When I was in about Grade 4, I had this photocopied Social Studies textbook about the First Nations people of the prairies. I wish I still had it today so that I could check it out and assess its cultural sensitivity, because it shaped my understanding of prairie First Nations cultures big-time. For all I knew at the time, it could have been a racist piece of crap like some of the other textbooks my elementary school came up with. (For example! The one showing cultural stereotypes and nationality names! There was a Frenchman with a stripey shirt and a beret, and my mom was horrified to see the “Chinaman” with a pointy straw hat.)

But I digress. The First Nations Social Studies textbook had all this stuff about spirituality and gender roles that completely blew my 10-year-old mind. It said that braids of sweetgrass were a reminder of the three threads that make up a person – mind, body and spirit. The more I think about that metaphor, the  more helpful it seems.

I’ve remembered that lesson in the last year or so when it’s become apparent that these weird fluttering heart episodes I have had for years are in fact anxiety attacks. They have been getting more debilitating since the start of grad school, and it’s been a learning experience to recognize the physical symptoms and to know that they are caused by the inseparability of body and mind.

Yesterday, as part of a summer class, I got to be a middle-class tourist in the city’s cheapest housing, some of which has been recently taken over by the provincial government. These hundred-year-old hotels were built to accommodate seasonal resource workers, and mostly haven’t been fixed up or cleaned for decades. Depending on where they sit on some governmental list for renovations, they provide either basic housing or completely inhumane shitholes that no human being should be asked to live in.

I propped myself up on the dirty, smelly floor in this awful little room down a twisting, uneven hallway trying to reconcile mind and body while the social housing worker explained that homeless people spend years on waiting lists waiting for a place like this. Most of these people have mental health issues. Many of them probably suffer from anxiety, and I bet a lot of folks over the years who have no other place to go have had panic attacks in that little room.

My body betrays me when I get stressed out and upset, but I don’t want to turn away from responsibilities and truths that upset me just because 0f that fragile interconnection. It’s a pain in the ass. The useful aspect is that I can’t pretend not to be affected either.

Mind, body, spirit.

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