No one should die that way: a personal story of the opioid epidemic in Canada

Guest Post

Content warning: discussion of abuse, drug related death, attempted violence, trauma, mental health, loss. If you or anyone you know is in immediate crisis call 911. Those experiencing less immediate crisis can find help at Crisis Text Line.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lys Morton is a Queer Canadian writer who is learning to call Vancouver Island home. A Creative Writing student at VIU, you can find his work and what he’s up to on Facebook at Lys Writes Now and Twitter @LysWritesNow.

Let’s talk about abuse, the opioid epidemic, overdose, and the general tone of comments you see around these topics.

June was an odd little month this year. I’m in this part of PTSD healing where my brain goes “dude, you’re doing so well, you’re so much calmer! Here… process this” and then dumps a bunch of memories that have been sitting in the repressed bank for some time. The start of June found me shifting through quite the collection of these memories, much of them centering around one individual. We’ll call him Jack.

Jack and I were in grades 7-10 together, and he is the guy that created the “glorious” moniker of She-Man. I don’t quite remember when he coined it, but I do remember it spreading like wildfire in the school. And the various times teachers accidentally called me that moniker because they heard it more in reference to me than my actual name. And when I started responding to it instead of my name.

Jack also has the privilege of being the guy that introduced me to “Saved Your Life: Boss Level.” Sounds harmless enough, right? Everyone and their dog played “Saved Your Life” during my teen years. Push someone and then immediately pull them back, shouting “saved your life!” It was the hip Tide Pod challenge in my days.

“Boss Level” was Jack pulling this stunt when I was near stairs, at the busy intersection where the city buses rolled through, beside the car lift in mechanics class, operating the burner in science class, and numerous other occasions. On average it was a daily occurrence. Jack’s face has more traumas tied to it, but I’m not exactly ready to FB post that stuff.

As I said, June found me shuffling through a lot of these memories, coming to terms with them and doing that whole healing thing. As I’m doing this work, I get a message from an acquaintance who knew both Jack and I. Simple message, quietly informing me that Jack had died from a fentanyl overdose that month. Now, wasn’t that news met with a roller coaster of emotions.

I would be lying if I didn’t say that there was a strange sense of relief at this news, which was then promptly followed by frustration. Because yeah, Jack put me through some horrible things, but that does not change one very key fact in this world.

No one should die that way.

It’s no secret that we are in the middle of a crisis. You see it on the news, on Netflix, strewn across social media. Since the beginning of 2016, Canada alone has lost over 10,300 people to opioid overdose. And over 90% over those deaths were accidental.

Like many large problems in our world, there is no simple answer to this particular crisis. There are numerous factors that come into play, countless flaws in systems that people fall through. There is no “on/off” switch to any part of this crisis.
But one single fact stands. No one should be dying from an overdose.

We have tools in this war; harm reduction strategies, safe consumption sites, naloxone training, legalization. But people are too wrapped up in their scorn to even contemplate these strategies.

I don’t care how many times Jack put my life in jeopardy, he did not deserve to lose his this way. Not when there are tools that could have saves him. And if he didn’t deserve this, no one did.

My friends have lost too many of their friends in this epidemic. The list should not be as long as it is. And then they have to deal with the comments of people who refuse to sit for a moment and contemplate the scale of this crisis. The faces of it.

Better writers than I have noted how similar the opioid epidemic is mirroring the AIDS epidemic that started back in 1981. The similarities in people’s scorn for those caught up in this battle. The front line workers screaming for support. The governments that only seem willing to shrug their shoulders at this war. As a queer guy, this scares me. To sit and watch this story play out once again. Because I’m in a community still healing from the generation that was lost to AIDS and to people’s apathy towards it. How long will it take communities to heal from this loss?

As I said, there is an odd sense of relief I feel knowing that Jack’s never going to be able to hurt me again. But that’s my thing to work through, because that initial fact still stands. He should not be another number in this war. We have the tools and ability to end this crisis.

Can we get some compassion going so we can stop this?

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Climate Change Anxiety is Real

A recent article posted on CNN dives into how climate change anxiety is a real threat and covers some ways to address it. “Paralysis caused by fear is a real problem,” the article says. I whole-heartedly agree with this. In a lot of ways, it doesn’t matter what outside pressure is causing the fear—climate change, racism, recent events in the US surrounding women’s reproductive rights—this fear is leading first to outrage and then to hopelessness.

Hopelessness is the common thread through various levels of depression. It begins with a sense of overwhelm and an inability to place exactly where the pressure is coming from. Many afflicted with high functioning depression seem to be healthy, or at least equipped with healthy coping mechanisms. What happens when the ability to cope is overwhelmed by the storm of hardships hitting survivors from all angles?

Lucas Wolfe, in his article When Your Depression Stops Being High Functioning on The Mighty wrote, “I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t hold a thought in my head. I lost weight, and the light of life drained from my eyes. I was a shell of my former self, and for the first time since the depression began, I couldn’t successfully hide my battles from those around me. Everyone could see something wasn’t quite right, but no one knew what was wrong.” He was paralyzed.

Contrary to the text I am plugging into my lap top right now, I am in the same place right now. Like Lucas, no one in my life knows what’s wrong—neither do I. Like Lucas, “I had made the transition from high-functioning depression to major depression, and it was shocking how little I could do.” I’ve spent the better part of six weeks in bed and avoiding texts, phone calls, and social interactions. I’m afraid that people will see me, like really see me—my fear, my trauma, my gross mess.

I’m constantly worried about finances, the environment, whether or not the world is even going to still be here before I pay off my student loans. I’m often wondering outloud to anyone who will listen what the point of it all is. What’s the point in making career goals when the world leaders are ignoring the facts and refusing to act to save our planet? What’s the point in working my ass off at a minimum wage job when it costs more to get to and from work that the sum of my weekly wages? What’s the point of getting out of bed when nothing about today is different than any other day? I am not alone in these questions.

Many of my peers have the same thoughts and voice the same fears. The two main themes emerging from our Creative Writing cohort were mental illness and environmental crisis. The two go hand in hand.

Andrea Marks Rolling Stone says, “The mental health impact of climate change is a one-two punch: There will be increasing anxiety about the future, as well as an increasing number of people undergoing the trauma of climate catastrophes like flooding and hurricanes” in her article How the Mental Health Community Is Bracing for the Impact of Climate Change. Marks went on to report, “A Yale survey in December found nearly 70 percent of Americans are “worried” about climate change, 29 percent are “very worried” — up eight percentage points from just six months earlier — and 51 percent said they felt “helpless.” Fifty-one percent felt helpless.

Just over half the population surveyed felt helpless at the current climate situation. We’re watching the world quite literally die before our eyes and our leaders seem more preoccupied with women’s wombs than whether or not there will be life on Earth in the near future. Liv Grant of the Guardian wrote, “Wild places dwindle, the animals and plants that live in them disappear. Climate change is now a certainty, and it will without a doubt lead to the loss of land, species, and ways of life. In the abstract this is disconcerting. Up close it is devastating. I worked on the BBC’s Climate Change: The Facts, presented by David Attenborough, and have felt this pain first-hand.”

So what do we do about it?

So far, all I’ve been able to find in my research is coping skills. Nothing solves the problem of climate related anxiety—nothing that is except for changing the trajectory of humanity. Western society is so dependent on capitalism and consumerism. These are the ideologies (where the dollar bill is more important than people, animals, and the environment) that are fueling climate change. When activists try to advocate for change the immediate outcry is “how will we make a living?”. My question is, how will your inflated bank account matter when we’re all dead?

Sooner than anyone wants to admit there will be global water and food shortages like human history has never seen before. Since my childhood, several animals have gone extinct. Bees are dying (they pollinate flowers to grow our food among other things). Unstable weather and forest fires are increasing. The science is there. Let’s stop ignoring it and actually do something.

Those with the power either need to use it or lose it. Vote like the environment actually matters.

Progress Fatigue

Change can be hard. Change can also be good. When those two truths collide , exhaustion can take over.

I am not a believer in New Year’s resolutions. In our house, we’ve been steadily working toward a more sustainable life. I don’t mean sustainability in the sense of self-sufficiency. I am speaking more in terms of attainability.

We decided to grow a garden this year to offset our expenses. Living on Vancouver Island produce is very expensive, especially when out of season. Just this week one head of cauliflower was 7.99 at the grocery store. When the minimum wage is 12.65 an hour it’s unsustainable (unattainable) to eat nutritious fresh food. Items that were priced in the 2 to 3 dollar range were 5 to 8 dollars on our trip to replenish today.

Though we have to fork out 200.00 for the lumber and likely 300.00 for the proper soil, we will save up to 5000.00 this summer alone. I’m tired from spending money to save money, but I know the end result will be worth it all.

Likewise, there are three people with a uterus in our home. This means spending around 60.00 a month on menstrual products. Instead, we invested nearly 300.00 in reusable pads and period underwear from https://lunapads.ca  This will save us thousands of dollars in the years to come. The best thing about Luna Pads (aside from being local, environmentally friendly, machine washable, and trans inclusive) is their commitment to providing period products to people in underprivileged countries.

With eating fresh veggies from the garden we needed to invest in ways to make the familiar interesting. I don’t know about you, but I get tired of eating the same thing over and over again. Thankfully Epicure has many solutions (that after an initial investment) save money over time. For example, veggie broth costs 2 to 4 dollars a carton here. One jar of all natural powdered broth is 10 to 12 dollars depending on the type. I can make 60 or more dishes from the one jar effectively saving myself 226.00 annually for that one item.

I’ve had to let go of convenience to save money. Returning to baking bread, making granola bars, canning fruits, veggies and pickles. A call back to my mother’s and grandmother’s recipe boxes while employing modern time saving techniques like a magic bullet, a smart chopper and an instant pot. All these initial investments hurt the cheque book, but are worth it in the annual savings. The amount we’re spending to reboot an attainable life style will refund itself in less than the time it takes to grow a squash.

I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t hurt my heart a little to spend money in large chunks. I prefer to pinch as many pennies as I can. I budgeted to include student loan payments for next year and realized the defict in our two incomes was the EXACT amount we were paying for groceries. Aside from a Netflix subscription, half a dozen movies and a pizza addiction, we don’t have many non-essential spending habits. The only change we can make is to reevaluate how we source our goods, where we get our essentials, and try to cut costs that way.

It is not attainable or sustainable to work two to three jobs to cover the cost of living. We do not go on extravagant vactions. We have one car that my partner brought brand new 20 years ago. We do not have cable or air conditioning. We don’t go to the bar regularly or attend concerts or other forms of live entertainment. We, like so many other people, are living simply and barely making it.

How do you live an attainable life?

I’m 32 and also living paycheque to paycheque

I read an article today on #HuffingtonPost titled I’m 37 and living paycheck to paycheck. As I read, I realized how familiar the author’s story was. You see the pressure to go to events to support friends and loved ones is real—even more so during the holiday season. Many of us are just one or two unexpected expenses away from not making it.

This year we had to replace a furnace to the tune of 6000.00. (We DID get a rebate and it decreases our heating costs…but that’s a huge chunk of money that was supposed to be spent over time on other house related things.) Then, we chose to keep the cat that came with our house. This meant that he needed to see a vet pronto and get all his shots, that was 300 bucks…shortly after that appointment he required an emergency visit for dental issues and some other stuff. We decided to try and save him (to the tune of 1200.00). This all happened during a period of time where Olivia was indefinitely laid off from her long-term job and I went back to school for my final year. Our budget was tight! Then, Olivia found some work, but now it’s winter and she’s facing another potential lay off.

Due to the lay off over the summer, my minimum wage job just covered expenses and we were not able to save anything. This is the reality for most folks. What’s more is most folks don’t have the ability to put unexpected expenses on credit. We thankfully did, but now we have balances to pay each month on our already taxed budget.

Please know I’m not sharing this to whine, but for the folks who find themselves in a similar situation. We see you. You are not alone. If all you can do this Christmas season is to tell people how much you love them, please don’t feel guilty. AND if you’re hard up for food, reach out—there are plenty of resources available in Nanaimo where we live (and other communities if you’re not from here), and you can always come to our house for a modest dinner if you live close by. The challenge is to escape the shame of poverty. If so many of us are (or have been) in a similar situation, why are we reluctant to be honest and to access resources available to us?

This year when people ask what we want for Christmas we have two answers. First, we cheekily reply home depot or PetSmart gift cards (because the cat and the house are eating all our money). Second, for those who are closest to us, the reality is we need time with the people we love that has no financial cost…this can even include gas costs. We’d love to come to see you, but we can’t afford the gas bill—we need it to get to work.

Doubt: Watch Me

Doubt is a nasty germ. It creeps in subtly when things are going well and begins to breed in the background. First, it will show up disguised as rational thinking. Should I really be doing this? I know ________ is more qualified at __________ than I am. We begin to compromise. Before long, we avoid the things we once loved—things we know we’ve been good at before—for fear of failure.

I struggled for two weeks to write a short story in October. I am in fourth year of creative writing and have published several stories, poems, and non-fiction pieces. I was long-listed for a prestigious literary competition and have won prizes for my promise in writing. I’ve been paid for not only my own content but to create pieces for others’ websites as well. I’ve been solicited for publication from links I’ve shared on Twitter and been hired out for events due to my creative prowess. All this is true and I still struggle to create.

I’m not trying to humble-brag. If anything, I’m trying to remind myself that I am extremely talented at making something great out of thin air and sheer will power. I have three novels in progress but am terrified to complete them. What if they aren’t good? What if I publish them and only sell ten copies? Worse, what if I publish them and someone expects MORE? Doubt is a jerk.

I say to look doubt right in the face and say watch me.

When I finally buckled down and quit the debilitating habit of self-censoring, I produced a short story in under five hours that is already receiving positive feedback. It’s even spawning the idea for a chapbook of short stories unlike anything that is currently being done. It just might be that accidental best idea I’ve ever had. It was full of typos and a little rushed—I was outrunning doubt after all, and we all know doubt is a marathon runner.

That thing you love, that you miss, but you doubt you’re good enough/brave enough/_________enough to take it on again—it misses you. Tell doubt watch me. You’ll be glad you did.