The Difference Between Being Careful and Being Free: Who Am I Without Depression?

It was a Thursday. I was wearing leggings as pants. Things were strange.

I felt an overwhelming urge to run, as I always did when the elevator doors were about to kiss each other closed. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk. It was more about the way the psychologist stared at me like there was a pickle growing out of my chin. She announced that we would be spending the hour together painting our feelings. (What she meant by this was that I would paint and she would sit behind me cooing softly.)

“Fantastic,” I said, recalling the week we made a collage of my happy place. The idea was that I would take it out and look at it in the most desperate of moments. This would have been fine if I had known what said happy place would look like, but I didn’t, so I cut and pasted pictures of flowery meadows, soft kittens and chicken parmesan. Things were strange.

I dipped my brush in crimson paint. She asked me if I was angry. Her words were delicate porcelain and I did not want to break them. I told her that I liked the colour red. Things were strange.

The day I decided not to see her anymore was also the day I concluded that art was overrated. I was tired of feeling like a lab rat with a paintbrush, and besides, I had more important things to do, like drink smoothies beneath my duvet of misery. I banished the term ‘artist’ from my resume for the next 6 years. Things were definitely strange.

About 10 months ago, I told my new therapist (who doesn’t treat me like a dolphin with an oven mitt) that despite all of the personal discoveries I’d made, depression seemed to be moving in and making itself comfortable while renting rooms to anxiety and insatiable boredom.

“Well, if we don’t fill the spaces inside of us with things we’d like to feel, other shit moves in. It’s not the good shit, either.”

“You’re losin’ me, P.”

“What do you do when you’re not busy applying the skills you learn in here?”

“I thought they were the whole point.”

“No, balance is the point. Do you know how to have fun?”

I was almost insulted. It felt as if she were insinuating that I was a juice box in the plastic cooler on the beach of life. Who was this broad to tell me I wasn’t Pina Colada mix?! Like clockwork, she lined up to throw one of her exhausting and impressive curveballs of truth.

“You are fun. I can see that from here. Do you know this? What is the difference between being careful and being free?”

I didn’t have an answer to that. I went home that evening and mulled over just what it was that I wanted to feel instead of this ever-present numbness. I recalled the way it felt to have joy ripple through my stomach and crawl into my heart. It’s a very specific feeling; somewhere between wanting to collapse into hearty laughter and the urge to puke a little.

When I was young, I noticed this every day. The feeling fluttered by whenever it happened to be sunny and stormy at the same time. It settled on my shoulders as I set a new record for jump rope. It reached for me every time my favourite song would play over the radio in our minivan. Can you imagine how much joy I must have known during a time when every song was my favourite?

I thought a lot about what kind of person I would have to become to feel like this again. What I could have used in those moments was advice from my 9-year-old self; I had to know what she would do. Somehow I’m certain; it is not this.

This thinking before living. This concern for the stain on my shirt that I am pretty sure everyone can see. This filtering and editing of my thoughts before they are pretty enough for paper.

I don’t have time to wonder how different my life might be if on that Thursday, in those leggings, with that therapist I had said “Yes, I’m very angry.” I don’t have time, but I spend it anyway. I forgive myself for this every day.

I forgive myself every time I pluck the wrong string. I forgive myself when my eyebrows come out more RuPaul than Cara D. I forgive myself in the many moments I am tempted to say “I’m not an artist,” and instead blow the idea away; a spore on a dandelion.

I guess what I mean is that I’m not a traveling hippie, and I’m not a college grad. I still don’t know deadlines, but I get a lot of sleep and I’m slowly becoming more familiar with fun. Things are stranger than ever, and I’m still okay.

(You will be too.)

Crooked Frames: The Robbery of Perfectionism (And How to Kick It.)

My therapist’s credentials hang crookedly along the wall of her office.

On the day she caught me staring, she told me that she displays them this way because she is a recovering perfectionist. “And,” she said, “it helps me spot other people carrying that burden. Like you.”

Most sessions, it’s like we are sitting opposite each other, cross legged in the very cluttered den of my brain as we sift through the junk, discussing the feelings that made the cut and the thoughts that ought to be tossed. On this particular day, it was more like being invited to a roaring gala. I just couldn’t hear her. When I pointed out that it had taken me months to make this observation, she smirked and leaned forward.

“You’re not bothered by it. Perfection is not something you expect from me, but here’s what I really want to know: Could you live with your walls if they looked like mine?”

DAAAAYYYUUMMM, Mrs. P!

After reflecting for a moment, I decided that no, I could not. This pattern of thinking was indeed familiar to me, and up until then it was a pattern that I tolerated because it didn’t register as a swatch of thought that I could repaint. Driving home that evening, it occurred to me what a wasteful system it had been and how strange it was that the things we are most proud of can become grievances simply by hanging them haphazardly.
Since then, I’ve started to distinguish unpleasant symptoms that exist in my own life as a result of a frenzied desire to be spotless in a mud puddle. It’s been an instrumental tool in maintaining happiness, and my spirit is decidedly less turbulent these days.
I realize that there are a ton of people like me out there; the kind that know there’s a pattern, but can’t determine where it originated, much less change it.
I wanted to write a post based on my own experience for any of you who are reading and thinking “this shit is the realest.” I hope it will help you identify the perfectionist inside and start kicking it in the taint. Here are 7 signs that you’re afflicted:

1)You read this, felt weird about it, and subsequently denied the horrible truth that you are the victim of an aggressive (and impossible) vision that keeps you up most nights.

2) You weigh yourself, poop, then step back on the scale to see if anything remarkable happened, like the loss of 35 pounds. (Spoiler alert: it hasn’t. Get down from there!)

3) You refuse to participate in new endeavours by feigning disinterest, the authentic reason being that you are equal parts terrified and full of shit.

4) Someone has actually told you that you apologize too often and encouraged you to knock it the hell off.

5) You’ve thrown a party and spent the entire soiree obsessing over whether or not people are having a good time. (They are. Parties are fun. You are fun. End of story.)

6) You have been known to rip out the entire page due to a minor error. (This also applies if you get mad and draw a giant dick over said page.)

7) You attach happiness to a schedule and spend your life chasing it, convinced each time that if this one thing should fall into place, inner peace will be yours.

The bad news is that this distorted thinking makes your existence a hell of a lot harder. The good news is that you get to practice disciplining yourself to handle your heart with care, which is a lot more fun than holding up the possibility of failure as fuel. Here are 5 methods I’ve been using to allow myself to be human and therefore fallible:

1) Positive affirmations- I mentioned this in my last post, but I’m so sure of them that if I were Billy Mays and you were an innocent patron watching television, I would try to sell you double. I like to replace any self-loathing thought with something I enjoy about living in my skin. If thinking means becoming, imagine all the stunningly beautiful, positive opportunities that await you. (Spoiler alert: Self worth is going to narrrate your life. Allow it.)

2) Emphasizing the good- I used to think that people who practiced the art of gratitude were pretentious. There was just no way to be thankful for everything, and maybe that’s still true. What I’ve noticed is that I am less bothered by things beyond my realm of control or understanding. When I observe my progress, I try to highlight the great decisions, take apart the low moments and look closely at what makes them different before making my next attempt. When you’re tempted to criticize yourself or the current situation, interrupt that thought with gratitude. For example, instead of telling yourself that your hair looks like a hobo’s butthole or wishing your friends would rise your standards, try saying something like “My hair is doin’ a boss ass job of keeping my head warm!” Remind yourself that having a friend is a very lovely thing, even if they act dumb sometimes.

3) Allowing Myself to Be a Beginner- If you’re worried about trying something new in case you are terrible at it, the stone cold truth is that you are probably right. You are probably terrible at it because you’ve never done it before. Luckily, this is an inevitable fact faced by any being who dares to begin. I took up playing the guitar over Christmas and it still pisses me off that i’m no Jimi Hendrix. However, I allowed myself to play so badly that I was pretty sure ears across the land were bleeding, and guess what?! Now I only suck this badly SOMETIMES! I have even gone as far playing for and alongside other people. Who am I?! Oh, right. I’m a woman with shit to do.

4) Knowing that it’s all relative- Something that runs deep in people like us is the desperation that comes with wanting our efforts and achievements to be recognized and validated by other people. We lock ourselves tightly in silver cages, waiting patiently for the words to free us. What I’m getting at is that if we don’t try to find our own way out, the only option is “stuck.” When passion develops, so do answers, but in order to find it, you have to be willing to search. When you stumble upon something that makes your heart vibrate, you’ll know it immediately, and you won’t need an echo to tell you that being so unbound has always been the key.

5) Being mindful- A moment becomes pretty goddamn exhausting when you’re spending it in anticipation of the moment to follow or in nostalgia for moments that have passed, never to return. This will make your memoir look more like a checklist, and who wants to read that? When I feel invisible in the midst of all who are coming and going, I try to listen for the smallest sound that I can hear. As a result,I begin to notice colours and sounds being far more vibrant, more razor sharp than ever before. This ignites the feeling that there is always something to discover, like I can peel back layers of my mind to find that nothing is at all what it seems; it’s more.

Of all journeys I have taken, loving myself has been the most strenuous, because I am constantly arriving. There are always folds in time that wrap me up and tempt me to stay, but the difference is that I’m no longer smothered in fear. Rather, I’m pulled away by the notion of all that I have yet to behold and make sense of. I’m not afraid of the the root that flees the forest floor, because I am no longer looking at it as if it were placed there to trip me.

People will float up to feast upon my joy while others drift away in search of a dream of their very own, each one etching themselves upon my heart.

And this time, all pages of my story will remain as I am; messy with adventure, littered in love letters, and most importantly, intact.

Crooked Frames: The Robbery of Perfectionism (And How to Kick it.)

My therapist’s credentials hang crookedly along the wall of her office.

On the day she caught me staring, she told me that she displays them this way because she is a recovering perfectionist. “And,” she said, “it helps me spot other people carrying that burden. Like you.”

Most sessions, it’s like we are sitting opposite each other, cross legged in the very cluttered den of my brain as we sift through the junk, discussing the feelings that made the cut and the thoughts that ought to be tossed. On this particular day, it was more like being invited to a roaring gala. I just couldn’t hear her. When I pointed out that it had taken me months to make this observation, she smirked and leaned forward.

“You’re not bothered by it. Perfection is not something you expect from me, but here’s what I really want to know: Could you live with your walls if they looked like mine?”

DAAAAYYYUUMMM, Mrs. P!

After reflecting for a moment, I decided that no, I could not. This pattern of thinking was indeed familiar to me, and up until then it was a pattern that I tolerated because it didn’t register as a swatch of thought that I could repaint. Driving home that evening, it occurred to me what a wasteful system it had been and how strange it was that the things we are most proud of can become grievances simply by hanging them haphazardly.
Since then, I’ve started to distinguish unpleasant symptoms that exist in my own life as a result of a frenzied desire to be spotless in a mud puddle. It’s been an instrumental tool in maintaining happiness, and my spirit is decidedly less turbulent these days.
I realize that there are a ton of people like me out there; the kind that know there’s a pattern, but can’t determine where it originated, much less change it.
I wanted to write a post based on my own experience for any of you who are reading and thinking “this shit is the realest.” I hope it will help you identify the perfectionist inside and start kicking it in the taint. Here are 7 signs that you’re afflicted:

1)You read this, felt weird about it, and subsequently denied the horrible truth that you are the victim of an aggressive (and impossible) vision that keeps you up most nights.

2) You weigh yourself, poop, then step back on the scale to see if anything remarkable happened, like the loss of 35 pounds. (Spoiler alert: it hasn’t. Get down from there!)

3) You refuse to participate in new endeavours by feigning disinterest, the authentic reason being that you are equal parts terrified and full of shit.

4) Someone has actually told you that you apologize too often and encouraged you to knock it the hell off.

5) You’ve thrown a party and spent the entire soiree obsessing over whether or not people are having a good time. (They are. Parties are fun. You are fun. End of story.)

6) You have been known to rip out the entire page due to a minor error. (This also applies if you get mad and draw a giant dick over said page.)

7) You attach happiness to a schedule and spend your life chasing it, convinced each time that if this one thing should fall into place, inner peace will be yours.

The bad news is that this distorted thinking makes your existence a hell of a lot harder. The good news is that you get to practice disciplining yourself to handle your heart with care, which is a lot more fun than holding up the possibility of failure as fuel. Here are 5 methods I’ve been using to allow myself to be human and therefore fallible:

1) Positive affirmations- I mentioned this in my last post, but I’m so sure of them that if I were Billy Mays and you were an innocent patron watching television, I would try to sell you double. I like to replace any self-loathing thought with something I enjoy about living in my skin. If thinking means becoming, imagine all the stunningly beautiful, positive opportunities that await you. (Spoiler alert: Self worth is going to narrrate your life. Allow it.)

2) Emphasizing the good- I used to think that people who practiced the art of gratitude were pretentious. There was just no way to be thankful for everything, and maybe that’s still true. What I’ve noticed is that I am less bothered by things beyond my realm of control or understanding. When I observe my progress, I try to highlight the great decisions, take apart the low moments and look closely at what makes them different before making my next attempt. When you’re tempted to criticize yourself or the current situation, interrupt that thought with gratitude. For example, instead of telling yourself that your hair looks like a hobo’s butthole or wishing your friends would rise your standards, try saying something like “My hair is doin’ a boss ass job of keeping my head warm!” Remind yourself that having a friend is a very lovely thing, even if they act dumb sometimes.

3) Allowing Myself to Be a Beginner- If you’re worried about trying something new in case you are terrible at it, the stone cold truth is that you are probably right. You are probably terrible at it because you’ve never done it before. Luckily, this is an inevitable fact faced by any being who dares to begin. I took up playing the guitar over Christmas and it still pisses me off that i’m no Jimi Hendrix. However, I allowed myself to play so badly that I was pretty sure ears across the land were bleeding, and guess what?! Now I only suck this badly SOMETIMES! I have even gone as far playing for and alongside other people. Who am I?! Oh, right. I’m a woman with shit to do.

4) Knowing that it’s all relative- Something that runs deep in people like us is the desperation that comes with wanting our efforts and achievements to be recognized and validated by other people. We lock ourselves tightly in silver cages, waiting patiently for the words to free us. What I’m getting at is that if we don’t try to find our own way out, the only option is “stuck.” When passion develops, so do answers, but in order to find it, you have to be willing to search. When you stumble upon something that makes your heart vibrate, you’ll know it immediately, and you won’t need an echo to tell you that being so unbound has always been the key.

5) Being mindful- A moment becomes pretty goddamn exhausting when you’re spending it in anticipation of the moment to follow or in nostalgia for moments that have passed, never to return. This will make your memoir look more like a checklist, and who wants to read that? When I feel invisible in the midst of all who are coming and going, I try to listen for the smallest sound that I can hear. As a result,I begin to notice colours and sounds being far more vibrant, more razor sharp than ever before. This ignites the feeling that there is always something to discover, like I can peel back layers of my mind to find that nothing is at all what it seems; it’s more.

Of all journeys I have taken, loving myself has been the most strenuous, because I am constantly arriving. There are always folds in time that wrap me up and tempt me to stay, but the difference is that I’m no longer smothered in fear. Rather, I’m pulled away by the notion of all that I have yet to behold and make sense of. I’m not afraid of the the root that flees the forest floor, because I am no longer looking at it as if it were placed there to trip me.

People will float up to feast upon my joy while others drift away in search of a dream of their very own, each one etching themselves upon my heart.

And this time, all pages of my story will remain as I am; messy with adventure, littered in love letters, and most importantly, still intact.

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.

The Net: An Honest Conversation About the Holiday Season and Sadness

I’ve been staring at a blank screen for weeks. I’ve typed countless fragmented sentences wrapped in cheer, but none of them felt right. There was the pretty paper, and beneath it, boxes inside of boxes of nothing. I don’t get down like that, so I’m giving you guys something else; some real shit for the holidays.

I loved Christmas as a kid. Lights? The flickering ones, on the fastest possible setting before mom says I’m going to give someone a seizure. Music? That one song by Tom Petty where he sings about not wanting his relatives to kiss him at Christmas. Silly Tom Petty. Carolers? Stand there and sing to me FOREVER! Annual mass? Fuck yeah! (Kinda.)

The entire month of December was a visual smorgasbord. I can’t actually think of a happier string of days in my life, my only complaint being that more of my family liked ham more than turkey (some bullshit.) Perhaps that’s why this time of year has been the most difficult to handle for some time. Still, every December I wait in anticipation of the magic seeping into my skin so that I can have greens and golds.

I feel the sadness take hold beginning in October, but the days are still long enough to conjure up sweet visions of what joy would look like if it had a face. In November my brain is fighting, but my soul is undeterred. “Next Week. Next Week I’ll feel ready.” December comes and brings with it everything and nothing, and some wouldn’t believe it, but both are heavy.

The holidays are a painful time of year for a lot of us, for a myriad of reasons. It can be particularly lonely when we’re tripping over well wishes and brushing up against festive images of social connectedness. There’s also the expectation that everything should be peaceful and celebrated, gratitude glowing in every corner. I find it especially cruel that the time of year we feel the most numb is also the time of year that we most resemble broken records, saying things like “I’m great, thanks for asking.” and “Wonderful to see you!”

Small talk is called small talk for a reason, and the reason is that there is no room for genuine feelings inside of it. When they ask “what’s new?” I will tell them that there’s nothing too exciting. I will tell them this because there is no room for me to say

“I feel like shit. Well, kinda. I mostly don’t feel anything about anything, but, well, that’s pretty shit. It’s been 6 days since I had a shower, and more since I changed my clothes. I watched an entire season of Mad Men even though I knew that the stable version of myself would hate it, because getting up and choosing something else seemed exhausting. I’ve eaten nothing but Quaker Instant Oatmeal this entire week. There is dog hair all over my life. Sometimes I get a feeling or two and I can go somewhere, but talking to people is like driving with a flat tire. Possible, but not a great experience. I feel like the prisoner behind the glass, reaching, but unable to make contact, and all I have is this phone with which I send reassurance down the line. How can a person love life so much and still not be able to get out of bed?”

Fuck small talk, guys. Insincere conversation blows anyway. If nobody has asked you yet, I’m asking: Are you okay? Really okay? If not, that’s fine. Is there something that could be done to make it better?

Maybe for you, like me, it’s depression. Maybe you have suffered a loss and you’re grieving. Maybe you’re just unsure. Whatever it is, it’s okay to feel it (or not feel it.) Whatever it is, I know that bullshit clichés don’t remove the film that covers you. So what I will say is “Me too, friend.” What I will say is that I’m proud of you. Because it’s hard to feed the demand for happiness and stability when both are in short supply. Because you’re kick-ass and even if it doesn’t feel like it right now, it really is wonderful to have you here.

To anyone who is struggling quietly, you are very brave. Please know that being brave doesn’t also have to mean being alone. You may tell yourself that it’s not anybody else’s problem, that they didn’t sign up for this. Please remember that you are not just the space provided for another to write their name and volunteer their time. You are a jarring and magnificent example of what it means to be human. You walk that beam gracefully between two worlds and you balance so well, but if there were a net, would it be okay to fall?

Because there is a net. Sometimes it looks like mom, or a close friend. Sometimes it looks like a psychiatrist. Sometimes it sounds like collective voices saying “Hi, Karlee!” in a support group. Sometimes it sounds like the suicide hotline. And what it feels like? It feels like fear and sadness and frustration and utter relief. It feels like recovery.

If the net looks appealing for no other reason, consider this: I will never know what the inside of your fire looks like if you don’t stick around to walk through it. To write it, or paint it, or sing it. I’ll never know where the fire burned hottest, and that would be an incredible shame, because your story feeds my story and all of the great tales ever written.

This year I want to give my readers the gift of conversation instead of small talk. There is no better opportunity to call a loved one, to tell them you are thinking of them. To ask them if they are okay. There is no better opportunity to offer a hug or a smile or a meal. There is never a better time than RIGHT NOW to ask for help if you need it.

There is no shame in knowing that there are more ways to dig a grave than in the frozen ground. There is no dishonour in feelings that scare you silent. Most of all, it shows no weakness to give them up for the possibility of feelings like self love and happiness. For the realization that there is more to grass than mowing it.

If ever the wind whistles and threatens to blast you off course, and you’ve forgotten how to maneuver, forgotten to WANT to maneuver, Please don’t also forget that

There is a net.

If you or someone you care about is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK

For more information on suicide prevention, click here.

A Stigmatic Society and a Little Girl’s Laughter

“I have a problem with stigma.”

I see this statement shared continuously over every feed of every social media platform that I use. It makes me ecstatic. I have spent countless hours in therapy agonizing over the ways in which to move beyond Bipolar and operate as a normal, functional human being. But here’s the thing, guys. I kinda don’t fucking want to. I have felt an immense pressure to appear as this beam of light, and an enormous responsibility to give that light to the darkness of stigma, to hold myself up so that the damage it causes is too well-lit for anybody to continue to put it on the back burner.

My main difficulty with the negative connotation surrounding mental illness used to be for reasons such as a combination of high expectations and little empathy. I had to reassure myself constantly that people just didn’t understand, that they couldn’t see the way that I suffered. Don’t get me wrong, these things still bother me, but there are other things that go undetected. Important things. People don’t see the way that I thrive.

They do not see me as I lay on my back, chin up to kiss the stars while combinations are twisted against thousands of safes, releasing my thoughts to tumble over one another. They do not see me swell in gratitude as words appear and I welcome them as if they were diamonds spilling from thin air into my open mouth until I glimmer from the inside. They do not see the kind of release it brings as I send them back to twirl in infinity. What ails me… it heals me, too.

I am never more creative, never more alive than during or directly following an episode. The closest comparison I can make is this: Sometimes, as I sit back and observe my 3 and 5-year-old nieces at play, I swear that they are one blazing billboard, a sign that my illness is also genius. For one thing, they feel. A lot. Loudly and unabashedly. They let me know over and over with their exaggerated moans of both delight and frustration. They do not approach any situation with modesty, and I’ve never heard either of them say “I’m not very good at that.” In fact, they are pretty damn certain that they know everything.

Most of the time, I’m pretty sure that they do, too. Once, after I gave one of them shit for running ahead, she replied “YOU are not the boss of me. You’re not even ANYBODY’S boss!” There were 2 things that occurred in this situation: 1) The thing that I actually did, which was force her to hold my hand and walk alongside me, because toward traffic is not a cool direction in which to gallop. 2) The thing that I desperately WANTED to do, which was to pull her close to me and tell her that no, nobody was her boss. To ask her to always to own this idea and to never believe in such a thing as a ceiling, glass or otherwise.

They also keep that shit so real. They ask whatever questions pop into their thoughts, and if the answer doesn’t give them satisfaction, they invent their own. They particularly like to do it in situations that make me, as an adult, uncomfortable. Somewhere along the way, we are all taught that a very small portion of our wildest visions apply to real life. We begin to learn that we may not grow up to be an astronaut and a ventriloquist and also a ballerina. We begin to understand that the place in which we imagine unicorns that eat broccoli and people who use their hearts instead of their fists is commonly referred to as “La la land.” This place houses everything that we see that is “never going to happen” because it’s “not real.” Maybe it is learned from our parents, or teachers, or that assbag 6th grader who guards the swings and yells truths that we did not ask to hear.

Being told to mellow out, to calm down, to get a grip is being told to unlearn everything that we are conditioned to do by nature. Whether this is necessary is another matter entirely, but it certainly isn’t easy. When I watch either one be told “no,” my heart breaks and bursts at once. Not because I don’t believe in discipline, but because the way their faces curl up in confusion mirrors a feeling that I am so very familiar with. Before Bipolar, before depression, before psychosis and before mania, I had forgotten what it was like to experience this series of discrepancies between what I felt and what was acceptable. To hear such beautiful symphonies and to feel such despair upon realizing that nobody else could hear them. To try my best to assimilate, wondering why the real world couldn’t be more like me.

Please understand that while I associate the confusion of mental illness with the confusion of growing up, it is not meant to say that it is childish or that it can be snapped or grown out of. There are plenty of reasons that I could list as to why it is much, much more complex than that, but that would take me days, and frankly, it’s not why I’m here. What I AM here to tell you is this:

Stigma says that we are an inconvenience, that our symptoms are a burden, a drain. Stigma says that we should be rewired and rewritten to be read in a way that is more fitting for society to accept. Reality says that we are precious, wholesome and magnificent, that our symptoms are the cracks of creativity. Reality says that we shall reclaim our identity and recover. We won’t grow out of it, but we will grow through it.

What I am here to tell you is that dirt is misunderstood. So often we gaze at the flowers and the foliage, paying no mind to the dark, fertile environment from which they sprouted. It is not only your transformation, your end result that should be loved and appreciated.

The next time stigma runs its slimy fingers over your hopeful face in an attempt to draw your eyes closed, this is what I hope your quivering voice will say:

“You speak so boldly of that which you do not know. You stretch my spine so that I may look more like a wooden soldier than a human being. You seek to blind me of the problem, blur my purpose, dress my voice in shackles and my face in a neutral expression. But when you speak, I do not recoil. I do not close my eyes to your lullaby of ridicule. When I stand up straight, it will NEVER be because you pulled me there. It will be because I have wept away the blur and I see more clearly than ever why my voice is so fucking valuable. I will pick every lock until it is your turn to tire and live in silence.”

I hope that as you haul lumber, shuffle papers at your desk or lay sleepless in bed, you will know that whatever you are at this moment is as brilliant as it is tangled. I hope that whenever stigma looms, pouting in your dusty corners, you will honour your inner 3-year-old as you mutter “YOU are not the boss of me.”

The Accidental Addict (Revisited)

I haven’t said it here yet, because I didn’t want to start something I didn’t intend to follow through with.

I stopped taking my medication. I know what you’re going to ask next, and that’s “Are you sure?” The answer is a definite yes. See, I’ve been fighting this battle for 2 and a half years now, and I’ve tried what must be dozens of antipsychotics, anti-anxieties, antidepressants and sleeping meds. Though they came with their fair share of side effects, I have not been fortunate enough to find a combination that came close to eliminating the voices that ring through my ears 24/7.

Haloperidol. Seroquel. Effexor. Olanzapine. Lamotrigine. Latuda. Ativan. Risperdal. Abilify. Wellbutrin. Zopiclone. Clomipramine. Clonazepam. Temazepam. Doxepin. Trazodone. Mirtzapine. Paxil. These are some of the bottles than can still be found in my cupboards, my purse, my car. These are just some of the medications that went from hand to mouth before my brain ever entertained how much might be too much.

It started innocently enough. My skin would feel as if it might shake right off of my bones, and I’d shake the bottle into my palm to produce a chemical acceptance that my brain could not manage on its own. 1, 2, 3 ,4. These pills don’t help me anymore. 5, 6, 7, 8. Something calming when it’s late. 9, 10, 11, 12. Further inward I will delve. I took the tabs, the capsules, the pills because they were prescribed to me, and I took this to mean they were not dangerous.

Before I knew it, I’d gained 30 lbs and absolutely no peace of mind. I didn’t feel sadness, but I didn’t feel happiness, either. I felt absolutely nothing, and anything heavier than nothing was enough weight to make me crumble. I lost weeks to the cracks in the ceiling and months to the sound of that beautiful rattle.

It didn’t occur to me that I might have a problem, not once. All I knew was that I felt terrible, I hated my reflection, and these goddamn circular demons sliding down my throat and coursing through my veins were the only thing that brought me any relief. 25. 50 mg. When the medication would stop working, I was given another pill and for a while life would be tolerable. I knew they wanted me to live, and at the time this was the only way that I felt that I could do it.

Up until a month ago, I was taking a grand total of at least 19 pills daily, (at least 9) of these belonging to the benzodiazepine family. You have your math right. I was taking at least 9 pills to sleep for (maybe) 3-6 hours per night. In retrospect, I should have been alarmed the first time the number registered in my mind. I should have been alarmed that this number had increased by 14 in the last year, but I wasn’t. More. More. More.

A little late, I found myself at a crossroads. Find another route or die here. All 19 of these failed to give me the relief I needed, the acceptance that was vital to my recovery and the self-esteem required to keep slugging it out. Somehow I had become even more miserable than I was when I’d started, and this was an overwhelming truth considering that I had spent the last 2 and a half years trying to combat this misery. A little late, I realized that I was the only one who could truly save me. No amount of scribbled prescriptions was going to write my story, and I could not count on anyone, even someone with a medical to degree to tell me the truth about myself.

So, here I am. I stopped the last 9 pills 9 days ago, and I have experienced severe withdrawal. All 9 of these pills were benzos, and I quit them abruptly. As a result, I am going on day 9 of physical pain and sickness like I have never before experienced. It’s hard for me to write this, because I like to think that I know my limits. I try to operate within the boundaries of safety and I make an effort every day to live the truth I speak here. I would like to think that I am reasonable and rational, that I am above this type of dependence. That just wouldn’t be the truth. There are a lot of people I would like to blame, but I know that this is, and has really always been up to me.

For now, my mind is even. With each day that brings pain, I am glad for it, because I haven’t felt anything so real since the winter of 2011. I am researching all of my options and feeling good about the future, though it is uncertain. I am in therapy and making all of the reparations I can for the sake of my mental health. I’m learning all that I can about my body, nourishing and exercising it so that my mind has the best chance at being clear. There are no guarantees that I will be able to live free of medication, I know that. I also know that there are other methods, there are other choices and they are all worth a shot. I have scared the hell out of myself enough to know that living this lifestyle is completely reckless and will ultimately lead me to my grave. I feel confident in my newly attained knowledge and I sit with it knowing that I will never stumble blindly down this path again.

Here’s what I want all of you to understand: This cycle was a drastic one, and I absolutely don’t recommend it to anyone, especially without being under the watchful eye of a trusted psychiatrist. Please know that stopping your medication can bring just as many consequences and can be just as dangerous. Don’t blindly follow me, because that’s exactly what I’m getting at here; you should not be led blindly into ANYTHING regarding your well-being. Research the fuck out of your diagnosis, then research others that are similar. Read up on your medication and understand the benefits as well as the side effects. Know your body and enough about your family history to aid in finding the one that may be right for you. Seek a psychiatrist that you feel safe enough to be honest with, because they can only help that which they are aware of. Trust yourself enough to walk away from anything that brings you pain of any kind.

1, 2, 3, 4. I’m anxious so I’ll count some more.

5, 6, 7, 8. It feels so good to concentrate.

To learn more about prescription drug abuse, visit www.ccsa.ca.

**Update: A few days ago, I went on a bit of a manic deleting spree. This post was actually written on some unremarkable day in June. In the months between that day and the 29th of October, I experienced a great deal of clarity. I did so much. I felt so much. The summer was dry, but life was in bloom inside of me. The withdrawal was hell, but my grasp on life had never been stronger. I am extremely proud of that run. However, as you probably guessed, it did not (and perhaps could not) last. It came on like that one phrase in a very popular John Green novel that levitated off of the page and made a home in the folds of my mind. “Slowly, and then all at once.” I noticed that the descent was less traumatic this time, but in some ways it was also more difficult. I had so many good days in a row, and it felt like if I could only be brave enough, I could defy gravity. Coming down from a high like that, a high so natural…Let’s just say it’s a real fucking bummer. It became apparent that I would need help again, and though logically I understand that there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with this, I was pissed the hell off. For about a week, medication and I have been rekindling a familiar romance, but we are wiser this time. When I have episodes, I like to do something I should never, ever do. I read my blog. And because I believe that I am more sophisticated in that moment than any other moment that’s happened evereverever, I am left in disgust at how terrible my past work seems. This post in particular was an awful trigger. Explaining the feeling I had when I read it would be a lengthy process, but in short it felt like standing in front of a filing cabinet full of knowledge and anger while the drawers flew open and hit me in the mouth repeatedly as punishment for speaking. I swore I could taste blood. When Sean came home to help me adjust, I told him what I had done. The conversation went like this:

Sean: NO! Which ones?!

Karlee: I can’t really remember, But I know ‘The Accidental Addict’ is gone.

Sean: NO! Oh my GOD! 

His hands flew up to his face. He was in a complete panic. It alarmed me a great deal, but in a twisted way I was very flattered. I had gotten this idea that he kinda had to read what I wrote as spousal obligation, but in that moment I noticed that he was legitimately freaked out that these thoughts had disappeared. When he came up for air, he said both the most encouraging and heartbreaking words he has uttered to date: “I’m sorry. These posts are my photo albums.” He explained that they were so good and so me that he could not stand their sudden removal, and that when he needs to he travels back to those times, even if those times don’t feel all that relevant in the grand scheme of things. I felt loss lodge itself in my throat as I remembered that I probably couldn’t recover it while also realizing that I was not in any kind of position to write it again. Luckily,  Sean is the kind of guy who is so serious about my happiness that he dissects and uses everything I write as an opportunity to make things more stable for me. Which means he had it saved along with every single fucking one I’ve ever written. What a guy, right?! I’m about to click ‘publish’ and resurrect the post from the digital trash. It may not have been the crystal ball that I had planned it to be, but it happened, it was important, and it was so very lovely to catch a glittering glimpse of what would visit, but could not stay.