Posted on | April 10, 2012 | 2 Comments
I cried in my mother’s arms like a baby in the car with the smell of Dim Sum in the air, as we left the restaurant when it became evident I wasn’t going to stop crying. I often wonder what she was thinking of during that moment. Wondering if this was the beginning of a long slide into insanity. I never wanted her to feel like that again. Today I turn 28. I just talked to my mother and we laughed and those times feel like horrible nightmares in a past that doesn’t exist.
I was very proactive in trying to get better. Taxi drivers, waiters, friends, acquaintance and the Internet were all consulted.
The taxi drivers were not as much help as my therapist.
In Nova Scotia it takes between six months to a year to see a qualified therapist. If you want to jump through the red tape you have to go to an Emergency Room and tell them you are suicidal and that you have a plan to kill yourself. Not being suicidal I instead relied on my family to pay for professional help. This help costs 150 dollars an hour. Sanity isn’t necessarily within everyone’s budget. Sometimes you have to reach out to the wrong person. Because of this blog, I am often that wrong person.
This is a story of helplessness and fearing you are going to say the wrong thing to the wrong person. A story familiar to parents who wake up one day and find their children joyless, terrifyingly sad in a way that can’t be solved by hugs, trips to the movies and the advice they have culled from the internet. This is for people who found themselves desperately needing someone else to keep their children alive. This is for youth care workers who have saved hundreds of lives and find themselves without jobs.
Mostly this is for a brave kid named Tyler who scared the shit out of me.
It’s Saturday night, late February.
I have had a few drinks with my best friends from childhood. I’m enjoying the strange sensation that comes from seeing that someone I know has managed to become a successful adult. High ceilings, comfortable couches, hundreds of LPs and a beautiful balcony stare out at the East End of Toronto. Married life looks pretty when I am looking at my two best friends from childhood who miraculously found the love of their lives in each other.
I’m enjoying that taste of rum and cokes that burns the back of your throat and the warmth that spreads through your belly into your brain. I’m excited for the evening ahead.
What shall I do?
I decide to check my Facebook because it had been about an hour since I had done so. My friend Gareth left me an inbox message asking for my number. He works for CTV and I figured he probably wanted to work out details for some sort of interview. It was February and I had done about a dozen interviews in the past month where I railed against injustice and the inadequacy of the Canadian mental health system. I was superman and I was ever so slightly drunk.
Only I was wrong.
“I’m scared,” he typed. “I need your help with something.”
“Whatever you need my man,” I reply in my most sensitive voice.
I figure we are about to have one of those conversations. I have a lot of those conversations.
“His name is Tyler. He needs your help. I don’t know what to say to him.”
Seems Tyler is a 17 year old kid that had been in an out of Emergency Rooms, traveling an hour back and forth from his house to hospitals to try to prevent himself from acting out the bad thoughts in his head. Each time he went, he was sent home as inadequately suicidal. He decided to call CTV and try to bring attention to the problem. My friend Gareth picked up the phone and he had been talking to the kid for over an hour and had run out of ideas and was scared as shit.
“Can you call him?”
“Sure. Anything you need.”
Comforting suicidal people is something I got good at it due to a lot of unasked for experiences. My best friends tell me not to play Gandhi. They know what happens when I get too involved.
I think I can handle anything.
I’m in their bedroom, dialing the number. Now it’s ringing and my friends are still trying to talk sense to me.
“Don’t fucking do it. You are an idiot. You aren’t a Doctor. You are a drunk”
“Hi, is this Tyler? This is Michael Kimber. Gareth’s friend.”
The powerful realization that I have no idea what I am doing hits me.
“Hi. It’s Tyler. He said you might call. That you do this a lot.”
“Don’t do it,” comes from outside the door.
They were right and it’s rude to hang up now.
“I am not a doctor. Not qualified. Just love Gareth and I have been through some similar things. You not feeling so good?”
“I’m feeling pretty bad actually,” he replies. His voice is shaky, weak and frightened. In gauging sadness you get used to weighing things found in people’s tone. With depression emotion can get smoothed over in to an endless boring circle that grinds you down and makes your life exclusively about your pain and ways to stop it. He sounds like someone hanging from a cliff.
My words matter and I don’t know the right thing to say. Questions, I should ask questions.
“What is it like?”
“I just don’t want to hurt myself. I am sorry. I don’t want to do it. I just don’t know if I can right now. I just feel so bad.”
“Reaching out like this means you don’t want to do it,” I say, simplifying his problems into an afterschool special. Say something motivational. “You’re fighting back and you’re doing good.”
“No, I’m not.”
“I have been there.” I haven’t exactly been there. I was suicidal for 30 minutes. Not important for this conversation. Bonding through common experience. Keep it going. “I remember what it’s like when you forget all the good things. When you wish you weren’t born. I know what it’s like to wake up one day and be alive again. You should see it. It’s pretty good.”
“I don’t people to have to go through this,” he says. “The cops say they can’t believe this shit. When he took me to the Emergency Room. He says it is a fucking shame that our system fails children. It’s failing me.” There’s rage in his voice and there’s life in that anger. Something to fight for.
“Yes it is,” I reply. “I once had to take my little brother there. Not blood brother. Adopted by choice sort of thing. He was feeling real shitty and we spent the whole day trying to get him care. But he wasn’t convincing enough. You know that you need to have a plan. You tell them you have a plan?”
“You need to have a detailed plan on how you are going to do it. I mean it’s stupid but it’s not even a bad idea to write a note you can give to your mother that she can give to the people in the Emergency Room. You know so they take you seriously,” I say, wondering about the legal consequences of giving such advice, and not really giving a shit about it, because this is a kid who’s life needs saving and laws should be based around saving kid’s lives.
“I tried to kill myself before,” he says. “When I was 15.”
“I climbed over my balcony. The cops were there. Ambulances. My mom and grandparents were crying.”
“Climbed back over the balcony?”
“Couldn’t do it.”
“I was getting better. Now I am not.”
He explains that he was in 4 South a short while earlier (the IWK’s Youth Mental Inpatient Service) and the nurses helped him feel good about himself. He tells me that he was learning to draw, and had written a few things. He realized he could do things he never expected he could do.
“There was this Nurse who really helped me. She understood what I was going through. She made it make sense. She’d been through it before. Like you. The people who helped me most are people who have been there. You know?” he says. “They got me sharing things I don’t talk about. I just want to be OK. I just want to go back. I don’t want to kill myself. Sometimes the feeling is so strong.”
“Things is you are helping a lot of people,” I tell him. “You are speaking for them. Bringing attention to this issue by seeking out Gareth. It takes some sort of guts to help others when you can’t help yourself.”
“Thanks man,” he says.
“Seriously, you are a smart motherfucker. We need people like you, who won’t go out quietly.” Should I have said go out quietly? Is that somehow encouraging him to do something horrible? Am I trying to make him into an activist? Am I politicizing a suicidal kid. “You are brave. Brave for being alive when it isn’t easy. You are going to be okay. You are going to get through this and you are going to help people.”
“Ok,” his voice is quavering. “I want to help people.”
Someday you can be in over your head just like me.
“Will you call me tomorrow?”
I feel myself in deep and I can’t really offer him anything. We live in different cities. I don’t want to be someone he calls when he feels like he can’t live, I have enough strangers sending me notes at three in the morning. I’m not the person to help him. I’m just another wanderer on the same dark roads.
Tyler was on CTV two nights later. His appeal reached thousands of people and created enough of a clamor to get Tyler the help he needs. The thing I remember is his mother talking about what it was like not to be able leave her son’s side, scared of what might happen. I am thinking a lot about mothers and fathers as I write this. A father got in touch with me and told me that his daughter’s day program at the IWK took him months to get her into was experiencing cuts and the loss of youth workers. That he was worried her recovery would be affected.
I can’t imagine loving someone that much, raising them, knowing the answers or something approaching them and then living in the conversation I had with Tyler. I have been in love before and it was bigger than anything I have ever imagined. I have been told your life for your child is that times 20. I can’t imagine that sort of terror.
Due to budget cuts, the IWK laid off 22 youth care workers. People who are there to help people like Tyler. Parents are taking to the streets to protest.
The NDP government wasn’t quite as NDP as we could hope, making a three percent budget cut in healthcare. In the media we have heard a lot about how the IWK miraculously cut wait times by sending out letters to thousands of families, asking if they still needed care and taking everyone off that didn’t respond. This is the sort of solution we have to wait times when we can’t provide adequate care within the allotted budget. When it can take years to get your children the help they need.
Right now the Adolescent Centre for Treatment(ACT), aimed at young people with behavioral issues and difficulties in school, Compass, a similar program for younger children; and the CHOICES program for teens dealing with mental illness and substance abuse problems are all being reassessed. These three programs include residential components, which will be moving from 24/7 to 24/5 to help reduce costs and better allocate resources. The question of what can be done for these children if they are feeling suicidal on the weekends was raised by concerned parents.
These kids formed relationships with the youth care workers who are being let go. I know the bonds I formed over months of therapy with my own therapist. I couldn’t imagine losing contact with him when I was still in crisis. I’m sure the IWK is trying to do their best for the people in their care. These are good people forced to make do with the resources they have. I’m saying we need to support them by addressing the NDP government who is responsible for not taking a stand for these kids, who cut the health care budget and put us in this situation. We don’t need apologies when children slip through the cracks. We need real answers, not stopgap solutions. Why does it take so long to help a child in need?
I’m terrified that Emergency Rooms fail kids like Tyler. I’m terrified that he needed me. I’m terrified that he needed two CTV broadcasts to get his needs addressed. Most people dangling on cliffs don’t try to save the world in order to save themselves. Most people aren’t Tyler, and parents lose kids. There is a word for when kids lose parents, for when you lose your spouse. There is no word for parents losing their children as if language was horrified by such a possibility and didn’t want to give a concrete reality to something so horrible.
We have had enough parents like Fran Morrison with the loss of children whose lives could have been saved if we had an adequate mental health system in Nova Scotia. Parents aren’t equipped to deal with this by themselves. There is no manual. There are, however, experienced people who have saved thousands of lives who aren’t able to do their work anymore. And there is the possibility that one day it will be your kids who need their help.
Get in touch with your local MPs, your city council and make your voice heard.
When our children look for help, they should be able to find it.
It’s up to you.
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