Staring at Pain Killers

delicate

I was about 16 years old. Perhaps a year younger or a year older. I was home alone, a rare commodity amongst my large family. I had just gotten into an argument with my parents, the subject of which is no longer important enough for me to remember. I had convinced myself that I was unloved. More importantly, I thought I was unlovable.

As a teenager, I was deeply unhappy. There was no real cause for my unhappiness. I had a great childhood. A good group of friends. I didn’t do too badly in school. I knew what I wanted to do with my life. But my unhappiness grew to be the only thing I could really see. Some days, I knew that things would eventually get better, that it wouldn’t always be like this; I looked forward to those days. On other days, I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. All I could see was darkness. On these days, I allowed my demons to control me.

I remember feeling a sense of calm, but I also felt manic. I walked around the house looking for pill bottles, painkillers that I hoped would subside a hurt that went far beyond the physical. I purposefully left alone any prescription medications my parents or grandmother might need. I didn’t want anyone to suffer because of me. I gathered a collection of capsules in a dish and stared.

I don’t think I ever truly wanted to not be alive. The issue was that I wanted to feel alive, to feel as though I was really living. And if I wasn’t, if i was constantly succumbing to those darker places, what was the point? Without a real purpose, I wasn’t able to grasp why I should continue living. I felt as though I was a burden, as though my unhappiness was causing my family to become unhappy. And it was my fault.

I don’t remember crying. I don’t think I did. I was shaking, though. And it wasn’t long before I realized that I was about to do something that I didn’t actually want to do. I knew I didn’t want to die. I picked up the phone and called my friend. She conveniently lived next door. I asked her to come over and she was at my doorstep less than a minute later. She could hear in my voice that something was wrong.

It’s only now at almost 30 years old, that I am starting to face what I have spent more than a decade trying to ignore. Depression. It’s the word I’ve always been afraid to use. I was afraid of the stigma and afraid of what that meant of me. It doesn’t mean that I’m weak, it doesn’t mean that I’m a lesser person. It means that I’m human. And on my most anxiety-ridden days, I have to remind myself of these things.

My friend sat with me on the couch. We didn’t say much to each other. We didn’t have to. I just needed her there to sit with me. She eventually ventured into the kitchen and found my collection of pain killers. “What were you planning to do with this?” she asked, not expecting an answer. She quietly and calmly returned the pills to their respective bottles, cleaned out the dish and returned it to its place in the cupboard. We never again spoke about that day. And when my family returned home, all signs of my panic had disappeared. It was as though it never happened.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if she didn’t come over, if she didn’t answer her phone. Would I have taken the pills out of sheer desperation? It’s clear that I didn’t actually want to kill myself. But I’m not sure that I knew that then.

This is just a small piece of my story, and I’m not telling it because I want people to pity me, or look at me through sorrowful eyes. I’m telling it because it has taken me many, many years to come to terms with what I have been battling for so long, and I’m finally ready to start talking about it. And we should talk about it. We should all tell our stories, whatever they might be. Because mental health needs to be discussed. Because there are other teenagers out there staring at bowls full of painkillers. And maybe if we talk about it, maybe if I start to tell my story, I can finally stop hiding and start healing.

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Behind the Clown Nose

Taken during my time in the Comedy Program
Taken during my time in the Comedy Program

On the first day of my Humber College Comedy Writing and Performance Program, our Mentor told us, “If you are here, there is something seriously wrong with you.” I remember thinking he was joking. He had to be. I was sitting in a room full of amazing people who only wanted to make other people laugh. What a beautiful thing. But every day that has passed since then, I can see exactly what he meant.

I remember one of the first assignments for Stand-up class. We had to write two minutes of jokes on pain. I was too vulnerable to write about my own pain. So I first wrote two minutes about the pain of someone else. I was ashamed of myself, because I had pain. It was a demon I have been fighting as long as I can remember. In fact I wrote about it once before here on Blonde. It was about my childhood battle with Scoliosis. Though I have learned to cope with my insecurities on the subject, I know it affects me still. I always forget about it until I find myself getting close to anyone.

Although Robin Williams passed away a few months ago now, I find myself thinking of him lately in the context of my own experiences dealing with pain through comedy. What many people construe as comedic charm is actually an armour of humour. That’s what we need to take from Robin’s Death. He was known as once of the funniest and kindest people in the entertainment world, but he killed himself. How? I am sure non-coms (non-comedians) think he had everything and his death was, though sad, very foolish. What Robin has done has reminded this generation that comics are not happy people. This message was delivered once before by another great comic by the name of Lenny Bruce. In Lenny’s final days, he struggled emotionally and legally over the censorship of material. Not many people today know his story unless you were a comic. I remember being told the Lenny was the Jesus stand-up, because he died for our sins. Lenny Bruce changed the rules of stand-up for the future. Before him… comedy was clean. Now, comedy is a place where issues can be addressed and in my opinion stand-up is the one place where no subject is off the table. Thank God for that.

People Like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin all said something to the world with their stand-up. Lucille Ball said something to world with Desilu Productions. Robin William said something to the world with everything he did, but in his lifetime we didn’t really see it. He did stand-up, he acted in great heartwarming hilarious films and it took him dying to remind us how important it is to realize how much of a silent killer depression really is.

My first year in Comedy School I was dumped. Oh I was dumped BAD. I was destroyed. Luckily, at that time I was assigned a stand-up piece addressing anger. That’s when I came up with this angry comedic poem about everything that happened. I have never been that vulnerable before. Doing it terrified me. Still, I got up on stage and performed it. Looking back at it, I hate that set. It was uncomfortable and painful, but it was so freeing. It was one of my first performances that I ever did. It was also the first time I turned to the stage to deal with something. By doing it, I made myself laugh. People were enjoying themselves and that was my payment for opening up and dealing with an inner struggle in a very public way. To be honest, I thought it was kind of… well, it was twisted. Strangely, I felt better and it helped me to overcome my personal tragedy. That was when I began to understand what my mentor was saying.

We had a class called Physical Comedy. It was because of this class that I truly began to see and understand the people I was working with. There were about 30 people in it and only three others were girls. Naturally, many of the guys became my best friends. One day, our regular teacher was away and filling in was the former Physical Comedy teacher. We did this activity were we had to list of the names of the chapters in our life. This may not mean anything to you, but when you get that specific and share the intimate details of where we are from and what we have been through with a group of people you begin to really see how beautiful and broken people can be. It was this day that I fell in love with every person in that room. I wanted to hug them, protect them and be there for them. I knew that comedians were not like other people. They were delicate and fierce all at the same time.

To me Robin Williams was always a symbol of strength and comfort. I knew of his fight with addiction, but as a fan I only knew him as a symbol of happiness and hilarity. I sometimes forget about the first words said to me in Comedy School. There is something wrong with all of us. There has to be. To know that our best way to deal with things is to get up make fun of our problems and leave with an adrenaline rush. The more I think about my life the more I remember how safe and secure these people made me feel. I also remember when I graduated thinking that I would never again know the love and comfort that I felt in this place. I was wrong, because after the program when I got a day job I began seeing the same comics who I would see in the stand-up world, but they weren’t stand-ups. They were bartenders, store clerks and working at the Apple Store. Comics are different, but we gotta live like we are not.

Robin Williams was a man who had accomplished everything that any comic dreams of, but still he was not okay. He wore that suit of humour with pride and brought joy to millions of people. His death is a permanent reminder that we need to remember that not just comedians, but people in general are suffering and sometimes it is really hard to tell. We need to see his death as a very important reminder that charm doesn’t equal confidence and quite frankly that we don’t know anyone. So be kind, be understanding and no matter how well you think you understand people, remember that you only see what is shown to you… and sometimes it is just a show.

What people don’t get about depression

girlwithbirds

When I’m really depressed, I write long-winded notes on loose sheets of paper about what life was like when I was alive. What people don’t get about depression is that that’s the only way to describe it. Though I’m here theoretically, at least in body, I’m not really here. I don’t know where I am. Depression takes you to dark places and doesn’t let you escape scratch free.

What people don’t get about depression is it is not about being sad. It is the process of losing yourself entirely, of looking into the mirror and seeing a stranger in your clothes. Why is she so tired? Who is she anyway? Picture the saddest day of your life then multiply it by a million then have no reason to really explain it. What people don’t get about depression is it creeps up on you. It rears its ugly head in many ways and many forms and at any time. People with depression know depression is a snake. A boa constrictor. It strangles you and takes your life away just enough so you keep breathing.

When I was alive I used to write things that weren’t about depression. I used to laugh a lot. When I was alive my hair was shiny and my skin was clear and I was 21 and nothing could stop me because I was young and fearless. But then suddenly I wasn’t. Suddenly, or so it seemed, I was somewhere else entirely, a parallel universe, floating above myself, and I would reach my hands out so far but I would feel nothing.

And when the meds didn’t work and therapy didn’t work and I didn’t work, I filled time with my own medicine and sometimes didn’t write at all. Sometimes I had no words. Sometimes I had nothing. Sometimes I slept for days. Sometimes I didn’t sleep for days. Sometimes I didn’t know what day it was.

What people don’t get about depression is it is not pretend. Depression doesn’t forgive me for the things I’ve done, the people I’ve let down, the friends I’ve lost or the mistakes I’ve made because of it. The consequences are very real. Depression doesn’t care that I have goals and dreams. Depression doesn’t listen when I try to lock it behind doors and ignore it. It picks the locks so easily, like a criminal. As if the bolts are invisible. Depression doesn’t even blink when I scream.

What people don’t get about depression is it doesn’t go away, at least not without a fight. I remember the first night it hit me, like really hit me, like oh, this isn’t disappearing is it? It was New Years Eve several years ago now, the day before everything starts over. The last big hoorah. And I chose to go home alone after an unsatisfying restaurant shift when all my friends were off into the night making out and making mistakes. And I knew right then things had to change. And I thought they would. But they didn’t.

On the questionnaire they ask you if you ever think about killing yourself. What people don’t get about depression is even if you’re not suicidal you often think about dying because sometimes you already feel dead. Except if you were dead, you wouldn’t feel like this, and sometimes yes, that does seem more appealing.

On the questionnaire they ask you if you ever have difficulty making decisions. So you sit there and debate and go to say one thing but then change it to another before realizing, oh, yeah I guess this is an obvious one. What people don’t get about depression is sometimes the easiest things are the hardest. Sometimes no, I really can’t get dressed or make food or go to work today. I just can’t.

They call it a screening test and they ask you 18 questions and rate you on a scale. The higher the number, the worse you are. I was clinical the first time I wrote it. And the second. And many more times after that. But what people don’t get about depression is eventually things start to change. Eventually you find the right combo. Eventually you find something that works. Because if you don’t you might as well be dead, for a life with depression is no life at all.

What people don’t get about depression is this can take a really long time. Depression is a horrible, evil condition that goes into remission, like a cancer, which is maybe how I’d describe it anyway. It robs you of your soul and wellbeing. It takes you away piece by piece. What people don’t get about depression is we hate it more than you do and we know it hurts you and we hate this too. All we want is to put those pieces back together, and, after a while, we begin to.

When I’m less depressed, I write about being alive and I write this on anything and everything. What people don’t get about depression is how beautiful these moments are, even when temporary. We are soldiers in a constant battle of losing ourselves and discovering ourselves. We are progress lost and found.

What people don’t get about depression is sometimes you emerge from those dark places, scratches in tow and you feel so alive, but you no longer remember how to actually be alive. Even so, finally, the New Year begins.

Stop Complaining About Your Life, Our Little Sisters Need Us

800px-BuickTwins

The system is fucked. I’m not going to dance around this subject or take too much of your time painting some kind of abstract picture to make this easier to read. This is it. The system is fucked. In fact, many, many systems all around the world are fucked. Let us just focus on this one for now. You have a busy life, I have a busy life (not really); everyone wants to care about an issue as long as it involves no real effort or time. If this article is a reasonable length, my message will be heard. If this article is a paragraph or two too long, half the people will stop reading it before the end. Therefore in order to keep your attention, again, I’m getting right to the point which is, we – and the system we have created – are fucked.

Growing up I wasn’t the pretty girl, my older sister was. She got better grades than me, she was thinner than me, she had better hair and she was better at sports. She was the golden child and I was the ugly duckling, always feeling left behind and as if no one had a good reason to care about me, when they could care about her. In high school a boy I grew up with said to me, “Your sister is so hot, what happened to you?” Once, my older brother’s friends called, when I picked up they asked me if I was “The hot sister.” It sucked, for many, obvious reasons. Though I can’t hold it against her, she just got the better genes. It happens. I am happy to report in the past ten years I have been able to get over the fact that she is perfect, and I had to take a longer, harder road than her, but as I sit here writing this, I am a beautiful woman. I figured some stuff out, went on a few adventures and I’m looking pretty good these days. I actually am a smart lady and I’m happy for that longer, harder road because it turned me into a strong, interesting person who has their shit (for the most part) together.

Though this road that I went down had some pretty traitorous times. When I was 15, I thought things would never get better. I hated myself. I hated my life. My social anxiety was so bad that for my sweet 16 I was prescribed Valium just so I could have a conversation without a panic attack. I, on many occasions, had thoughts of suicide and felt completely alone. Sure, those boys in high school might have said some mean things, but I was my own worst enemy. It didn’t help that I had a challenging home situation, one that not many kids face. Having to cook for myself because my Mom was in the hospital, recovering from cancer just after my Dad decided he no longer wanted to live with us. As well, I was attending an unusual amount of funerals. This, along with my self-confidence so non-existent I had to be medicated in order to fake it for the public, it’s easy to see, my teen years sucked.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine lost a young girl she considered to be a sister. This girl was only 15 when she decided to take her own life. She didn’t leave a note, only a video saying sorry to her family. Afterwards my friend went through her diary and found entry after entry explaining her hatred for her body, how ugly she was and hated that she was “chubby.”

When my friend was in her weakened state was able to tell me this story, she opened up to notify me of something she never divulged to me before. My friend explained that she knows a few girls (including the one she just lost), who hated themselves because they thought a few extra pounds were so disgusting that no one would ever find them to be beautiful. When these girls would share their pain with my friend, she would show them my Facebook page. She would go through all my photos with them. Since I’m a size 10 and only 5’4”, I’m not an ideal thin girl either, this is why she used me as an example. She would show them my photos, with my style and love for life and asked them if they thought I was pretty even though I’m not a size two.  When they replied “yes” she would ask, then why can’t you be pretty and curvy? She would explain if they thought I was pretty with a few extra pounds, then they too are pretty.

I had no idea my friend was doing this, and doing this for years. Then I thought about the disturbed girl who felt the need to go to such lengths as to end her own life over this. I thought about all those diary entries my friend read after she had passed and all the writing this girl put her energy into to describe how much she hated herself. Then I thought what she wrote probably isn’t far from what I wrote when I was her age. Even worse, what she wrote probably wasn’t much different from what I wrote a few months ago, a few weeks ago, a few days ago. I mentioned earlier how far I’ve come from my high school years. In reality that’s just what I show the world, but when I’m at home, alone with my thoughts, and I dwell over everything. I dwell over how hard it has been for me to find a job, how I will never be a good writer, how it has been three years since I’ve had a boyfriend and how many men have used me and treated me like shit. I think about all these things and wonder why and my conclusion is I’m not good enough, I’m not pretty enough and I hate myself. How the fuck, why the fuck have I not been able to grow up and move on from this?  It is because this stage of arrested development in my mid twenties is far too comfortable and the future is too scary. Growing up, settling down, these responsibilities are terrifying, so I stick to what I know.

The system is fucked. These girls who are literally killing themselves over shit we have all gone through don’t need soap ads telling them they’re pretty. Corporations selling self-esteem through their products and disguising it as a revolution is the exact same as the media telling us we’re never going to be perfect, but still we should sink all our money into the hope that we might be the exception. We might be the one ideal woman who if we can pay enough money and if we really, truly believe the revolution is here because a dollar driven devil is telling us so. What these teenage girls need is for us, the women who have been through the battles and have come out alive is to tell them, “yes, what you are going through is real and it sucks, but it’s not forever.”

We need to grow out of our comfort zone and be the role models these struggling young girls are searching for. Show them our bruises and scars, let them know our wounds have healed just like theirs will. We have all felt the fucked up pain and insecurities and it’s not the end. I know I still have my struggles, but I also know if the 15-year-old suicidal girl I was could see me now, she would be over-the-moon, happy and proud.

These girls have a future. We know that and we need to be the ones to show them. Like I said, they don’t need to be told they are beautiful over and over since the media has played that line into a broken record. They will get there, and they will see that, but first they need to see that there is a life after this pain. So, all my fellow twenty something ladies afraid of growing up, this is no longer about you. You have no choice. Grow the fuck up. Our little sisters need us now more than ever.

Shelby Monita is a freelance writer living in Toronto. Her writing mainly focuses on music, more specifically underground and punk rock. She welcomes the travel bug with open arms and loves to share her stories. You can read more of her work on her site casamonita.com.

Photography: By Unnamed photographer for Bain News Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Now You Know… No You Don’t

Shelby-Blonde

How do you deal with a friend’s suicide? How do you move on when a person that you have slept with, have been your most intimate self with, decides it’s no longer worth it? You could do what I did and run away, again and again and again. In the span of a year, I ran away to Barbados, the other side of Canada, Montreal, Antigua, and took a five-week train trip across the USA alone. This week marks a year since his death. Here I am, back where I was when he kissed me, sleeping in the bed where we watched movies from and sipping coffee on the balcony where we would gaze down to stare at the drunks walking by.

I’m just as stuck now as I was then, or possibly more so. Beating myself for walking on that plane in San Francisco where I ended my USA adventure instead of staying in a place that filled my lungs and allowed me to breathe. Coming back from my last trip to the USA, I never expected how painful it would be to come home again. There is nothing for me here. When you’re away from home you sometimes feel that way, but deep down you know it’s just the vacation talking. When you come home, no longer on vacation and still feel there’s nothing for you, that’s when depression sinks in. No job, no boyfriend, at times feeling like not even a friend in the world since everyone is all caught up in their own lives. Everyone is out spending their well earned money and you’re left alone, at home, because you don’t have a job, you don’t have a man… why are you here. Then you think about him. That friend who saw it was no longer worth it and you’re at home, looking at nothing, feeling nothing and you just don’t know what to do.

After I came home from my five weeks on the road, everyone has been asking me how it was, wanting to see photos and expected me to tell all. It was amazing, it was perfect, I will say that. It was also an immense healing process, one that I don’t want to share. My trip was a personal journey and not something for me to make light of or present with a slideshow. You don’t know how depressed you are until you leave your comfy bed and face the world head on. I was depressed before I left (my counselors could tell you that), and I can say I am doing better now that I’m back. While I was gone though, I was never so happy. It felt like that’s how my life should be, a lone wanderer. Since I was a kid I could never keep long nails; I have a nervous nail biting habit. On my travels my nails have never been so long in my life. Back home, it would be impossible for them to be any shorter.

How do you deal with the suicide of a friend? I have no idea. I know sex is now more terrifying than it was when I was a virgin. It will probably remain terrifying until I find the answer to my question. I keep pushing away any man that tries to touch me, since I have no idea what that touch means anymore. Eric wasn’t the first man I had been with and we weren’t romantic when we were together, but he left me with so many unfinished conversations. I’m left not wanting another man, not trusting another man, though still longing for another man. Why did I ever come back? How do you deal with the suicide of a friend? I don’t know. I don’t even know if we’re all in this together anymore. I do know suicide can’t be the answer. If you have ever been left behind and know how this feels, then you know also, it can’t be the answer. Apparently the strong prevail. I’ll let you know if that’s truth or bull shit.

Shelby Monita is a freelance writer living in Toronto. Her writing mainly focuses on music, more specifically underground and punk rock. She welcomes the travel bug with open arms and loves to share her stories. You can read more of her work on her site casamonita.com.