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Come out, come out wherever you are

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 myself 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.

Be the next person to come out.

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