Questions, Answers and the Spaces In Between: What Not To Say When Meeting Someone

Over the last three years I’ve been continuously rubbing up against my own reflection.

It’s been a productive, albeit hellish experience. I’ve been able to identify and talk about what hurts, and I’ve learned a great deal about the message I want to leave with other people. In learning this, I’ve noticed that there are some questions that are better left burning holes in brains than spoken like swords. If you were following me when I wrote “What To Expect,” you’ll know we’ve been down this block a time or two. There’s a question that sucks, and I’ve only just learned that it sucks. If I could reach into your chest cavity and pinch your heart, I imagine that it would feel a lot like it does when you ask

“So, what do you do?”

I know. Karlee, you sensitive Susan! But look, it’s like this: You ask said question and I awkwardly clarify by asking “Like, for work?” With the answer almost always being “Yes,” I am left feeling like a frozen turkey thawing right there in front of everybody. (I know it’s weird but try to let yourself imagine this one. How humiliating.) I come back with “Oh, nothing. I don’t do anything,” because the space between us is too crowded to say that I take my meds and write some words and pluck some strings and go to the grocery store on a good day, and that on a bad day I just don’t get out of bed. This shame is misplaced, but it lingers there anyway, a silent suggestion that my means of earning an income are what make me interesting.

I know that this isn’t the case. I know that it’s a staple phrase in introductory conversation. It’s so normal that it blooms on my tongue on occasion.

But what if it didn’t have to be?

What if you asked me if I believed in ghosts? What if I asked you about the weird, useless talent that only you seem to possess? I think I might tell you that there is nothing I can’t imagine, and maybe you would say that you’re double jointed while demonstrating some creeptastic hand gesture. Maybe we’d laugh and decide that we were very fond of one another.

I’ve come to the realization that the way you make a living holds such a small fraction of my interest in knowing you. (Unless of course you are a professional taste tester OR you spend your 9-5 beating on the craft that lights fireworks in your chest.) I am sure you are this brilliant in all settings, but I’d rather hear your easy laughter than get to know only your furrowed brow and busy mind. I want our souls to kiss as much as our egos.

So, since you asked:

I wake up every morning and I dance madly to “Shake It Out” by Florence and the Machine. I’m learning to play guitar because I have an irrational fear of my brain turning to mush. I have a therapist who tells me not to should all over myself. I’m relentlessly ringing my own bell with messages that say “I love you.” Sometimes I cry and type. I’m sick and I’m not sorry. I want to write music and cultivate my character.

And, if you’re into that kind of thing, knowing you would be another tick on my ever-growing tally of bright sides.

6 thoughts on “Questions, Answers and the Spaces In Between: What Not To Say When Meeting Someone

  1. Hi Karlee,
    I have been following you for a while. I read your stuff from both of my instagrams (amymacharg617 & mental_health_love) as well as on here. The things you write often times snag the surface of my soul. I get intrigued, so I come back for more of your deep fantastical thought processes. I am a mental health professional, and I find people with normal everyday problems a little boring. As messed up as it sounds, I really do think some people should quit complaining and “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” But people who have severe and persistent mental disorders are the ones who I truly love. I feel a deep connection to creative souls with vivid imaginations. I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but perhaps their childlike imaginations and artistic sensitivity is what makes them vulnerable and contributes to their downfall -The “downfall” being that society is not cut out for them in the cookie cutter way where they are supposed to think inside the box. I concur with your perspective that “what do u do” is one of the least interesting things someone can ask. It’s along the same lines as “are you traveling for business or pleasure” when you are in a new place. What kind of shit is that? It’s like I have to check one but I don’t fit in either box. You are so funny and outrageously unique. I bet you were good at the essay questions on tests but not multiple choice. I hope you continue on your path to being a living breathing rule breaker. I love what you do!

    • Hey Amy,

      Your words mean a great deal to me. I felt for a very long time as if I didn’t belong in the world because I don’t think the way I’ve been coached to. I mean, I CAN, but it feels a lot like wearing a mask. I have always been chided for being overly imaginative and excitable/anxious as a result, but now that I have this platform of communication I am continuously amazed by the vast amount of minds just like mine. It is fascinating and completely healing. Thank you for your love and support. It is lovely “knowing” you.

  2. What a great post, Karlee! I struggled with this type of question last year when I’d meet someone I had known from previous jobs. “I’m taking some time off” was true, but also vague enough that it didn’t usually spark a follow up question. Though, towards the end of my intensive therapy, I got pretty good at telling people WHY I was taking time off.

    Keep plucking those strings and ringing your own bell!

    • Hey Rhonda,

      Thank you for your sweetness. I am always so pleased to bump into people who relate. It lets me know that I’m not nearly as strange as I imagine. I’m glad that you were able to speak your truth and banish shame in the end. You rock the casbah.

  3. Hi,

    I am A 21 year old male from Ireland, my father had Bopolar Disorder and he sadly committed suicide almost 18 years ago, in the last two years I have had two acute psychotic episodes, experiencing hallucinations and paranoyed delusions. I spend time in a psychiatric unit in Spain two years ago because of an episode. I think you are so brave for speaking out about how you feel. It can be so hard when you are unable to function or do taks that others can do but yet you can have so many amazing talents and so much more to give to the world. Having a job and making money is what most people think life is all about, but life is about experiences memories and living in the present. Appreciating the little things that give you joy. I have tried to use my experiences to help others and I recently set up a mental health support charity called Help Ireand, I would love to speak to you about your experiences . I have only recently started following you on Instagram and I think you are very brave.
    Keep up the good work you are helping a lot of people x

    • Hi!!

      I am such a dweeb for not responding earlier. Sorry about that.

      Anyway, thank you for your kind (and much needed) words. It’s so nice to connect with others who pick up what I’m laying down. I am truly sorry about your father and I hope that time has been healing for you.

      We can talk anytime you’d like. I’m pretty bad at checking my e-mail (obviously) but I will respond as soon as I can. It’s

      You are incredibly brave and I am inspired by what you’re doing in your community. You are a brighter light than you could ever envision clearly. I am sending you love and good vibes

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