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

Surviving your Quarter Life Crisis and becoming an adult

The Cure#6: Nurse Betty

Posted on | July 13, 2010 | No Comments

November 19th, 2009

My girlfriend kisses me on the mouth and leaves me alone with her mother.

It’s one in the afternoon and I haven’t eaten yet or slept.

“Betty” is blond with a streak of silver hair with big glasses and crystal blue eyes.

Put simply she is one of the nicest women in the world.

She has that sort of dignity where you can’t imagine her farting.

I remember the day we went on a long walk through the forest guided by two yippity schnauzers. At the end of the walk we came to the unfortunately named Tea Bag Lake. I remember when she asked what tea bagging meant and the slight hesitation before her daughter explained.

Right now, there is a lot to explain.

My kitchen is dirty and I’m very conscious of this. Dishes are piled up from the night before and maybe the night before that. The table has remnants of Diana honey garlic sauce and crumbs from last nights chicken wangs.

Betty’s home is very clean, polished and organized down to the last detail.

The first time I stayed over at her parent’s house I got a drive home from her father. He joked that he hadn’t killed anyone in a while.

This is significantly more awkward.

“So I have heard that you aren’t feeling that well,” she says.

“You want tea?” I ask.

She looks down at my selection of herbal teas and shakes her head.

“Nothing caffeinated?” she asks. “I don’t like the hippy crap.”

“Caffeine’s bad for anxiety,” I say.

She nods and leaves it at that.

“This is a really nice place,” she says.

I appreciate the lie.

Her home is a menagerie of antiques themed around the color blue. There are cups, vases, cookie jars, vases, all in a vast assortment of the same dark blue.

The family meals around her table make June Cleaver look like a pill popping hooker serving her fifties family from a trash can.

She often cooks a main course(always something including pig to appeal to her daughter’s Jewish boyfriend), then provides several different kinds of salad as well as multiple starch options. Dessert is the diabetic coma you dream of.

Her family happens to not only love each other but also like each other and not in the way most families do. Best friends bonded by blood and bullshit.  Every Sunday they get together for eight hours of laughs, music, drinks and delicious dinner.  Dinnertime is a competition to see who can say the most hilarious joke, most offensive story and the best insult.

For the most part I tried to be the best Mike Kimber I could be.

Today I’m shaking, sleepless and nervous.   I worry I’m not making the best impression. At least I changed out of my PJ’s.

“Yeah I haven’t been feeling that well,” I say. “I have trouble sleeping. I can’t concentrate. I don’t enjoy anything I used to. I can’t stop feeling like this.”

“Anything big happen to trigger it?” she asks.

I shake my head.

“What does it feel like?” she asks.

“I’m scared all the time. Thinking about what could happen if I do this or I do that,” I say. “It’s like I want to run as fast as I possibly can only I can’t because I’m running away from myself and the faster I go the worse it gets. The idea of being with people makes me really nervous.”

“That doesn’t sound too pleasant,” she says. “I’ve heard a lot of people talk like that. Most of them got better.”

Her relaxed tones ease the tension.

“I don’t want to be like this,” I say.

“Who would?” she asks. “

Betty has worked many long hours counseling suicidal teenagers in British Columbia.  According to her daughter half the town owed their lives to Betty’s care. Now she’s moved to Nova Scotia and the government has decided she lacks the qualifications to do the job she has excelled at for more than 20 years. Her crystal blue eyes take in the dirty dishes, frown and look back at me.

“Have you been avoiding situations that make you nervous?” she asks.

“Yeah.”

“Why?” she asks.

“I feel like I’m a burden to everyone I talk to,” I say.

“I’ve known you for a couple months and you’ve never been a burden,” she says. “You eat a lot of cake but that’s not a problem. You seem like a pretty good guy. Why do you think you are a burden?”

“I can’t handle myself. I just talk about how fucked up I am all the time,” I say. They say you are supposed to talk about what you feel and think because then you don’t suppress it. But when the only thing you talk about is your anxiety it is impossible to get away from it. Putting this into words is difficult for me on absolutely no sleep.  “I don’t want to ask for attention or pity when my life is really good. I should be happy. I should be the way I was.”

“And what were you?” she asks.

“Happy. Confident. Me,” I say.  “Someone people can talk to. Normal.”

It’s still hard for me to think about who I used to be.

How many times I could have changed and somehow avoided going through all of this. On my off days, it feels like I gave myself cancer. Anxiety is very similar to any addiction. You habituate yourself to it. Worry over my worry had gone on for almost three weeks at this time. It takes three weeks to make a habit.  And some addictions you can’t break.

“I don’t really laugh anymore,” I say. I can hear Radiohead playing in the background. “I’m not here. This isn’t happening.” I want to make jokes and make this all okay but when you can’t laugh it’s hard to say something funny. “When I laugh I’m just doing it to fill in the space.”

My girlfriend makes me laugh but in our relationship she has always done the impossible.

“And you want to avoid people?” she asks.

“I don’t want to be a burden,” I say. “I feel like I’m going to crack up and people will look at me like I’m crazy. People handle shit all the time. Why can’t I? Why am I like this? Why did I do this to myself?”

I stop. Too many questions. No stopping for answers. I’m flipping out and I don’t want to.

“You aren’t weak. This isn’t your fault,” she says. “You didn’t wake up one morning and decide you wanted to be scared all the time. You tried to do what would make you happy and you have a genetic predisposition towards anxiety. That’s not your fault. And you can deal with this.”

The warmth in her voice has slipped down her family tree and into the heart of the woman I love. I can hear the same intonations, the same pauses and inflects of feeling.  For a brief I can see what an amazing woman my girlfriend will be in thirty years.

I wonder who I will be in thirty years.

“You have to stop avoiding the things that you are scared of,” she says.  “That’s a trademark of anxiety.  You feed it every time you give in. You feel better for a minute and it’s harder next time. The more you face what scares you the less power it holds. Eventually you familiarize yourself with what you fear and it doesn’t scare you as much.”

I’ve already started pushing my girlfriend away. The idea that I’m hurting the people I love makes me try to do the noble thing and push away the only people who can help me.

With a few words her mother stopped me from pushing away the best thing in my life.

“Am I going to have live like this forever?” I ask.

“No. It sounds like you need to go on an SSRI,” she says. Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor for you lucky motherfuckers who have no idea what I’m talking about. Builds a barricade that keeps your happy chemicals in place.  “Your brain chemicals sometimes throw you through a loop. But it only takes a couple weeks for meds to kick in and you’ll feel like yourself again. Once that happens you should go for some CBT. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. You can learn methods to deal with your anxious thoughts. Techniques you can learn so that you can keep control of your life,” she says.

I have heard too many bad stories about medication to believe medication will help me.  The one that scares me most is the likelihood of sexual side effects. I find it awkward to ask about this but good or bad it is in my nature to ask such questions.

“What about your sex life?” I ask.

“Feeling like this wrecks a person’s sex drive. You’ll feel better about yourself,” she says, not missing a beat. “And you can talk to them about that fear. There are medications with less risk.”

“And you feel better?” I ask.

She nods. “Whether you take medication or not you will eventually feel better,” she says. “Everything passes. Even this.”

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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  • 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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