Sometimes I think tequila is a good idea.
I once got so drunk on tequila in University, that I came up to my residence room, determined to get back to the party when the world stopped spinning, that I turned up Wu Tang Clan’s Ain’t Nothing To Fuck With, so loudly that it shook the walls, simply so that I wouldn’t pass out. I woke up at 5 in the morning, to realize that campus security wasn’t to be fucked with.
Last Friday, I got so drunk I could barely see.
I was trying to forget a Facebook message I received earlier in the evening from someone I knew as a child. She is one of those girls who looked made for giving you a hug on a rainy day. She told me that she tried to kill herself last weekend, by taking a bottle of clonazepam and a bottle of wine. Then she took a steak knife to her arm.
She wants to tell her story so that she could help other people when she can barely help herself.
She is strong because she’s alive and I’m drunk because I can’t stand the idea of someone who smiles like that feeling this way.
So I am doing tequila shots, trying to get warm because it’s hard to feel anything other than the cold in Toronto in February. And I am talking to a girl with curly eyelashes and red pants, telling her about the letter, wanting to have a stranger comfort me and she tells me she understands.
I ask her if she has received a similar letter.
She says she understands the girl. That she plans on killing herself in a few weeks. Drunk Mike tries to save her. Drunk Mike didn’t ask for her name, he asked for tequila shots.
My hangover was the type where you can’t drink water when you feel thirsty.
I’m here today and I’m not speaking for the Mental Health Commission. I’m speaking for the people who aren’t ready to speak for themselves.
I’m here because while I was writing this I received another letter from girl who lost finance’ to suicide and doesn’t know if she can live with the guilt and pain. I’m here because in her Facebook photo she is hugging her deceased finance and they look so incredibly young and sweet that I want to force them to live inside that picture, to have pictures of their children, pictures of the dreams they could have lived together. He was 22.
I’m here because these strangers keep breaking my heart and my head feels like it is going to explode.
We need to talk about mental illness and someone more important than me needs to listen.
I miss being a student.
I learned a lot about love at university. 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 my residence building’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, ever, going to have sex.
I was 18. It was seven years before I got treatment for my anxiety disorder. It was a week before I tried shrooms for the first time and played NHL 94 in the most polite manner. Laughing and passing the puck back and forth unable to score on each other 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.
Mick Ford’s been lived with 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 sitting in the chapel, when my friend Jason died.
Weeping with my friends not like babies, but like grown men who didn’t know that such a horrible thing would make them adults. Jason’s funeral was 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.
I learned about mental illness by watching my friends die and become addicted to drugs.
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 didn’t realize 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.
At 25, I suffered a nervous breakdown brought on by intense anxiety.
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.
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.
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 every day no matter how they feel.
These diseases are more common than most of us realize. So is recovery. Every day we get out of bed, we take on step back to life. It isn’t a miracle that we get better. It’s an everyday 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. People buy what you are selling.
Every time we try to build mental health awareness in the media it 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’m asking you 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.
I want you to make the politicians to talk about mental illness in Parliament, in cities halls and in cabinet meetings.
And I want their words to mean something.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s speech on MP David’s Batters funeral is some of the most beautiful writing on the stigma surrounding mental illness I have ever read:
“We need to know that mental illness like Dave’s is shockingly common in our society. It affects the great and the small alike despite the stigma that still too often surrounds it. “
The problem is that the same quality of treatment is not offered to the great and small alike.
Our rich can afford the quality therapy our medical system doesn’t offer the economically disadvantaged. Harper plans to build prisons for our drug addicts, who self medicate, rather than treatment centers, to jail the homeless and mentally ill rather than offer them the healthcare services they need. The Correctional Service of Canada reports that 13 per cent of male offenders in federal custody presented mental health problems when they were admitted in 2008. That’s up 86 per cent from 1997. For women, the figure reaches 24 per cent, and 85 per cent increase over the same time. There are offered to little no treatment. Yesterday Tory Senator Pierre Hughes Boisvenu said.
‘Basically I think that every murderer should have a rope in his cell and he can decide on his own life He advocated that criminals should commit suicide to save the taxpayers the high cost of keeping them in prison. He says to give them the rope.
It takes 6 months to a year to see a state sponsored therapist.
To get immediate treatment you have to be suicidal and have a plan and we clearly don’t have a plan for dealing with suicide when each year more people kill themselves.
Isn’t there more productive use for a rope? We scaled Everest with a length of rope and our belief we can do the impossible. Instead of hanging ourselves couldn’t we use the same rope to build a safety net to catch these angels before they hit the ground? What are our demons but angels that have lived too far from heaven for too long?
Who is to live in this better world Harper is creating, when we build the fences so high, that mortal men and women live their whole lives on the other side.
With ropes and pulleys we built the Wonder of the World.
Why would we use the same rope to protect to ourselves from the people we love?
Couldn’t we build a world they could live in, where they could experience that wonder? Couldn’t the 19 billion dollar that Harper intends to spend on prisons, be spent on building a dream rather than building a wall to protect us from our worst fears? Especially when the people we love are left on the other side.
You are our voice. You brought down the Berlin Wall, you were with Martin Luther King when a million men marched, you were there with Harvey Milk and Matthew Shepherd when they 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. That the one thing, great and small alike deserve is access to the help they need to live.
You are our voice.
Today we are talking about mental illness.
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.