Posted on | December 1, 2012 | No Comments
When I performed the Cure for the first time my legs were shaking and the stage lights were so bright they burned.
For months I desperately sought rescue from my anxiety. I couldn’t make sense of the chaos and each step I took was accompanied by an abrupt fall to my knees.
After months of constant anxiety, of sleepless nights, of breakdowns in front of friends and family, Christmas dinners as a zombie, I had finally come to a point where I had to love myself or die.
The Cure is a love song.
A desperate plea for change. A refusal to take one more step back from my humanity. That no matter what happened to me I wouldn’t give up my right to love and be loved.
This speech is not about my words but the actions that followed them.
After that night I dragged myself up that cliff after falling down it.
That night I stood without allowing my knees to buckle.
That night I gave my victory speech.
Today I speak about the imagination it takes to find the beauty in life.
It’s about last year when Halifax’s heart was broken and my Facebook picture bore a rainbow flag.
It’s about when I broke my own heart because I couldn’t imagine that I deserved to be happy.
It’s about the people who stand in this room and found the courage to move the world with the love that moved them.
It’s for Egg Films who dared to believe in me and every single person who worked to make this magic for no money in a warehouse where you could see your breath and everyone’s nipples were visible.
It’s for the people who said that this little video helped them to live.
It’s for anyone who understands that if you can change yourself you can change the world.
It’s going to be weird.
The first time I really thought about the concept of Me, involved eating a chewy handful of mushrooms in my first year of university.
I was 18 years old, playing the friendliest game of NHL 94 in the history of time with my best friend.
We refused to check each other and try to score points and frequently passed back and forth between teams. My face was lit with a mushroom smile, where you can feel the muscles in your face, breeding a second smile made of poisonous plant matter. My friend looked like a gigantic and peaceful gorilla.
“I have been having this thought,” I explained.
“Just one?” my friend replied.
“Yeah I think it’s brilliant in a stupid way.”
“You just checked me.”
“Instinct. I was thinking about how wonderful this is.”
“Can I check you back?”
“Sure. I was having this thought….”
“Yeah, I have feel like I am at a zoo. Everyone is wonderful and in cages.”
He might have been referring to my friends who decided to mix their shrooms with mescaline and acid and were periodically laughing, crying and kissing each other in the rooms upstairs. Through the open door, you can hear that they have settled on braying laughter for the moment.
“It’s about cages. Sort of about cages. I mean no metal. I mean the cages in our mind.”
Purple Pandas. Lemon Lions. Curious Cougars.
“I don’t really understand bars,” says my friend. “People getting drunk and stupid. They should be playing hockey. Doing sports. Lifting weights. Getting a real job. Paying for dentistry.”
“It’s not really about that,” I reply. “Though I see how you went from cages to bars. Nice wordplay. I am talking more about how wonderful this is. How happy I am right now. How if I had the choice to be like this I wouldn’t. Not all the time. I’d rather be me than be happy. I like happiness but I want more from life than that. I like being me. ”
“You just scored a goal.”
“And I am a dick.”
On the screen, a pretend crowd goes out of their mind cheering for my goal earned off the dreaded left right deek.
Downstairs one of my best friends is tripping out on drugs and hallucinating that he put a shotgun in his mouth and ended his life at age 20. I would watch a beautiful man break himself to escape that pain. For the next decade he would fall through the horrors of drug addiction.
For the first time I would learn about mental illness in school.
Flash forward, through years of experience and different friends. I am in a bar wondering if I am drunk enough to dance with a pretty girl. I am biting my lip to look sexy. The white man overbite.
“I don’t usually talk about this with people,” she says.
I am guessing I do.
She is wearing red pants and has elaborate eyebrows. She also has red hair, which makes her pale features somewhat exaggeratedly beautiful, like you know how people look skinnier when they wear black and more innocent when they have a fire crotch on their head?
“It was about one day waking up totally happy. That one day I wouldn’t worry about anything anymore. I was willing to kill myself but I wasn’t willing to do that.”
“I was sad for like ten years, depressed I guess. I just figured it was sort of who I was. I didn’t want to go on medication because I felt like maybe it would all go away. Everything about me seemed so negative, it was who I was. One day I’d wake up and I wouldn’t be me. I wouldn’t be anything. I’d just be happy.”
“Antidepressants don’t do that,” I reply. “I thought the same. That I’d become a robot. You will still be you.”
“I just couldn’t imagine what I’d be without that feeling.”
“You realize you are more than you think you are, right?’
She is smart enough to realize that what I have just doesn’t make a lot of sense.
“What I mean to say is….”
Flash forward a few weeks.
“Why do I even like that?”
I’m deleting the porn history on my computer, contemplating Judgment Day when Google releases our Internet histories to the public and every single person is exposed for being a pervert.
I throw away the tissue and see what is going on in the world.
On Facebook people are agreeing with me online. For some reason that makes me angry because I didn’t say what I really meant. For some reason it feels like the entire world has decided to masturbate in public.
I have joined the legion of people who are trying to make Raymond Taavel’s death into something more beautiful than absolute heartbreak.
On my Facebook feed people change their profile pics to show their support for those who lost a man they loved. Others posted statuses about how a profile pic wouldn’t bring him back to life. That we needed to stop the mentally ill from hurting us again. I can’t help but feel that in the wake of large tragedies little gestures are all that we have left. That finding someone to blame doesn’t take away the heartache of losing an irreplaceable person but rips one else apart in the act of trying to put ourselves back together.
My Facebook message box is filled with people telling me I need to defend Andre Noel Denny’s rights as public opinion reaches the boiling point.
Mahtmi Mike Kimber would go along with the rising wave of sympathy, where blames is put on everyone and anyone besides Denny. It’s the mental health system, it’s the police who abuse aboriginals, and it’s homophobic Nova Scotia. It’s about Mike Kimber scoring points in a city that is living and dying under a rainbow.
According to Facebook I need to support Denny even if he does seem like a piece of shit. If I were a better person, I’d have more sympathy for someone who slits a dog’s throat and beats a man to death with his fists.
I’d understand that his illness is untreated and there is some delicate line where you can divide him in half between his disease and his identity.
A man died because another man rushed to judgment.
And we followed and I followed.
I’m interviewed on the radio and asked what could the Nova Scotia health system have done to better protect us from schizophrenics. I asked what is a schizophrenic?
I knew people who live with schizophrenia but I had never met a person whose character was dictated exclusively by their disease.
Laura Caitlin Burke is a poet and that’s how I know her.
John Nash is a mathematician and that’s how the world knows him.
I don’t think Denny is a statement about what it’s like to live with schizophrenia. He did it because he is Denny, which is a mix of a bunch of things I don’t quite understand.
I don’t know Denny, thus I find it immensely difficult to get beyond what I have heard. I think killing a gay person seemed to him the perfect place for him to take out his rage. I think tradition told him it was okay to do so. I think our system didn’t teach him to love himself and we treat the world as we treat ourselves.
Like Denny, I wasn’t able to love more than I was comfortable with.
For two feverish weeks everyone talked about change, love burning with anger, a passion destined to disappear. The public went away, and his friends and family were left with a world we had torn apart to prove our points.
We had a hero and they lost a friend and the trade wasn’t equal.
We forgot to change the world.
To make change we had to look at what Nova Scotia is. Where we came together as a city under the rainbow and where a man can die for taking a walk. Where we are divided by economic and ethnic lines into North and South. Where fag and schizoprenic are both used as terms to limit what a person’s life means. Where our mental health system has failed my friends, your friends, your family. Where our love is new, and our fear and hatred is our history.
You might be wondering why I have talked about doing mushrooms; a pretty girl’s depression and sometimes watching depraved porn on the Internet in conjunction with Taavel’s murder. It comes from my rather confusing feelings about certainty and self. Because I want to be more than just filled with incapacitating-mushroom-fuelled euphoria and revelation. Because I know I am more than my pain and how I write about it. Because I know the hard work it takes to learn to love and the incredible task we have before us.
We can’t believe in angels or monsters if we are to lift up the crushing weight of our humanity and make something beautiful out of this pain.
Because we all base our identity on our things we hate about ourselves and hold onto our own flaws like they were precious possessions. Because what is familiar is killing us.
For me one of the greatest terrors of humanity, is that in our greatest grief it is considered impolite to withhold judgment. That within grief we look for and find a certainty that leads us to greater pain. For safety.
The problem is that the thoughts that make us safe are the ones we are most familiar with, and as such most comfortable. It’s why for no good reason I’m not supposed to eat bacon covered lobster on the Sabbath because I am Jewish. It’s why many Christians rant about homosexuals, or abortions, because their parents did it, and we don’t feel comfortable going against tradition, that there is intrinsic value in doing as we always do. For anyone has hated themselves for any period of time, they will recognize that what is familiar is not necessarily what is healing.
For anyone who has ever had a substance abuse problem, they can say that what makes us feel better is also often what kills us.
I have my own legends, my own strange gods that protect me from being vulnerable. For years I was more writer than human, dreaming of a world where I would have earned my humanity and could control my frailty. And there are deeper myths beyond this. Like I wasn’t meant to be loved, I was meant to be a writer. These thoughts were familiar, so deeply embedded under the surface that I wasn’t even aware of them.
When suddenly love made me live I felt passions moving through me that were beyond my control, and I tried to form myths to make them safe.
Love was a young and vulnerable, unprepared to face the myths I had spent my life believing in. See the thoughts you think are more vulnerable then the ones you have put beyond question. It takes imagination to love, as when you actually find it, it is unlike anything you have ever experienced.
Even when the revelations are wonderful, it can be terrifying to be told that you don’t know the depths of yourself, that the content of your past isn’t an explanation of your future. We prefer solid ground to walk upon and for this reason, we rarely fly.
There is a safety in madness, of living in the smallest endlessly grinding wheel of our own fear. The certainty that you are pathetic, weak and monstrous, that you know yourself because you intimately understand how to make yourself suffer. Depression in the strangest way is incredibly safe. Because we know exactly who we are. We were pain, because how else could you explain that when the world went away, it was the only thing left alive, the cockroach that survived the apocalypse. Gradually your imagination dies, and your delusions are unchallenged. Only in all that darkness, I remained desperately in love with life.
I understand why we fear love, why we protect ourselves from it.
Because the results of love aren’t tangible or guaranteed.
I know what something looks like broken.
On that stage I could only imagine what work could build.
I couldn’t imagine the absolute strangers who would say that I helped them live. I couldn’t imagine the joy I would feel when I made my mother proud. I couldn’t imagine that today I would stand on this stage and say I couldn’t imagine that I could be this happy.
We need more people to live with imagination, to believe that we can better tomorrow than we were today. To remember that our poetry is written with our pain.
Halifax you gave me my heart and I want you to beat it like a wardrum.
To go to places where thinking can become terrifying.
This city is more than the past we were raised in. Every act of love is important. Everytime you touch the world with kindness it is felt. The world can feel a million miles away before you move to touch it.
You are our voice. We brought down the Berlin Wall, you were with Martin Luther King when a million men marched, you were there with Harvey Milk when he fought for the right to love as they wanted to, and you are here with me right now, ready to declare that we can be loved for who we are.
Today I want you to commit to loving more than you are comfortable with. To force yourself out of the safety of familiar things. To meet grief with love, to meet pain with celebration.
Today I ask you to make a better world.
Where you don’t get killed for taking a walk in my city’s streets. Where we don’t lose four thousand irreplaceable people every single year in Canada to suicide. Where teenagers can go to Halifax Emergency rooms and not be told they didn’t plan out their suicide in a reasonable enough manner to be worthy of help. Where it doesn’t take six months to see a state sponsored psychiatrist. Where your sanity doesn’t depend upon being able to afford the 150 dollars an hour for a psychiatrist to give you back your sanity. When a 60-year-old woman doesn’t have to hide her mental illness from her husband for fear that he won’t be able to love her as is she is. When a child won’t hide his mental illness for fear of breaking his parent’s heart. Where Harper spends his money to build hospitals and drug treatment centers instead of prisons.
This will need to be a work of love not constructed of words but actions.
We only get a better world when we make it better.
First we have to be willing to dream and then we must commit to live until that dream is a reality. Hatred, ignorance and tradition will fight us until we are bruised and bloody. We will not be safe, we will love dangerously and we will break these walls and use the foundation to build a dream.
Where everyone can stand on their own two feet and make their victory speech.
This is the only cure I know.
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