Realler and Realler, why I lost my mind

I was thinking last night, specifically about something my Auntie had said to me about visiting me in Montreal, in my apartment. Something about how it shocked her that I was living like that, but she wasn’t judging me, but said in a way that implied I was living like that because I was mentally ill. No no no no, I was mentally ill because I was living like that.

“That,” being, of course, a situation of extreme poverty. I mean, I had literally two suitcases full of my possessions and a DVD player, and my two pet rats. I had a fork, a spoon, a bowl, and a tin soup pot. I had a sleeping bag, which wasn’t mine, and I did have an air mattress until it sprung a leak, after which point I mainly slept on the floor. A badly tiled floor. The walls were full of bullet holes, and we lived above the infamous Mile End poutine diner, Chez Claudette’s, so our apartment smelled like poutine all the time. Our couch came from the garbage, and it had springs coming out of it which we’d covered in a piece of cardboard and then used a second hand pillow for the cushion. We did have a television set, a huge hulking behemoth which was left in the apartment mainly out of a desire to avoid moving it from the last tenant. To get proper reception you had to tie the cable to your toe. I’m *serious*. The only routine visitor we had was the drug dealer, who sold us pot, because it was the only way to cope with living such a fucked up life.

I did have a bed, but it was in Saskatoon, along with the rest of my stuff, GREAT QUANTITIES of stuff. In my natural habitat, I am quite a materialist. I get freaked out when I don’t have my stuff, because I am a freak in various sundry ways, and so I have amassed a collection of books written by persons with various similarities to me. I had a computer, also not with me, and also problematic because as you may have surmised from this blog, a lot of my social interactions with people are online. The reason I didn’t have a bed was because it was my mother’s idea that I could just buy a bed when I got to Montreal. Of course, a $300 expenditure on a bed was something I was totally unable to afford. And my family suddenly decided to put their foot down on the financial support in a kind of tough love sink or swim deal, so a bed wasn’t forth coming and I slowly sank on my deflated air mattress.

If you are forced to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor for four months, I guarantee you will develop some kind of mental health issue.

Groceries consisted of things such as Ichiban noodles and Kraft Dinner, ugh, I still don’t eat either of those things. The week before I went into the hospital, this is what I had to eat, and I remember it still: 1 tin of peaches, 1 tin of evaporated milk, 1 tin of tuna mixed with cooked macaroni, 1 canister of instant coffee, and one beer, appropriately named “La Fin Du Monde.” Remember, that is my total consumption over the course of a WEEK! Seven days. I was also being harrassed by my mother about going back to work immediatement (she had sent me home early after being scared I would chase her around with a knife), which I wasn’t going to do because I knew SOMETHING was wrong with me.

So yes, poor, starving, losing lots of weight because I was starving, on high doses of Effexor because I was depressed because I was starving and had no bed AND lived in a place where I smelled food all the time. Let’s just skip ahead to the Intervention and the calling of the police to haul me away in some Mile End Blanche Dubois way.

So these people come over to the house and start telling me “This isn’t real!” because by then I was saying all kinds of wild things and running around naked. But I remember this so clearly, it was that one thing which pissed me off. This isn’t real my ass!! You’re the people who just came from a dinner party, you have food in the cupboard, you have real beds and comforters and pillows. Not real! This is as real as it gets! It just gets realler and realler. So I got mad, specifically because I felt that my extreme poverty was being dismissed, and I kicked a window in and broke it.

Which was a bad idea because this put me in the Danger to self and others category.

This wasn’t a window to the outside. This wasn’t a window affixed to any kind of a wall. It was a piece of trash, a lumpy awkward window frame that had just lived in the house and didn’t seem to belong to any particular room at any time. I don’t know why it was there. I used to use it to draw on, because I had no paper for a month (I know, this is SO dickensian, but all true). It was just garbage. And I was mad, and I kicked it, and like a good piece of glass it broke, making a delightful shattering sound.

This of course spread through the video art community like wildfire “Thirza went crazy, she’s in the bin, and she broke a WINDOW!!!” Oooh. Windows everywhere are now safe from me. Not only that, but another part of my living situation got translated into the Danger to self and others. I had the OVEN on!!!

It’s true. I don’t deny it. No one asked me why it was on, and people doing the intervention and judgement were lower middle class people. This is an important point to make, because very poor people often heat their living quarters with their stove.

It’s true. And one of my heaters didn’t work, and I was tired of playing the little matchgirl and so I had turned the oven on.

Later on, of course, when I moved back to Vancouver and my friends who were also extremely poor, I saw one of them absently turn his burners on because the kitchen was freezing cold. It really is just something poor people do. Is it safe? Well NONE of being poor is safe.

I find it interesting that is was only at this terribly late juncture in time that people decided they had to step in, and still missed most of what was fucking me up. I mean, perhaps a more meaningful intervention would be to bring me some food and then talk to me and decide what to do, instead of just running over like some shock troops calling in the Quebec Police for back up. And afterwards, I still didn’t have anything to eat. I mean, After The Hospital. I still only had one soup pot, and the handle had jiggled off by then. And by then someone I kicked out really did break a window, to the outside, and tried to fix it with pink tissue paper (???).

I did get a bed, a second hand bed, it was the most amazing thing I ever had. I barely remembered what sleeping in a bed was like, until the hospital. And hospital beds do all kinds of weird things, and so like Homer Simpson I did the “Bed goes up, bed goes down” thing, only it’s Canadian health care so I had to get out and turn a crank each time. . .

But really, what I really needed afterwards was food, and a promise that my family or whoever wouldn’t let me get that crushingly poor again. But I was on medication, and in the view of most of the world, mad people need medication before food, friends, shelter, jobs, etc etc.

So I went back to Vancouver, I didn’t feel like I could stay in Montreal. People certainly didn’t want to hang out with me after my episode, and I was drugged to the gills so I wasn’t terribly entertaining, and I was being pressured to quit my job because I could barely think or move or work. I needed to go be with friends who would let me just kinda, sit around. And eat. And I needed to be around friends who were poor and knew how to work the system. So that’s what I did, I moved back to Vancouver, had a grant for a year so I got a bed, and when my grant ran out I ended up going to places like the Carnegie for dinner, and Coast, where I got chased away by a Nurse Rachet wannabe. I would live on like, one BBQ pork bun a day. But I also had friends who would feed me dinner, or who worked in cafes where they would run a tab for me. I was still starving to death really, but I was on Zyprexa so I was gaining weight, and so people made the grand assumption that I was getting plenty to eat. Meanwhile I’d be walking down Hastings and a car would stop for me and I would be SO tempted to get in, I’d be thinking “Jesus, in twenty minutes I could have something to eat today.” Because I only ever ate once a day, and that was if I was lucky. Other than that I smoked a lot of cigarettes and drank a lot of coffee and took medication that cost more than my grocery budget. If I didn’t have anything to eat, I would sleep, because being awake and starving is the worst. You can feel your stomach start eating itself, you keep belching because your acid wants to digest something only there’s nothing to digest, it’s physically agonizing. So I would sleep and sleep and sleep until I could get money or food. I had to conserve my energy, I didn’t have any energy to go make money or steal food. And if I was REALLY hard up, if it was looking even more bleak than usual, I would start planning suicide. And not because I wanted to die, more because it was a logical solution, I didn’t want to slowly starve to death in horrible agony, if I had to die it was going to be on my own terms, probably painful, yes, but at least it would be faster.

So really, nothing changed, except that I had friends who were also poor and so it didn’t seem so bad. Oddly enough, I was denied services at the local mental health team because I wasn’t in such a bad way comparatively speaking.

Mental health should really include battling poverty. There’s nothing noble about dying in a developed country because you’re underemployed or unemployed and can’t afford basic necessities. And making those necessities available to us only on the condition of forced psychiatric treatment doesn’t help either, that’s just blackmail. Imagine mental health care involving daily food deliveries to persons living in poverty, without being a part of a community treatment order. Wow. But you know, fruit growers don’t have the same kind of lobby groups and money as say, Big Pharma. Chiquita isn’t going to send banana reps to doctors. I’m sure proper food could cure a lot of mental illnesses, but it just doesn’t have the same kind of industry behind it, alberta cattle ranchers aren’t giving sirloin steaks to doctors for free samples.

Beds and food are more important, in my mind, than medication.

2 thoughts on “

  1. I don’t know that most people who’ve never been hungry get how much even just the hunger part of things can screw with a person’s head. If they were eating a couple meals a week, they wouldn’t be all that happy or rational either.

    I can remember a time period when I was told by service providers (ones whose job description actually included meal prep) that I shouldn’t expect more than a couple meals a week. They implied that there was something wrong with me, that I was too demanding, if I wanted to eat more often than that. At that point I could even afford food, I had funding for staff who were supposed to buy and cook it for me, and I was still going hungry because they thought regular meals were too much to ask.

    I remember talking to one of them about this — can’t remember if it was a staff person, a case manager, or the staff person who got a promotion to case manager later. At any rate, she tried to compare my food situation to the fact that she couldn’t always go to fancy restaurants whenever she wanted. I’m not joking.

    I’m shocked I didn’t land in the nuthouse during that period of time, I can only imagine that it was because I had people protecting me from that at that point.

  2. Strange, how malnutrition and poverty are being blamed on mental illness or disability, instead of acknowledging that people are disabled by a lack of food. It’s appalling that your service providers assumed they could disregard such basic needs. I wonder what they were thinking, I wonder that a lot about service providers. We should really be regarded as the employers of these people, which we are, and thus have the same rights as any employers including firing them and being the ones who give references. Can you imagine the power difference if your staff person needed a letter of recommendation from you to become a case worker?
    I remember when i got chased away from Coast, the mental health clubhouse, it was because I wasn’t yet an official member and I was trying to get dinner. I went to the orientation for it and everything, because I needed the food, but they told me I had to bring back a letter from my doctor to get services. I remember that bothering me for a reason I couldn’t put my finger on at the time. I was in the system, I could have gotten a letter, but now I realize I was subconsciously rebelling because some of the people who need that service weren’t getting letters from their doctors for a reason. Once your doctor has you registered in your file as a person with a psych disability, it opens up all those “treatment” options like medication and hospitalization. And to some doctors, finding out someone needed a letter so they could get free meals would imply that they couldn’t look after themselves.
    I also remember after my friends and I got kicked out of Coast, we went to get free sandwiches from a church, but we had to have documentation that we were students.

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