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

Surviving your Quarter Life Crisis and becoming an adult

Book of Job Chapter 1: Loving Kindness Meditation for Motherfuckers

Posted on | November 7, 2011 | No Comments

Free at 23

It was the summer of Arab Spring where a few thousand Western Jerk offs claimed responsibility for changing the world with their twitter accounts. Where Arabs fought and died for a dream of a democracy we’d long since abandoned. Where a famine struck Africa and a few people wondered why there wasn’t a dislike button on Facebook.

Where for a moment the mind blowing apathy of my generation ended and we took to the streets to see if we too could grasp that dream of democracy and tear it out of the hands of corporate fat cats and unreliable government bureaucrats. It was a time of fires, floods, plagues and apocalypses predicted that came and went with little lamentation. The economy had AIDS and rock and roll had Justin Bieber.

My barber gave me a fade and I was feeling bad to the bone.

I was currently living the dream of my generation, working at a job that allows me to get by, pay for rent, food and some drinks with my friends, so that I could forget about my future for a while.

It’s April, 2011,  a few days after my 27th birthday and everything I’ve built for myself is about to fall apart.

I’m sitting in my underwear staring at the wall, with my legs crossed, my back straight and my mind focused on the misery of others.

I’m determined to become a better man and I have been told that compassion for others will turn into compassion for myself. Technically I only need to focus on wishing people well. I find that compassion works better when there is a little sympathy involved.

It’s called the Loving Kindness Meditation and it involves four steps.  The first is calling to mind a teacher, someone you love that has guided you along the way and you wish that they don’t suffer. Take into account their life and what they have had to go through to inspire you.  The second involves an acquaintance, someone you barely know who has little effect on your life and you try to get a sense of what makes them tick, what problems they have overcome and you wish them well. Many find the third stage as the most difficult and it’s finding compassion for the people you have the most conflict with.  The fourth is the most difficult for me and involves finding compassion for myself.

For the last two week step 3 has been the most important.

But let’s start at the beginning so you can breath deeply and feel your pulse slow with mine.

I strip out of my clothes.

Too tight, too binding.

Gaze in awe at my finely toned muscles and abs of steel.  When you dream, reach out and grab a hold of my pelt of chest hair and know that you are loved. Smell the old Spice that reminds every girl of the last dude they fucked.

I tightly close the door, which the cat somehow manages to open more regularly than I would like him too. Thankfully this hasn’t happened after I freshly emerged from the shower or during the portions of my day when I violently praise the beauty of naked women on the Internet.

I grab two pillows and plant my ass on them.

I stare at the wall and let the flurry of thoughts and tension pass into the stillness of my body. Some people close their eyes when they meditate but I have too active an imagination.  So I stare at the little dots on my wall until they form some sort of meaningful pattern. I focus on my breath without doing anything to change it. Just paying attention to the feel of hot air escaping my nostrils and the cool air as it runs down my throat, into my lungs and makes me live.  Someone once told me that when you hold your body still enough, your mind has to follow.

I’m not thinking about my future. I’m just letting all thought slide across the screen, making no effort to catch and hold, words of a script I don’t need to act out.  Each time I grab onto a thought, I let myself ride for a moment or two and then casually disengage.  Thoughts are like astrology, little tidbits that only change your life if you let them. Not a secret code to unlock your existence. Just a bunch of neurons firing out a game you make deadly serious.

I’m there. In the quiet that’s peaceful enough that I can begin to care.

Step one involves thinking of my teachers. It’s my parents. I contemplate my dad’s calm and my mother’s courage.  My dad is the relaxed voice that talks me through my problems. Both sides of my family tree have dealt with crippling anxiety disorders and he sits apart as the calmest person I have ever met in my life. I think of him driving me to the hospital the first time I ever had a panic attack, which at the time seemed like a heart problem. How he pushed so hard on the gas that we were driving 150 kilometers an hour down Robie Street, until my mother had to tell him to slow down. I remember thinking about how love can break down any wall if it pushes hard enough.

And I wish him well.

My mother is the shotgun of heart that lies beyond the chaos, that desire to care for her people and destroy any world that would threaten their happiness. She is the woman who came to my high school graduation and asked for me to point out the kid who bullied me in junior high school so she could finally have her chance to beat the shit out of him.  She is the woman who dealt with the issues that left me paralyzed in an age before they knew how to help someone with anxiety. She is the voice of Aslan, reading me bedtime stories when I first dealt with insomnia as a small boy.

I wish her well.

My acquaintance is the woman who makes me two for one falafels every Tuesday. The hippies turned me onto it.  She is a beautiful brown woman with expressive eyes who no longer asks me what I want and simply begins constructing me a falafel with extra hot sauce and no taboulei. I imagine the first Falafel she made. How she struggle to get it just right. Then the thousandth Falafel with extra hot sauce.  Then the ten thousandth. What her feet must feel like after a full day standing up.  Just the idea of her arms performing those same mechanical actions over and over, each time with a different thought, each time she makes the falafel it isn’t the same. How the sound of the falafel being deep-fried must become a song that she can’t get out of her head. I wonder what worlds she thinks about when she creates the meal that nourishes me throughout my day. I imagine sick relatives back in wherever she is from and how she works at the Falafel joint to support her little cousin who’s too young to work and how leftovers must taste like champagne and caviar on New Year’s eve.  And I understand this is all make believe but there is more to her than I can see. The meaning of her life isn’t 2 for 1 Tuesday. That’s just the meaning of her life to me.

I wish her well.

We’ve arrived at the toughest part.  Part Number 3, where I to find compassion for someone I intensely dislike.

Her name is Samantha and she works with me at “Fantastic World Books”.

All physical descriptions of her must be entirely fake as I must make it clear that I never talk about the people I work with. So I will try to paint a picture of her that is as inaccurate as possible. Her smile lights up the room.  She looks like a 1970s Pornstar that became a single mom and still dresses like Kelly Kapowski.  She has gigantic horn rimmed glasses and resembles a librarian with hipster children.

When not thinking about her during moments of meditation, I might be drawn to describing the way she speaks to everyone as if they were five years old, her rigorous sense of right and wrong which comes down to she’s right and you’re wrong. I might even mention that she constantly mutters to herself as she works.  But those aren’t the right thoughts to be focusing on while thinking compassionately about her existence. I think about her laugh. It has that same manic energy that draws you to look back at the Movie Theatre and wonder how you can get that good shit she’s on.  You can forget all her neurosis while you listen to her laugh.  It’s so unabashedly unashamedly her, neurotic, frenetic and honest.  Whatever else you can say about Samantha, she doesn’t lie.

One could describe her as murderously OCD.  I’ll go with particular. I try to imagine myself through her eyes, doing things outside of the righteous order that brings sense to the bookstore and to her life.

I try to put myself in her brain where everything is going too fast and life won’t fit into the proper order.  I can feel that twittery anxiety where you think people are watching you and you have no control over what they think. That sliding hot wave of lava that comes every time you make a comment and people aren’t sure how to react.  I can imagine how someone becomes socially awkward to the point they appear abrasive. Trying to carefully package your words and finding they always jump out of your hands and down the throat of others.  I also know that she has no bad intentions. She just can’t quite figure out how to connect.  I know what it’s like to say the wrong thing, to be impulsive and reactionary and have to apologize,

I can feel the love flooding my brain.

I can care about her. I can train this rage to compassion. I can smile when she follows me around the bookstore, correcting each thing I do, I can nod my head when she talks to me like a child. She just wants to do her best.

I don’t have to hate her.

I’m so filled with empathy that I let my imagination run wild. I’m twirling above the ground, dancing past homeless people, taking them into my heart. Seeing visions of their lives of abuse and the system that holds them down. I care. Watching Japanese Doctors with radiation victims, feeling the pain in their throats as they lean in and wonder how long they can stay in the field before they become infected.

Seeing how small my own problems are compared to those that crush these strangers. I can feel my own place in this world. A foolish 27 year old with a shitty dead end job and no real problems.

I get up and stumble around trying to get feeling back to my legs.

Ending meditation is like looking like down at the toilet and realizing how much shit just came out of you. Only it’s from your head.

Where are my pants?

I just have to get to work.  And find my pants.

Yes!

I found my pants.

Unfortunately today was going to be a bad day. I hadn’t solved the problem of Samantha.

***********************************************

Her face looks like a helium balloon about to explode, red and stretched, eyes cartoon distended like they want to become fists and beat the shit out of me.

“Just do it!”

She says this in a half scream of utter frustration. My other coworkers look away from my humiliation. The customers pretend to be looking at best sellers.  I try to form a sentence that doesn’t involve fuck yourself and I can’t quite manage to make it appear.

So I sputter, “Ok, I’m going to back to the other side of the story now. Lovely chatting.”

Let’s push pause on this for a moment.

If we are to take a microscope and stab it through my pupils into my brain, you would see there is a deficiency in dopamine.  Today is supposed to be my last day on Wellbutrin.  I have halved my dose and begun taking it every two days.  This has made the last three weeks into a semi-flu, where my thoughts exist in a detached cloud a couple feet away.

Now let’s press rewind.

My fists unclench as does her jaw.  The customers become calm and my coworkers turn away and begin working on their small tasks. A woman gets her money back and steps back in line.

I moonwalk back to a place where I figure I can reason my way out of this.  Her demand that I take dinner at 3:30 makes little sense and I’m sure that I can argue this in a calm and effective manner.

Play.

“Hey Samantha,” I say.

“What?”

The hostility is a little surprising.

“I was thinking that since we have more hours during weekend shifts to take our dinner break that I might not take mine at 3:30.  Sort of means I’ll be hungry for the rest of the night and I’d just assume not buy two dinners.”

“No…..”

“Ummmmm, I understand that you want to take early dinner and respect that. Maybe you could go before me.”

“No…..,” she says building herself into some sort of titanic fury.  “Miiiiiiiiiichael…..!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

The customers turn to witness her rather strange and enraged display.  Somewhere in my brain the words, “I wish you well…” occur to me and I tell myself to have patience.  Only it doesn’t stop there.

“We have to be professional and sometimes that means not doing exactly what you want to do. It doesn’t mean arguing. Or trying to change the way things are.  It means doing what you have to do.”

I still think I can reason with her.

“Ummm but….”

“Just do it.”

I want to tell her to never to speak to me that way again. I want to tell her that I’m happy she got promoted to full time staff so that I will rarely have to deal with her. Instead I nod my head and moonwalk away.  Rage is a burden I carry and in these fifteen seconds I contemplate every mean word I can possibly say. I recognize that I need this job and I can’t afford to lose it simply because of my very reasonable desire to not take dinner at 3:30 in the afternoon.

After two months of unsuccessfully looking for a job, this one landed in my lap. I didn’t have to sell knives or heating tanks, work in a call center or in anyway make my living off taking advantage of senior citizens or yelling abuse and spitting on Craig’s List submissives for 100 dollars an hour.  I had a job with educated people and the best sort of customers. Minimum wage comes at a cost and disrespect from people a quarter of an inch up the food chain is collateral damage.

She storms back into my part of the store with that same look of intent on her dogged features.

Don’t swear. Don’t give into that rushing torrent of rage. This is your position. Assume it or you are fucked.

Instead I look down and frantically try to think of reasons to bite my tongue. Picturing what my mother would do in this circumstance. How she’ll react when she learns I’ve lost my job because I didn’t want to take my dinner break a little early.  Be a man.

“Hey Michael….I’m sorry…” she begins.

She should have stopped there.

We could have braided each other’s hair and talked about what TV we like.

Unfortunately……

“But….” There wasn’t even a point where she qualified why she was sorry. “The thing is you really have to just let things be sometimes..,”says the girl who follows me around the store, correcting things I have already done correctly.

Compassion disappears and the raging husk of humiliation stands in its absence. At least go for the heart and not the throat, keep your voice modulated and don’t swear. Can you give me that, Michael?

“Samantha you hurt my feelings,” I say and listen to the roar of thoughts I’m going to leave unsaid.  “You yelled at me like I was your disobedient five year old son and I respect the fact that tact isn’t your greatest virtue. How bout you never, ever talk to me like that again?  If you disagree with me about something keep a level tone and we’ll talk about it away from the customers. So in conclusion, never ever speak to me like that again.”

And she never did.

Fast forward.  Two days later.

I’m sitting at a desk looking at the blue glass where I make my green tea at the beginning of every work day.  The kettle is building up steam. I realize I won’t get to drink it. When you are being fired, they usually don’t like it if you stick around and have a nice glass of tea.

“We just feel like it’s not working out…. Your concentration on the finer points hasn’t been so good in the last few days,” says Madeline. “We think your great. So funny and smart. But you don’t really fit in here.”

I didn’t tell her I was going off antidepressants. I didn’t want to ask for help or sympathy, I wanted to do this myself.  I can’t resist pointing out why my concentration hasn’t been perfect the last couple of weeks.

“I have been going off Wellbutrin,” I say, and immediately feel a sense of shame as her face sags in contrition. “I didn’t want to mention it. But I’m almost off them and I’m sure my brain will get less foggy.”

“It doesn’t matter, Mike.  You just don’t fit.”

Rejection is never fun, especially if it is from a minimum wage you didn’t know when to leave.

In romance novels we focus on the ones that got away, the loves that we just can’t quit no matter how hard we try. In our twenties, those loves come and go and you loss weight or gain it, go a little crazy and figure out how to live a little bit longer until your heart starts pumping again and you are ready to jump into the chaos of complication and sing trucker tunes to the bumps on the road.

In our 20s, the greatest quest is to find ourselves.  Some words we can put together when asked what we do that we wouldn’t have to be ashamed of.   At 25 I found an easy uncomplicated life wasn’t waiting for me at the end of a university degree. The easy answer to the question of what I’m doing with my life keeps slipping off my tongue and into conflicts with people like Samantha.

The Book of Job is the story of the trials and tribulations that come on the search for figuring out who we are. Unlike the Cure, this isn’t a story about finding yourself in the people you love. This is a story about what happens when step by step everything is taken away and you have to sink or swim all by yourself. It’s about patience and getting on a subway train in a river of strangers, trying to figure out how to tell your parents you haven’t quite grown up yet.

Welcome to the Book of Job.

The story is just beginning.

Wish me well.

 

 

 

 

Share

Comments

Leave a Reply





CommentLuv Enabled
  • Introduction to the Cure



  • Peter Diamond Gallery

  • 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.

  • Archives