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The 2nd Anniversary of My Breakdown and a Friend I Lost
You ever wonder where you are going to be in five years?
If you are like me you don’t have the slightest clue.
That idea used to scare me.
My friend told me that my nervous breakdown baffled him because it was not about who I was but who I would become and my fear that I wouldn’t like the answer. He told me I didn’t need to worry about it. No one could predict the future but he guaranteed it would be a surprise.
November 3rd, 2011 is the two-year anniversary of that breakdown and he is right.
I never could have predicted I would be here.
Last year at this time I was celebrating signing with a literary agent, sure that I would be able to cash in the worst moments of my life for my dream of becoming a published author.
Things change rapidly and new joys and pain enter your life and change you without asking permission.
I was living in the basement of a neurotic Jewish author who I would soon get into a life and death confrontation over Internet bills. Where she would decide that my overuse of her limited Internet plan was a nefarious plot to destroy her. Our relationship would dissolve over my refusal to pay for the Internet since it was covered in our lease. She would stomp above my room and lose her hair over little more than a hundred dollars. Eventually she would forbid me from having overnight guests in an effort to get me out of her house. She would succeed and I would move in with a couple of eccentric hippies with a chore wheel and I would leave after setting the house on fire and flooding the basement. Now I live with five wonderful people who came to Canada to learn English. I have learned of the wonders of Lollipop Land, gotten soused with a German who knows how to use a grenade launcher and learned that French men liked to have couples sleep over in their rooms.
Things change rapidly and new joys and pain enter your life and change you without asking permission.
During that year many of my friends from Halifax would come to Toronto try to find a new life and end up becoming my tequila heroes in an orgy of karaoke songs. Where at the zenith of this era, I would tear off my shirt in a room full of karaoke freaks and salute my new life with a spirited rendition of Hulk Hogan’s “I’m a real American” shortly before we were banned from ever coming back to a shitty little bar known as the Abbey.
Things have changed a lot in a year, even more in two.
At this time, two years ago, blue and purple wigs littered my circus red room; I was deeply in love and on the verge of losing my mind. I was fresh from University and had finally finished the book it took me eight years to write. I had no idea how I was going to grow up.
But let’s not go back that far back.
This is about the difference five years can make and the moment of weakness where I derailed my happy train of positive karma and brought about the shit summer that followed.
Come with me into the land of accidental arson and chore wheels.
It’s the middle of March 2011.
Suicide is isolation where you can’t feel the world and your delusions are louder than your reality.
I live with hippies and have yet to become the worst roommate they have ever known. A day or two earlier I lit the kitchen on fire. They aren’t sure if they can trust me but decide to give me another chance, which they certainly will live to regret. The explanation of this fire is simple.
There was no salt for the ice on our front lawn and the mailman wouldn’t deliver much needed checks. So I decided to boil water in a nearby kettle, pour it on the ice and use a shovel to remove it. No…please don’t bother explaining that even if this plan had worked it wouldn’t have been particularly well thought out. Let me continue.
The kettle had no cord and I assumed it belonged on the stove. To my surprise the plastic base burst into flames. The clean up took several days of scrapping with a razor to get the plastic off the element.
As a result I was at the library so as to not smell the stink of burnt rubber that Febreeze was not qualified to eliminate.
This was the day that my music video was to be released.
This was the day that all of the work was supposed to pay off.
This was when I made a mistake I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life.
In the span of two hours I had sent hundreds of emails, private messages via Facebook and alerted my whole network to share Cure A Visual Poem and spread my message. Hundreds of people were sharing the video on their Facebook walls and twitter let loose an orgasmic wail of support. Ideas of hundreds of thousands of views danced through my head. Book deals I would sign. This was going to be the thing that made my name known.
Yes I wanted to get people to come out and share their stories of mental illness. Yes, I think the system is horrible and worth fighting against. Was it mostly about me? Of course it was. I was high on visions of becoming the Gandhi of the mental health world.
I watched the video again all the way through to revel at my acting talent, the fact that somehow I taught myself how to be rhythmic and the strange vertigo you get from seeing your most fucked up moments cued to music. I marveled in the utter weirdness of seeing the love of my young life portrayed by someone who is absolutely nothing like her. Laughing to myself a little bit at the fact that the girl who was declared best Halifax actress by Faces Magazine would play my girlfriend. Remembering how they smeared fake sweat on my face to create the imagined tension, to pretend that the worst moments of my life were captured by the amazing camera work of one of Halifax’s best DOPS. And then I see it.
At the very end of the video there is a glaring mistake. The video is dedicated to the memory of a friend of mine named Jason Lionel Walsh who lost his life to mental illness in 2005. The inscription was supposed to read In Memory of Jason Lionel Walsh 1985-2005. Unfortunately it reads In Memory of Jason Lionel Walsh 1985-2010.
“What the fucking fuck fuck, fuck,” I shout at the library.
It’s dedicated to his memory and we didn’t remember how long he was alive for?
Slowly heads turn in my direction. I was violating the unspoken rule that if you are going to be in a public library you are not going to freak out and start swearing at old people or waking up the homeless who came to sleep off a good drunk.
An old man leans over and gives me the shushing gesture.
I immediately begin firing off emails that echo the same sentiment of rage without necessarily the proper amount of respect for a man who had gone out of his way to create a beautiful video out of my poetry.
I was pissed.
This mistake had been discovered in an earlier draft of the video. Apparently when I sent the dedication after three days of shooting, I had typed it in wrong. My reaction had been of a similar but more subdued nature. The change had been made and the crisis averted. Apparently in the rush to get the video out, the editor had made a mistake and included the old dedication in the final draft.
I flipped out on said editor and demanded his company post an apology. He refused to do so. After all, the point of this video was to reach out to people who had mental illness and show them they weren’t alone and the dedication was something I forced at the last minute. It wasn’t the point and this was a small mistake.
I had made the original error and he was sorry that it hadn’t been corrected when he promised me it would be. The video wasn’t about this small mistake and they didn’t want to spend their time apologizing when we should be celebrating what we accomplished. After all they had gone out of their way to make this video happen on a shoestring budget and it had been accomplished with the love of thirty Halifax professionals giving away their labor for free.
Two hours later he sent me another email, aware from the tone of my previous messages (IE THE MANY EXPLETIVES) that I wasn’t happy about the situation. He offered to take the video down and put in a new dedication. He noted that this would make the 500 links that had been put up on Facebook utterly and totally useless. Essentially everything we had done already to launch the video would be wasted.
I saw the rising momentum and didn’t want all the work to be for nothing. I made a choice I will always regret. I let the video stay up and made a public apology for my mistake.
When I confessed my self-loathing to my parents over this decision they told me that my gesture still had meaning. Few would notice the mistake and those that did would understand.
The thing is I wish it hadn’t been a mistake. I wish we got those five years. See there is a big difference between going crazy at 20 and going crazy at 25.
When I was 20, my anxiety manifested itself as what seemed to be a heart problem. As a result I was placed on atenolol and the seething pressure in my chest became a blank hole in between my impulses and my actions. My anxiety disappeared and my issues lived only inside my head.
Jason had his breakdown when all of his friends were still children.
When he started talking about world changing philosophies and his concept of the Universe we were high and mumbling similar nonsense. We were taking philosophy at Kings College and such talk was normal. Doing too much drugs wasn’t really much of a cause of concern either. Many of us had spent a week straight on magic mushrooms, blabbering revelations and confessing our innermost feelings about a world that felt so close we could touch it, manipulate it and make it our own.
We didn’t know anything was wrong when he started wearing those shades that kept us from seeing his pupils. Sure he smoked weed all the time and said things I had trouble understanding. I did the same.
We need to make sure that in the next five years we start teaching children what mental illness is.
He was Jason; he was a brilliant beautiful boy that I was just starting to know when he went away.
Jason was too young to know what suicide was. I remember being inside the chapel of King’s College with my best friends weeping at my side. I can still remember that horrible keening sound where our posture of adulthood fell out from under us. When all we could do was weep. When life seems like a joke because you have no idea how it was possible to go from A to B and he doesn't exist anymore. When we were children who needed to lean on each other for any hope of standing up again. He had no idea how large his life was even in its infancy.
I remember seeing pictures of him when he was a kid and he had ridiculous haircuts. I remember thinking how young he looked.
How young we all were in our black suits and white shirts.
I remembered thinking how strange it was that we were only a hundred feet from where I got to know him. On the third floor of Middle Bay when we had ciphers and he astounded us with his miraculous freestyle capability. I remembered the taste of the Fireball he gave me as it burned down my throat. How he performed the miracle of making Chris Rice break his silence and rap with us.
That funny day where Dave and Jason took an empty suitcase with them to talk to the Dean of Residence about setting up a rap show and somehow convinced her that rappers weren’t thugs and the wimpy intellectuals wouldn’t be beaten the piss out of by Jesse Dangerously. It was here that my friend Hermitofthewoods rapped for the first time in front of a crowd and gained the confidence that would lead him to become Halifax’ s premier rap scholar. I remember the way Jason smiled at me and called me Mr. Kimber instead of commenting on the heart monitor I rocked during my set during said show.
Years later I would be in that same chapel to see my sister married.
Just across the Quad, there had been another marriage between my friend Jennica and Dan that couldn't have happened without Jason. Drunk mid afternoon, the wedding march came from a Fisher Price turntable. The idea was based on a simple joke. How funny would it be for one of us to be able call the other their first wife. How hilarious would it be if two of our friends got married. As always Jason provided the how to our crazy schemes.
I walked the Bride down the aisle of hastily collected flowers. Jason was the Priest. He found a Church on the Internet that would allow him to perform a perfectly legal marriage that could be annulled at our earliest convenience. He was the most memorable Priest at a wedding I have ever seen. He quoted hilarious portions of the bible as it described marriage in times far more brutal than our own. He did it stone-faced, letting us do the laughing.
From this same location, a little north of the school’s sundial he led Middle Bay to a historic victory in the April Fools Water Fight. He collected hundreds of water balloons and filled them in the secrecy of our residence, each of us eager soldiers ready to do his bidding. He sent our girls out to provide a bag of balloons to our enemies in the hopes they could be lured out into the slaughter. At midnight twenty boys took on a school of hundreds of children and subdued them. We conquered Alex Hall and Radical Bay, Cochrane and Chapel. You could hear the monstrous cheers of “Middle Bay, Middle Bay, Middle Bay” up and down Coburg Road as we bombarded our enemies and conquered King’s College. You could hear Jason leading the charge. We took no prisoners and had no mercy. No one has ever won a war so decisively and with such joy.
I have a hundred memories and his friends and family have thousands.
At the age of 20, the King’s Chapel was packed to the rafters with his friends weeping. That night we held each other tight and stayed up late into the night. He never would have imagined how many nights would be spent trying to survive his absence. How many drinks would be poured and how many times my friends would almost follow him. We were dominoes, stuck together by the idea that we couldn’t lose another person like him.
The thing is we didn’t get to experience the best of him. 20 years old is still a baby and I want a thousand more of those smiles that cracked the borders of his cheeks and seem to stretch on forever. I want to see more girls dance up on him and see him go completely still. We never got to see him fall in love.
I have too few memories of him and all of them are as a boy. He was 20 and he was talented as hell and made music that could bring tears to yours eyes. After he died, we tried to find all the music he made. And we couldn’t find it. Little of it remains to this day. He was going to produce an album for me. He was working on tracks with Dave, Jus and Cal and everyone was waiting for that moment when he’d take the Halifax Hip Hop scene by storm like he did the night he beat White Mic at the DJ Olympics, smashing the old champion no matter what biased judges would say.
When I lost my mind, my friends were able to help me find it. Most of them had gone through something similar and knew what it was like to fight with yourself and lose. They were with me when I went through therapy, when I entered the world of medication and found myself zombied out and when I started being myself again. In February of 2010, I reached my lowest point where I didn’t know if I wanted to live or die.
I remembered Jason and the horrible winter of 2005 and knew what leaving would be like. I got to see the weight a single life could carry.
Suicide is isolation where you can’t feel the world and your delusions are louder than your reality. When all you can feel is your pain. I was 25 years old and I was lucky enough to never be allowed to be so alone.
It wasn’t his fault. He had a schizophrenic break and none of understood what that meant.
We were all just kids and it’s no one’s fault that he didn’t get to be an adult.
I wish we had those five years that exist only as an error at the end of a rap video.
I wish I had five more minutes with him. Any way to drag him out of there and back here with me. I don’t want his picture at the end of that video. I wanted him to produce the beat that was on that video. I want an album of my poetry over his music.
Twenty years was nowhere near enough.
My life is strange and I have had to deal with a lot of suicidal people. By confessing my struggles with mental illness, I encouraged hundreds of strangers to confess their own most fucked up moments to me.
Every couple of weeks someone I haven’t talked to in a while will hit me up on Facebook at 3 in the morning having a nervous breakdown. Sometimes they are suicidal and have a plan. Sometimes they just need someone to talk to. The last person wanted me to give them some reason not to cut their arm up with a big knife.
I told her that she didn’t need to be so scared. I said that you’ve forgotten that you have been here before. That as horrible as it is when you feel like it is all falling down, you got up again and you lived long enough that you forgot what this was like. You don’t live here permanently and you’ll move on. Right now it’s up to you to suffer until you can stand up again. There’s nothing terrible or tragic about it. It’s just your life. Some people walk with a limp and you have a mental illness.
Because five years is the difference between my living and his dying.
If it doesn’t feel like you can live with it, call the Emergency Room and tell them you are suicidal and have a plan. Works well. Promise you.
She could have responded that I’ve never had bipolar disorder. Anxiety is different and you don’t what I’m going through. And she’d be right. But I saw Princess Leia onstage, drunk as shit in Toronto, telling me about all the weird and wild years she has had and how many times she wished she was dead and was glad that she didn’t give in.
Another friend of mine had a schizophrenic break around the same age as Jason. She was lucky enough to survive it even if she sometimes feels that medication killed the best parts of herself. I don’t think people know the best parts of themselves. People have loved her since then and she’s written poetry that made a palpable difference in the way thousands of people deal with their own schizophrenia and the way the world looks at people who live with it on a daily basis. Not to say she solved it but she made it better. I’m not trying to say that everyone with a mental illness will be inspiring, or will speak out and try to change the world one voice at a time. I’m saying that none of us have any idea of the good we do in this world. Of the people we help to live just by being ourselves. By making a joke and sharing a smile.
Jason was 20 and when he left us he shook our world to the core. Hundreds of people gathered in that chapel and wept like the world was ending. Because in a way it was. Something irreplaceable had been stolen from us. No one has that smile; no one else could have been our general in the April Fool’s Water Fight, no one else will make his music or tell his jokes in exactly the right way.
Whenever I see his sister Corinne I try to be like an older brother to her. Once I threatened a friend of mine with physical violence when he was talking smack to her and treating her like she wasn’t the amazing woman I know her to be. Just like I know Jason would have done. I could never be one-tenth the brother to her that Jason was. Some things can’t be replaced.
We need to make sure that in the next five years we start teaching children what mental illness is. Corinne is working on psych degree to help people like her brother.
I went through all of my years of schooling and never once was taught about the strange tricks your brain can play on you. We were children and no one properly educated us on what can happen when you become an adult. I found out about mental illness by watching my friends kill themselves and lose themselves in drug addictions. There has to be a better way.
I wanted the video to be dedicated to Jason, because I wanted in some small way to make note of the most amazing person I've lost to mental illness.
I wanted to play some small part in a few people like Jason getting to live long enough to become an adult. Because five years is the difference between my living and his dying.
Time is the only thing that can save us and he didn’t get enough of it.
The error on the dedication wasn’t a small mistake. I should have been better and gotten the video removed and put up with a new dedication.
It shouldn't have been a mistake on the video, it's a mistake that he didn't get those years. His friends and family should have been given five more years with him.
The world needed those five years, just as much as it needed every second of his young life.
November 3rd is the second anniversary of my mental breakdown.
I want to take this opportunity to say thanks to my friends, my first love and my parents for keeping me alive when it was difficult for me to live.
I can’t wait to see what the next five years will hold.
Michael Kimber is the author behind the blog, Colony-of-Losers.com where he discusses issues from job hunting to quarter life crisis, to mental illness. Check out our interview with Michael.
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