The Stigma

Photo0001I wasn’t expecting to have anything to post, anytime soon.  In fact, given that I’ve recently started a new job and still have to adjust to the new hours (The commute is 90 minutes door-to-door so I lose 3 hours a day standing in various busses and subway cars), and all that shit.

Then, TODAY happened.

I woke up early this morning, as per my usual.  I felt tired and out of sorts, but that’s usually how I feel for the first couple of hours I’m awake…which is why I try to be up at least an hour before I have to leave for work.

But the thing is, I got to the office, got trained up on a new task, but for most of the early morning, I still didn’t feel right.  I got myself a second coffee right after my midmorning break…but never touched it.  My stomach was churning and my pulse was quickening.  I knew what was coming.

Those of you who know me, those of you who read this blog, those of you spying on me on behalf of the Surete du Quebec (Who recently told me that in spite of no longer being a “criminal” that I’m still under surveillance), know that I suffer from anxiety-related issues.

A panic attack, for me, can be just a few hours of feeling mildly terrified, or full blown whimpering, crying, heart palpitations, sweating, shivering, feeling like there’s a belt around my chest, curled up in a ball under the blankets…thinking and feeling the worst of all things, all at once, all the time.

For panic attacks they usually put you on a cocktail of tranquilizers, an antidepressant, and since the pharmaceutical giants have began direct marketing to consumers and avoiding proper regulation, even dangerous, addictive anti-psychotic medication (Used as a heroin substitute in prison) to treat anxiety.

They also recommend therapy, but having been through therapy many times, and having found myself fighting the bureaucracy that separates Quebec’s mentally ill from the fucking help they need, it’s not an option for everyone.  First, you have to get a reference, get on a waiting list for an evaluation,

Then you get an evaluation.  The psychiatrist, who has to perform fuck knows how many evals a day fires off a bunch of standardized questions, tries to hurry you through your answers, “diagnoses” you and then sends you for ASSESSMENT.

As an aside, over the course of roughly 30 years of attempting therapy at various stages of my life, I’ve been “diagnosed” – AT SEPARATE TIMES – as depressed; as being “chronically angry”; as being a “Raconteur” who was seeking attention not actual help; as anxiety disorder; as being a narcissist with antisocial personality disorder, or as being an antisocial with narcissistic personality disorder – I can’t remember which; and most recently, with nervous exhaustion.

So once you get past Evaluation and into Assessment, some people that talk to you for all of five minutes decide what’s the best course of action for you: a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a psychotherapist, a therapist, a social worker, or, presumably a patchouli-drenched, unwashed, long-haired tree-hugging, dirt-eating Druid “Alternative” health and life-coach specialist.

Now, What these assholes decide isn’t necessarily what’s best for you, but you still go with it, and then you start dating your “shrink”.

What?  No, not like that.

You start having “initial sessions” with one shrink, to figure out if you have a rapport with them, or not.  If it works out great, you’re in therapy.  If not, well you have to start all over with someone else until you find “the one” you can see yourself in therapy with.

THEN it becomes a question of whether or not the therapy is working for you.  Because, guess what?  If not, you pretty much have to go back three steps.

And should you ever “end” therapy for more than a few months, you have to go back to getting a doctor to write you a referral for a psych eval, all over again.

Anyway, I’m on meds for my panic attacks, and I’ve been waiting for four months already to hear back from the hospital that promised to put me “into the system” to get in touch with me.  I don’t get panic attacks often…most of the time, they level off somewhere around “nervous” or “paranoid” and I can use the tranquilizers or once I’m safely at home, some good. old-fashioned weed to take the edge off of the attack.

And then today, I had one at work.

Now, I always carry a supply of meds with me – for my acid reflux, because oy, who needs it?  Painkillers, for obvious reasons, and a couple of tranquilizers.  So as soon as I put 2 and 2 together and realized I was about to have a bad episode, I took the tranks and tried to focus on work until I calmed down.

I didn’t calm down, and I could feel it building.  I must have sat there for an hour, working, wondering, how am I supposed to get through the day like this? and realizing, rather quickly, that I probably wouldn’t.  But then, the problem: If I tell my boss I’m having a panic attack and I need to go home, that’s pretty much the second-easiest way to get fired, after urinating on your boss’s desk while playing the Battle Hymn of the Republic on kazoo.

So, because I was trying to concentrate on work, and fighting back tears and hyperventilation, I spent a rather longer amount of time than’s healthy trying to figure out how to get out of work.  Finally I got up, rushed to the bathroom and jammed my fingers down my throat until I started puking uncontrollably.

Why couldn’t I go to my boss and say I was having a panic attack and had to go home?  The same reason people with chronic depression can’t call into work sick; because if you’re mentally ill, you must either be “faking it” to get something, or “dangerously unstable and a threat to everyone around them”.  There’s no inbetween.

That’s why so many of us “crazies” just keep that shit to ourselves.  Because we’re 16 times more likely than you to be killed by the police.  We’re discriminated against by society at large. We’re looked on with fear, mistrust, and disdain.  In fact, we’re more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of a crime, in spite of what those fucking parasitic bastards in Hollywood have programmed you all to believe.

There’s countless ways you can be exploited when you’ve got a mental health issue, even something as mild as depression or anxiety.  For instance, your ex-wife can use it to weaponize your children and revoke your visitation rights on a whim; people find out you have a “problem” and then suddenly every time you have a bad day or even a rough couple of hours, instead of seeing a coworker having a shitty day or a rough couple of hours it becomes a bunch of people talking about how you freaked out all day, even if all you did was sigh for longer than half a second once, while opening something on the desktop.  So-called friends belittle or trivialize your experience, refusing to understand that you have a legitimate illness that is fucking with your ability to relate to the world.  Or an encounter with police begins with a gun pointed at your center mass and ends in a double pair of handcuffs, because the mentally ill are preternaturally strong and can break the mere bonds of a single pair of cuffs.

I’m sorry, am I drawing on too many examples from my own life?

Too bad; this is my fucking blog.

For all I know, this is nothing more than new job stress.  But I just lost a day’s pay.  And going home early and sick when you’re three weeks in on a job never looks good.

But, unlike people who, say, get the flu, or double pneumonia, or break a leg, or their back, have a family member die, suffer horrific trauma from a random railroad misadventure, the mentally ill are expected to suck it up and go into work anyway.

It’s frowned upon for us to be too emotional to handle the stress of our daily lives.  It’s held against us if we have to break plans or promises because we’re having a bad day and can’t handle things.  When we lash out we’re seen as unstable, and when we turn to humour (unattributably our best defence mechanism) in “inappropriate” circumstances, people are offended and don’t want to see it as our way of coping.

And, tomorrow’s an extra challenge: see, as I’ve been writing this for the last couple of hours, I’ve STILL BEEN GOING THROUGH THE SAME PANIC ATTACK I LEFT WORK FOR; even home and smoked up, my levels h ave only been dialled back to about seven and three quarters, from eleven.

So tomorrow morning I have to self-assess, and decide if I can handle going in to work.  I mean, I most likely will be able to, but then I’m going to have to go to the effort of spending the day in character, in this case, of someone who had a bad gastro all the night before, for the whole day.

I mean, for fuck’s sake…it’s ridiculous the lengths I have to go to – not in order to LIVE with a mental illness – in order to maintain the illusion that I’m a happy, healthy member of society.

It always feels like the deck’s stacked against me…like everything’s an uphill battle…like I’m being judged, like I’ve failed those I care about most…that I’ve been stabbed in the back or been taken advantage of too many times because of my problems…and like I just have to grin and bear it, because God FORBID my problems should be taken seriously.

Even posting this, I’m aware that there’s a chance that before the night is through that the police special tactical response unit will storm my home and drag me away to a hospital – because that’s how they treat us, not just in Quebec (Though especially in Quebec), but in all of fucking CANADA.

Some days, it’s just not worth chewing through the restraints.


So, this article is getting a lot more traction than I imagined, and in the interest in doing right by my audience, I’d like to add the following information:

Those of us who live with mental health issues and self-medicate (as I do, in my case with marijuana), we know there is a fine line between self-medication and substance abuse.

Substance abuse can exacerbate an existing mental illness – even with something as innocuous as weed, or having a drink or two in the evenings – If you are concerned that your self-medication has crossed the line into substance abuse, I encourage you to read the following article, to help you self-assess, and where required, get the help you deserve: Anxiety and Addition, a Guide, by Paul Kerry of the Ocean Recovery Centre.

Keep on keeping on, folks.

5 thoughts on “The Stigma”

  1. Steve – I went through a bad period a few years ago wit anxiety and panic attacks – brought on by a divorce. I took the cocktail, self medicated, whatever. I feel you. All I can say is that I am currently in a better place, and it makes a difference. I don’t think I’m cured, but I am in remission – hang in there and you’ll get there too. I am sure that while it brings its own stresses, having a new gig must help – I know it’s been a tough few years. I am pulling for you – you’ve got the email – let me know if you need to chat!

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