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Client Experiences: Qi, Diasporic Memory, Social Movements and Co-existence
Being a client at Six Degrees has brought me to revisit a few misgivings, I
think, both as an individual who identifies herself as a Mad person or
psychiatric survivor and as the child of diasporic parents from Hong
Kong, whose families fled to the land of economic opportunity and safety
before the handover of their home back to China.
Growing up I recall my grandfather practicing acupuncture – it became a way for
him to earn supplementary income unexpectedly when he immigrated, after
a failed business in food and alongside working in a shoe factory,
living in the Pape and Danforth area of Toronto. Qi oddly collided with
colonial legacies of Protestantism in my mother’s upbringing and with
the disillusioned working class identity her and her siblings worked
doubly hard to come out of to recover their dreams of middle-class
wealth and well-being they remember in their youth.
I could never understand the complete rejection, on my parents’ part, or
quietness around Chinese medicine. From my experience, middle-class
immigrant families settled in non-urban areas of Canada conceal and are
encouraged to forget ‘alternative’ understandings of healing. Arguments
between my father and my grandmother (my mother’s mother) were
commonplace around the scientific “validity” of Chinese medicine. My
father, certain of the enlightened genius of Western science he had come
into. Colonial missionary school education aside, he was an engineer
I share all of this – with you probably wondering if I’m going to talk
about Six Degrees specifically at all – not to satire my family, but
raise issues of being a racial hybrid. About hybridity as Lisa Lowe
would refer to as my survival, and my family’s survival, in the face of
colonialism that has affected strategies for community care for three
generations and counting.
Revisting acupuncture as an option in my own life became a reality in part
through coming into the Mad movement. The Mad movement in North America
has hubs in both New York and Toronto, with a rich history of organizing
for alternatives to psychiatry – we are people who have had varied
experiences with the mental health system, some of us identifying as
users, ex-users, and survivors (who have survived psychiatry as
ineffective, harmful, and even violent).
All of us are looking to foster an alternative culture to biopsychiatry and
to a range of understandings for our elation, emotional distress, and
different ways of being in the world beyond the rubric of ‘illness’.
Many of us also recognize how experiences such as depression can be
fundamentally related to broader systematic oppressions such as poverty,
sexual violence, homophobia, transphobia, and imperialism. We are not
interested in a model of care that focuses entirely on diseases of the
In the last several decades a return to non-pharmaceutical options has
been advocated, given increasingly dubious side effects of psychotropic
drugs, their addictive qualities, their unaffordability, and their
“dampening” effect on the emotions and cognitive senses. This has not
always been a viable option for Mad people and psychiatric survivors, in
part because the most marginalized members of our communities are
institutionalized and confined, by law, perhaps committed to a Chemical
Treatment Order (in Ontario’s context) which prohibits the release of
patients unless they submit to chemical incarceration, taking
medication. This law has sometimes been referred to as Ontario’s “leash
Personally, in these social movement conversations, I’ve been wary also of cultural
appropriations of Eastern medicine as The Alternative, due to their
increasing commodification in the West, where herbs and supplements are
part and parcel of the new milieu of yoga as fitness, scheduled between
leaving your kids with a Third World domestic worker.
This is where Six Degrees offers something fundamentally different. In order
to sustain non-coercive, community-based options for caring for each
other, the availability of more affordable services is crucial. The
spirit of having safe, anti-oppressive spaces is also crucial. Both the
availability of sliding scale and sensitive staff make this more
I came to Susanda recently this Fall due to my process of underdoing
diagnosis for chronic illness and appreciated the way that acupuncture
can have the capacity to discuss our bodies without labeling them
necessarily as diseased – an ethic I hold being Mad-identified. I was
experiencing chronic urinary urgency, frequency, lower pelvic pain,
‘heaviness’ (which I’ve described as feeling like I have sand bags in my
bladder), and burning during urination. While my own research on
interstitial cystitis or painful bladder syndrom (IC/PBS) brought me to
fundamentally change my diet as a main trigger, it was helpful to work
with Susanda to sort out the associations between present anxieties,
eating habits, sleep patterns, and my symptoms. To sort out additional
ways I could aid my body in better coping or minimizing “flares” –
periods where my symptoms drastically worsen for 1-5 days.
Recently I was part of organizing a letter to submit to different media outlets
as a response to racist Canadian press on the presence of Asian bodies
in higher education. During the appointment I had immediately after a
weekend of working late nights on this letter all of the acupuncture
points on my neck and upper back were very sore and burning as they were
stimulated. It was a visceral way for me to come to terms with the
labour that goes into activism and initiatives for social change, when
these efforts come from a place of anger and oppression, signs of which
are present physically. It was also a relief for me to know that there
was a place like Six Degress to go and to detox – to get in touch with
how I am doing as a person with a body, in my body, using my body to
move in the world.
I also wonder about how Six Degrees can potentially foster anti-ableist
ways of working through Chinese medicine, providing services that are
meaningful to clients who do not have ‘normative’ bodies. For me,
working through my bladder pain has not been a matter of ‘recovering’ or
being normal necessarily, but of being in tune with what external
stressors I can try to think about and work around, if possible. It has
made me think about the importance of collectivist forms of survival so
that we can all feel well and manage our pains together. It has been a
way, so far, to release tension and help restore energy.