Check out my latest article in the July/August 2018 issue of This Magazine!
“For more than half my life, someone has been trying to kill me.
That someone is me.
The first time I considered ending my life, I was eight or nine years old, living in a rented house with my father and brother in Owen Sound, Ont. My mother had moved out years earlier, after my father tried to stab her; he had started directing his misogyny at me instead. We had just watched The Towering Inferno, an early-1970s drama about a fire in a skyscraper. My brother described how he would climb balconies and elevator shafts to safety, and I thought: I’d just jump.
I knew I shouldn’t say it out loud, that the thought was somehow shameful, but it seemed clear to me that there are better and worse ways to die. I couldn’t see a good answer to the question, “Why not?”
Karen Letofsky, board president at the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP), was not surprised to hear this. “There is a lot of social ambiguity around suicide,” she says. Much of what we think we know about suicide is based on social mythology, which creates barriers to the honest conversations Letofsky says people who attempt suicide need to have.
Yvonne Bergmans also emphasizes the importance of talking about suicidal thoughts. Bergmans is a CASP board member and suicide intervention consultant at the University of Toronto’s Arthur Sommer Rotenberg Chair in Suicide and Depression Studies Program at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. She says suicide attempts and suicidal ideations speak to a “great, deep pain: that hurt where there’s a story being written about ‘I can’t survive this’ or ‘I need to end this.’”
In our discussions about suicide, both women say our country’s mental health system is under-resourced and prioritizes crisis over long-term support. Its uneven structure leaves it poorly equipped to help survivors do what we most need to: articulate and understand the stories behind our suicide attempts. And those stories matter—hearing them helps demythologize suicide, so we can understand and address it as a social problem.”
It’s no secret that I’m certifiably insane. For realsies, they give you a form when you get arrested under the Mental Health Act, and I have a stack of them. I have PTSD, the symptoms of which include a hilariously exaggerated startle reaction (sneak up on me sometime–it’s a riot), insomnia to make sure I’ve always got time on my hands, flashbacks (aka Worst Time-Travel Superpower Ever), and some really gory, vivid nightmares.
Thing is, after 30 years, your brain runs out of stuff to feature in your nightmares. And then things get… weird. Weird and awkward. So without further ado, here is a curated selection of my scariest nightmares, poorly-rendered as cartoons. Enjoy?
I just finished submitting my CV for a research job at a university. Neither the job nor the school is particularly prestigious, but they’re both respectable. We’re not talking University of Phoenix here.
The school in question has adopted, some time over the last year or so, a new application system. Instead of emailing HR your application, you upload it to one of those annoying forms that makes you fill out all your information at least twice. But this one has a bonus feature! It’ll tell you how many “inappropriate” words are on your CV.
I thought I was doing my part by refraining from opening every cover letter with “Dear capitalist motherfuckers,” but apparently no. Here is the list of words–all from titles of papers and presentations I’ve written, research I’ve conducted and positions I’ve held–deemed “inappropriate” for a job application.
I have no idea what happens to filtered applications once they enter the system. One hopes it’s just a friendly warning and not an indication that the application will never even see the light of day.
But it’s a clear statement about what the creeping managerial culture in academe–the one that reinvents workers as data and discipline as preventative–means for critical researchers. Even if “inappropriate” applications aren’t immediately tossed out (for now), the construction of “appropriate” and “inappropriate” language here serves to mark a very particular set of researchers as risks.
Hey, you remember that time I had a blog? Me too! I had an interesting few years; so interesting, in fact, that writing swear words on the internet was eclipsed by trying not to die.
And–go me–I didn’t die! I endured some pretty awful symptoms of PTSD, had assorted positive and negative experiences with the mental health system, dealt with addiction issues, and moved to the North. I like Sudbury, and although it took some time, I’m feeling a lot more like myself.
So now I have a blog again. Fuck yeah, motherfuckers.
Before I finished my B.A., I encountered a social worker who was working on her M.A. Her politics were generally pro-decriminalization, but she also liked to trade in horror stories about women whose vaginas fell out from having too much sex. She had secured the cooperation of a rescue organization that collaborated with police to be allowed to study their Very Marginalized Whores. She wanted my help nailing down her research question.
“Don’t do this study,” I said. “Find something else to research.”
“OMG why are you so mean?” was more or less her answer.
I have depression. Sometimes I have episodes of depression that make me break down completely. I stop being able to work, to write, to read, to get out of bed, or even to maintain basic nutrition and hygiene. It’s not pretty.
I am also very lucky to have a strong support network of people who want to help me. I remember reading awhile ago about how rare and precious this support network is:
Friends talk about cancer and other physical maladies more easily than about psychological afflictions. Breasts might draw blushes, but brains are unmentionable. These questions are rarely heard: “How’s your depression these days?” “What improvements do you notice now that you have treatment for your ADD?” “Do you find your manic episodes are less intense now that you are on medication?” “What does depression feel like?” “Is the counseling helpful?” A much smaller circle of friends than those who’d fed us during cancer now asked guarded questions. No one ever showed up at our door with a meal.
It’s far more common for people to want to pretend my depression (and depression in general) doesn’t exist than to want to talk about it, so it’s a beautiful thing in itself that people are talking to me.
But I was unintentionally being uncooperative. People are asking how they can help, and I keep telling them they can’t help. Nothing will make me better. Ever. That’s what my depression tells me is true. But it’s not true.
In the spirit of meeting my support network halfway, I’ve made a list of things that do help. I was going to post it privately on Facebook, but I thought it might also be useful to people out there in the wide world who want to support their friends with mental illnesses but don’t know how. Continue reading