Chaos, Chambers and Valves: 9 Ways To Ease An Aching Heart

I’ve spent a lot of time recently patching the trenches in my ticker.

It’s draining and it’s painful, but it’s honest work. As human beings, we are constantly in search of someone to relate to, someone to bandage our knees, to say “I see you.” When a connection like this develops, it is a natural high that makes life taste more forgiving. The tricky part is that there is no way to gauge how long the fire between your fingers will be yours; loss is the fee of love.

There is no way to steer clear of the fallout or the dull pang that taunts your tears, but I’ve been the neurotic, desperate girl at 2 AM, combing Yahoo Answers, and since I could never find the kind of advice I was looking for (i.e. something other than links to strange porn,) I figured I’d let the healing happen, and come back once I felt like the writing could happen, too. Here are 9 ways of coping that I hope will make your skin a less lonely place to live in.

1. Feel. Violently.

You’re going to cry, and when you do, you’ll get a headache. You’re probably going to do everything humanly possible NOT to cry, including that creepy, heavy breathing that only precedes bawling and barfing. You’ll feel a stray tear graze your cheekbone, and that is how you will know you’re done for. When the levee breaks, you might even sound a little like a parakeet caught in an oscillating fan. It’s around this time that you will begin looking for answers as if they were keys to the cage of your suffering, and it’s around this time that all incoming signals will be watered down and blurry. With a heavy heart, realize that there is absolutely no more to do than to stop running and sit inside of the ache. There is nothing to do but cry, expressing everything and nothing. Cry loudly and softly, into tissue and couch cushions. Make room for days that smell entirely of loss, and for brutally brief pinches of the heart. Sometimes the only way to get someone to leave is to invite them to stay. This someone’s name is misery, and she will be on her way once she realizes that you cannot afford to feed her.

2. Hulk Out.

Congratulations, you are now moving into the bitter, turbulent stage! You’re still going to feel miserable, of course, but now you have a place to direct that misery. You should know that your feelings are valid, no matter who attempts to tell you otherwise. Though there is no way to escape these feelings, you are responsible for the way that you choose to demonstrate them. There isn’t a right or wrong way to go about this, but keep in mind that whatever fuel you contribute to the fire will cling to you like cheap perfume. (This is a lesson that I have been served a time or ten.) Still, the frustration below the surface must be released. If you shove it down dark and deep, it will claw its way out. Write the person who gave you your heart bruise your official review, and set that shit on fire. Throw trash at their photo until you feel less like garbage. Wherever you decide to steer the rage, try your best not to land in a ditch of regret.

3. Leave The Stain.

You want to forget, but that’s futile. I mean, it’s just not possible. The memories will become less intrusive over time (largely in part because you adapt to anything you torture yourself with long enough,) but this is not about coming clean. This is about understanding that, just like with grass, when you are barefoot in love, there is splatter to be had. I don’t know much about art, but every beautiful painting I’ve seen is just a series of intricate stains, and I’m willing to bet that a great many of them were not part of the artist’s original vision.

4. Meet Yourself.

You are undeniably different now. Heartache changes people, although this is not the travesty it feels like it is at the moment. You can’t see it yet, but you have learned a great deal. This is one of those wildly inconvenient and ill-timed parts of life that disillusions you into recalling what was softly enough to melt back into its background. The emptiness inside of you reaches for the calloused hand of familiarity while your soul rejects the discovery and the pain, howling “Get rid of it!” You will, but you cannot bury your emptiness underneath other people. Whatever is buried has a way of being unearthed, and if not, you will never be able to forget that it is there. This is here to teach you something also, and you should be brave enough to listen to what it has to say. Emptiness cannot be buried or hidden, but it CAN be filled, and the way that you do this is by finding a companion within yourself; you do this by giving yourself the spotlight and standing in awe of the glory of your character.

5. Forget “What It All Means.”

I couldn’t tell you, but what I do know to be true is that you can set the load down. Maybe you were the asshole, but if not, I would guess that it didn’t have a whole lot to do with you. (I know, isn’t that line the worst?!) There probably IS an answer, but you should get right with the possibility that you may never know what that answer is. Learn to accept the open, fraying ends that life brings to you in abundance, try to be okay with unanswered questions, and to stop waiting for “sorry,” and “I love you.” You need to know that you deserve these things, even if they never grace your ears. When all of these elements line up, happiness will kiss the tip of your nose again, filling you with new questions entirely.

6. Don’t Be A Dick.

Look, if you’re reading this and feeling anything I’ve written, it probably also means that you are feeling like a bag of shit. You’re wondering why you, why this, and why now. Because you are getting nowhere, you talk shit to yourself until you are reduced to more of those pesky tears you’re trying not to spill. It’s not working, man, and you need to cut yourself some slack. I know that it would be simple-minded to assume that a phrase like “speak kindly to yourself” would drastically change the course of your sadness, but please do. Grab the unopened Post-It notes from the junk drawer or your favourite lipstick and cover your mirror in love letters. Read them when you brush your teeth, and when you inevitably stand at war with your own reflection. If you can think of no loving words, take some of mine: remind yourself that “everything is difficult before it is easy,” and that “good things are going to happen.” (Because they are.)

7. Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

Think of all of the far-fetched, absurd, seemingly ludicrous things you have ever wanted to do, and pick one. Flip a coin if you must, but make up your mind and sign yourself up. Now is not the time for questions or fear, so to reassure you, YES, you do have time, and YES, you really can do this. When you unpack for an extended vacation in the village of affliction, it can make you feel about as interesting as a pair of socks. Give yourself something else to think about, write about, and talk about. At the very least, if it all blows, you’ll be able to bitch about that. (AND find the will to try something new.) Don’t go back to bed, the day brings dreams of a different kind.

8. Forgive

Believe it or not, this won’t bleed as much in the days, week and months to come, but there is no timeline for the restoration of a shredded soul. It’s okay if you can’t do this right away. Try not to rush grief. (It’s unaffected by your protest, anyway.) Let’s get real for a sec: forgiveness is not for the faint of heart. It takes chutzpah, my friend! It means that you have to own up to your contribution to the splatter, and then forgive yourself for it. Forgive yourself for not knowing, for not understanding, for not listening; for not being able to fix it. You can resist forgiveness, of course, but I assume that if you do, it’s because you’re still angry. This is fine, but as long as you are angry, it is also very possible that you are insanely, passionately hurt. Carry your ache, let it give you the grief that it must, but be sure to let it go when you are ready. I’ve said it before, but pain is heavy; too heavy to lug around for the rest of your days.

9. Leave It Uncorked

This is the most important one, and it’s probably going to reek like the smell of booze in the grips of a relentless hangover. However, desperate times call for desperate measures. You’re hurt and you’re angry and everything inside of you shouts at you to lock love out. People may even encourage you to do this, but I think it’s a mistake. The mistake lies in the fact that while you can resist your heart, you cannot ignore it. You can leave love crying at the gates, but you cannot unhear the sobs. I don’t know why it is considered brave to walk alone, as if companionship were meek. It takes courage to open yourself to an experience again and again. It takes guts to commit to leaving people better than you found them. You’re going to cut yourself on love. You’re going to burn yourself with your curling iron. You’re going to knee yourself in the face trying to tie your shoes. The great news is that you’ll survive.

I don’t know how long it’s going to hurt, I can’t say whether you’ll have the chance to show your scar to the one who left it. But the other day, there was a little girl spastically dancing to the radio at a gas station. She flung her hair and flailed with joy, and I noticed that there is a lot more to life than waiting in line. You’re raw and brave, and you’ll have all the time in the world to dismantle and to repair. What was once scar tissue will be a mosaic, and all that was taken will be yours to give once more, if you know what to look for; if you know that danger is often just opportunity standing in the shadows.

Glass Jars: The Art of Being Sensitive

I can’t remember a time in which I wasn’t sensitive.

It’s really not tough to bruise my ego. For a long time, I felt that this was a hurdle I had to clear if I stood a chance in the big, wide world. It clung to me like lint, and removing it was a strange hell. Besides, it was never long before it would cover me again.

I hold things a little too close for a little too long. I coat them in my very clumsy love. There is no such thing as forgetting.

Not for the girl who recalls every minute of your 7th birthday party. Not for the girl who knows every word to a jingle for a local car dealership that hasn’t kissed airwaves in at least a decade.

Hurt doesn’t fit inside my closet. Instead it spreads itself out like some kind of unwelcome guest. It is painfully obvious.

Only I’m not sure WHY it’s so painful. I don’t understand why it is considered noble to suffer in silence. I don’t know why being modest about the pain we feel is taken as an expression of strength. Maybe it’s easier for some people to compartmentalize suffering. Maybe they can store it in a cabinet and pull it out one drawer at a time. Maybe the cabinet remains dusty and untouched.

But I can’t.

There is no organizing my grief. There is no “save this for later.” There is no grace as I expel these feelings. I will cry until my skull feels like it is caving in, until my nose is so stuffed that breathing becomes an alarmingly difficult task.

I will do this because it is a choice.

Because I spent much too long sealing my feelings tightly in glass jars,

And because this is what I need to be whole again.

If a jar were to spill out of my open mouth onto concrete, and if the glass were to spider, would we call it fragile?

Why would’t we recognize its incredible durability? The odds have been beaten in front of us and all that we notice is the way the jagged lines meet each other as if it were a funeral.

Yes. I am fragile and delicate. But those are just cheap rip-offs of vulnerable and brave. I know what the ugliest parts of me look like. They are very real, and so it must be true that other parts are really quite extraordinary.

There is no forgetting what I know by heart. My soul attaches itself to every gorgeous detail of those I love. Because I cannot forget, I weave bits of them into every piece I write.

It’s these small, gorgeous, haunting details that remind me there is still time for the unimaginable to happen.

“I Don’t Get It:” What I Learned From My Middle School Math Teacher

2003. Middle school. Frosted lip gloss and Cleopatra bangs.

I remember this day in particular because it was the first time I felt wholly and genuinely stupid.

I’ve never been stellar at math. It doesn’t leave room to ask “why?” which is a problem since this is my favourite question. It burns holes, and I can’t seem to ignore the smoke.

Mathematics don’t offer any grey areas, no half-truths, no “sometimes y.” It was a taxing gig, spinning my brain to sponge in order to absorb the steady stream of numbers. For years it had come like honey from a jar; slowly and sweetly, as things have a way of coming when our spirits are being nurtured. I struggled with scribbled equations, but this was the first time they had ever held me back.

“CAN YOU ADD, MISS KRAUSE?!’

In this moment I am pretty sure that even my toenails are sweating, and thinking about this isn’t helping the situation. He is wearing a sharp, straight line where a smile should be.

I didn’t do my homework, and the reason was equal parts “don’t get it.” and “don’t wanna.” As you can probably guess, neither of these are considered an acceptable response when called upon. The two of us are standing in front of the whiteboard, and the eyes are like pins in my back. He wants a definitive answer. I am terrified. Somewhere in the stormy silence, I pull a 2.

“THERE IT IS, MISS KRAUSE!”

I am so relieved that I could pee. The thing is, I don’t hate the guy. Later he tells me that I am smart and that it won’t be hard forever. He reminds me that ensuring my homework is done means ensuring that things like this won’t happen. “Have a great day, Miss Krause. See you tomorrow.” He’s my favourite teacher again.

I adapted to his intense environment, and I could do this because he grinned twice as much as he snarled, he told pretty good jokes, and, let’s face it: I wasn’t the only moron in the room. The humiliation was distributed pretty evenly.

June came, and brought with it moving boxes and report cards. I got a 46% and a note that said “Miss Krause is very polite and makes a great effort.”

I don’t know what became of him, and for a long time I didn’t see this experience for the transformative encounter that it was. I’m not saying that I lose sleep over this, but it absolutely had a hand in shaping my mindset.

It had never really occurred to me that this kind of behaviour was manipulative and inappropriate, because I was under the impression that it was a consequence I had created. It didn’t register as psychological abuse since it was only really directed toward the morons. I didn’t realize that we weren’t the morons in the equation.

I don’t remember how to cross multiply and I don’t know shit about fuck when it comes to geometry, but my time there was not wasted. Some of these lessons came much, much later, but he taught me a useful thing or two that stuck.

For one, I recognize that life is far too fleeting to spend it under the thumb of people who allow us to believe that we are stupid. Though there are multiple intelligences (8, count ’em, 8!) some of us still believe in a single route to success. We spend our lives placing ourselves into tiny boxes with pretty bows in order to distract the people we wish to impress from our blisteringly true, raw nature.

For another, as I’ve mentioned before, there is nothing wrong with being wrong. What I understand today is that it’s the lengths that we go to in order to appear as if we’ve always got it right that are the most destructive. We lie and we cheat and we hurt and we run from the life we want, all because we’ve got this idea that we shouldn’t want it. One minute we’re supposed to be striving for more, and the next we’re told to expect less.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I know that the things we love doing are not hobbies; the term is far too simple. They are an escape from the pointed fingers of expectation. They are an expression of all that is felt, spoken and silent. They are the bright side and they are the bandage covering the wound. If you ask me, there’s no glory in giving up the good for someone else’s “should.”

I’m not saying that we should run from struggle; it’s inevitable. I just think that if we’re going to bite back, we should be fuelled by the force of what it is that we long for; for whatever it is that we love.

P.S. Mr. Math was always up in my grill about showing my work. I like to think I came through.

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.

Plot Twist: Karma Is Actually a Really Nice Lady

There’s this shirt hanging in my closet.

It says “Karma is only a bitch if you are.”

When I first purchased the shirt, I thought it was funny and clever. Now, rolling the cloth between my fingers, I realize that this theory feels completely foreign to me. I imagine all of the times I must have referred to Karma as “bitch,” and I’m not sure if I want to laugh or gag.

 I’m not knocking anyone’s beliefs. It’s just that I’ve had some weird experiences, and if you’ve been following me awhile, you know that they shape my perspective more than anything.

The words “Karma is a bitch” bounced around between my angst-ridden teenage friends and I A LOT.  So often I’m surprised we didn’t get smashed and have them tattooed. I have clear memories of being a regular offender, and I have managed to narrow my saying this down to the following 3 reasons:

Reason 1) Someone was a bag to me after I was a jerk to her cousin after they were obbvv starting shit with my girl Trina.  (Sidenote: I have never actually had a friend named Trina.)

Reason 2: A guy dumped me and I had intrusive thoughts about him developing relentless bacne.

Reason 3: I drew a major blank in heated conversation and needed to sound effortlessly wise and biting.

That worked for a while. The phrase was like a cigarette in the way that my pulse would slow as I exhaled responsibility and watched it dance unabashedly, stopping only to kiss the night. Then one morning I woke to find that I was 20 years old…and also that my life had fallen apart. It didn’t occur to me until right then that this might be karmic retribution. I was trapped and frantic for days inside of this completely weird spiral of hindsight.

“Is this about that time I stole the book about serial killers? Am I paying for the day I publicly outed a classmate for crapping in the outdoor pool? Is it because I left spiteful notes and lied about being at bush parties among a myriad of other things I can’t possibly begin to remember now?”

For all of the years spent in fear of being wrong, it was suddenly very difficult to remember being anything but. Very slowly I am learning that this is not any way to live. Very slowly I am purging this guilt about a trait so very human. There’s nothing wrong with being wrong. There’s no possible way to avoid it. I know that we all say “Nobody’s perfect” with voices flat as prairies, but if that’s the case, why don’t we ever want to admit it? Aren’t the hard things hard enough? These devastating things, these traumatizing, crippling, painful things…Aren’t they heavy enough without also wearing the notion that we DESERVE them?

I finally met Karma, but she was nothing like the way I’d written her hundreds of times before. She was less of a fiery, vindictive force and more like a mirror. As I become more comfortable being wrong, I can allow others to be wrong without the need to rub their faces in it. I am aware that every hostile situation I’ve seen has my fingerprints on it. Action and reaction. I think it’s strange now, the way one raises a voice and another a fist in a frantic effort to cover what we already know.

I don’t deserve to be sick. You don’t deserve to be sad. We have about as much control over these things as a parade has over a midsummer storm. We are going to fuck it up repeatedly, and then time will pass and it will be more of a scar than a festering wound. We’ll call it a “learning experience.” I hope we can listen to some Radiohead and pity ourselves before making the phone call that says “I’m Sorry.” And when that phone call comes, I hope we can say “I know.”

That obnoxious shirt has an entirely new meaning to me. It basically goes like this: What I receive is a reflection of what I am putting out. I know you’re probably picturing me wearing palazzo pants and drinking a smoothie the colour of the forest floor, but hear me out: Now that I don’t have to approach things with a sense of competition, I can just be kind. I can ask how someone’s day is and genuinely mean it. What I’ve noticed so far is that people are both surprised and delighted by a kind word and patient eyes. More importantly, they almost always return it.

You can look into any glass surface and see your sharp cheekbones tangled in vines of fine lines. But if you look at the face of the person in front of you, I mean REALLY look at them, you might discover hints of your soul in their expression.

What You Knew: Loving Someone With a Mental Illness

When you fell in love with me, there were two things that you knew.

The first was that I was going to make you late. It made you crazy at first. Your hands would busy themselves by moving in and out of your pockets, and my eyes would busy themselves with your eyes, darting around the room to avoid glaring at me. I couldn’t help finding it wildly adorable, which only slowed my pace. It was never long before you would give up on being timely and sit down to observe the storm. Missing shoes, heavy breathing and frantic laughter.

The second was that I was going to make you think. I wasn’t the type to go easy. On the nights you spent away from home, our phone calls would be flooded with the questions of the universe. I’d ponder what it all meant. You would tell me that being unsure was the grand adventure. I started to tell you what colour your mind was, and you answered me with soft, sleeping breath.

When you fell in love with me, there were things you didn’t see coming. When we stumble into such fondness, it is usually under the impression that love will tell us what we need to know. Love speaks, and it speaks often, but sometimes it only comes through in riddles. It’s not what we know, but what we learn.

And we learned

The first time I was hospitalized, you watched as a colossal dose of Haldol attempted to rid my head of the things so real that they couldn’t be. It took with them my peripheral vision and short-term memory. The doctor said that the side effects were temporary. It became very clear that my condition was not. It was when we learned that no amount of affection could balance my brain chemistry.

We grieved the loss. You laid next to me as I stared at ceilings and you told me that the emptiness would be encompassed by something more beautiful than I could imagine. It was never a skin I could shed at my convenience, though I tried. I said “this is not my life.” You said “it’s just part of it,” and you smiled when you told your friends and family. I learned (and forgot, and learned again) that it was my life, and not a life sentence.

We learned, and somehow we are always learning. I wonder sometimes how we ever managed to remain tangled in the shadow of a mind that tore at us from the inside. I think of all that our love brought, how much of it you must not have seen coming. I imagine that it’s a little like a Chinese gift exchange. I laugh and say thank you for not returning me. You tell me that I’m exactly what you were hoping for.

No amount of affection could balance my brain chemistry, but it didn’t stop you from giving every ounce you could muster. There wasn’t any fixing, just healing. You had no idea what to expect, but you trusted love to tell you what you needed to know.

I like to think that it did.