Colony of Losers- Fuck Stigma and Mental Illness, I'm like 25

Surviving your Quarter Life Crisis and becoming an adult

The Cure#3: So You Have Anxiety

Posted on | July 4, 2010 | 2 Comments

November 16th, 2009

The room is completely empty except a very jowly woman readying her presentation. Empty chairs surround the circular table where other people should be sitting. I’m in a self-help group and I am the only one who showed up for class. Her presentation is Power Point and she makes jokes about how she is not good with computers.

“I’m such a luddite,” she says. “So is my mom.” She smiles and I half expect her to tell me that she had a mother too. She has been delaying beginning the presentation for ten minutes in the hopes that other people will show up. She checks her watch once more. Ten minutes have passed since we first sat down. About twenty seconds since she last checked her watch.

“Well at least this means I don’t have to worry about my fear of public speaking,” she chortles.  Her jowls shake and it reminds me of ass cheeks clapping for some reason. I dutifully laugh trying to fight my desire to run from the room screaming loud enough that they bring someone competent to help me. Instead I sit and wait.

“Everyone gets worried sometime,” she says. “That’s perfectly normal.”

Silence.

I hate being condescended to and remind myself that I have gone crazy. Society does this to my newfound people all the time. You can’t call a girl fat, in intelligent places you can’t call gay people fags or black people n-bombs but anywhere in this world you can talk down to people with mental illness. She might not be condescending. She might just be dumb. Or I might be abnormally sensitive and taking a very cliché line personally.

“Been in the city long?” she asks

. “My whole life,” I say. I wonder if I’m supposed to make jokes.  “I hate Barrett’s Privateers. I’m that Nova Scotian. Every time I hear that song I want to kill myself.”

Oops. I can tell from her expression that was the wrong thing to say. “Just kidding.”

She doesn’t laugh at my joke but instead looks down at her presentation notes.

“I’m almost ready to start,” she says. “I am not that good at public speaking. My fear.”

“I’m not scared of public speaking,” I say. “Just about everything else though.” “We’ll see if we can help with that,” she says and passes me a pamphlet. The pamphlet says something along the lines of: So You Live With Anxiety. Click. The first panel of her presentation says: So You Live With Anxiety.

“So you live with anxiety,” she begins. She proceeds to read word for word from the screen what is in front of me on a piece of paper and projected on a screen next to her head. I read much faster than she talks and very quickly have nothing to do.

Interesting points are made.  Alcohol and marijuana are bad for anxiety. Limit your caffeine intake because it can cause insomnia. Make sure you set a sleep schedule.  Do things you love doing. There is a list of things one can do to alleviate anxiety. Breath deeply. Hold your breath in your belly and count to 5 and then exhale twice as long.

This releases tension you keep in your chest. Go for long walks because the activity of walking releases chemicals that cause relaxation. Half way down the page hidden from prying eyes is the word masturbation. I consider asking her about the proper method of jerking off. I feel she is an expert.  I wait to see if she says it as she goes over the list of relaxation techniques. She doesn’t. I tell myself to pay attention and stop being an asshole.  I need help and she is trying to provide it. She finishes the list and looks around the room. “Does anyone have any questions?” she asks.

Do you realize I am the only one here?

There is a reason why mental hospitals are filled with the homeless and psychologists’ offices are filled with successful people with anxiety disorders who somehow function in their day-to-day lives. Proper care matters and if you don’t have money you are unlikely to receive until it’s too late. Poor people have to rely on the system to help  and the system in Nova Scotia is totally and completely fucked. The problem is not necessarily due to the incompetence of the workers though in my experience that certainly wasn’t lacking. It is the incredible burden placed on the system by the epidemic proportions of the mental health crisis we are facing.

Each year the numbers seeking treatment grow exponentially and the money for mental health doesn’t grow in proportion.  1 in 5 people deal with a mental illness in their life. My guess is that a lot of the rest just don’t deal with it. Why? It’s a fucking inconvenience getting treatment. To be admitted to a mental institution you must show that you are a clear and present danger to yourself.

Not simply that you are suicidal but that you have a plan and intend to act on it in the very near future. Having spent a long day trying to convince workers that my suicidal little brother Nole indeed wanted to kill himself, being turned away for having not proved our case, I had a slight clue that getting help was not as easy as it appeared in the movies I watched. For those of who don’t present a clear and present danger to ourselves and aren’t looking to be committed, the system faces an incredible backlog. To see a qualified psychologist I was facing a wait of six months.

The alternative was going to self-help groups and this meant discussing my very intimate problems with complete and total strangers. Or in my case one counselor who had a fear of public speaking. “It’s important to think positive thoughts,” she says.

“It’s called happiness because it is not what happens to you, it how you feel about what happened. It’s your decision.” She beams. Happens doesn’t equal happiness. Brilliant. I can tell she feels this has gone very well. I have been nodding over and over again with each point to show that I’m paying attention. I’m not. Paying attention is not an easy thing for me right now. My thoughts are totally and completely consumed with trying to solve the problem of what is going in my head. What is going on in my head is a torturous circle. It begins with why do I feel like this?  My mind frantically goes over everything that could possibly be upsetting me and then the circle spins again. My mind focuses on these negative things trying to provide solutions that life just doesn’t offer.  Then I get angry with myself. Why the fuck am I so depressed?  Am I one of those little emo assholes who listens to Radiohead on repeat, smears my black make up and takes cold showers to feel alive? The anger turns to guilt. Why do I feel sorry for myself? Pretty tough being a spoiled middle class white kid. They should hold a fucking telethon for me. Bono should save his pubes to raise money for me. The guilt is heavy and builds each day. I think of what I’m doing to my mother and father who I collapsed in tears in front of at a Chinese restaurant a few days earlier.  About my incredible girlfriend who has been with me through thick and thin. She doesn’t deserve to be with someone who can’t at the very least gain control of himself. I was so happy. Why did this have to happen? Which nun did I spit on?

My greatest and most present worry is that the worry will never stop. As a result I have trouble listening to what anyone in my life is actually saying. When I am not worrying for a few minutes I will suddenly think I feel better. I feel good now. Then I start monitoring it and it sinks back to shit.

“The most important thing is the now,” she says. I tuned in when she said most important thing.

I thought she was going to tell me what I needed to know to get over this. The simple secret that everyone knows and won’t fucking tell me. “Right now?” I ask. Stop being an asshole.

“Each and every moment,” she says. I feel like giving her a standing ovation. Instead we do a deep breathing exercise. Where she has me imagine I’m on a beach. Can I hear the waves? I can’t. I can just hear the radiator turning on and her watch ticking. Can you smell the sunscreen on your skin? I nod my head.

Can you smell the ocean?  Salt and spray.  I almost can. I want to.  So badly. Can you feeling the sun on your skin? My cheek is hot. I remember being on the beach with my girlfriend the summer before. We had a couple’s day with her best friend and her boyfriend. The morning began with fresh fruit, eggs, bacon, raisin bread(prepared by me..fuck can I toast) yogurt and eggs and three different kinds of juice. Ketchup on everything. Onto the beach where we played in the waves.

She was wearing a yellow bikini and looked so beautiful. You know that sort of beautiful where you don’t feel like life is real and you are just a character in a play and you can’t believe some dumb ass gave you this part. The type of beautiful that is strange and exotic and somehow home. I took her in my arms, muscles tensing, and the beautiful soft fullness of her body as light as air, warm to the touch in the cold salt water of the ocean. My nipples sharp, hers diamond.

Laughing so loudly that the whole beach turned and looked at us. I lifted her above my head and she felt like nothing balanced in my hands. When we got back from the beach I received a phone call. My parents had been in a car crash. They had flipped their car, launching them 20 feet into the air, spun them round and round, flips like gods flicking coins into the air, heads or tails, dead or alive. Bounce. Crash. Flip. Land on their backs, upside down, dangling from a thoroughly destroyed vehicle. My mom breaks her wrist. My dad is covered in scratches. Both survive when they should have died.

While we laughed and screamed on the beach.  A few centimeters left or right my parents would have died. I wanted to go back there. Push through the sands of time and end up on that beach forever. Where the weight of my love was nothing. Where we feasted and laughed until we couldn’t stop because we never knew that life could be this good.  Where my parents were invincible and car crashes couldn’t kill a Kimber. Now I was killing myself and I couldn’t stop. The relaxation ceased and the tension renewed itself. “And when I count to ten you’ll come back and you’ll feel the relaxation wash over you in waves….”

Welcome to the Colony of Losers, a world of quarter life crises, anxiety, depression and the friends and the failures on the way to your future. This is the story of Michael Kimber’s panicked fall into adulthood.

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Comments

2 Responses to “The Cure#3: So You Have Anxiety”

  1. Julia Smith
    July 4th, 2010 @ 5:57 pm

    Having been on this ride along with my husband, your account of it from the front row seat is amazing.

    Looking forward to the next segment.
    Julia Smith´s last blog ..Weekend Writers Retreat – 14 My ComLuv Profile

  2. Matty
    July 5th, 2010 @ 5:32 am

    “Bono should save his pubes to raise money for me” blahahah that’s a great line! Once again your discriptions of familair events could not of been said any better.

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  • About

    Michael Kimber is a 26-year-old journalist who suffered a nervous breakdown on November 3rd, 2009. On March 28th, 2010 when he recovered from mental illness, he began writing a blog called Colony-of-losers. About falling on your face to figure out who you are and the hilarious antics of a blond jew. What began with a few friends and his mother reading has become a cult phenomenon, averaging 10,000 views a week, receiving praise from Commonwealth Award Winner Shandi Mitchell and many others. On, November 3rd, 2010, the one year anniversary of his mental breakdown he signed with Anne McDermid and Associates, the largest literary agency in Canada. In a year he went from wearing pajamas, making his couch depression HQ to leaving his hometown for the Toronto, where he exclusively wears business suits and the armor of ancient Greeks. Don't worry, he's still choking on the feet he contently sticks in his mouth and making moments awkward just by being part of them. During these struggles he met other talented bastards and drew them into his circle. Peter Diamond became his illustrator. Patrick Campbell his video editor and part time photographer. He recently added the incredibly talented John Packman as Colony of Losers Toronto photographer. Without the support of the Colony of Losers, Michael Kimber would be nothing. Welcome to the losers and the success that comes from utter and complete failure. You aren’t alone. Follow him on twitter.com/colonyoflosersand twitter.com/quimbo. If you’d like to hire him for a public speaking engagement for mental health events in Toronto, like to arrange an interview, offer millions to publish his book or for another reason contact Michael please email him. And join his facebook Colony of Losers.

    Really obvious disclaimer:
    I’m not a trained psychologist. Just a fellow traveler. If you need help seek it from the professionals. The Canadian Mental Health Association provides a help locator. You can find crisis resources provided by the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. If you are in the states check here. It will give you services by zip code. I’d also recommend checking out Mindyourmind.ca. I think they do great work and have been a help to me personally.

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