in your proposed terms of settlement. Both of these clauses attempt to circumvent any court rulings that may come later this year when your appeal is heard at the BC Court of Appeal.

The court has ruled against the government twice and has also indicated that the BC Government/its agent did not bargain in good faith. More importantly, twice, the court has ruled that certain aspects of Bills 28 and 22 are unconstitutional.

The attempts to use clauses E.80 and E.81 to negotiate out of these court rulings are audacious and very troubling. By continuing appeals and trying to contract out of court rulings it appears your government, Madam Premier, considers itself above the law. In fact, a message from the BCTF said that Mr. Ready, a veteran and well-respected mediator, said the government was trying to negotiate itself out of court rulings.

Every citizen, regardless of whether they have children in school in BC, needs to be concerned with government’s attitude that it can circumvent the rule of law. The Supreme Court of BC, the Appeals Court of BC and the Supreme Court of Canada are designed to rule on the highest law of the land; they have ruled and have the final say on the rule of law. I see nothing that shows you are likely to obey the rule of law.Once we lose the rule of law and our rights in the Constitution, we have nothing.

There is no law higher than the Constitution of Canada. The Courts have given their opinion and this government has been found guilty of violating those rights. As a government, you are tasked with upholding this law, and not trying to circumvent it based on economic arguments.

I understand your government was elected based on a balanced budget. However, you cannot put a value on our constitutional rights. And it is immoral of you to attempt to negotiate out of court rulings that uphold our Constitutional rights.

A leader would admit their mistakes, apologize and repair the mistake. I do not see that in your government, Madam Premier and Minister Fassbender. All I see is a focus on the bottom line to the detriment of our constitutional rights.

And this is why I stand with teachers and support them holding the line for properly funded and functioning educational system. Your lack of leadership has failed us all: families, teachers and students. I cannot call anyone a leader who fails to take responsibility for their mistakes, particularly when those mistakes are so grievous as to be called unconstitutional.

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Open Letter to Premier Clark: Less talk, more do

Less talk, more do – and you’ll get the job done, kids.

It’s basically a polite way of saying, “Talk is cheap; shut up and dance.”

And that’s what I tell the adolescents I teach to be swim instructors. For one reason or another, these kids are willing to put the work in to stay the course and get the course done. The reason is quite simple: if they don’t do the work, they won’t be successful in the course (and they, or their parents, will be out around $400).

Also, the faster they get the work done, the earlier they get to leave. But they have to get the work done.

British Columbia MLAs, on the other hand, have until the new year to do a lot of talking to the electorate. That’s right, folks, the legislature is not going to sit in the fall. They had a 28 day session scheduled, but they scrapped it, apparently because they “have to get out of the precincts of the legislature and really listen to people  if we want to make sure that government runs better.”

So in that case, I can tell my Water Safety Candidates to go out and talk to other instructors, and really listen to them, if they want to make sure their classes run better. And that’s all you need to do. So they don’t need to do planning, or any actual improving of their teaching skills. They don’t have to make sure they’re teaching the right things at the right times.

And I think this is where our Premier has it wrong on a couple of levels. Talk, as I said above, is cheap. So shut up and dance. Get back to the legislature and actually work with other parties to find a middle ground. Instead of campaigning around the provice and talking to “real people” get your butt in your seat and govern.

Talk, Madame Premier, is good for generating ideas. But your job is to Get Things Done. And Getting Things Done requires governing, and being in the place where ideas are deliberated and decided on.

So we get at least 8 months of no governing and no decisions on new policy directions, followed by a lame duck session in the spring right before the election. Maybe.

Of course you do have two new cabinet ministers in important posts who ostensibly need some time to get familiar with their portfolios. But I’m sure those ministers have Deputy Ministers who can brief them on what’s going on during a time when they’re not sitting in the Legislature.

I expect more representation from my elected officials, whether I voted for your party or not. I expect you to be in Victoria and do your job, and not be in Victoria, travelling the province for the next year, as Brian Hutchinson’s comment in the National Post indicates.

If, as you indicate, there is a “sick culture in Victoria” it is your job, as our fearless leader to fix that. Show me that you can get things done by recalling MLAs and working with all of them. Don’t just spend my tax dollars travelling the province and talking to people. I’m pretty sure you have a good idea of what needs to be done to heal the “sickness in Victoria”. There’s been enough talk. Let’s see some more do.

P.S. – One more point, after the fact, Madame Premier, I am one of those people who think you should have a fall sitting and get things done. I don’t think this because I “like to spend a lot of time in the legislature, talking to each other, and talking to politicians and talking to pundits“. I’m complaining about the lack of a fall sitting because I’m a voting citizen who thinks her elected officials should talk less, and do more.

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First-World Problems: An Open Letter to Premier Clark on BC’s Minimum Wage & Live-in Caregivers

Dear Premier Clark:

The other week, you met with a group of mom bloggers, many of whom I consider friends, to talk about what issues are most important to them. I was not invited, but it’s unlikely I could have attended, because I had to work. I love my job ,and I love that my daughter receives the best of care while I am at work. Since I wasn’t able share my views, I’ve put my story and ideas in an open letter format.

My story is a story of first world problems. My common-law partner and I own a townhouse in Maple Ridge. We moved here because we are both originally from smaller towns and we also wanted a place we could afford and still go on the occasional vacation and buy some toys. I work in Vancouver, he works in Burnaby. In short, we chose to live within our means, in a place we liked, despite the long commutes. Daily, our time out of the house is about 12 hours per day, subject to traffic, transit, etc.

When our daughter came along, childcare presented a bit of a problem. We didn’t want her stuck in daycare 12, 14, 16 hours a day waiting for one of us to show up. So we applied for the live-in caregiver program. Our nanny arrived in spring of 2010, a few weeks before I went back to work. At that time, minimum wage was $8.00 per hour. We paid her that, including overtime, because she has long days, paid the employer portions of EI and CPP and the full WCB yearly charge and that was that. We deducted the maximum room and board of $325 per month in two payments of $162.50 each. That $325 per month has to be claimed as income on our taxes (so in some strange way, we end up paying income tax on it twice: once before it’s given as wages and once after). And then minimum wage increased.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against paying our nanny more or raising the minimum wage. I’m suggesting that in the case of a live-in caregiver, the circumstances are different, particularly as they pertain to room and board.

Since 2010, the costs of our childcare have gone 28.325% and that’s just in terms of hourly wage. That doesn’t include the increased CPP and EI that occurs as a result of that increase. It also doesn’t include WCB, which despite being accident-free, keeps going up.

Childcare deductions on income taxes are capped at $7000 per year for live-in caregivers – or about a third of what we paid in childcare last year. At the same time, the cost of living has drastically increased. Statistics Canada offered these statements in March 2012:

  • in the 12 months before March 2012, food prices rose 2.2%, following a 4.1% increase in February
  • The cost of energy advanced 5.1% in the 12 months to March, after rising 7.2% in February.
  • The year-over-year increase in gasoline prices eased to 6.6% in March, following an 8.9% rise in February. Electricity costs increased 5.3%, after rising 8.7% the previous month.

And yet, while we are paying more in terms of food, utilities and childcare, there has been a 0% increase in the room and board rate for live-in caregivers, even though the absolute minimum they are to be paid is 28.325% more than two years ago.

However, I have a problem with the room and board rates not being raised in conjunction with the cost of living. Under the terms of the live-in caregiver program, the room and board rates are set by the province at $325 per month. This is less than the shelter portion of the welfare rate, which does not include meals and only sometimes includes utilities.

Put another way: we are housing, feeding and providing utilities to an additional person beneath our roof and having to declare that as income, for less than the shelter portion of the welfare rate. For comparison’s sake, if we were to rent out that room, we’d be able to charge between $500 and $600 per month for it because it is furnished, plus utilities (and not including food).

However, many of these caregivers come from overseas and are unaware of the costs of living here. I think many of them would be shocked by the actual costs of rent and food when their time with their families comes to an end. By under-charging for room and board, there is a disservice being done to both the families and the caregivers. Some suggestions:

  1. Increase the amount of room and board to something closer to what it would be for a single person in a furnished room; between $500 and $600 per month. This move would eliminate the disservice being done to families and caregivers: give the family some relief and give the caregiver a better idea of real costs. In future years, continue to raise the room and board rate at the same rate of CPI.
  2. Provide a further tax deduction to offset the difference between what we can claim on our taxes vs. what we actually pay.
  3. Allow employers to opt out of WCB if they agree in a contract to continue paying the base rate to their live-in caregiver if the caregiver is injured on the job.
  4. Provide a tax deduction to offset the employer portions of WCB, EI, CPP and room and board (the last of which must be claimed as income).

Option 1 above would be the easiest for you to do. Room and board is completely under provincial jurisdiction. The others would probably require some sort of negotiation and dialogue with the Canada Revenue Agency.

Our nanny is a part of our family. We all adore her, especially our daughter. We have made a commitment to both of them for another three years by renewing our nanny’s work permit for the length of time her passport is valid. We look forward to the establishment of some fairer treatment for families who choose this type of childcare.

I look forward to establishing a dialogue with you and your staff about this in order to put families – all families – first.

Yours truly,

Nicole Ludwig

Thanks to Harriet  for editing this.

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So you want to have your say: 2011 Voting Opportunities (BC Specific)

So as you’ve no doubt heard, the Harper Government of Canada fell on a non-confidence vote today. That means, sometime in May, we all get to go vote. And dammit, get out there. I am not convinced that an election will change anything; there is a (slim) chance of a Liberal minority. And when I say slim, I mean anorexic.

But as my friend, @AnthonyFloyd says

My prediction is no substantial change. My hope is rather different.

Anyways, vote dammit. And vote every chance you’ve got. And if you live in BC, you’ve got a few chances this year.

Following the federal election in May, the referendum on the HST in BC is scheduled for June…something. The problem/issue/etc is that it will be a mail-in ballot.

And they’re going to trust Canada Post to deliver the ballots and return them. HA. HA. HA.

<ahem> Pardon me. Just make sure you mail in your ballot. And hopefully it will get delivered. I would hope that those creating the ballot include automatic tracking.

Honestly, I was really hoping this would be an opportunity to explore electronic voting, in addition to the mail-in ballot and at least a few polls for those people who have problems with mail in or electronic voting. And for areas that only get mail delivery a couple of times a week, this could be problematic.

They say they have to look at logistics (duh!) and figure out by when they need to get the ballots out. But I think they could get them out within two weeks, considering the question has already been drafted.

Anyhoo, there’s a third opportunity for BC-ites to vote this year: civic/municipal elections take place November 19. If you’re not up to speed on your civic politics, you should be – the fewest people vote in these elections, yet they’re often the ones that impact us most. Want a speedbump or crossing light installed? That’s municipal. Your property taxes? A large part of that is municipal (and whether you rent or own, it gets worked into the bill). Water, police, fire – they’re mostly all delivered by municipalities. You’re affected a lot more on a day-to-day basis by your local government than you are by federal or provincial levels.

So if you don’t know your municipal politics:

  • read your local papers (you know, those free ones that get delivered to your doorstep)
  • Attend a local Council meeting or two (you can search for your municipality here)
  • Read the Council meetings and agendas of your municipality (again,, use the search above) and get familiar with issues that are coming up
  • Talk to Councillors and other elected officials (school board, for example)

Most importantly, vote. It’s the only way a difference will be made.

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This is why the budget will fail

The NDP and the Liberals may wax poetic about why they’re not supporting today’s budget (seniors. education, blah blah yadda yadda).

But really, I think they’re mad about stuff like this (photos and captions courtesy Vancouver Sun).

First, the opposition is worried about video game addiction:


Also, they saw what “high-quality Canadian Programming is”…AND THEY DON’T LIKE IT. Why, I’m not sure, but judge for yourself:


Your thoughts on today’s budget?

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An Escalating Situation

I live a ways out of Vancouver proper. Specifically, I live in a rural suburb called Maple Ridge. It’s a very pleasant place to live, with housing that is still somewhat reasonably priced for what you get. We like living there, a lot. However, I work in Vancouver and every day, I take a commuter train called the West Coast Express (WCE) that takes me downtown to Waterfront Station*. From there, I hop on one of the Canada Line (similar to a subway for those not familiar) lines and take a short 10 minute ride to a station about a block away from the Employer.

The Canada Line is a skytrain line that runs from Downtown Vancouver to Richmond and Vancouver International Airport. It was built for the Olympics. There is a second, older skytrain line, the Expo Line** which runs to some of the other municipalities around Vancouver: Burnaby, New Westminster and Surrey. There’s also a Seabus (a small passenger ferry), that goes across the Burrard Inlet to North Vancouver.*** All of these lines and the WCE intersect at Waterfront station.

When I get off the train at Waterfront Station, I have to go up a somewhat long escalator, then hang a left to go out to the Canada Line. When I hang that left, I exit into an area where you can go straight to get to the main station and the Canada Line, left to go to the Seabus, and right to go to the Expo Line. Normally, to get to the Expo Line people will hang a hard right and most of them will go down the escalators. People coming in from the main station will hang a left to go either down the escalators or down the stairs; most of them go down the stairs unless they are unable to. It’s all really rather civilized and traffic flows through quite smoothly.

What it boils down to is this: the entrance/exit to the West Coast Express, the Expo Line and the Seabus are all in the same area. That means there are a LOT of people coming through that area all day long, but particularly during rush hours. It is imperative, therefore that all accesses to these lines are working.

For the last month or so, the escalators to the Expo Line have been broken down. What was happening was this: people coming up the WCEs escalators were forced to stop at the top because of the crush of people trying to get down to the Expo Line by the ONE SET OF STAIRS. There’s one, non-moving, escalator open, but that’s for people who are coming up. The result is that hundreds of people risk getting trampled, because while the people at the top of the WCE escalators are forced to stop (because they cannot move), the escalators themselves don’t stop.

I suspect some people got hurt because in the last couple of weeks or so, they’ve had smurfs**** at the bottom of the WCE escalators and the intersection area up above. The smurfs at the bottom will let some people through, then stop the crowd when they’re told it gets too crowded up top.

Now my issue is not with the safety – that’s been taken care of. My issue is this: how long does it take to fix an escalator at a major transportation hub? Did you need to order the part from Antarctica? Because whether the part is in Europe, Canada, or the US, you should be able to get it within 72 hours. I know for a fact that I can FedEx or UPS a package across the country in 24 hours. So don’t tell me you had to wait for the part.

And the real kicker? If this had happened during the Olympics, it would have been fixed within 24-48 hours.

I’m not sure who exactly is responsible for the escalators at the stations. It probably varies. In the absence of a clear person to talk to, I’m directing this at TransLink. Because all of the systems in that station are owned and operated in part or in whole by TransLink who therefore has an obligation to the service users.

Although TransLink operates much like a private company, it is still funded by public dollars (taxes) and is therefore responsible to citizens like myself. And if this had happened back in February, TransLink would have been all over it because, goodness, we cannot have The World thinking we can’t manage this. Oh no.

But when it comes to taxpayers, well, meh. They’ll put up with it because they have to.

But I’m calling you out @Translink. This took way too long. And the party that promises to do away with you gets my vote.

*called this presumably because it’s on the waterfront. Duh.

**called this because it was built for Expo 86

***where you can go shopping at Lonsdale Quay

****otherwise known as Customer Service Representatives (called smurfs because of the blue jackets they wear)

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Let’s talk about tax, baby

So I noticed that when Bill Vander Zalm was pushing for people to sign his HST petition, the pundits seemed pretty supportive.  Now that we’re actually going to get to have a say on it, however, the pundits have switched their tactics. Now they’re focusing on on (a) the compositon of the Fight HST group and (b) the allegedly “real desires” of Vander Zalm et. al.

On the first point, the pundits have suddenly started digging up the past.  For anyone who remembers, the Zalm  came in on a program of fiscal conservatism and in the 90s mixed business with pleasure and was kicked out of office. The Social Credit party then imploded.

Vander Zalm, it should be known, is of the “far-right Christian conservative variety.” And shock of shocks, he’s surrounded himself with the same kind of people. Chris Delaney, the head spokesperson for the fight HST campaign is a well-known far-right Christian conservative.

So you should all know by now that I am not of the far-right Christian conservative variety: I enjoy wine, I used to smoke, I slam Sarah Palin, and I have a well-loved child out of wedlock. I have engaged in my share of debauchery in my lifetime. I am not a fan of the Zalm (although I will use his name for a random rhyme), his values and his peoples’ values. But I agree with what he’s doing in fighting the HST with a citizens initiative petition because I believe in democracy – substantive democracy and being able to voice your opinions at times other than elections. The citizens petition and the referendum next year  is a chance to do this.

And the pundits, who two weeks ago, were praising the Zalm for this initiative, are now digging up the past and insinuating that this is the top of a slippery slope to get a far-right Christian conservative party a la Tea Party thriving in BC and eventually in Canada. On Monday, the Bill Good Show had a phone-in pundit saying exactly that: that the petition is about establishing a far-right Christian conservative party and not about getting rid of the HST.

They’re talking about the people in the Fight HST initiative who are of the far-right Christian variety and other political wingnuts, including an Albertan transplant who supports a Holocaust denier. And they’re talking like they’re surprised at this. Oh, and gasp! The Zalm has political ambitions! Danger, Will Robinson, danger!

In a recent column, Vaughn Palmer writes that Delaney is indeed the new spokesperson for a right-wing party and:

…this is Delaney’s fourth party in the past dozen years. Should Vander Zalm join (he expects to be courted of course), it would be the sixth or seventh vehicle for his political ambitions.

Imagine that. A former politician with political ambitions who is still plugged into the group that got him to power in the first place. In other news, water is wet and it rains a lot in Vancouver in November.

(Sidenote: Sir Winston Churchill flipped between parties several times and was elected under both parties – the difference is, he only had two parties to choose from)

At the same time the pundits are chastising the NDP for going along with the Fight HST campaign and helping out with it because the far-right Christian mentality does not match up with NDP traditions. And yet, a couple of weeks ago, no one was touching this with a 10 foot pole. You know why?

Because the NDP, as the official opposition, was doing its job the best way it could. With something this big, you don’t look a gift horse (a political champion) in the mouth who’s willing to foot the bill. And if you go far enough, grassroots is grassroots, regardless of if it’s of the left or right variety (the former Reform Party of Canada actually attracted quite a few grassroots left-wingers; many farmers now who voted Reform now vote NDP federally).

So, why are the pundits doing this? Because two things sell: sex and fear. While politics in BC is weird, it is often unsexy and downright dirty. So the pundits go to fear. The message? “If you vote in favour of this initiative, you’re allowing for the establishment of a far-right Christian conservative party.”

And to that I say you’re wrong.

Because this is not about the HST, it’s not about the Zalm or his cronies, and it’s not even about the Premier (shockingly, I agree with Gordon Campbell on this). This is about democracy, and democracy is about choice.

Your first choice: to view the initiative as:

  1. The top of a slippery slope to the establishment of a far-right party, or
  2. A chance to have a say about what’s going on.
  3. Another weird episode in BC’s weird politics
  4. A and c
  5. B and c

Your second choice:

  1. To vote on the initiative when it comes around – to have a say on what really affects you
  2. To not vote on the initiative – and grouse about the tax burden

I’d encourage you to view the initiative positively – as a chance to have a say. Too often, we miss the chance to really have a say on what matters. The initiative is a chance to choose to have that say rather than just complaining about it in between.

More importantly, this initiative has a chance to fundamentally change the political landscape – to show politicians that this can succeed and that they are not impervious to citizens’ wishes between elections.

And to hell with the pundits.

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Power to the People

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or in a province other than BC), you know that the Hated Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) has been in place since the beginning of July.

(Incidentally, did you know that the deposit on pop bottles gets HST?)

And unless you’re one of my eleven or dedicated readers, you know that I don’t like the HST.

Let’s put it this way: I get the economic theory behind it. The benefit to the consumer is a form of trickle-down policy that expects the savings experienced by business will be passed on to the consumer. I also think most forms of trickle-down policy are wrong; what they expect doesn’t happen. Hey, even Alan Greenspan admitted he was wrong to believe that business had the morals he expected. Oh and he admitted that trickle-down Reganomics didn’t work. (That’s a video link, btw – it’ll open in a new window).

I am, when it boils down to it, a student of democracy. I work in a field where I some of the things I do provide people the opportunity to exercise their rights to share their opinions with their government between elections. I studied transitional democracies and how people, through civil society, change their governments. Free elections, while necessary, are not sufficient conditions for a democracy. In between elections people need to have reasonable access to make their wishes heard by elected officials. This is why I was ecstatic when, years back, there was recall legislation approved. It’s my belief that, since people elect their representatives here and in the process give them a job, it’s also their right to fire them. In any democracy it’s important to remember that the electorate is the boss, and the politicians merely represent them (and somehow, over time, this has become reversed, but that’s another post entirely).

In BC, former premier Bill Vander Zalm* launched an anti-HST petition and a constitutional case against the HST. After 700,000 people signed the petition, Elections Canada approved the petition under recall legislation. After a court case was fast-tracked (and don’t even get me started on that one because I’ll never shut up – in that case the courts made the only decision they could if they wanted to uphold the tenets of democracy). The petition then went to a joint committee of the legislature for a decision on whether to allow a free vote in the legislature or send it to a non-binding referendum (a plebiscite, if you will).

Yesterday the Committee recommended and the government agreed to send it to a referendum next year.

This, eleven readers, is history unfolding before our eyes. This is the first time ever that a citizen’s petition has succeeded and the first time the recall legislation has succeeded.

Yes, the referendum will be expensive, up to $30 million and a free vote in the legislature much more efficient, both in terms of time and money. But democracy is not cheap.

But this is your chance to help make history. Even if you don’t care about whether the HST is in place or not, you need to vote next year. Yes, it’s non-binding, but if most people in the province are against it, the referendum sends a strong message to both provincial and federal governments about the HST.

For people who don’t vote because they believe their vote doesn’t count and politicians don’t listen, this is your chance to demand that they listen. The corporations that support the HST don’t have a vote; you do. It’s people that elect politicians, not corporations.

The referendum, in many ways is better than a vote in the legislature. By and large, MLAs, whether it’s a free vote or not (and all money bills are technically free votes) will vote with their party. There is no guarantee, in my opinion, that MLAs would exercise their right to a free vote for fear of repercussions by their party.

So vote. Show your MLA who’s boss and what you want.

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Because the Onion says it better than I ever could

Growing increasingly wrathful, God continued: “Can’t you people see? What are you, morons? There are a ton of different religious traditions out there, and different cultures worship Me in different ways. But the basic message is always the same: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Shintoism… every religious belief system under the sun, they all say you’re supposed to love your neighbors, folks! It’s not that hard a concept to grasp.”

“Why would you think I’d want anything else? Humans don’t need religion or God as an excuse to kill each other—you’ve been doing that without any help from Me since you were freaking apes!” God said. “The whole point of believing in God is to have a higher standard of behavior. How obvious can you get?”

“I’m talking to all of you, here!” continued God, His voice rising to a shout. “Do you hear Me? I don’t want you to kill anybody. I’m against it, across the board. How many times do I have to say it? Don’t kill each other anymore—ever! I’m fucking serious!”

Upon completing His outburst, God fell silent, standing quietly at the podium for several moments. Then, witnesses reported, God’s shoulders began to shake, and He wept.

Read the full article here

So today, on that day 9 years ago when the 20th Century officially ended, I could tell you where I was, or I could rant about the hypocrisy of the idea of freedom of religion, and make cracks about burning holy books.

But instead I’m going to ask: can’t we just all get along?

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Post-Partum Depression, Depression and Living

A year ago, I dragged myself to the doctor to deal with post-partum depression (PPD) which manifested as anger and anxiety. Honestly, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The thought that you’re not in control of your own mind is something else. Coupled with the anxiety, it was a good recipe for now-daily panic attacks.

I knew I was a good candidate for PPD – depression runs in my family. My dad was diagnosed as clinically depressed years ago. He was put on Effexor which helped him, and at that point it was the antidepressant of the day. It’s also one of the strongest ones out there and the one of the hardest to get off. When he found this out, he weaned himself off, saying, “I don’t want another monkey on my back.”

His medication of choice, by the way, is scotch: two drinks before dinner.

Honestly, I think it was more the idea that he wasn’t in control of his own mind that scared him off.

And it’s here that we get to the difference between “mind” and “brain.” The way my doctor explained it was it was largely a biochemical reaction – brain chemistry is out of balance and Zoloft helps regain that balance.

For years, I had suffered “episodes”: I’d have a day, or two, or three, or seven where I just wasn’t motivated, was sad and just couldn’t deal with life. Then I’d go and sleep for about 12 hours and I’d be better for a while. “Awhile” varied: it could be months, weeks, or a day. And I thought this was how people lived their lives – that everyone needed a reset once in a while. Because for me, this was normal – at least since my mid-teens. As I got older, another coping mechanism became wine: for about a year before getting pregnant, it was not unusual for me to have a glass or two, or three at night after work. Once in a while, I expect this is okay – but when it’s every day, it starts becoming a problem.

And then I got pregnant, gave up wine and had a baby.

Until I gave birth, sleeping was my coping mechanism. Diet too, but more sleeping. This was fine and doable when I didn’t have a baby, but with the sleep deprivation of new parenthood, I went into a downwards spiral until one day I was driving home and considered plowing the car into a concrete median just so that the responsibility would be someone else’s. That afternoon I called my doctor.

A month later, the cloud lifted. A year later, I feel better than I have felt in years. I have mental clarity, focus and my drive is coming back. I have the occasional mini-episode, but they’re not debilitating like they used to be and are often fixable with a walk or a swim rather than having to sleep for 12 hours or take a day off work. For me, the answer is one pill, once a day before bed.

So what am I saying? If you think you need help, you might. It probably can’t hurt to go ask. And it’s okay – it’s not your mind. It’s a biochemical reaction in your brain. Like Katie said when I came out about this, “If you were diabetic, you’d take insulin, right?”

Author’s Note: I wrote this yesterday, before this twitterstorm about this article on AOL. The really offensive comment has been removed since the twitterstorm. Basically the expert they asked said that post-partum depression is situational, and people get depressed because they can’t hack their situation. When she was called out she actually responded that all depression is situational:

Generally speaking, I don’t buy the chemical imbalance theory for any depression; I believe people just don’t want to deal with real life issues and the fact that sometimes life is simply depressing and damn difficult. It isn’t about chemical imbalance but tough times and our own issues.

(Shamelessly stolen from Pretty Babies’ post, linked above)

And it is attitudes like that, from other women no less, that make it necessary for us to speak out, and not give depression the power it has had through silence. It’s time to break the stigma, like I said above. Depression is chemical. Some people benefit from counseling, other from anti-depressants, and some people need both.

If you want to read more about this, Her Bad Mother has been far more eloquent on the subject than I ever could be; she takes my “depression sucks, but you can get better and it’s okay to ask for help” and gives it a voice that can be heard all over the internet.

Given it was a year ago yesterday that I finally overcame my own prejudices and asked for help, and this occurred today, I felt I had to chime in. Because I’m fairly certain that for me, it wasn’t only post-partum depression – it was an ongoing depression. That pill I take every night makes me a better mother, and a better person because I’m not so wrapped up in my own misery I can’t focus on anything else.

And for people out there that want to think otherwise, go ahead, think it. But this is what works for me and my family. This is what helps me go beyond existing to living.

You can still enter my A&D Diaper Rash Products giveaway here

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