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

Surviving your Quarter Life Crisis and becoming an adult

The Cure#8: A Mother’s Love

Posted on | July 26, 2010 | 1 Comment

November 25th, 2009

A plastic cartoon dog wobbles his head back and forth, attached to the dash of my mother’s car, mocking my sleepless state. His name is Frank and my mother got him at a fast food restaurant back in the days when Men In Black was first released. I stare into his eyes, my own vaguely out of focus.

Most of what I can say about myself at this moment comes from observing my mother’s gaze.

Lack of sleep has stretched my panic into a blank canvas, flattening the characteristics of my insecurity and fearfulness into a window that can only take in other people’s feelings.

My own are too indistinct.

I feel barely alive.

“How you doing, sweetie?” she asks.

I never wanted to be a cause of worry to my mother. Lying seems pointless right now.

“Tired,” I say. “Very tired.”

“Well, boo,” she says, “we are going to fix that. Or I’ll hit you with a frying pan every night and let you get a good night sleep.”

“Could give me a concussion, Mama Luba,” I say.

“You got a big head,” she says. “I’m sure you can take it, boo.”

I don’t where her nickname came from. Somehow it stuck. She calls me boo and I call her Mama Luba, such is the strange learned language of mother and child lost in translation as time moves on.

She’s not particularly good at hiding her feelings but I can see that she’s trying. She blames herself for my present state as she does for many things that have absolutely nothing to do with her.

The intense anxiety I’m feeling comes from her side of the family tree passed involuntarily into my veins as the disease passed to her mother and her mother and her mother before her.

My great grandmother was an agoraphobic who refused to leave the house and spent much of her time trying to protect her children from the world she feared.

The fear of the outside world passed to my grandmother Mildred.  Finding true love with my mother’s face, she dedicated her life to preventing her husband from having a heart attack. For years she worried, slowly losing more and more of the present, the joys of parenting my mother and her brother, to the terrors of the future.

One day shortly before I was born, her husband died of a heart attack. His name was Max and he was apparently one of the funniest people in the world. Having lived in fear so long she didn’t know how to live any differently.

My grandmother’s entire life had been spent worrying over something she had no control over. She didn’t seek treatment, in her day it wasn’t done.

My memories of Grandma Mildred are joyful ones, long after old age had dulled the fear and left her a few final years to find pleasure in seeing her grandchildren grow up.  I can remember shopping with her at Shopper’s Drug Mart the night before Christmas. Picking magazines and chocolates and the feel of her wrinkled hands as she held me in her arms.  I can remember going to Something About Mary and watching her laugh at the odd slimy discharge hanging from Ben Stiller’s ear.  It’s the laughter I remember.

“You think they’ll give it to me?” I ask.

“I still don’t know if that’s what we need to be looking for,” says my mother.

The point of this trip is simple.  I have decided to get the cure. As sleep is the measure of sanity, the best way to get sleep is to get sane.  My girlfriend’s mother recommended going on an SSRI.

The trip is to a walk in clinic. I know the right words. I just need to see the right person and have them fill out a prescription. I’ve been sliding for a month. Soon I’ll be myself.

Just one pill away.

“If they say it’s what you need…,” says my mom. “Then you should do it. Whatever you need to feel better.”

In her mid-twenties she sought treatment for the first time. In those days there was no miracle cure, just expensive talk therapy.  The release felt good but when stress came so did the adrenaline shots to the heart.  As she got older and had kids the  problem became worse.

The problem with anxiety is that the panic is a protective system, meant to keep you alert to protect the the people you love safe.  The more you have the more you fear to lose it.

Looking down at me, blankly looking at the road in front of us, I wonder if her heart is beating as fast as mine is.

“Does it make you feel better?” I ask.

Medication works differently for different people. My mother has tried a lot of them.

“Yeah they do,” she says. “It takes a couple weeks for them to kick in but when they do you notice a big difference.”

I feel as if I am living a second life. My previous one had been filled with joy and happiness. Somehow I stepped through a door in myself where I have become someone completely different. I want to walk through another door and find myself waiting on the other side.

“A good difference?” I ask.

What I am asking is not really whether it made a difference for her. I want her to tell me that it will make a difference for me and that it will be a positive one.  I’m in effect asking her to lie to me.  I have been doing that a lot lately.

“I don’t know Michael,” she says. “I was in my forties when my doctor asked me if I wanted to try one. She said it could change my life. She also said that she didn’t quite know how they worked. Still don’t as far as I know.  Nobody knew anything about this stuff when I started taking them.  When they kicked in it was the first time in my whole life that there was silence. All the background noise of demands on myself, fear of all the things that could happen. It just stopped. Quiet.”

The words sound like poetry. While little of use is being said there is rarely if ever silence inside of me. Just my inner scientist torturing me, looking for some sort of answer, refusing to let go of his favorite experiment.

“Zoloft made me feel like a zombie,” she says. “I was like a Stepford Wife. You coulda hit me with a baseball bat and I would have smile through it. When you find the right mix you still feel things, still get happy and sad but things are just a little more under control.”

“I could go for that,” I say. “Kind of sick of being lame.”

“You are not lame, sweetheart,” she says. “You’re just going through some shit. We’ll see what they say. If there are other options we’ll take them. The problem with medication is that it’s really hard to come off of them. I can’t.”

“Do you feel like a failure because you have to take meds” I ask.

“If you had diabetes you’d take insulin,” she says. “You are not a failure just because your body doesn’t work the way it should.”

A driver cuts us off. I watch her count to ten. Frank’s head bobbles his agreement to whatever curse word ridden sentence my mom is composing. She takes a deep breath and doesn’t tell the stupid asshole to go fuck himself.

“I just wish this wasn’t me,” I say. “Why did I do this to myself?”

“Do what?” she asks. “How did you bring this on yourself?”

“I smoked weed for years,” I say, voice quivering. It’s hard to explain but I feel like I have given myself cancer. I should have relaxed during my weeks of worrying and gone easy on myself. I should have remembered that my mood changes with the season and all seasons end. Instead I spent three weeks habituating myself to the worry and now my addiction has reduced me to a shell of the man I was. “I should have dealt with this before.”

“Why would you?” she asks. “People don’t change their whole lives because they know they should. You do it because you have to. And right now you have to.”

“I’m just so angry at myself,” I say. “Why can I just be the way I was?”

“That goes away,” she says. “You’re not the same person anymore, boo.  You’ll learn to forget the old person.  And forgive yourself because you did what you thought was the right thing. You only tried to make yourself happy and did it the best way you knew how. You didn’t try to make this happen. It just did.”

“I feel so ashamed that I’m like this.”

“You know that you need help,” she says. “Looking for it is the hardest part. Making the changes takes a lot of bravery and you are doing it. Remember that.”

As a child, my mother used to read me stories before I went to sleep. The voice she is using to calm me belongs to Aslam, Prince Caspian and all the characters large and small from Narnia.  As a hyperactive child I would do somersaults and backflips as she read to me. She thought I wasn’t listening and then I would repeat word for word everything she said. Sometimes I changed the story for my own amusement.

In Grade 1, I told my teacher Ms. Thomas about the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. My version was a completely different story that I had dreamed up in my dyslexic imagination. She told me that I was a great storyteller. It was that moment that I realized I could tell stories and my life changed forever. Despite the fact that my father was a professional writer, it was the stories my mother told me that began me on this long and twisted path.

I became a character in my own fantasy.  I was an undoubtedly eccentric big headed child who resembled Tweety Bird and Macauly Culkin during his home alone pre cocaine days.  For a whole year I dressed up as Inigo Montoya. My parents became used to explaining my behavior to strangers when I approached the with plastic sword raised and said,”My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

I also wore a full bodied bunny customer, aviator shades and a blazer for a long period for reasons I still don’t quite understand. This was slightly less embarrassing for my parents than my boxing stage where I approached black people and asked them if they boxed.

When I couldn’t sleep I would climb into her bed and lose my fears in the comfort of her arms.

As you grow up you get too big to fit in your parent’s arms. Your problems grow with you and they can’t be lost in a cuddle. I can see her longing for those days. When I knew so much less about the world and she could protect me with ignorance, hugs and the truth of her love.

I don’t really remember much of my mother’s struggles with anxiety, depression or the trials and tribulations of different medications.  I remember when she wanted to beat up the kid who bullied me in Junior High School. The way she uses my sister to give me advice because she knows I won’t take it from her even when she is speaking pure and simple common sense. How she won’t let me leave the house without giving me a new button up blue shirt.

One of the worst terrors of dealing with this disease is that I’m hurting my friends, family and the girl I loved. Only I don’t remember my mother’s fear. I just remember how much she loved me. The only thing I had control over in this struggle against my self was how I treated the people I cared about.  My mother was my example.

She didn’t infect me with the fear that consumed her life. Her mother was scared of everything and gave it to her children. My mother gave me the world of my imagination and the somewhat misguided belief that I could do anything I wanted to.

The car skids to a stop.

We’ve reached our destination.

There is a long line to see the doctor.

So we wait.

I hold her hand and wait to see if a doctor who has never met me knows the answer to all of my problems.

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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One Response to “The Cure#8: A Mother’s Love”

  1. Alana
    July 26th, 2010 @ 2:09 pm

    Know that your not alone and each and everyone of us has a fight, the worst part is that it is usually with ourselves.

    You mom is amazing you very lucky to have her in your journey.

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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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