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

Surviving your Quarter Life Crisis and becoming an adult

Coming Out Crazy: The silence that kill us

Posted on | December 2, 2010 | 8 Comments

On June 30th, 2010, I told the world about my struggles with mental illness.

For those of you late to the game, my name is Michael Gray Kimber and I suffer from intense anxiety.

My claim to this glorious tradition is genetic, fuelled by years where I smoked pounds of marijuana, ate poorly combined with one helluva quarter-life crisis.

I’d like to say I told my story to the world for some noble purpose such as combating the stigma surrounding mental illness.

That isn’t exactly true.

My first love had just ended with the girl who helped me get through the worst time of my life. I wanted to explain how grateful I was to her for having loved me when I didn’t love myself. I wanted to remember how much light there had been in the darkness because her shadow was cast next to mine.

The Cure began as a love letter to all the people who reminded me who I was when I forgot. It was a way of remembering that some of the best times in my life occurred during my mental breakdown. That there had been so much gained amidst all the loss and I didn’t want to forget what it was like.  I wanted to capture all that love, that love that had a become a hundred pound weight in my stomach, to write a story of how I came to stand again after I fell.

I hadn’t taken into consideration what would come from that blind leap.

Suddenly my blog went from having a few hundred followers to a few thousand. In the blink of an eye, I had fans in the US and all over the globe. My work was being featured in magazines and mental health websites.  On the year anniversary of my breakdown, I signed with Anne McDermid and associates, the literacy agency that represents the cream of the crop of Canadian authors.

I didn’t realize that I was changing the course of my entire life with that first post.

Any employer who wants to do a Google search on me will be able to read those same entries on my anxiety, the nightmare three months of insomnia and my battle with depression.  I’ve been told that health insurance will be more expensive when I’m in a job where they provide it. Any girl I ever pursue will be able to read my vivid descriptions of the first girl I ever really loved and what she meant, means and will always be to me.  The last girl I dated read every entry. So did her parents.

With that first post I was out.

And I’ll never be able to go back into hiding.

Thankfully I’m a writer and mental illness is expected of me.  Creativity and insanity are supposed to go together like peanut butter and jam, insomnia and anxiety, my eyes and a beautiful woman’s naked body.

However it strikes me that there is a fallacy in this argument as most of the people I know who have mental illness aren’t writers.  Why would we associate writers with mental illness?

Simple.

Writers talk about their feelings. Maybe it isn’t that creativity is inextricably linked to mental illness.  Maybe creativity just gives us the courage to talk about it.

I’m lucky. Somehow my mental illness gave me a career. The best moments of my artistic life have come after my illness, after taking medication and going through therapy. I was warned I would lose myself but I’ve never been more Mike Kimber.

I know a lot of people that aren’t as lucky as I am. Coming out for them is more difficult.

Some are doctors and as such are sworn to secrecy in the knowledge that if they divulge their own experiences they won’t be allowed to practice. Some are family men who don’t want their life insurance policies to become more expensive based on preconceptions about mental illness and the ability to take care of yourself. I know of a girl whose parents blame themselves for her brother’s mental illness as if their parenting could somehow change the structure of their DNA. So she keeps her own illness to herself.  I know the people who refuse to look into the reality of their disease scared of what they believe they will find there. Trusting instead to the intuitions of a society that for the most part has no idea what these diseases actually are.

Lost in the shame of what we fear we might be, 2/3s of us aren’t getting help.

Everyday we lose more brothers and sisters to suicide.  Everyday our people are getting killed because we are ashamed of something we have no reason to be ashamed of.

At one point the shame might have served a purpose when society was locking us in cages, cutting into our brains and electrocuting us.  Staying hidden meant staying alive. It’s lucky that mental illness isn’t confined to one area, one race.  If the genetics that made us what we are was carried by one race the world would have come together and killed us to hide from what they didn’t understand.

Let me show you the work of insanity.

Listen to the soothing and beautiful sounds of Beethoven’s music, read the incredible words of War and Peace, see the works of Vincent Van Gogh, lose your breathe as your eyes dare to touch Michangelo’s David and his masterwork the Sistine Chapel. Abraham Lincoln wrote the emancipation proclamation that would free the slaves while battling crippling depression.  Sir Isaac Newton proved the existence of gravity and gave us an empirically understandable universe. Albert Einstein showed us how much the world was changed by where you looked at it from and Godel showed us the limits of reason. In the process of ripping ourselves to pieces our people burned books and wrote poetry that become the pages of history.

These are only some of the most famous examples that we know of. We are doctors, we are lawyers, we are artists, business people, revolutionaries, zealots, your friends, your parents, your lovers.

We are your homeless, your drug addicts, the people who sometimes make it difficult to love us when we need it the most.

We need help from professionals, from the people who love us, because the war against yourself can only end when you stop fighting and start living.  The battle against yourself is where the terrors are built. In the shame of trying to be what we aren’t we make ourselves worse.

The greatest movements that changed society’s thinking were lead by the people most affected.  Martin Luther King and Malcolm X had to fight for black rights. Harvey Milk had to stand up for gay people.

We can’t allow our struggle to be a weekend boating trip for wealthy citizens looking for a good cause.  We need to stand behind each other even when the person isn’t eloquent, doesn’t look damn good in a suit and hasn’t been lucky enough to fully recover from their illness.

No one can do this for us. Because they won’t know who we are until we tell them. Until we reveal ourselves and kill the illusions that our silence creates.

I know the shame. I know the guilt.  I have blamed myself for being weak, for being sick, for lacking the emotional strength to carry my small burdens in a world where so many people carry so much more. Yet how is it your fault?  No one would ever chose to feel like this.

It’s terrifying to know the world won’t understand us immediately. To know that we can’t change the world without facing that terrible life altering exposure.

2/3s of us aren’t getting helped, because we don’t know how many people stand with us. They don’t know how many people will stand by their loved ones.

To paraphrase Harvey Milk in his famous speech on the Stonewall riots:

In our times of darkness, I ask my brothers and sisters to join me in this fight. For themselves, for their freedom, for their country, for their children and their children who stand a strong chance of inheriting their parent’s illness.  We will not win our rights by staying quietly in the shadows.  We have to come out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions, the easy answers they sell to the desperate.  We are coming out to tell the truth about mental illness, for I’m tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out. Come out to your parents, to your friends. Come out for your friends, your family, and let our collective voices show the world who we are.

Our silence has killed us long enough.

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8 Responses to “Coming Out Crazy: The silence that kill us”

  1. Rich
    December 3rd, 2010 @ 7:16 pm

    I just found your blog and have been enjoying what I’ve read so far. I too have serious problems with depression and anxiety and addiction as well throughout my life. I became addicted to painkillers, mainly codeine ,in order to deal with the brutal depression of my teen years, however I firmly believe my codeine addiction actually saved my life way back when because I stopped trying to kill myself and instead was high 24/7. Long messy story short I was actively using codeine in vast quantities for 20 years, spent about 10 of those 20 years trying to quit it and constantly failing, opiates are very physically addicted and change how your brain works, when I finally got on methadone I was able to start dealing more with my depression and anxiety problems and am doing much better these days, however I still have times when they flare up and I go into a deep funk or start having panic attacks again but its tolerable these days with the meds I’m on.

    I wish I had gotten help for myself a long time ago but it was the stigma that kept me from doing so, plus for the longest time I didn’t believe I had any sort of mental illness like depression, I just believed I was a horrible person, a total loser, unlovable, unlikeable and that intense mental and emotional pain was just something that losers like me had to deal with. It was a shock and at first I denied it when a Dr told me in my mid 20′s that I was suffering from depression, but now that I know I can look back and see how obvious it was in my life since puberty. Stigma is a killer and has lead to intense and unneccessary suffering for so many people who could be helped if it wasn’t for the stigma.

    I’m very grateful for sites like yours that work to help end the stigma around mental illness. I’ve also been willing to discuss my own mental health problems more openly in recent years because I believe that the more we talk about the less stigma there will be and maybe some teenager suffering like I was will get the help they need instead of turning to illicit drugs to numb the pain.

    Anyways I look forward to reading more of your blog in the future.

  2. Mick
    December 4th, 2010 @ 1:46 pm

    @Mike : I’m proud of you for taking that giant leap forward. Certainly publicizing your battle against mood disorders has helped more people than you will ever know. And, thank you for inspiring me to make my mark on the blogosphere. My skeletons are out of the closet, on the internet, and haunt me less each day.

    @Rich: Your brief biography (above) is strikingly similar to my own experiences with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. I’ve been on methadone almost a year and my life has never been better. Without opiates colouring my perception and my moods, I’ve been able to work through my issues and develop better, healthier coping strategies – with a little help from a loving counsellor and support group. Feel free to check out my blog — it’s still in the early stages of development but I’m examining life, love, illness, and addiction through semi-autobiographical fiction. Let me know what you think.

    Cheers,

    Mick.

    http://prose-and-conz.tumblr.com

  3. Susan Kushner Resnick
    December 5th, 2010 @ 9:47 am

    Hi Mike – What beautiful words. I’m a friend of Stephen Kimber from grad school at Goucher. I published my thesis, “Sleepless Days: One Woman’s Journey Through Postpartum Depression” in 2000 (St. Martin’s Press.) PPD is the same as other depressions except for the involvment of a baby and my theme was that depression is temporary even when it feels forever. My greatest symptoms – hence the title – were sleeplessness and anxiety. Getting diagnosed and treated after a lifetime of unrecognized depression was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I so admire your words and your bravery. I’m right there with you.

  4. Patrick Burgomaster
    December 5th, 2010 @ 10:23 am

    Well done Michael !
    I’m comforted by the idea that all things are always changing – even crazy people like you and me. There’s adventure and triumph in the future, I’m certain !
    Patrick Burgomaster´s last blog .. My ComLuv Profile

  5. Saffron
    December 8th, 2010 @ 4:54 pm

    Actually there is a connection between creativity and mental illness, particularly the genes for schizophrenia.

    I’d recommend reading some of the published journal articles by Daniel Nettle, a university research in the UK. There are pdfs for download on his website:
    http://www.staff.ncl.ac.uk/daniel.nettle/

  6. Coming Out of The Crazy Closet#2: Not another bullshit awareness campaign | Colony of Losers- Surviving the Stigma of Mental Illness and Being A 20 Something
    December 14th, 2010 @ 11:26 am

    [...] I’ve decided to talk about it and recently I’ve been trying to get others to do the same. [...]

  7. Leaf Probably
    January 24th, 2011 @ 7:48 pm

    Telling my parents, friends, and doctor about my depression was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I’m so glad I did it though. It gave me the courage to write about it in my blog, to talk about it around the dining room table, and to mention it casually in phone conversations with my parents.

    Not having to hide it, or paint a veneer of a grin over it makes it that much lighter to carry.

    I’ve found writing about when I’m not doing so great, a huge help. No doubt many others will find it useful too. Kudos to you for pushing this into a public arena!
    Leaf Probably´s last blog ..Completely Normal My ComLuv Profile

  8. Three Beautiful Things « Leaf Probably
    January 24th, 2011 @ 8:19 pm

    [...] think that Michael (author of Colony of Losers) is right, silence is a bad, bad thing when it comes to the crazy. I, for one, know that my depression scares the living fuck out of me [...]

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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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