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This is Not an emergency
“Sorry. Your crisis isn’t enough for us to keep you,” said the doctor. “This isn’t an emergency.”
Through my time trying to help others I have acquired an intimate secret. The place where your empathy burns on endless fuel of black pitch and bile. The exact location where your heart and brain meet. I know what it is like to feel love and anger become the same thing.
Today at work I seethed.
In between jokes about Mitt Romney and his newfound feud with Boston, I am fighting back the emotion so it doesn’t shine through my eyes and ignite the room in flames. Where tears become fire and all sense of calm crumbles.
This is not an emergency.
Let me explain the last few days, dancing in and out of moments I struggle to bring to reality when I turn them into unrehearsed speech. I want you to understand what my life is like when the sun goes out and the winter enters your bones.
Let’s go back to Friday.
I have given a speech at a mental health film festival and a fifty-year-old woman looks into my eyes with tears. Her hair is gray and her unshed tears weigh heavy in concentric circles under her eyes.
She has listened to my speech and wants me to help her save her son’s life. He is addicted to crack and cocaine and can’t stand to be around joy and laughter. His sickness has become so familiar that it’s opposite, that communication in kindness and joy makes him feel like a space alien from another galaxy. The way he speaks to himself is in disgust and self-hatred. He can’t learn another language.
He prefers the company of bad people and those who will take advantage of his merciless frailty because his terror has led him to take every escape from the life he no longer feels capable of having. He can only be around family when they judge him. His only intimacy is found in arguments.
His mother has no idea what to do. She thinks that since I have climbed up the mountain I can point her to crags and cliffs he can grip onto. She doesn’t understand that the way down and the way up that mountain are never the same. That every fall is different and each climb back up is perilous.
I try to find words that will help or heal this hell.
Imagine looking for a miracle in your mouth and only finding sounds.
The last year I have grasped my tongue waiting for God to speak through it as I watched a close friend continue to fall without finding their feet. There are no words to manipulate her into seeking the help she desperately needs and god knows I have looked for them. I have tried humor, genuine emotion and anger. None work.
She looks beautiful in pictures. Pictures are worth a thousand words but most of them are lies. Everyone smiles when the camera flashes and according to the world she is climbing to the summit. Even if those who love her know that she is standing on a cliff and has a defined fear of heights.
My love has taken the form of silence and rocks in my throat.
I can’t save her.
She must hurt herself enough to be ready to heal and I am not around to watch the show. As she breaks the things that hold her to this life, she might feel like she is flying and free to be nothing but the worst things that exist inside her. Alone can feel free if only for a little while.
Utter helplessness is the most infuriating feeling in the world and one we all must deal with. Such is the life my friends and I must lead as disease makes mockery of a beautiful life.
This sweet looking mother waits for me to tell her the secret to save her son.
I tell her that he can only get better if he wants to get better.
“He doesn’t want help. He wants to die,” she says. “He will die if I don’t think of something.”
“There is nothing I can do,” I tell her; giving the only truth I have, even if it is an ugly one.
“Things are fucked up around here,” she says. “He looked for help once. There wasn’t anywhere he could go.”
I give her a hug because I can’t give her son back to her.
This is not an emergency.
I’m watching pornography in the privacy of my bedroom preparing for sleep. From my ear buds comes the sound of a fake orgasm. I wonder if the outrageous moans can be heard outside of the privacy of my eardrums.
My attention span is short tonight. I am watching a cornucopia of movies all with the exact same lack of plot.ÂÂ Everything is boring, and a thousand beautiful women don’t take the place of a real one.
Interrupting my moment of solitude before sleep is the beeping sound that says someone wants to talk to me on Facebook. Curiosity makes me multi-task.
I don’t really know her and her opening lines are hesitant and filled with misspelled words. She wants to talk. My heart stops for a quarter of a second. I know the conversation I am going to be having.
It’s after midnight. After midnight people only want to discuss one thing with me.
Life and death.
She is a sister of someone I was friends with in high school. Looks the same now as she did when she was in girl’s scouts or cheering her brother on when he played basketball. In her pictures she smiles and you can see her youth in every unwritten line in her face.
She is drunk and doesn’t feel like she can trust herself to be safe at home. It takes only a few moments for me to realize that she is looking for a blogger to save her life at midnight. This phenomenon is incredibly familiar to me and part of the reason I rarely post here.
The reason is simple: they want help and have no idea where to go. My job in this circumstance is to point them in the right direction and say goodbye.
I ask her if she is suicidal.
She says she believes she might hurt herself.
I tell her that she needs to go to the Emergency room. I send her the address of a local hospital.
This girl says she is going to go to the hospital and for a moment a movie plays where I am a hero and this is the moment where she turns her life around.
A moment later she says she doesn’t have the money for a cab. I tell her to put it on her credit card. If it is a question of life or death, she should pay for a cab anyway she can. If she has to she would walk there. If she has to, she should run.
She says she is going to pass out drunk and will figure it out in the morning.
I tell her goodbye and block her on Facebook.
I make a Facebook status that informs my Facebook friends that I am not a therapist and I can’t save their lives. All I know is that I am not a trained professional and this is not my emergency.
I go to bed sick to my stomach.
Back to regularly scheduled programming and a good night kiss from a porn star.
All he can see is my glasses reflecting back with images from the computer screen in the pitch-black room.ÂÂ The lights in my room are weird candelabra shaped light bulbs and I can’t find replacement bulbs anywhere. Facebook chat brings me together with a brilliant young boy whose highs and lows I have become intimately familiar with.
A few September 1sts ago I drove around Halifax, worried that he would kill himself before I could find him. After a shitty afternoon he finally returned my phone call and told me his location. We went to the Emergency Room and the doctors told him he wasn’t suicidal enough to get immediate help.
We left the hospital and less than a year later he left the city. We still talk now and then. He remains eccentric, brilliant and out of his mind.
“So does it sound like things are chopped and screwed?” I ask.
“Sort of,” he says. “My thoughts go slow and stretched out. Sort of like I am hearing my thoughts in rewind.”
Three years later and he is having auditory hallucinations.
A few months ago he was having a manic episode. He went to a clinic in his hometown and was told he had bipolar disorder. Before giving him medication or pointing him towards counseling they saw his address on his piece of identification. He was in the wrong district. He was told by the doctor he would have to get help elsewhere. Not surprisingly, he didn’t.
“I need you to work your mental health guru shit and find me some place to get help,” he told me.
We make jokes. Not really sure what they are. At some point, we Skype while I take a shit.
I tell him that he needs to explain to the workers that he is suicidal and has a plan. There can be no repeats of the last dozen times we tried to get him help. He can’t help laughing when he contemplates explaining in detail a plan that doesn’t exist.
“So I looked at this spoon and I knew I wanted to shove it in a socket and kaboom!”
I do an Internet search. We find a few places and he promises to go. I don’t hear anything for the rest of the day.
I send a Facebook message to my own mental health guru, a man by the name of Andy Behrman.
I explain the situation.
Andy is baffled that someone who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder wouldn’t have been immediately prescribed medication. He tells me that my young friend needs to seek out EPT(Emergency Psychiatric Therapy) as soon as he possibly can.
Unfortunately my friend has gone looking for help and is temporarily off the grid.
Andy and I talk for a few moments about the price we have paid for sharing our life stories. He tells me that he can’t over the desire to help anyone who asks him for help. He has learned a few things and wants to help people find their bottom because his own fall landed him in some desperate and deep hells.
He points these strangers to the right places and he takes their phone calls when they make them. They are strangers and they are like family because they know the lost place where he comes from. Every few weeks another friend dies and a little piece of him goes with it. Such is life when you dedicate your life to helping others.
I decide I will only dedicate my life to helping people I love.
There isn’t enough of me to lose that much.
Instead I lose much of a good night’s sleep tossing and turning, caught in imagery of all I might lose. Despite the boy’s curious personality he is one of the people in the world I am closest to. The only person in the world I regularly yell at.
Years ago during a freestyle session I told him he was my brother.
No matter what I wouldn’t turn away from him. For some reason I love him. For some reason beyond my understanding he is a part of my family.
At work I receive an email from my young friend. He went for help and didn’t find it.
The doctors in the emergency room said, “Sorry. Your crisis isn’t enough for us to keep you. This isn’t an emergency.”
Let me take you to places you have no desire to go.
You are in an Emergency room and you don’t know if you can live to see tomorrow. Grasping onto your last shreds of consciousness you decide to live and find the courage to drag yourself down to triage. The lights are fluorescent and their shine hurts eyes that haven’t seen sleep in far too long.
You are in your early 20s and far away from your parents and the egomaniac that calls you his younger brother. There is no one to hold your hand and no one in this god-forsaken place knows how to make a joke. With hands cold and near frostbit you are going to try to climb down the mountain you fell down. All you need is a little bit of help. Someone who knows what they are doing.
Your stomach feels like it is trying to jump out your throat. Words don’t come easy but you manage to mumble the truth.
You tell them what’s wrong and they tell you it isn’t wrong enough.
Your life and death isn’t an emergency situation.
Now pretend you are someone who loves them. Who has been dizzied by their highs and lows and felt vertigo watching them stare into the mouth of the abyss and sing songs that could shake the heavens. You have felt powerless and knew that they were the only person who could save their own life. And they are going to do it. Your eyes fill with tears in the pride that they have found this strength in themselves. They are finally going to get help.
Now watch them reach out for a helping hand and find their fingers slip on red tape. All you can say is better luck next time and hope they have the courage to try again.
This is your child and you didn’t know what they were going to grow up addicted to crack and coke and live on the street. This is the person you fell in with and you have watched every beautiful thing fall away in a frantic retreat from all that terrifies them.
Every year four thousand people die in Canada from suicide. In the last five years that is twenty thousand dead, most of them children, all of them members of a family, all of them with friends who walk with broken hearts and must relearn how to breath.
How many of them were in an Emergency room and were told they weren’t sick enough to be helped? How many of them would still be with us if our system weren’t incredibly broken?
Canada wants to build prisons instead of hospitals and drug treatment centers.
I want you to get in touch with your members of parliament.ÂÂ I want you to send them emails. When their assistants send you a nicely worded letter, I want you to visit their offices and I want you to bang on their door until they open and I want you tell them about the friends you have lost. I want parents to mail them pictures of the children they no longer have. I want their hearts to break with yours.
When an Emergency room won’t take you and the suicide hotline is busy I want you to call your Member of Parliament and tell them what it’s like not to be able to get help.ÂÂ Don’t send me your letters of desperation and despair. Let them feel this agony that burns in me. Let this anger burn away indifference down to the last drop and let them feel the need for change until they can no longer take it and have no choice but to do their jobs.
They can’t ignore us any longer. In the last few years we have broken our silence and begun to speak.
Obama won his election because the Republicans ignored the African American, Hispanic and LGBT vote. They believed an old system could survive and they were left in the past because they couldn’t believe in a better future.
In the next ten years we are going to be the next group they can no longer ignore. Get on our side or lose the next election. We are your marketers, we are your artists, we are the ones who paint your dreams and write your slogans.
We aren’t alone. There is no family that we are not a part of. We are in every stratus of society, we are in every race, we are in every religion, we are in every industry. In the very near future we will break the stigma. Then we will break the system.
This is your chance to do the right thing.
My last few years have been filled with others pain.
But I am the wrong person to speak to.
Speak to your Member of Parliament, your MLA’s. Speak to your provincial government’s health ministers. Speak to the media.
This is an Emergency.
It’s time that they realized it.
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