Why Addicts Do Not Choose Overdose

In the US, 43 982 people die of a drug overdose each year, averaging to about 120 deaths per day.

And with movements such as Bell Let’s Talk Day gaining traction, trying to reduce the stigma that people struggling with mental health related issues face, you’d think that we’d be talking a bit more about addiction, and the stigma that surrounds that. I mean, if the above statistic proves anything, it’s that this is not a small issue in our society. And the two issues are not inherently connected, no – dealing with a mental illness does not mean that you will also deal with addiction. But there is plenty of research that suggests that addiction is often rooted from a deep-felt and terrible emotional pain.

As addiction expert Gabor Maté says, “all the addictions are meant to soothe the pain”.

This might be a pain stemming from neglect or abuse – one of those life events that we as a society have all mutually agreed is terrible and meriting certain sympathies and allowances. It might be a pain that we all deal with, in one way or another, like low self-esteem, or just your average, everyday existential crisis. It doesn’t matter where the pain comes from; all that matters is that it is pain, and the addiction serves to alleviate that pain a little bit.

Now, why am I talking about this? I am not personally addicted to drugs. I have never been addicted to drugs. In fact, at this point in my life, I am actively trying to avoid most sources of addiction, because I know that I am precisely the sort of person who would get addicted: a highly sensitive empath with tendencies toward depression, anxiety and self-harming behaviour. I see myself too much in the addict to risk it.

But I, like most everyone reading this right now, know people who have dealt with drug and alcohol addictions (it’s too prevalent an issue in our society for this to not be the case).

And recently, I found myself watching a video by Juggling The Jenkins Blog, wherein blogger and former addict Tiffany Jenkins reacted to such comments (directed toward another individual) as, “if you overdose, you know, cause you’re a drug addict… I’m not saving you” and “stick a needle of f*cking poison in your arm… and die a pathetic death on the shitty floor of a shitty public bathroom… Nice choice buddy”.

I like to think that beliefs such as these, that addicts deserve to die because they “made the choices” that led to their overdose, are in the minority. And maybe they are. But nonetheless, it is a belief that I have heard many try to defend. It is even a belief that has bled into our medical system. In 2017, Sheriff Richard K. Jones of Butler County, Ohio declared that his deputies will no longer will be supplied with a product needed to save the lives of anyone experiencing an overdose. In another part of the same state, it has been proposed that emergency responders not be dispatched to help anyone experiencing their third overdose.

“I’m not the one that decides if people live or die. They decide that when they stick that needle in their arm,” Jones has been quoted as saying.

I honestly cannot believe that I am sitting here, trying to argue that lives are worth saving.

Because I could begin, quite simply, by pointing out that addicts are people. They exist. They think, they feel, they pick up on the messages that society gives them and they know when they are not being valued as human lives. They have families – maybe a mother, a father, a significant other, a child, anything. And as much as I hate the argument that people only have value in connection to their relationship with other people – if it was your loved one dying of a drug overdose, wouldn’t you want everything possible to be done for them to save their lives?

Even if we can’t picture ourselves as the addict, we can at least imagine the addict as a person with worth, can’t we?

This idea that addicts choose to die the moment that they take the drug in question comes from such a place of superiority. It is entirely wrapped up in this misconception that we as society have that non-addicts are somehow better than addicts, that addicts are stupid because they said yes to a drug that the rest of us either said no to, or we just weren’t put in a position where we had to find out what our answer would be. It is associated with this idea that addiction is caused by stupidity – except I have already discussed this. Addiction isn’t caused by stupidity. It is caused by pain.

And, truly, think about it: how are any of us any better than an addict? Seriously, answer that question without any generalizations that addicts are ‘stupid’, any classist assumptions of the addict as dirty or impoverished.

And I’m not trying to diminish the fact that addiction is a terrible thing. Addiction can and has led many to hurt other people, to hurt themselves, to lie, cheat, and steal to serve the addiction. I am aware of that. But what we are talking about right now is whether or not an addict deserves to die, whether or not they chose to overdose. And I fear that, when we answer this question, we remove ourselves from the equation. This becomes an issue of us, and them, and we are very separate, worlds apart, from them.

And, end of day, haven’t we all done things that we knew were harmful to us to serve an addiction? Perhaps not an addiction to drugs, but addiction can come in many shapes, ways, and forms.

Can you imagine a world where a doctor refuses treatment to someone suffering from heart failure because “they chose to eat all those burgers”? Or where a smoker is denied the lung transplant that will save their life because “they chose to smoke all those cigarettes”?

And perhaps this is where the issues gets a little bit personal for me; do you remember my mentioning that I have tendencies toward depression, anxiety, and self-harming behaviour? While I have not dealt with drug or alcohol problems myself, I have dealt with eating disorders and self-harm, and I would hope that, had I ever been hospitalized or had my life threatened by either issue, someone would be there to help me. They wouldn’t just stand back and say, “well, she did choose to do that to herself.”

Yes. Yes, I withheld food from my system. Yes, I cut into my own skin. Yes, an addict took that drug, knowing full well that it is a drug. But in every case here, the choice was not made out of a direct desire to die. It was to temporarily alleviate an outside pain that needs to be dealt with so that the person in question can lead a healthier, happier life.

The only difference between these scenarios is that, in this post-Bell Let’s Talk Day society, I feel more confident in someone else recognizing that don’t want to die, then I do for anyone who is addicted to drugs.

And this shouldn’t be the case. We should live in a society where we know and accept that everyone has worth, that everyone has the right to live and be safe and supported by their government and their society. We have already let people who are in pain slip through the cracks as it is.

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Do Not Suffer in Silence

Hello. My name is Ciara Hall. It’s nice to meet you. That’s a lovely shirt you’re wearing; it really matches your eyes. And who am I, you ask? Well, I’m a lot of things, many of which aren’t relevant to the discussion that we’re having right now, so I won’t mention them. Instead, I will mention that I sometimes struggle with depression, and I almost always struggle with anxiety. I have dealt with suicidal thoughts off and on for pretty much my whole life, and although I am trying to break the habit and I have made significant improvement, I have also dealt with issues surrounding self-harm since I was about ten years old.

Again, it’s very nice to meet you.

I have been told by people in the past that I should not be so open about these issues. And, I mean, I don’t usually greet someone in quite the same way that I greeted you, humble reader. Usually, I’m a bit more discreet than all that. But that being said, I do not try to hide it either, and this little exchange between us is not the first time I have written about this. I mean, I sort of wish that I could say it was, because that would imply that this doesn’t occupy much of my brain space.

And I come from a rather private family, so it should come as no surprise that I have been criticized for talking about this by being told, “how do you think the people who care about you feel, having to read about that?” And I have no doubt, my mother did not wake up this morning thinking, “oh boy, I really hope that I can read about my daughter’s battle with depression today!” My grandmother does not want to know that I deal with anxiety; my sister does not want me to dig my nails into my skin in frustration. I know all of this. Every time that I write these articles, this exact thought crosses my mind.

And I am not writing these articles because I want them to worry, or feel bad, or anything like that. That is not the point. Truth be told, the point has very little to do with them. The point is me. The point is, I feel better when these thoughts exist outside of my own head. The point is, I know that there are people out there who are dealing with the exact same problems that I am, and I do not want those people to feel like they are dealing with them alone. The point is, these are pervasive issues that our society has been ignoring for far too long now, and somebody needs to stand up and speak about them; I cannot control the voices of other people, but I can control my own voice. And I choose to speak.

It just so happens, the unfortunate side-effect of this is that the people who care about me learn that my life isn’t exactly perfect.

And I hate to come across as callous and cruel here, but my answer to that is: so what? Nobody’s life is perfect. That’s just one of those things that we all know know and accept, one of those phrases that we pass around to make ourselves feel better about our own dumb lives. And yet, we never want to believe it when it comes to our loves ones. I know that I wish my loved ones never had to hurt. But the fact of the matter is, they do, even if it hurts me to know that they do.

The fact of the matter is, we all do.

Maybe your issue isn’t depression or mental illness, but you have an issue of some sort.

I have known people who spent their entire teenage years in the closet and hating themselves for it, and the only way to make things better was to come out to the world around them, even if there were those in their life who wished they hadn’t.

I have known people who have been hurt and abused, and despite that, lied about it for years, even to themselves. And the only way to stop the hurt and abuse was to come forward and talk about it, to deal with it, even if their loved ones did not want to hear that they had dealt with something so horrible.

I have also known people who claim to have the perfect life on social media, never once making a single complaint, and yet their eyes are hollow in every picture, their smile forced. When I see these people, I always wonder what they aren’t saying.

Because end of day, we are all suffering, to one degree or another. That is simply part of the human experience, and it’s unfortunate, but denying it won’t make it any better. And hiding your pain may make your loved ones a little bit less concerned, but it most certainly isn’t fair to you. Nobody should have to suffer in silence.

And, in a perfect world, revealing your pain to others shouldn’t make them shy away from you or angry. Rather, it should bring you closer; maybe my family doesn’t want to hear that I deal with depression and anxiety, but at least if they know, then they are aware of what is going through my head, and I have someone to turn to when things get particularly bad.

But I get it; the world doesn’t always work that way. Not everyone responds to things they don’t like in the most ideal fashion, but that still doesn’t mean that you should be silent. Rather, keep talking about it. Talk about your experience to anyone who you feel comfortable enough with, and either one of two things will happen: 1) those who don’t respond well will come around eventually, understanding that your safety and happiness sometimes needs to come before their comfort, or 2) you will find someone who does, in fact, accept you for all that you are, and lends an ear to your troubles when you need one.

Maybe we don’t want to hear that our loved ones are suffering, but our loved ones are suffering nonetheless. That’s just the nature of life. And if they are truly someone that you care about, then ask yourself this: is it not better to be there for them and do everything we can to alleviate their pain, rather than forcing them to suffer in silence?

Speak out. And more than that, lend an ear to someone who needs it. Because the truth is, we all need it, from time to time.

When You Have Suicidal Thoughts, But You Don’t Want to Die

I don’t remember how old I was when I first started having suicidal thoughts. I remember my words easier than I remember my thoughts, and so I’m led to believe that I must have been very young when they started, because I was nine years old when I first told a friend at school, “sometimes I think about not being here anymore”.

“But you need to be here,” she told me. “Who would be my friend if you weren’t?”

I was flattered by her words, and I was glad she said them to me at the time. But, in retrospect, she didn’t really understand what my problem was (though, to be fair, I don’t think I articulated it particularly well either).

These thoughts continued to plague me for years after, coming and going, ebbing and flowing like a wave. Sometimes I would be perfectly fine. Sometimes I would wonder why I even entertained these terrible thoughts. Sometimes, something would happen, and I would start thinking about how much better off the world would be without me. I would think about how easy it would be to just find the highest rooftop and jump, or go off somewhere alone and end it out of sight. I would tell myself not to think these things, tell myself that these were terrible thoughts, that they weren’t true, but even still, they came back naturally. I could do nothing to keep them at bay.

The closest that I ever came to acting on them was when I was about eighteen. These thoughts occurred to me one night, and as an attempt to stop thinking them, I told myself to seriously imagine what life would be like without me. I did so, and I came to the conclusion that, while my loss would hurt people for a little while, they would move on and all be better off in the long run. At this point, I told myself to go to bed, and if I still felt this way the next day, then I would figure it out then.

Needless to say, I managed to pull myself through it.

And the thing is, these thoughts still occur to me from time to time. But I am completely, one hundred percent convinced that I will never act on them. Because, while I have suicidal thoughts, I don’t want to die.

Because I don’t want to die, I told myself to go to bed rather than act on how I felt at the time.

Because I don’t want to die, I tried to banish these thoughts whenever they occurred to me.

Because I don’t want to die, my nine-year-old friend didn’t really understand what I was admitting to when I told her that I thought about “not being here”. She told me that I needed to be here, and I would be regardless, but I would still feel like I shouldn’t be.

As I mentioned before, these thoughts came in waves, and when they rolled back, I loved life. I loved my school and my artistic pursuits and the endless possibilities that life offered. More often than I saw myself jumping in front of an oncoming bus, I saw myself in a foreign country someday, sipping coffee at a cafe is France, or reading at the British Library. I saw myself walking down the aisle to meet my future partner, I saw my dreams coming true and my career flourishing. I knew that none of this could be possible if I ended my life, and I really, really want all of this to happen.

I never really understood this contradiction in myself. As a society, it seems to me that we think of suicidal thoughts as a very basic, black-or-white thing: either you have them, and you are at risk of acting on them, or you don’t have them, and are therefore safe. Landing between these two states confused me. I wanted to get help, because these thoughts were not okay and I knew that, but I didn’t want to tell anyone because I didn’t want them to think that I would actually take my own life when I knew that I wouldn’t. I didn’t think that forcing other people to live with that thought was fair.

It wasn’t until recently that I discovered that there were other people who felt the same way as me. And, I have to admit, discovering this was a massive relief.

To a certain extent, this validated the way that I felt. Like many of us, I assumed that, if I had suicidal thoughts, then I must want to die. I thought that if I didn’t want to die, then my suicidal thoughts weren’t real, they were whiny cries for attention that I never voiced to anyone. But if other people felt this way, then that meant that the way that I felt was real. I wasn’t making it up. My perspective mattered.

And that is why I am writing this: for those who feel similar to me, and for those who don’t.

If you experience suicidal thoughts, but you do not want to die, then I want to say this: you are not alone. You are valid, and the way that you feel matters. There are people who feel the same way, people who can help you. There are plenty of resources for you to reach out to (for Canadian readers, you can contact here; for American readers, you can contact here). Just because you do not believe that you will act on your feelings, that does not justify your continuing suffering. You deserve better than that.

And for those of you who do not relate to my experience, whether that mean that you do experience suicidal thoughts as well as the desire to act on them, or you have never experienced suicidal thoughts at all, allow me to say this: suicidal thoughts are not as simple as we would like to think of them. This is a complex issue, and very personal for every person involved. Every person thinks and feels differently, after all. By knowing and accepting this, we have a better chance of helping those around us. We can create a safe environment, where people of all kinds feel capable of coming forward and speaking about their experience.

This is one of the many reasons why we need to open up a dialogue about mental health. When we don’t talk about these issues, then people have a hard time understanding them, even when they are experiencing them. People who have no idea what they are going through have a hard time explaining it, or finding ways to reach out. It is difficult to find the words to explain something when you don’t really understand what you are explaining.

And that is why I write this: I am speaking out, and I am inviting you to speak out with me.

Why Depression is Not Romantic

When I was a teenager, maybe thirteen or fourteen, I read stories of girls with arms like mine. The girls with white lines drawn across their pale skin, carved there by blades and tainted by tears. Girls who caught the attention of the cute, sensitive boy in their class, the boy who saw her scars and knew what they meant. The boy who took her aside and kissed her scars and told her that she was beautiful regardless, that he would hold her close and take care of her, that he would never let her hurt again. The boy who loved her, not because there was more to her than her scars, but because he knew that she was sad and broken, and that he could protect her from the harsh world.

These stories were not the reason why I self-harmed, but they most certainly justified my doing so.

Just like when I was in my second year at university, studying literature because I wanted to be a great writer, and the professor made the statement to my class: “this poem is about depression, which is something that all great writers deal with. I don’t really think it’s possible to be a great writer without being broken.”

Well, that’s good news, I thought; I suppose I need to be broken then. Maybe this is just the price I pay to achieve my dreams.

I think, even at the time, I knew that what I was thinking was wrong.

Even then, I knew that the stories I wrote were not created in the black, ceaseless spirals of depression. They might have been inspired by it, from time to time, but no more than they were inspired by other aspects of my life. And, more importantly, they were written in those moments where I broke the surface, where I took in a gulp of air and thought that everything might be fine again, just before I sunk back below and lost all creative ability again.

Just like I knew that self-harm would not earn me love. No boy ever saw my scars and kissed them to make them better; now that I’m no longer thirteen years old, I don’t really think I’d want one to. All that my scars did was give me something to be ashamed of, something to pull my sleeves over and lie about when people asked me about them.

“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what did you do to your arm?”

“Oh, I was playing with my cat, and, well, this happened.”

Please. Please, don’t notice that it looks nothing like a cat scratch.

But even still, despite the fact that depression was not my gateway to genius, despite the fact that self-harm brought me more shame than it did love, there was still something so romantic about both ideas. About being the tortured artist, the Sylvia Plath, the Van Gogh. Forget the fact that they both cut their stories off before they were finished; they were beloved and mysterious, deep and thoughtful. And all I had to do to become them was give into what was already inside me, right?

We romanticize mental illness all the time, present it as something mysterious and unknown and darkly beautiful, but it isn’t. The reality of mental illness is laying in bed all day because you just can’t find the motivation to get up. The reality of mental illness is wearing long sleeves in the summer because you don’t want to risk anyone, not even the cute, sensitive boy in your class, to know your secret (because it is, after all, a secret). The reality of mental illness is panic attacks that leave you exhausted, fear that keeps you its prisoner, suicidal thoughts that threaten to cut your story off too soon, if you just give into them.

And the problem with romanticizing all of this is that it then justifies people to give into it.

All of this isn’t to say that no good can ever come from a mental illness; it can. Personally speaking, I believe that coming to terms with my mental illness and fighting it has made me a much stronger person than I would have otherwise been, but that is exactly my point; I needed to fight it. Fighting gave me ability. Fighting gave me more stories to tell than depression ever could have. Fighting made me feel as though I deserved, not only love, but a love that was worthwhile, a love that would see me, not as the broken soul that needs to be fixed, but as a person, as an equal. Fighting is what brought me here, to this place, to this day.

I honestly don’t know who or where I’d be today if I hadn’t fought, but I know it wouldn’t be romantic. It would be pitiful, a tragic tale to tell. And I am not a tragedy.

So if we have to romanticize anything in regards to mental illness, let’s romanticize the fight. Let’s talk about how strong survivors are to reach out and get help for themselves. Let’s praise those who managed to overcome suicidal thoughts, even when it seemed next to impossible. Let’s celebrate the ones who self-harmed at one point, but managed to pull themselves through it and stop altogether. Because when we romanticize mental illness itself, we are helping no one; when we encourage people to seek treatment and get help, we have the opportunity to save lives.

And, personally, I am tired of romances that focus so much on how loveable or genius someone is only because they are depressed.

 

Why We Should Not Blame Gun Violence on Mental Illness

On November 5, 2017, Devin Kelley walked into a Texas church and killed twenty-six people with a gun.

In the wake of this undeniable tragedy, many have been arguing about the best way to prevent it from happening again in the future. I mean, as many of us are probably aware, this is not the first time that there has been a shooting in the United States. In fact, according to the Gun Violence Archive, between January 1, 2017 to November 5, 2017 alone, there have been 307 mass shootings, averaging 7 mass shootings a week.

So, yeah, I think we all agree that this is a serious problem that needs to be stopped. But that begs the question: how do we do it?

Well, the answer for many people has been in creating stricter gun laws, something that has in fact worked for other countries (Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed countries). And, personally (just to get any potential bias out of the way now), I agree with this approach. But guns are not the only thing receiving the blame following a shooting.

Following the Texas shooting, comedian Chelsea Handler tweeted: “Mental health issues without guns are people with mental health issues. With guns, they become murderers“.

Now, I’m sure that when Handler tweeted this, she did not mean to imply that, if you give any random person with mental illness a gun, they will immediately start shooting. I’m sure that she did not mean that any person with depression or generalized anxiety disorder or schizophrenia is just one gun away from murder. That would be an insane generalization to make. But, at the same time, it is very common for people to blame mental illness when mass shootings like these occur.

In fact, following the Texas shooting, Donald Trump did not even mention the issue of gun control, rather calling this a “mental health problem“. More than that, 63 percent of Americans believe that shootings have more to do with mental health problems than they do with gun control.

And, I mean, sure; why wouldn’t that be considered? It has been a common theme throughout many of these shootings. Devin Kelley, the Texas shooter, escaped from a mental health facility in 2012 and had a violent history. James Holmes, who killed 12 people and injured 70 more at a shooting in Aurora, was diagnosed with a schizophrenic disorder. Stephen Paddock, responsible for the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, was on anti-anxiety medication and said to be susceptible to bouts of depression. This does seem to be a theme that comes up, again and again, so why wouldn’t it be at least mentioned?

Well, one thing that I think should be stressed is that, of the three examples that I gave above, only one of those men was actually diagnosed with a mental illness. Stephen Paddock was never diagnosed with anything, and Devin Kelley, while having escaped from a mental health facility, was there due to his accusations of spousal abuse and violence. He was never actually diagnosed either. In fact, only 14.8 percent of shooters in the United States are diagnosed as psychotic.

And of people in the general population who are diagnosed with mental illness, rates of violence are surprisingly low. In fact, it is estimated that people with mental illness contribute to only three to five percent of all violent crimes in the United States. And of these three to five percent of violent acts, most of these do not involve guns.

In fact, a mentally ill person in America is more likely to be the victim of their own gun-related violence. In 2013, guns killed 33, 636 people, and nearly two-thirds of these were suicides.

The problem that needs to be addressed here is not mental illness. There are hundreds, thousands, of mentally ill people who go their whole lives without once wanting to kill anyone with a gun. I happen to be one of them. Saying that shootings are a problem of mental health contributes to this society that sees every person with dissociative identity disorder as Norman Bates, and every psychopath as Hannibal Lecter. It inspires fear against the mentally ill, fear that has contributed to the fact that those with mental illness are actually ten times more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than the general population. It also creates an environment that makes it that much harder for people with mental illness to actually seek help, because they know that if they do, then others would constantly fear what they are capable of. They do not want to be perceived as dangerous, and so they suffer in silence for society’s sake.

As Jeffrey Swanson, professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, said, “Imagine if [Trump] had said, ‘veteran’ – that this was a ‘veterans’ issue. He’d besmirch the whole community. Well, that’s what he’s doing with mental illness.”

We need to stop blaming violence on mentally ill people, because the fact is that we are not solely responsible for it. We need to stop stigmatizing individuals who need help, who should be made to feel safe and supported so that they can reach out. Nobody should have to deal with a mental illness alone, but that is exactly what this sort of conversation is causing.

And if you are someone who is dealing with a mental illness right now, I sincerely hope that you find love and support from your community. I hope that you find or have someone who you can talk to, who won’t judge you or look down on you, because you do not deserve any of that. You are a beautiful, wonderful, valid individual, and I sincerely hope you know that, even in the wake of all this mess.