As a mom, almost every day there is a moment where I think to myself, am I messing up my kid?  Is she eating too much sugar? Am I on my cellphone too much? Is the TV on too often? And, even when she has my undivided attention – is it truly undivided if my mind wanders? Can any or all of these concerns screw up my kid for life?

As a therapist, I know how ridiculous this line of thinking is. Every day, I see kids whose lives are truly negatively impacted by their past or present. Their parents are on the streets as drug addicts and we now have a teenager questioning her very existence and contemplating suicide. A youth diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD is moved in and out of various residences and can’t quite connect to anyone because he was severely emotionally abused as a child. Sugar, phones, TV, and thoughts do not cause trauma as drugs, abuse, and dysfunction do. And while it is important to consider all factors when raising our children, I also know that somethings are more harmful than others.

But let’s back up. Why would a parent turn to drugs? What leads someone to take their frustrations out on a child? How can someone sexually abuse their own?  Are they only an individual problem? Many agree that most of these issues are systemic, inter-generational and related to widespread trauma. When these associated effects accumulate in certain communities, the possibility for these terrible social side effects multiplies for everyone involved.

As a Metis and white person, I’ve never had to wonder in which generation things went “wrong.” Fortunately, I’ve never had to live with the stigmas that come with addiction, trauma, and other mental health issues. As a Metis person who looks fully white, I’ve never had to live with discrimination on a daily basis. But I do live with dissonance – like feeling exceptionally close to the First Nations community but always considered to be an outsider, treating racist individuals in therapy, and raising my multi-race child to be open and inclusive and loving to all, while protecting her from the problems of the world that I see everyday.

The biggest way I could screw up my child would be allowing her to live a life of ignorant bliss. As a society, we mess up our kids by allowing them to embrace or ignore the discriminatory racial values of society, to view mental illness and trauma as an individual problem, and by not embracing, helping, and loving those whose lineages constrain the choices for their future course in life. Next time you see that an allegedly “thugged out” POC kid walking around downtown – give her a smile and then get to work on educating your kids about these important subjects. A little compassion goes a long way to breaking social isolation and she needs to know that you care about not messing up kids.


erinErin Newman, M.Ed. is a mental health therapist specializing in the treatment of youth in both private practice and in the public sector. She is also passionate about feminist issues, Indigenous rights, and advocacy for children and youth. Academically, Erin was the recipient of the Indspire Scholarship and the Metis Bursary Award for social services. She hopes to pursue further graduate studies exploring how movement, dance and therapy can assist in healing trauma. Erin uses gardening, nature, and animal therapy for her own personal growth, is a dancer with the integrated and political performing group, CRIPSIE, and spends the rest of her spare time chasing after a toddler.

Someone fell off the metro platform as the train was pulling away. Or they were pushed. Or they jumped. My eyes are untrustworthy and deceive me but my ears can still hear the scream as they went down. My heart can still feel the residue of disbelief I felt when I saw a figure tumbling.

I turned to the woman next to me and said, “Someone just got hit by the train.” She nodded her head slowly. Her face did not change. “I think I saw that,” she replied, and just went on staring into the distance. She was wearing a burgundy wool toque and a shirt that carried an ironic message that I can no longer recall. Torn jeans and converse sneakers. A necklace with an arrow pendant. She carried a pillow with a worn out cover on it – the kind your grandmother pulls out of her linen closet when you come for a mid-twenties sleepover and it conjures up the nostalgic vignettes of your childhood. Memories passed through my head like strangers as I glanced at it and the hand-woven blanket folded beneath it — the souvenir everyone picks up on the resort beach in Mexico and uses as a picnic spread on summer days in Hawrelak Park.

She was quieter than I expected as I stood up, craning my neck to see what was going on and if I could do anything. Memory is a funny thing and begins to be shaped into the form of narrative within seconds of a record being made. Or maybe simultaneous to it. Scribes in our mind take in the necessary details, filtering them based on past preferences and priorities, and filtering everything else out. I can see the pout of this woman’s lip but do not know what the person who fell (or was pushed, or jumped) was wearing.

There is a blur of fabric burned into my mind and the scream I can still hear. And then the people on the platform above them as the train pulled away: they are on their phones, walking back and forth but no one is looking down yet. Did someone fall? Is someone calling the emergency number? Did I imagine it after all? Are they all talking on their phones, oblivious to what happened?

A man in a lime green shirt and shorts is pacing a bit and his head keeps looking southward down the tracks into the distance. A woman in a long skirt and black tank top is looking north and ahead. An unnerving silence comes from the platform. More people arrive, awaiting the new train that will pull into the station

Concrete barriers stand between the train platform and the street I am on. Somewhere between those barriers and the platform is a body that should not be there. Soft flesh and warm blood sit upon cold steel. Are they alive? Why is no one on the platform saying anything? Why is no one looking at the tracks?

A woman runs from the end of the platform, her plastic sandals slapping the surface. I feel confirmed in what I saw for a moment because there is an urgency in her strides, but she turns to the door where the stairs lead to a pedway without glancing at the tracks.

Who is there on the tracks? The word suicide jars into my head and I dismiss it, swiping it away in anger. Its appearance is enough to bring up the feelings of anguish and agony that I know only suicidal people have felt. If it is suicide, their turmoil is quiet now as this person rests on the tracks. Are they facing up or down? Are they alive, watching the clouds pass in the longest moments of their life?

The next train is about to pull in but stops far before the station. An officer of the peace jumps off and pounds down the platform to a spot just beyond where I had seen them fall. My heart flickers because someone had to have called him. The man in the green shorts is pacing now and more people are arriving on the platform. Sirens blare in the distance confirming my untrustworthy eyes. There is no longer a question when the woman in the tank-top peers over the edge of the track and her hand flies up to her mouth as she backs away. I can see the person on the tracks in her reaction. I can see their twisted and broken body. I think of their mother who knows that body inside and out, who carried it and coddled it, who nurtured them. The word suicide flashes in my head. I know not all mothers have been good to their children. A knot in my stomach makes me want to go to the track and hold the person’s hand in case they are alive, and alone with the clouds and the sounds of people pacing just above them.

My eyes saw a lot of fabric when they fell down. The word Muslim pushes out the word suicide in my mind. “This is why I always stand back from the platform,” I think. “They were pushed,” I think. My eyes scan for someone suspicious running away, but no one is running. No one is even pacing anymore. Everyone is trying not to look at the tracks and now dozens of people are on the platform, their hands flying to their mouths like a wave as they step back from the edge and what they have seen.

Maybe they just fell down. Maybe it was an accident.

Everything is too quiet over there and my mind turns to thoughts of my best friend and how I am unsettled by how she treats the suicide of her father. It is a matter of fact. It is his “cause of death.” And that is the way it should be treated – something which people die by. But as someone who has been on the other end of the gun too many times, you imagine it would be more than silence and a twisted body on the tracks. That what we always imagined freedom to be could look like more than simply death.

Emergency vehicles arrive on the scene and workers rush to set out orange pylons as a buffer of space between them and oncoming traffic. People and their cars continue to flow northward. Life immediately carries on, passing the person on the other side of the barriers, quiet now on the tracks.

If it is suicide, people who think about it do not realize how many others will come to their rescue. Within moments. Mere minutes after the scream (which I can still hear) and the tumble, there are dozens of emergency workers on the scene. Ambulances and fire trucks arrive. Uniformed people rush to cut the metal of the fence (or the tracks?) and the screech of a saw slices the thick air. These workers were just minutes away. Would they come if you told them you were thinking to jump? If you told them the dark thoughts you carry with you? If you told them you sit on the bench so you don’t think about jumping, or you stand back from the edge so someone won’t push you and take away the power of jumping from you? Or do they only arrive when you have already thrown your body down into the quiet space between the barriers and the platform where soft flesh does not normally go? When does an emergency become an emergency?

Maybe they just fell down. Maybe it was an accident.

A stretcher is loaded with something. It looks like a pile of warm microfleece blankets, impossible to contain a person. The stretcher is loaded on the ambulance. Hope flashes around my heart as the ambulance lights twirl. Its siren starts up as the door is slammed and the driver turns the wheel to carry the body from the tracks to the hospital. As they are pulling away, cars going north move off to the side. Someone is blaring hip hop music that can be heard above the sirens. They just arrived. They do not know that a body was on the tracks where no soft flesh should ever be. They do not turn down their music. My bus arrives and I remember my body, moving it into the space of the bus, sitting it down to be carried away to home where my family is waiting for me.

Later that evening, I am in the home of my colleague, surrounded by his family and friends. I sit with older women from the Pakistani community and listen to their stories, smiling with them, feeling welcomed by them. One woman, the mother of a young man I knew in secondary school, is veiled in a beautiful red floral scarf and noor shines from her face. She is smiling as she tells us a story about her grandchildren forming an assembly line to help her pick sour cherries from the tree in their backyard in order to make chutney. Since the cherries attract wasps, they have to be careful while pulling the fruit down by the handful but the harvest is worth the risk because the sourness from the cherries beats the tamarind sauce of the previous year. Webs of lineage forged by love are woven in her words, prerequisites for such a story to have happened. The world floods through those words, carrying family and histories in them – each word saturated with a sense of colour and richness even she might not recognize, though she speaks them.

Liberation is not found in what can only be simple death. It is found in the undulations between joy and heartache of each moment we embody and how richly we are able to live in the spaces between. I listen to her story and think of the person on the tracks, not knowing their fate, quiet since the flooding stopped, and the scribes of memory are silent.


This article was written by Nakita Valerio, owner and editor in chief of The Drawing Board. Nakita  is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is also the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco.


While there is not yet any evidence that this incident was a suicide, if you are suffering with suicidal ideation or are contemplating suicide, please call 911 for emergency medical assistance in your area. For more information on mental health services in Edmonton, Alberta: click here. For everywhere else, please contact your local health service provider.

Last night at the AMPAC Women’s Safety Class, Strong Orange Violence Prevention instructor (and writer at The Drawing Board), Rachael Heffernan was putting forms of violence on a spectrum from “bothering” to “life-threatening”. Certain types of violence could fit on multiple places in the spectrum depending on a number of factors, including who is perpetrating the violence. She then brought up the subject of a perpetrator that is all-too-often forgotten: ourselves.

Whenever people take self-defense training or women’s empowerment classes, they are often taught about what to do when you experience violence or harassment from strangers (especially) and, less often, from people you know. Of course, the occurrences of violence (both physical and sexual) are statistically lopsided, meaning that you are much more likely to be violated by someone you know (family, friends, colleagues, mentors), but it still stands that all too many violence prevention courses focus on outward violence and neglect what happens when we internalize violence and direct it at ourselves. Statistics about self-violence (including negative self-talk) simply do not exist.

Before we go there, I want to talk about something else that Rachael brought up because it is an important factor in all of this, especially in “getting home safe” which is the mantra of the class. Very often, our ability to be assertive and stand our ground in the face of external oppression or violence is directly connected to how we value ourselves. Rachael put it best on the car ride home when she said that conceding to anothers’ whims (even if they violate our rights) because we don’t want to “upset them” or because “we can bear the brunt of the pain” is fundamentally flawed logic because it causes or is rooted in self-devaluation. The other person’s worth is deemed to be more than your own.

This is the first instance in which negative self-talk can harm you: in how you deal with harmful situations perpetuated by others. If you are constantly down on yourself, feeling you aren’t worth the time of day for anyone, you are much more likely to put yourself last, even when in life-threatening or dangerous situations. This is a common narrative we hear among victims of sexual assault, particularly when the aggressor is someone they know. Victims can admit that they swallow their pain and just want the whole incident over with, fearing they weren’t “assertive enough” so something like being raped is inherently their fault.

It is never your fault.

And the anxiety and self-rage that comes from feeling like you made a mistake in being assaulted can lead to further self-devaluing and the potential for future vulnerabilities in the face of both external and internal aggressors. This is what we are talking about when we say that people get caught in the cycle of abuse and do not know how to break out.

One place you can start is by stopping violence against yourself first. The way to do this is to recognize it as violence. If you view yourself as an aggressor, you can start to see how violence against yourself also appears on the spectrum from “bothering” to life-threatening. Some specialists recommend viewing your aggressor voice as an adult and your inner self, which it chastises, as a small child. This can help illuminate just how much we bully ourselves.

Bothersome violence might be how you look at yourself in the mirror. Thinking that you have parts that sag or have too much cellulite, or that the body you were given just doesn’t look like every airbrushed magazine or filtered Instagram pic you see online. It could be in how you hear yourself speak in a room full of peers. They are hearing the words flowing out of your mouth and all you hear is how many “ums” and pauses and poor word choices you make and if only you wouldn’t open your mouth in the first place, then you wouldn’t have to worry about it. Or it might be thinking about everything you said and did hours later, or days, or years. At the heart of these ruthless criticisms (which, by the way, we would be very unlikely to accept from anyone but ourselves) is anger.

And anger leads to rage.

And rage leads to more violence.

So much so that you might move along the spectrum from being bothersome to downright dangerous. Negative self-talk gives way to destructive behaviours. It can lead to eating disorders, to binge drinking, to excessive drug use, it can lead to self-medicating with food, it can lead to sex addiction or self-harm like cutting or burning. All of these things are dangerous behaviours that stem from self-rage, that stem from a feeling of anger directed inwards. It might be (and usually is) exacerbated by social isolation – but thinking we aren’t good enough might also cause us to retreat and vice versa.

Dangerous to life-threatening is a slippery slope. These behaviours can easily turn to suicidal ideation or attempts. The slow simmering burn of anger feeds the fires of depression, anxiety and trauma like nothing else.

So, what puts those fires out? How can we stop the violence against ourselves once we recognize it for what it is?

Firstly, realize that this is not intrinsically how your brain works. It has been trained to think this way and it can be trained not to. It is not an easy road, but it is possible and it has to be undertaken to interrupt those negative thoughts and actions while learning to replace them with positive and beneficial ones. It can be an uphill battle with poor self-image messages in society inundating us day after day, but by learning to dampen their voice and raising your own, among other powerful women, we can start to replace those messages.

Getting help is important. Seek out counseling or other mental health-care providers, and do not stop if they tell you that you are fine but you know you still hurt yourself. At my first session on University campus, I told my counselor that I had suicidal ideation in moments of rage which stem from a birth trauma I experienced and she concluded the session by saying that she won’t be seeing me again because I “seem to have it all together”. Another counselor I saw told me I am the highest functioning patient she has ever met and she didn’t know why I needed to see her, even though symptoms of PTSD regularly inhibit my personal joy and daily existence. Do not stop looking for someone to help you. There are problems with the system and how people access it, but continuing to ask for help is a sign that you are healing and removing the obstacle of isolation.

Be holistic in your approach and put your mental health first. Yes, before anything else. Before your family, before your kids, before your job, before your career. None of that matters if you are suffering daily violence and are at risk of hurting yourself. Everything else can wait. Yes, ladies, even your children. Lean on family, on friends, on childcare providers. Get to your appointments, get to the gym, make time to eat well and sleep well. Be shameless about this. These things are just as important for you as they are for your family. Stable mental health creates stable home environments and stability means that your children and spouses won’t ever have to face a day without you on this earth. Do not listen to the lies in your head that everyone is better off without you. That you always screw things up. Your family never, ever, ever wants to see a day on this earth without you. Ever. Just ask them: they will testify to that truth. And if they don’t, or your spouse tells you to jump off a bridge, walk out. You are worth walking out for. You are worth your own safety.

Even though it seems like I am just getting started, I want to conclude with this: be gentle with yourself. Perfection is not an ideal anyone should strive for. Fail and try again. Succeed and try again. Be gentle with yourself as you would expect a kind, loving parent (whom you may have never had) to be with you as a child. Be gentle with yourself as you would expect a respectful spouse (whom you may have never had) to be with you as a lover. Be gentle with yourself as a child intuitively is with their own parents. Be gentle with yourself.

This earth is vast. Its history is long. Its space is immense. Take up your rightful place on this journey and work towards being well. I am with you on that path and I know you are with me too.


This article was written by Nakita Valerio, owner and editor in chief of The Drawing Board. Nakita  is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is also the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco.


For more information on mental health services in Edmonton, Alberta: click here. For everywhere else, please contact your local health service provider.

If this is an emergency, please get help by calling 911 or medical professional immediately.