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

Surviving your Quarter Life Crisis and becoming an adult

Come Out

About a month ago, Mike Hachey from Egg Films got in touch with me and told me that he wanted to make a music video for me. I’d seen what he had done for my friend Laura Burke and said of course I would. As a result I was flown into shoot the video a week and a half later. With a crew of volunteers we made something I’m more proud of than any of my work previously. With twenty people who did it out of love we created something I’m actually stunned by. Please share it with your friends. Please share it on Twitter.  Let’s get this out to as many people as can possibly watch it. Thanks a lot.

Tell Everybody

So I went to King’s College and I graduated from this same program and I had a nervous breakdown. Things don’t look too good for you, do they? I’m not trying to make you apprehensive or stop listening to School’s Out for Summer by Alice Cooper. I’m saying this because we don’t have to share the same fate. When you leave this school you will fall on your face and you will fail. And I want you to know it’s absolutely normal. Everyone does. It’s how you grow up. I miss being a student at King’s. Even if it didn’t give me a job, it gave me some of the best friends I have ever had and taught me a lot of things my parents weren’t intending for me to learn when they sent my spoiled ass here.

A lot of my life has been spent on this campus.  I watched my sister get married here in September and I have never thought a person could look so beautiful. She was panicked in her 20s and she found someone who made her grow up.

I learned a lot about love here. I can remember during my Frosh week when the attractive Frosh leader showed me how to fit a condom on a banana and I thought she was trying to seduce me. I remember nine years ago leaning over the railing of Middle Bay’s second floor, having my first panic attack, heart beating like a machinegun as MSN announced in the other room that another girl considered me as a brother, aka we were never going to have sex.

And I remember how my pretentious friend who was on acid referenced Hobbes and how life was short, cold and brutish. Yup. I went to King’s. I was 18. That was seven years before I got treatment for my anxiety disorder. It was a week or two before I tried shrooms for the first time and played NHL 94 in the most polite manner in the world with one of my two best friends.

Laughing and passing the puck back and forth unable to score on eachother because we were high enough to think we’d found enlightenment and NHL 94 was our Boddhi tree. Downstairs a friend of mine had thrown some mescaline on top of the shrooms and was hallucinating about putting a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger. That night he started falling and it took him eight years to find the ground.

He’d been suffering from depression since he was 14. He didn’t kill himself, but he did try every drug in the world in an attempt to run away from his mental illness. One day he stopped running and he remains sober with the help of methadone. I remember six years ago sitting in that same chapel my sister got married in and listening to Doctor Barker tell me how we would never forget a friend of mine who killed himself during a schizophrenic break.

Weeping with my friends not like babies, but like grown men who didn’t know that such a horrible thing would make them adults. His funeral on the same campus where we had an April Fool’s Day water fight and he was the general. Where we surrounded the rest of the school and blasted them with balloons Simpson’s style.

Where the Middle Bay Crew wasn’t anything to F with. I didn’t understand until I was at my first love’s birthday party, holding a heart shaped balloon posing for a picture, wondering how in a week my life could fall apart. Staring at the camera, thinking, I’m sorry but I love you more than anything and I don’t want to hurt you, but I don’t know to stop hurting myself. When she took that picture she didn’t know what was coming. It was just a bad week. She was making jokes, taking the picture, not realizing that our dream would become her sleeping next to an insomniac. She told me no matter what happened we would get through it together. And we did.

People say that mental illness is like a cancer you can’t see. There is a difference. Your love can’t affect cancer cells, but it can help save the people you love. I’m not with her anymore but she’s a lot of the reason I’m here with you today. At 25, I learned about mental illness for myself. I never learned about it in my junior high school, high school or university classrooms. I had to learn about it when I couldn’t ignore it any longer. At 25, I suffered a nervous breakdown brought on by intense anxiety.

By the end I was down to two hours of sleep a night, trapped in a constant cycle of negative thinking that I couldn’t break out of. I did everything the internet told me to do to get better. I quit smoking weed, drinking caffeine, eating poorly, all in the span of a week and my body went into shock. When I went to my community health center, I was told that I would have to wait six months to see a qualified therapist.

I was sent to a self-help group where I was the only person in attendance, where help was a human pamphlet reading a power point presentation without paraphrasing a single sentence. Imagine looking for help and not being able to find it. Realize that 2/3 out of people who suffer from mental illness don’t get treatment. And a lot of them end up like my two friends, on drugs or dead. And a lot of them end up like some of your best friends. Living with a burden you don’t know they carry. Scared that the people they love won’t love them if they knew.

Unaware that blaming yourself, the guilt and shame are part of the disease because no one ever bothered to explain to them what these diseases are. I didn’t recover because I was stronger than my friends. I recovered because I was luckier. My family was able to pay the 150 dollars an hour that my therapist charged so I had the privilege of getting better. It took the people in my life to remind who I was when I forgot who I was. I was privileged with having the support the system couldn’t provide me.

Everyone tells us to talk about mental illness but we rarely get a clear picture of what life is actually like for people living with mental illness. In the media we almost exclusively tell the success stories of celebrities who accomplish their miracles despite the obstacles in their way. Or we talk about murderous psychopaths who society failed to help or homeless men and women who can’t help themselves. We are either inspiring, terrifying or objects of pity. We are whatever sells newspapers that week.

We need to talk to people who don’t have stories that sell papers. Who get up, take medication, exercise and go to work everyday no matter how they feel. I know that a lot of amazing people have dealt with mental illness. Just listen to Beethoven’s music, look at the wonders of Michangelo’s Sistine chapel, look at science where Einstein, Godel and Newton rewrote reason and the world. Accomplishing amazing things isn’t strange for people who have mental illness. We do it all the time.

You just don’t know we do because you don’t know how shockingly common it is because 2 out of 3 people who suffer mental illness don’t seek help due to stigma. Our brothers, sisters, and best friends are scared to tell us what they are going through because they think we won’t understand. We have to make the effort to understand. You have to make the effort to make the world understand. We don’t need anymore inspiring stories about instant cures and celebrities defeating all the obstacles. We need to redefine what a happy ending is.

Hope is getting up in the morning, hope is getting out of the house, hope is remaining alive when you can’t remember what it is to be happy, hope is taking one of a thousand steps back to yourself, hope is when we can make people understand for one second the burdens other people carry and make them actually care. I’m not hear to inspire you. I’m here because I’m alive and some others aren’t. I’m talking to the media. To the mental health experts. You aren’t talking about a goddamn movie. You are taking about life. You are talking about my life. It doesn’t fit in a tweet or in a 500 word piece on how we are failing the homeless or how some privelaged white kid defied the odds and you can’t explain it in technical jargon if you are actually trying to help a person suffering.

These diseases are more common than most of us realize. So is recovery.  Everyday we get out of bed, we take on step back to life. It isn’t a miracle that we get better. It’s an every day occurrence too boring for most of you to write about. If I had a dream, it’s that we would start speaking about how life is, rather than how it’s supposed to be. Every time you try to make life fit a story, you are just selling advertisements. That there is some easy answer, that everyone who doesn’t find it is a failure. Some people can’t recover and it’s not their fault.

It’s not because they are weak, or stupid or don’t try enough. It’s because this is life, not a movie. You chose to be a journalist, you gave up money, reasonable work hours and a stable job market. Don’t give up your integrity. We can’t sell the same garbage that all the self gurus and positive thinkers and pill salesman are trying to hock to the desperate. You need to make people understand what this life is like.

Not how you want it to be. Because people buy what you are selling.  And they think what they live isn’t life. When every time we try to build mental health awareness in the media follows a rare occasion when someone with mental illness hurts someone other than themselves. There is a problem with violence and the mentally ill and it gets worse every time we ignore it. Journalists feel comfortable talking about murder, we can’t talk about suicide. Right now suicide is the leading cause of violent death, not homicide. 4,000 people die of suicide every year in Canada, 32,000 in the United States. Silence comes both before and after suicide and it’s the silence before that we need to deal with most. We can’t keep our children in the dark for fear they will never be able to emerge from it. I talked to a 60-year-old mother who hid her illness from everyone in her life including her husband and children. I know a 25-year-old university student who refuses to tell her parents about her condition because they blame themselves for her brother’s mental illness and she doesn’t want to add to their burden. More than 30 years separate these women and things haven’t changed enough. In Canada, it is a privelage to be able to get better.

I’m asking you to help people who weren’t born as lucky as I was. To help us take the first few steps towards providing counseling to those who need it not just to those who can afford it. To begin the conversation with our youth to break the shame that is the foundation of so many of these afflictions. To eradicate this phantom idea of normalcy that makes so many of us feel hollow and broken, unable to live up to a standard that no one could ever hope to reach.

I want you to make the politicians to talk about mental illness in Parliament, in cities halls and in cabinet meetings. To make the government educate our children when they are going through puberty and experiencing those first changes. When they are in high school and university when most mental illnesses set in. I want parents to talk about it with their children.

I’ll have children and odds are they will deal with this. And it can’t be like it was for my friends. We need to change it. Today we are talking about it. I want you to make the conversation mean something. I went to King’s College and grew up and watched friends become adults and die as children. No one ever told me about mental illness. It’s up to you to tell everybody.

Happy Holidays#3: Papa Quimborius to the Rescue

My dad is driving me back from the airport.

I’m making jokes and talking about my latest plots to make my dreams come true.

He’s been listening to these stories since I was ten years old. When I was working on my first novel, as our idiot dog Gabby dragged me through Point Pleasant Park, never once stopping my ramblings.

I always hoped that if I could write like him, I’d somehow manage to grow up to be as good a man as my father.

I still have a lot of growing up to do to reach this goal but inside the car it doesn’t matter.

He believes in me and that mean’s something.

Especially since my dad has never been particularly adept at bullshit. I remember when he told me that I should stop my eight year journey towards finishing my epic fantasy novel. Looking back on those chapters years later I can see what he meant.

Which also made his genuine compliments mean a lot more.

“I can’t help but remember last Christmas,” I say, in lieu of nothing. Maybe in lieu of the first sights of my hometown where I have been happiest and saddest and lived until I had to leave. In Toronto, I felt Halifax like a heartbeat, moving me forward, heard in every still moment I stopped frantically working. Right now it feels like an open wound. “So much has changed.”

The absence of my depression doesn’t fill the spaces she’s left. I’m thinking about her but I think about her too often and that is beside the point. The point is what my dad says next.

“So how you doing?” asks my dad.

What he’s really asking if I’ve been rocking a little depression or anxiety on the quiet in Toronto.

I take a second trying to think of the right words.

“My insanity is in proportion to my life problems,” I reply. “It’s a little lonely out there. What with the hour transport back and forth needed to go see anyone and I could probably use a job,” I reply. “And I miss her a lot.  But I’m mostly happy. And when I’m not it’s nothing like last year.”

“Good.”

He drops the parent screen and we start making jokes like we usually do.

I lied a lot about questions like this last Christmas.

I never wanted to worry my parents.

I failed in that.

The best part about moving out of the house when I went to university was the transition from child to friend.

While this was obviously an illusion, as I frequently needed to ask my parents for money throughout the years, it was one I clung onto.

In November 2009 all of my illusions collapsed.

I can remember the moment when things changed between us.

My parents and I were having Dim Sum and they were giving me a pep talk about the future and how I didn’t need to worry so much. We ordered too much and I tried to pay attention to their kind words and make myself feel the reassurance I was desperately seeking and they were trying to provide.

Suddenly I started crying.

I was as surprised as they were and I couldn’t stop.

I usually cry once a year with a self consciousness awkwardness and manage to squeeze out only a few tears before I talk myself out of it, usually while looking in some bathroom mirror, cheered up by how ridiculous I look, embracing the hilarity of snot dripping and tears leaking my emotional insides.

Not this time.

We’d already ordered and the food was slow in coming. I caught a few people staring me and quickly looking away. Everyone besides my parents determined to pretend I wasn’t crying.

I went to the bathroom to pull myself together, looked in the mirror and couldn’t find the humor in my situation. Trying to stop crying just made it worse. I hadn’t yet realized how much my brain hated being told no to what it was feeling and the vengeance it would wreak on me for doing so.

I managed to stop for a few seconds. Blow my nose, wipe my eyes and make my way back to the table.  Waiting for the food to arrive so that we could leave was like holding in Diarrhea in my brain instead of my stomach.

“It’s going to be okay,” my dad said.

You okay? becomes it’s going to be okay when it’s obvious that you aren’t.

I started crying again and my parents had to get dim sum to go.  I couldn’t stop all the way through the drive home.

Six years earlier we had a similar drive, back in the days when I thought my anxiety disorder was a heart problem.  One day my legs went numb and I lost the ability to breath. My friends called my parents. My mom held me in the backseat. My dad decided to disregard traffic lights. Calm and cool in his voice but not willing to wait an extra second to get me where someone might know what I needed.  Ready to do anything to protect me. I remember seeing his eyes in the car mirror.

It’s the only time I’ve ever seen my dad scared.

Years later we are in the car, fully realizing that the problem isn’t my in my heart, it’s in my head. And I couldn’t stop crying.

Crying because the tears were coming out but weren’t letting any of it go.  More fear moved into the fill in the space it left. The fear that somehow in the past week I had gone insane and would never get back.  That I was being pulled away kicking and screaming from the girl I loved more then I imagined possible. That somehow my life had become about the things I was leaving behind rather then the future I was going towards.

Crying because I couldn’t stop.

When I was “away” at university I would call maybe once a week. Even though I was just down the street. In November and December of 2009, I called everyday and stopped by for dinner every two or three days.

Now a year has past and a lot of things have changed. The only thing that hasn’t is the knowledge that my parents are there for me no matter what I need.

It’s nice to need a lot less.

He asked if I was okay and I was.

There is nothing particularly special about this exchange besides that it was the only time during my Christmas break that he or anyone would ask if I was okay.  Last year everyone in my life asked me how I was doing on an hourly basis.  The most frequent question was how did you sleep the night last night? My life became a predictable cycle of questions asked and answer, uncomfortable truths and the occasional lie to make us more comfortable. I’ve always built life around being honest and telling people what I was feeling. As a result I made my life about my depression, making every conversation about the hole I was falling into. It took me a while to realize that if I was always talking about it, I was missing out on the things that made me happy and the joy I got from other people.

Now no one asks and they don’t have to. If I were fucked up, you’d know. Because I’d be blogging about it. So mom, dad and all the rest of you fucks that love me rest assured.

But save the Fullhouse moment.

Now we are on my way to a dinner of Sobey’s barbecue chicken, mostly cooked potatoes and awesome hugs from Mama L.

I’m telling my dad my latest plans for world domination and he’s laughing.

We are on our way our home.

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

“Get your ass down here, Brat,” says my sister, over the phone. “It’s Christmas!”

There is no Jew in this world that loves Christmas as much as my sister.

She also prefers to call me Brat to Michael. I grab my presents that I picked out and my father paid for.  One of my Christmas presents was his help in paying for my Christmas presents. By help I mean he paid for them entirely.  Holidays are more difficult when you are unemployed.

I stagger outside at the ungodly time of 10 o’clock in the morning and get in the car. Her husband Greg is driving.

“You look awake,” says Greg.

“I slept more than last year.”

“Yeah that was a fine Christmas,” replies Greg.

“Nice that you aren’t crazy anymore,” says my sister. “Did you get me anything good?”

“No.”

“We got you something amazing,” she says. “You are going to feel like a piece of shit.”

“I feel that way anyway,” I reply. “Don’t you remember that I have an anxiety disorder?”

“Lame.”

Emily once combined the words hippy and emo to describe me as a hippo. My sister is one of the funniest people in the world and hates being on Facebook. She somehow managed to be on all the time when I was rocking the worst of my depression. Always ready to juggle work to give me a pep talk during a period when I constantly needed it. She even stopped being mean to me.

Thankfully that hasn’t lasted.

“You look like you just woke up. Your hair…seriously do you always have to shower before you go to sleep?” she asks. “You need to get excited! It’s Christmas.”

“At least I slept this time,” I reply.

“Again with this?” she asks.

“You were funny last Christmas. Nodding off every few seconds, twitching when you had that glass of tea,” says Greg.

“I didn’t drink caffeine at the time.”

“It’s fucking tea,” replies Greg. “Even old ladies don’t get a buzz off of tea.”

I have only had five hours of sleep, which was almost five hours more then I had last Christmas.

I remember being alone in my circus red bedroom on Lawrence Street, turning on my sound machine to try to fall asleep to the waves. Taking a tryptophan, hoping the big ass Turkey pill would get me to sleep.

Zopiclone worked the previous two nights but was supposed to be habit forming.  Zopiclone sleep is like being knocked out with a frying pan in pill form, you don’t dream, you wake feeling like God shat in your mouth, with a buzzing brain filled with twitching anxiety. So turkey got me to sleep, where Zopiclone suspended my nightmares, tryptophan let the suspended fear run rampant.  I woke up feeling like I needed to scream.  So I waited three hours in bed, trying to get back to sleep, to get the phone call from my sister.

Telling me it was Christmas with the same happy voice.

Which was my cue to try to pretend I’d slept and zombie my way through the worst Christmas of my life. Where all I wanted was my sanity and it was the one thing no one could give me. Where I laughed like there was a soundtrack to every joke and we all tried to pretend that nothing was wrong. Even if my sister was being nice to me and my mom was actively pretending she didn’t hate Christmas.

“Sorry,” I say.

I used to have an addiction to apologies. Apologies force people to feel guilty and help you and are the last thing an insomniac can think to offer the people he loves.  Sorry means I don’t think I can change and it’s shitty you have to deal with me.  I stopped sorry when I realized that I could change things.

“For what?”

“For farting.”

“You are so gross.”

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

Every year my mother tells us that we are going to have a scaled back Christmas.

Just socks and essentials and every year my dad packs the living room with presents. This year is no exception. My dad is ambiguous in regards to his religious beliefs but he has a real passion for making his family happy and wearing shitty hats. But we’ll get to that later.

My dad loves giving presents more then anyone enjoys receiving them.

When I was a kid he planned elaborate treasure hunts through the house for every anniversary, inspiring my own lunatic romantic gift giving fetish. Every year he gets my mother some elaborate trick present and laughs when she digs through the boxes to find something ridiculous, either a trip to some new location or a piece of jewelry that my sister happened to know my mom would like. Effectively ruining her plans to scale back.

Christmas is an OCD ritual. Each element part of a tradition going back years and years. Comfortable for its routines. That some things stay the same even when nothing else does.

We begin with our stockings and follow it with some sweet breakfast roll, a tradition dating back to the days when I was a stick thin child with hypoglycemia and needed sugar or I would pass out.  One Christmas, I was in the hospital, having lapsed into a hypoglycemic coma. My sister was unhappy that she was unable to open her presents when she woke up.

I’m an excellent Jew…I constantly ruin Christmas.

We open stockings, gush over chocolate bars and magazines and in later years CDs and thumb drives filled with bootlegged television programs.  My dad always gets a stupid hat in his stocking.

One had reindeer antlers.

Another had a bouncy up and down Christmas tree.  And this year he has a pimping red Cowboy hat that makes him resemble a cowboy Eric Clapton.

We take a break for breakfast, which always includes bacon. That might seem strange for Jews if these same Jews weren’t eating on Christmas before opening presents.  To pacify the strangeness of the situation we eat bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon.  My mom makes a big pan of scrambled eggs and we have orange juice and champagne.  The last two years I haven’t partaken in the champagne.

Last year it was because I was scared that drinking would make my depression worse and I was going crazy working every angle of a possible cure to my anxiety and insomnia. I read somewhere that drinking ruins REM sleep and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice any of the sleep I managed to find.  This year I didn’t drink because I’m on medication and it makes me too tired if I drink too early in the day. After breakfast we hit the presents till I’m the last one left.

Usually we have people over for Christmas dinner with friends of the family or friends of my parents who don’t have anywhere else to go. This year we do it alone and have a new member of our family. Just before I left for Toronto, my sister married the love of her life, who goes by the name Greg Arthur. The first time I remember talking to Greg was Christmas five years ago when they were first started dating. I remember he was making Terry Fox jokes, next to my grandmother who couldn’t hear him due to the inadequacy of her hearing aid.

I knew he was a keeper even then. He is a soft spoken man who only speaks when he has something worthwhile to say or a particular brutal pun to share. I remember his wedding speech, liquored off his ass, with tears in his eyes.

“My friends used to ask me if there was a reason I moved to Nova Scotia. And I guess there was. The reason was to meet the love of my life and become a part of her amazing family. I’m the luckiest man in the world”

I’ve already said nice things about their love so I’ll try to avoid saying them here.

But there is something different in the relationship you have with a boyfriend and the relationship you have with a brother in law. I can remember Greg driving me to the liquor store on New Years of 2009. Waiting with me in the gigantic line, telling me his own story of panic and fear at 25. Now they are grown ups with a house and a mature relationship. They found their way out of the Colony using each other as support and a reason to grow.

Presents finished we nap for a few hours, go over to see my grandmother (we call her Nanny) in the retirement home and laugh at her well placed barbs.  We go home, have a big dinner and decide to stay a little longer. Usually family visits last an hour and a half. Just long enough for us to have a competition to see who can be the funniest, tucker ourselves out and leave.

Not this time.

After a huge meal we went to the living room and watched Kick Ass, laughing at the ridiculous violence and the murderous 11 year old who steals the show as she kills hundreds of bad guys.

My sister teases me and makes fun of the women I’m attempting to pursue and my lack of a job. Mom frets about making dinner and makes one of the best meals of her motherly career and Dad wears a stupid fucking hat.

We don’t get Mom drunk enough to plan a trip for Cuba for next year or celebrate with other families.

We keep it small.

And celebrate the birth of Jesus, the way every good Jewish family does, by watching little children murder a shit ton of gangsters. All that’s missing is my brother, wearing every single article of clothing he got for Christmas.

For me it was one of the best Christmases I can remember.

Because even if I wasn’t with the girl I loved most in the world, I could see that real love was possible just by looking a those stupid dopey newlyweds.

Because my sister made fun of me. Because my dad wore a stupid fucking hat and my mom was happy and neurotic and herself.

Because we were together and nothing could get in the way of that.

Not even me.

Christina Green was born on September 11, 2001 and died January 9th, 2011 when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire on Congresswoman Danielle Gifford in a mall in Tucson, Arizona.  Five others were killed and 14 injured. You probably know that. If you’ve paid a lot of attention you also know that the Congressman is married to an astronaut and has an extensive collection of glocks.  You also probably know that this story has suddenly become about safeguarding society from the dangers of the mentally ill instead of addressing issues regarding the culture of violence that is crippling America.

On January 16th, CBS reporter Bob Schaffer asked “America’s Mayor” Rudolph Giuliani why this tragedy hadn’t brought the US together in the same way September 11th did.  It strikes me that there is a very real danger that this tragedy will do just that. In the wake of tragedies we look for simple answers to complex questions and the States tend to look for people to arrest en masse.

Good folks all across the States are making the focus of this debate that we need to make it easier to institutionalize the mentally ill. This time the mentally ill are the shadowy threat to society.

A common misconception about mental illness is that the mentally ill have a defined predilection toward violence.  This misconception is fed by the fact that every time we have a large scale discussion on mental illness it is prompted by one of the rare occasions where the mentally ill act violently towards someone other than themselves.

This idea can be corrected by doing some simple research. Pretty much any scientific study done on people suffering from mentally illness shows that they are more likely to hurt themselves then others and are no more prone to violent action than anyone else. Yet the media doesn’t do much to correct these stereotypes. Violent acts are described as psychotic. The term psychotic is constantly misused, as most people that suffer psychosis, (hallucinations and hearing voices) don’t commit violent crimes. Being psychopathic and psychotics are totally different things.  A psychopath has symptoms of extreme narcissism, hatred, lack of empathy, alienation but isn’t suffering from any clinically treatable mental illness such as depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. This societal myth has convinced many to fear the mentally ill and many people suffering from mental illness to fear themselves.*

In past generations when the mentally ill were abused in asylums, lobotomized and tortured, hiding your disease was a way of maintaining what little life your illness hadn’t taken away from you.

Recently I received an email from a 60 year old mother of a friend of mine. She confessed that she had hidden her depression from her own family. Even her husband didn’t know such was the weight of her shame. Imagine hiding for your entire life because you were scared of what others might think of you, even what your family might think.  You might say that things have changed and wouldn’t happen in our day.

I have a friend who is almost 25 and hasn’t told her parents about her bouts of mental illness. Since Tucson she has spent a lot of her time reading articles about it, wondering what the words meant for her. Obsessively searching, hoping to find that society’s beliefs didn’t mimic her fears. Finding Facebook statuses with phrases like: “The Tucson shooter should have just killed himself,” and “Fucking nutcases need to be in the loony bin.”  Reading articles where unidentified parents expressed the worry that their own children would follow Loughner.

2/3’s of people suffering from mental illness don’t get treatment due to stigma.

She is not in the minority.

On September 11th there wasn’t a dramatic reassessment of the US policies in the Middle East that created the hatred that made people want to attack America. Instead Bush focused on the surface of the issue and rallied around the idea of finding and killing the terrorists. Which doesn’t address the root of the problem and in fact increased the sense of alienation the Islamic world feels towards the West.

The same thing is happening now. Rather than attempt to rebuild the shattered foundations of our mental health system, we are assuming the system will fail to help these people deal with their problems before it reaches the point when they have to be institutionalized. I repeat we are assuming that failure is the only possible result.

There does come a time when society has to step in.  We can’t force a person to take their medication when they need it.  There comes a time when a person is no longer responsible for their own actions and needs to be safeguarded against themselves. I’m just saying that this isn’t what the debate about mental illness should center around.

Instead of addressing the root of the issue, we are looking to provide a surface safety so that we can stop thinking about it. And we are making it worse by propagating stereotypes in our search for safety and making it harder for people like my friend.

And why? Because it was politically expedient for ring wingers to change what this debate was about because no one wants to talk about gun control and the question of who actually needs to own a glock. Of why Christina was killed by dangerous weapons that are made available to basically anyone who wants them.

But again I’m moving away from the point, which isn’t some clever analogy comparing Tucson to September 11th or a discussion about gun control.

The point is that every time the media focuses on mental illness awareness it is as a result of the rare case when a mentally ill person hurts someone other then themselves. Which gives the impression to the general public that the mental ill are violent by nature and as such reinforces negative stereotypes even when trying to dispel them.

It matters how you open a discussion especially when you always open it the same way.

The hard truth is that we do need to talk about violence and the mentally ill. But it’s the violence they enact towards themselves that needs discussion and as a society we aren’t trained to talk about suicide. Journalists can cover murders, they can’t cover suicides.

Right now suicide is the leading cause of violent death, not homicide. 4,000 people die of suicide every year in Canada, 32,000 in the United States. The silence comes both before and after suicide and it’s the silence before that we need to deal with most.

I never learned anything about mental illness in school from junior high school through to the end of University.

My education has been watching my friend’s collapse, chase drug addictions and commit suicide.  Watching from the sidelines, when they wound up in the terrible place they had no understanding of and chose to run as fast as they could away from the person in the mirror.  I only was able to understand them when it was my turn to run as fast as I could until the people in my life helped me look in the mirror and accept what I saw.

Now we are back in that crucial moment that has come a thousand times and passed us by a thousand times. Are we willing to stop being polite and actually talk about the epidemic that is crippling us behind closed doors? We need to provide education to our children when they are going through puberty and experiencing those first changes. When they are in high school and university when most mental illnesses set in. We need to provide counseling to those who need it whether they can afford it or not. We can’t simply accept that the system will fail.

We can’t be afraid to look in the mirror.

There isn’t one easy solution. But we have to try to take those small excruciatingly slow steps in the right direction. I can’t accept failure as a given, not when I know that means.  The system is not an animate thing, but a collection of voices that include our own. We can change it.

The mother of my friend is 60 and still dealing with the stigma of mental illness that afflicted her generation. A friend of mine is 25 and scared to tell the people she loves about her illness. In a few years I’ll have children and I don’t want them to feel the shame that we do. I want them to know that my love isn’t contingent on them being happy. Please don’t wait for the next tragedy to talk about mental illness.

We can’t make it perfect, but we can make it better.

*Information obtained from article in the Globe and Mail by Bob Wilkerson.

I CAN’T SAVE YOUR LIFE

Dear Michael,

I happened upon your amazing post tonight.  I wanted to contact you to say “thank you” and to tell you that you were also telling my story.  I have bipolar disorder; I’m very open about it and how it affects my life.  My family knows, most of my friends do.

The holidays are a misery for me.  I am almost always suicidal from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, and this year was very difficult.  Thanks to my family and friends (and my doctor), I pulled through without harming myself.  Though I’m beginning to feel better, I am still very fragile right now.  Unfortunately, my “best friend/boyfriend” can’t handle it when I fall into the abyss, and tells me I should, essentially, be “present” and “think happy thoughts.”  I should have shot him, but I just broke off with him.

So, here’s the issue (maybe you have a better take on it than I do) that has plagued me since my breakdown ten years ago:  I know my life has value to others, but why does it feel it has no value to me?  Is caring how my demise will affect the people in my life enough to continually live through these murderous lows?

I don’t have any answers for these questions, and I don’t know where to look within to find them.  Michael, what stays the hand?  Do you know?

I’m not going to pretend to say its easy to come up with an answer to your question or say that your words don’t make me feel infinitely small in my inability to say exactly the right thing.  Not because there isn’t one, but because to pierce through that gigantic darkness requires a patience and understanding of the person that I lack in regards to a complete stranger. And I’m not a trained psychologist. I highly advise seeking counseling and help if you feel like this.  But I’ll say a little something because this is not the first time someone has asked me something like this.  And I mean not the first time today.

So this is me just talking straight with you. I’m a poet so some of that straight talking is going to sound like Radiohead Lyrics, Hallmark Cardsand Dr. David Burns masturbating to Ben Harper.  But I’ll try my best.

I can tell you that I have been in the darkness that absorbs the past and blurs any concept of a future. Where I lived in a constant present moment that is made up of only my fears of the past and the future, my guilt and shame, my existence trapped in this ultimate nowhere.  I have been in so much pain that I didn’t want to live or even have been born if I could escape it.

I also know that feeling is strange to me now. That outside of it, I can barely understand it.

You say that you always feel this way from Thanksgiving through New Years. I looked at the calendar recently and noticed there are all kinds of other months in the year. I understand how a person can forget that.

There also isn’t a guarantee that you always return to darkness.  Sometimes things actually do get better.My bipolar friend Alan, said this to me in an email recently:

“I am 48 years old and am a self-employed and own a web design company. I was working on a term job in Canso Nova Scotia when I could no longer function and was later diagnosed with bipolar II (depression) about 15 years ago. Like yourself, I was informed of a six-month wait to see a specialist. Much noise was made to see someone within a month. I bounced around the system for many years before finding a drug that worked for me for many years. I stopped taking any medication in the fall of 2007 after suffering no relapses for well over 10 years.”

Basic summation of my Hallmark story without Full House music: even this can change.

trans Come Out

The person you are right now drifts away and though they may come back you get to enjoy things that the dead don’t.

In the darkness you are blind. Recognize that. Rationality crumbles and your brain chemistry tries to take away everything you want and wish for to get away from the pressures of wanting it. Be easy on yourself.  Remember that this feeling will pass. And if it comes again, it will also pass.

In regard to people telling you to have positive thoughts and the desire to commit murder as a result, I totally and completely understand.

You can’t base how you feel about yourself on the ignorance of a loved one. As you won’t understand this person when you feel normal again you can’t expect someone who hasn’t lived through it to understand it. I’d go fucking apeshit on a person who told me to be positive when I’m depressed. May as well tell a cripple to run on broken legs.

However…they know not what assholes they be.

People are raised on happy endings and stick to it clichés. No one knows the right thing to say about mental illness. We don’t have training. Most of them mean well and speak not because they think they know the answer but because no one taught us how to shut the fuck up and listen. Everyone wants to help to not feel so helpless.

(IE Journalistic Masturbator responds to stranger’s suicidal tendencies with awkward poetic ballad aimed to change life, cue movie montage and save the day like some Hassidic Inigo Montoya. “My name is Michael Kimber, your disease is an asshole, prepare to die disease! The pen is mightier than the sword. Fezzik! Fezzik! I need you! This piece is getting away from me.  Fezzik please!)

Brief pause for Princess Bride related excitement to subside. Back to the point.

I know that you’ve taken in a lot of hell in a lot of seasons. And you’ve walked forward. Each year you’ve lived past those Thanksgivings and the barrage of be happy, smile motherfucker smile and be loved and be grateful during nuclear explosions of winter, hateful chemicals, Christmas trees, family photos, Wal-Mart Commercials and New Year celebrations that are supposed to mean something. Remember that the Holidays are bullshit. No one is as happy as the photos. And eventually we stop faking our way through winter and get past the snow and commercial clean smiles.

Just think about watching all that snow melt and the scent of trees slowly growing leaves.  The sun that actually has heat.  Remember that first feeling of spring.

Those moments when the nightmares end.  When just being alive is a dream, when you can actually breath without an effort.  That feeling of the sun on your face and the realization that living moment to moment isn’t a complete and utterly losing battle. It comes. It has year after year and as long as you hang on it will come again.

(Think positive! It all gets better soon!)

On some real shit, life isn’t ever going to be without mind shattering pain as long as you give a shit.  Pain is the mortgage on love, on self, on life.

The only reason you feel pain is that you are alive. Who you are from the first moment you were born is the movement of pain to pleasure and back aagin. Your mother’s screams at pushing your gigantic head through that tiny hole in between her legs became her tears of joy at having you, the person she loves me more than she ever thought possible. That first pain when you lost your virginity lead to that eventual orgasm screaming joy  and shaking knees.

The skinned knees from repeatedly falling to the ground lead to that feeling of flying on your first bike as the world flooded past you and you moved like the wind.  The tears of grief and loss of things you don’t get to hold in your hand and keep forever are remnants of the joy others create in you. It hurts because you aren’t numb. You can be touched.  Our bones creak; skin sags and hearts have difficultly beating, because you can’t hold all that life in you forever without exploding, you have to break to let more life in. It’s good to break. As your mother lost pieces of herself to make you, so do you lose your old self each time you dip into the darkness. A new you emerges each time. Stronger for the suffocation.

I’m a better person for what I’ve lost.

All the joy I create now was formed in the compassion created by that darkness. You are no less alive then the people who don’t know the darkness so fully. Who haven’t fought that war with themselves to live every single day, not to the fullest but at all. Because you don’t have a choice in living it to the fullest. Your extremes, your ups and downs, that feeling of horrifying pain, of everlasting fall, creates a completely and totally different emotional geography then someone who doesn’t face your struggles. Your world is vaster, more in one lifetime then you ever wished, but it is life and you are fucking overflowing with it.  Don’t curse yourself for that knowledge, or hate yourself or feel guilty. You are brave and strong and worth being alive.  Don’t blame yourself for having scars. War does that.

The things you have are so much significant for how far you have to go to get them.

Death promises nothing.  The world is no better for losing the fullness of your experience. Because others walk through darkness without your knowledge. You can help them. You can help yourself. You owe it to yourself to do everything you can to live.

You are breathing right now when others in your situation weren’t lucky enough to have your strength, your family. Hold onto that. You are lucky. You are blessed to have the courage to live through what you have and you hold that control. When you feel you have lost it, go get help. Because you’ll get it back and you’ll remember that strange sense of how could this happen that I feel now.

Staying your hand for how you’d make your family feel if you left isn’t enough. Remember how they make you feel. How you make them feel even in the worst of your misery. That the world comes back.

Remember that every year you go blind and later on you see again.

Wait till you can see again.

You aren’t numb; you aren’t an absence of life.

It took a lot of people loving me and a lot of therapy and work to see again.

But I do and I love it so much more for having myself back, for having waited.

Even the pain of losing the girl I loved more then anything, I can see her and I can see us and how we were and I just feel so fucking grateful that I ever got to have that in my life. That I know I made her life better even when I could barely take care of myself. You are capable of loving and being loved in the worst of your own nightmares.

I’m not saying be wildly optimistic. I’m saying work, and wait, until you are rational again.

There is still love for you, the love that exists in others that you’ve touched in the past and love that you don’t even know exists yet because you haven’t created it. We can’t help but create pain in ourselves and others as we go through life, but we create love too and happiness and joy out of that.

The universe came out of the darkness.

So will you.

PS Make a frown into an umbrella, beat the shit out of a leprechaun to get the gold at the end of a rainbow and remember that your glass is half full…. of shit right now. But it won’t always be.  Sometimes there will be orange juice.

Michael

AKA The Aryan Inigo Montoya

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

Thank you very much for your thoughtful and generous response.  I’m fortunate to have a good psychiatrist, but it’s a question I guess I will always struggle with.  I will, however, keep this email to read when the night descends on me again.  It poses some strong arguments for living that I can’t quarrel with (nor would I want to).

Please know that this message you took the time the write means a great deal to me.  I’ve read it over and over, and, finally, this is something beautiful that makes sense, even within the fragile state of mind I find myself.  I’m better today than I was yesterday, and better yesterday than I was the day before.  I have to remind myself of all of this.

Your kindness and clarity helped me, Michael.  The finger is off the trigger and I am emerging once again.

COME OUT

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.

Come Out#2

My name is Michael Gray Kimber and I suffer from intense anxiety.

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

I’ve been incredibly honored by the dozens of emails and Facebook private messages I’ve received from so many of you in the last week.

As a result I haven’t been able to decide what I should say in response. It all seems too small, manipulative and political.

As a writer, numbers scare me so I hesitate to use them, but here are some numbers that strike me as important.  With 20% of our population dealing with mental illnesses, 4% of our total healthcare spending goes towards dealing with mental health issues. I’m not a mathematician but those numbers don’t make much sense to me.

At the beginning of my breakdown, I was told I would have to wait 6 months to see a state sponsored therapist. Most people that get that far stop looking when help seems all but impossible.  Think of what it takes to admit you need help. Now imagine what it’s like to realize you won’t be able to receive it when you need it the most.

According to the 2010 Mental Health Commission report, 2/3’s of people dealing with mental illness in Canada don’t get help due to stigma.

I can’t tell you the rage I feel when I think about this. How many good people suffer for years because they believe they are weak, deficient and selfish. How many good people I love have suffered because they believed it was their fault and how many people who are suffering that I know nothing about.

I’ve tried to stay away from opinion pieces, advocacy journalism and any type of good works not larded with self-interest, self obsession and story. This issue is important to me. So I’ll struggle to say something worthwhile and continue talking about mental illness until this burning rage in my quiets down and people who are suffering don’t have to feel ashamed of themselves for doing so. When families whose parents are suffering from mental illness get the same respect a family with a cancer patient receives. When people who need medication aren’t made to feel less for it. Till then expect me to keep punching society in the soul until pity turns to awareness and some sort of real change happens.

Some good questions were raised about my last blog and I figure I should try to answer them and explain some of my ramblings.

You do realize there is a difference between the struggle of Harvey Milk and that of Michael Kimber?  You also realize that a lot of people are bigots and won’t hear what you are trying to say when you equate their struggle with that of homosexuals? Homosexuality is a very specific group defined by the fact that they like to fuck people of the same sex. Mental illness isn’t so easy to define.

There is an intense amount of difference between Harvey Milk and Michael Kimber. He was a great civil rights leader and I’m a blogger looking to keep himself sane by over sharing with the world.

I also hope that we have different endings to our story, as Milk was killed for his cause and I’m far too self interested to die for anybody.

The reason I drew the comparison between the fight for gay rights and our struggle for rights for the mentally ill is that both of these groups were unable to speak out on their own behalf due to societal stigma. When you are ashamed to be who you are, you are too scared to ask for the rights you deserve. The struggle for gay rights couldn’t be fought from inside a closet, the struggle for rights for the mentally ill can’t be fought without leaving behind the safety of our own shame.

In addition, up until Harvey Milk began his campaign homosexuality was considered a mental illness.  If anyone won’t read my work because Harvey Milk is a personal hero of mine, they have my personal permission to go fuck themselves.

Is this just another bullshit public awareness campaign?

I will admit I can’t understand why changing my Facebook photo to a cartoon will do anything to fight against child abuse. I also hesitate to join causes on Facebook, no matter how moral they may be, as usually my participation only involves pushing a like button. I don’t think we should buy into the narcissistic belief that we are making any difference by doing so.  Awareness needs to be a means to an end.  It can’t just be a way to show your friends that you’re a good person.

This isn’t a bullshit awareness campaign.  Ignorance is literally killing us.  More will have to be done then simply admit that we suffer.  But we need this first step and it’s the hardest one to take.

Coming out to our family, friends and the world at large about mental illness is not clicking a like button. It is difficult, it is risky and it is the only way we can begin to affect any real change. Until the epidemic proportions of the mental health crisis facing the world becomes common knowledge, we can’t begin to take measures to address it.  Every year the numbers go up and no one gives a fuck about numbers. We need faces for the numbers, we need voices for those numbers.  We need to stand up for ourselves and be counted.

By showing ourselves, we let people still locked in their sense of shame know that there is a community of people going through the same struggles.  When you speak for yourself other people can hear you and gain the courage to speak for themselves.

You said something about the war against yourself the terrors are built? What the fuck do you mean?

Schizophrenic hallucinations and delusions are fuelled by the struggle against them. By rejecting their own thought patterns, schizophrenics create the tension that worsens the hallucinations.

My experience with depression and anxiety were the same. The more I struggled not to be sick, the more intense my anxiety and fear became. The more I tried to make my disease something separate from myself, the worse I suffered. When I realized that I could live a normal life with this disease the tension broke.  Like anyone else suffering from an illness I learned what I needed to do to keep it under control. Where to go when it isn’t.

Accepting my anxiety was the only way for me to defuse this seemingly never ending cycle. Deprived of my fear, guilt and shame to fuel it, I was able to recover. Until we change the public perception of what mental illness actually is, millions of people will continue to fight this impossible day-in-day-out war to become what they feel they should be.

 

Do you think you are exaggerating when you describe what you experienced as a mental breakdown? You didn’t end up institutionalized, you were able to work, have a relationship.  Do you really think you had a mental illness?

Driving through the snow covered streets of Toronto with my Cousin Trent I asked this question.

“I have only had about six months in my entire life where I felt like this,” I say. “How can I say that I have a mental illness when other people have gone through so much more?”

All war is horrible. It doesn’t take being there for your whole life to see it,” he replies. “Just because you didn’t get the worst of it, doesn’t mean you didn’t feel it. It’s still war.”

It was a long road to end the war against myself.

I couldn’t sign the peace treaty as much as I wanted to.

Some of it was hours of doing CBT exercises from Mind Over Mood so that I could rebuild my shattered sense of reason. When the tension level would get too high I went to the gym and I worked out for hours until I’d spent the excess adrenaline.

For months I continued falling without an idea as to where the bottom would be. I remember the panic of that agonizing free fall where I never knew how long it would be until I stopped falling and gained my footing, tumbling through an abyss that seemed to stretch on forever. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t determine where that bottom would be.  I kept reaching for it and my fingers kept slipping and I kept falling further and further.

Insomnia got me down to two hours of sleeps a night.  I had to take medication no matter how against it I was.  The day I found bottom, I was sitting in the changing room of a hotel gym, having completed my daily exercise with no release of tension. It was the third week of taking Remeron and I’d never felt worse. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t be able to live like this forever.

About an hour later, Remeron kicked and I was talking like I had taken two hits of E. Babbling joy and laughing hysterically I began to feel alive again. The ecstasy feeling went away but the spiraling slowed down and somehow I was sleeping.

Getting up from that bottom isn’t easy and didn’t happen as a result of a magic pill.

I’m lucky that I fell in love with an incredibly strong women and she loved me enough to tell me the truth instead of coddling me.  To respect me enough to not try to save me even when I unconsciously asked her to.  I’m lucky to have a mother who had been through anxiety and depression and knew enough about the guilt and self-loathing to remind me that there was no reason to blame myself. To have a father who would do anything to help me. To have friends who made me laugh when I didn’t have any reason to. Most of all to be born into a family that had the money to pay for the therapy and medication I needed.

Some people aren’t so lucky.

I can’t know what it’s like for people who have been institutionalized, who haven’t had the support system I’ve had, who suffer from more extreme cases of mental illness. I can’t know what it’s like for the more than 150,000 Canadians suffering from mental illness that live on the street. That aren’t aesthetically pleasing enough for the public to give a shit about. I do understand what it’s like to not know if a bottom exists and to feel your hands slip every time you try to lift yourself up. I know the terrifying feeling of not being able to help yourself. I also know that I can’t judge people who never get hold out of that bottom. They aren’t weak, sometimes they just aren’t able to.

If I have a child I want them to have access to the same support systems I had even if I don’t have the money to provide it. I don’t want my friends to keep falling because they have to wait six months to see a qualified psychiatrist. I want my children to be educated about mental illness when they are in junior high school, when they are in high school, when they are in University so that when they need help they know it is okay to seek it.

None of this is unreasonable.

We need to speak for ourselves before we can expect anyone else to listen.

Here is a small example of what has already come from this campaign that has lasted only a week.

Hey Kimber- Reading your blog has made me want to come clean about my own closet. I hope it’s ok, I use you in a blog post. Let me know if it’s cool.

http://paulvienneau.posterous.com/we-all-learn-to-deal

Be the next person to come out.

Help us break the silence that has been killing us for too long.

I’m currently working on a short film encouraging people to come out about  mental illness.  We are looking for photos of people who have suffered from mental illness to add a face to these numbers. Everyone involved in the project has had some form of mental illness. We are doing it ourselves this time.   Hit me up at Michael.g.kimbr@gmail.com if you want to become involved and send us a picture.

Other writings on mental health issues:

 

Barbershop of Horrors and November 3rd:

I explain the difference between sad and depressed to my Ethiopian barber and reflect on what a difference a year has made.

Rendezvous with Madness, My Suicide and Piss Paranoia:

I watch the amazing My Suicide, sit on a discussion panel, talk about how I want to have sex with lead, worry about my need to go to the bathroom during the film and answer a psychological show and tell from the audience.

Letter to a Man Who Spams To Save My Sanity:

Burt Goldman is the American Monk. I end up on his mailing list and he sends me vaguely threatening letters while trying to help me out. This is my response.

Permission to Panic:

A letter to the youth of today. Yes….it is time to panic. You are supposed to be panicking. Thus enjoy.

Children Are Dead and All We Have Are Fashion Statements:

This is a response letter to the gay suicides in the U.S.A and a plea for us to begin a real dialogue on suicide.

Pajama Pants In My Backpack(Meeting with Literary Agents)

On November 3rd, 2009 I had a nervous breakdown. On November 3rd,2010 I signed with the biggest literary agency in Canada. This is a thank you to everyone who helped me in the period in between.

Origins of Colony of Losers

This is how the blog began, which involved almost losing my girlfriend, losing my job and gaining back my sanity.

The Long Irritating Walk to Save A Friend’s Life:

A suicide note in text message arrives. My friend and I walk for 10 minutes to see if they are dead or alive.

Cure#8: A Mother’s Love

My mother drives me to the doctor’s office to see if I can get on an anti-depressant and stop my downward spiral. The depression has hollowed me out and I can’t even pretend to be okay.  She keeps looking at me wondering how much of herself is staring back at her. She is worried that she gave me the fear that is tearing my life to pieces as her mother passed on her own fear. I remember my mother as the voice of every character in the chronicles of Narnia. As she worries that only her fear will remember, I just remember her as my mother. The terrors inside her never touched me. She reminds me that how I’m viewing myself isn’t how the world views me.   On the ride over we discuss my mother’s own history of anxiety as she helps me battle my shame and guilt of mental illness. She lets me see that despite my illness I can be worth loving.

THE BIRDS GRAPHIC NOVEL ILLUSTRATED BY MIKE HOLMES

At graduation I worked very hard to not answer this question. “So what are you going to do now?”

Flying: The Story of Why Mike Kimber Left Halifax

I left my hometown for Toronto here is the story of why I did this.


 

  • 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.

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