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.

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.

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.

Love Has Paws

Sometimes I just don’t feel real.

It’s like I’m outside of myself, suspended in the air, taking in the scenery. When people speak to me, I feel their words entirely. I feel them and I want to say “Congratulations. I’m sorry. I love you.” I receive the signal and yet, my response doesn’t get through. Message failed. Return to sender. Blinking lights and wasted stamps.

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

Please believe me when I say that I want more than anything to talk. I love your voice. It’s a tiny, persistent stream of light seeping through the cracks of my closed blinds. I know you don’t believe it, because your phone never rings. When I tell you that my phone is broken, you will glance at it and tell me that it looks just fine, certainly fine enough to give you a fucking call once in a while, and I will cradle that phone between my shoulder and my ear waiting for a dial tone that will not come.

Every so often, I lose control. It happens quickly, taking me under and spitting me out like a clumsy tourist meeting the ocean for the first time. But it happens slowly enough that I can see the change occur, wishing always that it could just stop here. It’s a rollercoaster climbing the tracks and it’s me knowing that no amount of fearful shouting will stop the descent. Every so often, I forget what it is like to move my mouth without asking my disorder for permission. It is in these moments that I am not certain I was meant for this life.

People often ask me what saves me, what makes it worth it to stay anyway. It’s not my ambition or potential driving me to pave a successful path. It’s not the need to prove anybody wrong. It is not what I would miss. It is always the small things that keep me rooted here, feeding me purpose.

IMG_20140906_182335

It’s small things like the slap of a tail on the floor when I make it past my door frame and into the living room, only to rest again. It’s a warm body on cold feet, and somehow, the only silver lining that stands out. It’s a wet nose meeting my temple, a joyous greeting to dissolve every goodbye I’ve ever heard.

Though there are always many more reasons to stick around than can be seen in moments such as these, this is often all I can cling to, and I do so with tenacity, because it is enough. There are 2 furry, strange beings who literally depend on me for survival. I am responsible for them in a way that I am not responsible for anyone else on this vast and mysterious Earth, and for me, that’s magic. It’s 4 cups of food twice a day and a serious dose of tenderness. In moments when words are heavy, there’s none to carry. All that is left is their pulse and mine whispering of our fondness of one another. In between breaths I can think clearly, and I remember that my phone is broken, so it’s probably time I got a new one.

2015-02-02 14.36.14

As I watch them frolick and tumble through drifts of snow, I wonder what a happy dog looks like. I decide that it would look a lot like mine. A warmth comes over me then, contentedness wrapping itself around a heart that I thought was expired. I silently mull it over, and I smile knowing that I have helped more than I have hurt. I have made another being so ecstatic that they are rolling in their own shit. In this moment, I am here, I am real, and more present than ever.

Why Not To Be A Jerk: Notes From A Recovering Bully

Sometimes there’s no other way to slice it than with the truth; I used to be an asshole. I know a lot of inspirational tales about the survivor, but I almost never hear much about how life turns out for the bully. (It makes sense if I think about how many people actually want to own up to their bullshit.) Since I try to live with no shame in my game, I’ll tell you how it goes. I can’t tell you how not to be an asshole, of course. That one is all you. But if you’re reading and nodding along, that’s a good step. I’ll just tell you WHY not to be an asshole instead.

5 Things That A Bully Knows

1. Words are glass. Small, jagged shards that wink as they hang in the light. These moments last only seconds, but these seconds in this light make the shards look as much like the truth as they felt leaving our lips. It is not until we lay sleepless inside of ungodly hours that we taste the blood in our mouths.

2. We have our reasons. Reasons like self-respect and love and justice. We see ourselves as the messenger rather than the villain, for a villain would surely use his fists.

3. Hate is heavy. To rule this way brings discomfort that is felt at all times, like stacking those we dislike atop our shoulders. We do not feel discouraged, because it takes a strong person to carry this weight. We blame them entirely, all the while questioning why everyone is on our back.

4. Bullies have bullies, too. There is the one person we all know, the one who started it. The one who gave us all of our reasons. An objective perspective would tell us that the virus did not begin with them, yet we will maintain the idea that this person doesn’t have reasons; just a blank space where a soul should be. We will imagine that even for a soul that is black like soil, there is, at the very least, hope that good things might still someday sprout.

5. We are just confused. How could we not be? So few of the people we know walk around with the weight of nothing and nobody. This is not malice; it’s survival. Surely if you cease to be the one holding the saw, you become the one laying on the table.

5 Harsh Truths That A Bully Learns

1. Awakening to life’s purpose will more than likely not involve pretty pastels, no third eye, no peace. It will feel as if we are going about life, skin held together by staples while our body attempts to shed this and replenish itself. We will resist, clinging to our rough exterior as if it were worth more than it is. We will not let go until we realize how painful it is to embrace ourselves.

2. Change, the grand, sweeping kind is almost never launched in quiet, thoughtful moments. Change is brought in by heavy gusts that shatter window panes. Change becomes the guest choosing to stay; invited or not. We will adapt and flourish next to it. Or we won’t, and we’ll find ourselves brushing up against it, hearts like sandpaper, vowing that we’ll teach our kids not to be wimps, because life is tougher when you’re a wimp. We’ll find ourselves spitting glass.

3. Everyone has their reasons. Reasons that make us unimportant to them, like them to us. Reasons like pride disguised as self-respect, vengeance disguised as love and loss disguised as justice. We will not see this great wheel of reasons until we and all involved notice that we’re running in circles.

4. Nobody with any kind of character bets on the bully. To be an asshole, to fly off the handle, so far it’s (kinda) worked. However, there are VERY few areas in life in which these strategies are efficient or tolerated. One day, when our sideshow is no longer the freakiest in town, the crowd that coos and strokes our fragile egos will begin to thin until it is us and the dust. We will be remembered, but people will not find it entertaining. We become the empty vessel after the party.

5. Perhaps the most jarring truth is that we matter more than this, that our lives are worth more than we’re doing with them. Our voices are melodious when they are not being used to wound. The energy we squander on hate takes real commitment, and there are innumerable positive outlets we could use to fine tune that rather endearing bit of our character. As we turn this over we will see that almost every black, rotten part of us started growing with the hope of something good. We alone are something good. The road is a unique, authentic journey for all who travel, but the pattern of change has been the same since Moses was an angsty teen. We become who we are when we discover that we can no longer be who we were.