Content warning: suicidal ideation, prescription drug use, institutionalization
I was first diagnosed with disabilities during my first year at SFU. While coming to terms with the diagnoses themselves was difficult, it was nothing compared to the medications and crises I have endured throughout my undergrad.
I have been on more medications than I can count — and they all end the same way. They either have enough side effects that I want to forget that I ever took them, or they make me forget everything that has occurred in recent memory. Eventually, I stop taking them due to the side effects and am immediately punished for being “non-compliant with treatment.”
Then all of the effects of withdrawals set in. These include feeling disoriented, issues with my vision, feeling electrical shocks in my brain, cold sweats, severe mood swings, and suicidal ideation.
But it doesn’t stop at withdrawal; the guilt I have from each perception of myself that I hold in my mind reminds me each day as I wake, that my health (or lack thereof) is a result of my own incompetence.
The combination of the mental and physical symptoms creates the perfect storm for a crisis.
Although in retrospect the crisis is predictable, there’s nothing I can do in the moment. Every thought in my mind is debilitating and only further integrates my perceived incompetence into reality.
The only thing I’m fully aware of is that my state of mind is at the point where institutions have to treat me as a potential liability. If I am honest with a health professional at SFU, I’ll be threatened with a call to the police and eventual committal to an institution.
Being the property of individuals who systematically oppress members of the BIPOC and disabled communities is not an option. Neither is being in an institution where I am constantly medicated to the point of barely having a grasp on consciousness.
So, if I see a counsellor or a doctor, I have to minimize my pain at minimum and lie outright if necessary. But what’s the point if I’m not communicating how I truly feel? Besides, I have enough commitments as it is. I have class, work, and volunteering, and there isn’t enough room in my head for anything else.
So when the dread of another day in the realm of the living hits me at 6:00 a.m., I get ready for class. Just in case I do have to go through a crisis today, I ensure that I live up to the label of having “invisible” disabilities. I pick out an outfit that will avoid bringing any attention to myself, keep my head down, and try to avert my gaze when I can.
There is a type of privilege with having invisible disabilities, but the erasure of identity and lack of empathy offsets this. I feel as though I carry more pain in my eyes than some able-bodied individuals carry in their bodies and I’ve given up hoping someone will notice that. Therefore, I arrive to campus, forcing myself to look to the floor.
In lecture, I have a radius of 20 empty seats surrounding me. I simultaneously hope with all my will that no one will fill a single one of seats and that someone will sit next to me.
Every one of the hundreds of thoughts that run through my head pick me apart and I agree with all of it. I am worthless, ignorant, attention-seeking and will never amount to nothing.
I’m doodling possible ways out of this nightmare on my lecture slides while trying to remember what the first hour of lecture was about. The professor asks the class to organize themselves into small groups and I suddenly realize that everyone has come to the conclusion that I am a fraud.
They don’t know that I am disabled, but I’m sure they know that I am lying about it nonetheless. The lecture hall of 300 are all staring at me and I cannot disappear fast enough as I try to catch my breath while running up the stairs.
I am desperately searching for a place to panic or cry. The posters of mental health support groups, phone applications, and crisis lines feel more condescending than ever. What’s the point? I don’t want someone to recite their script of “I understand, that must be difficult, how does that make you feel?” at me. I want someone to listen and empathize with me, but that isn’t possible, not here at least.
I find the nearest accessible washroom, lock the door, and look up at the ceiling. This washroom doesn’t have any pipes or beams that could bear my weight, I wonder if I move one of the ceiling tiles that a way out would be revealed. It’s something I try to keep in the front of my mind as I breakdown and try to avoid any visible markers of a crisis.
I place my hands on either side of the sink and try to stabilize myself as I see my reflection in the mirror. I have a comprehensive understanding of how hopeless, pitiful, and what a waste of space I am.
For the first time in weeks, I am thinking clearly and know what I have to do to feel better. I have to go home, count the pills I have left over from whenever I discontinued use and make a decision — to take one one of them or all of them.