Bobby Borden and the Hunt for Happy

Robert L Borden on a string, fluttering in the wind.

I watch him dance and I smile. I think about how nice it would be to dance with him, but I know better. I haven’t always known better, of course. I’ve only just learned. It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon on a Saturday in June, and I’ve spent the entire day chasing him around the park.

I felt the $100 bill brush against my wrist this morning as I lay in the soft grass, waiting for something, anything to happen. I reached for it immediately, my fingers turning to claws and my heart turning to an empty pit, ready to be filled. It darted away on a prairie breeze, taunting me, urging me to get up and work for the feeling of paper inside a closed fist. “Nothing is free.”

I knew this, and so did my feet, because they started to run. They leaped and twirled and pounced, trying to catch the bill. I came close numerous times, but never close enough before it took flight again. “C’mon Bob, don’t be a dick.” The sun flickered through the trees as I sat once more at a distance, waiting for the right moment. As it did, the light caught, blinding me a little too temporarily, and I noticed something just ahead. Invisible wire. I couldn’t touch it to verify, but all at once I knew this was not the wind, and not a windfall, either. Not pennies from heaven, but a prank. I raced alongside the glimmering streak, trying to locate the culprit, but the tears clouded my eyes until I could not separate the end of the wire from my beginning.

This is what an obsession with finding happiness feels like.

I keep looking for the answer, listening intently to anyone willing to let me in on their secret. It’s gotten so bad that I scroll through video after video on YouTube on nights when the bed is empty and closing my eyes feels eerie and lonesome. Search bar. Typing. H- Deleting. Typing. “How to Be Happy.” Go.

I put in my headphones, unsure if my best friend can hear this carrying down the hall. Hoping that she can’t. She knows everything about me, but in this moment I pretend that neither she or anyone else can guess that I have no idea what THE FUCK I am doing. “Exercise, it releases endorphins!” Okay, cool. I do that. I must be at least semi-close to my destination. “Travel, it releases prejudice and fear of the unknown!” Right. I can get down with that. I like planes and the idea of fruit that grows year round. “Meditate, it releases, like, everything!” I could probably benefit from letting my brain marinate for a while. “Just choose happiness!” Wait.

She says it like we’re at a movie theatre. “Junior Mints or Caramilk?” She says it like there’s a choice to make. She sounds like Cat Stevens in Moonshadow, telling me that she wouldn’t be upset about losing her legs. Are you fucking with me?! Still, I’m left feeling painfully inadequate that I don’t know how to make this non-existent decision.

I suppose part of me gets it. If the choice is “Go sing karaoke with that one friend you have who is bloody terrible and hilarious or stay in your bed and wonder why you have no social life,” Then it would seem that it makes sense what the happier option might be. But that’s not what Cat Stevens with a vagina said. Back button. Close tab. Imagine punching that condescending bitch in the face.

What she means I’m not sure of, but I know it can’t be the way I’m interpreting it, because I’m interpreting it as a slap in the face to myself and every other person who sees happiness as a dart on a map that can’t be reached by any form of transportation that we are familiar with. A blow to people who work their asses off, hearts vulnerable, open to receive it, only to catch debris.

I don’t want to make it sound as if I’m not content. I am, exceptionally so. Sometimes, though, it can be difficult to evaluate as I wade through the how-tos of happy that are constantly put in my path. Should I want more? Should I be doing more? How do I know what it is I should want? How do I know exactly what life should feel like? Lately I feel as if I’m failing every time I get angry. Every time I do something that isn’t considered 100% selfless and efficient for everyone. Every time I have a shitty day, I cover it with the idea that I SHOULD feel gratitude.

Why?

Some days are shit, and there isn’t a trace of gratitude in my veins. Some days I don’t feel like thanking the universe for sprinkling fecal matter all over me, and I certainly don’t feel like thinking about all of those who might have it worse. I am unbelievably tired of everyone trying to solve the problems of other people with “Just think positive!” I know that positive thinking is an asset in overcoming, in becoming; I’ve seen it. But I don’t need to do it every minute of every goddamn day.

If you ask me, sadness and anger are just as important. They have had an equal part in my metamorphosis, in building my character. I would even venture to say that they have provided far greater incentive to reach for more than any great day I’ve ever lived in. On great days, I celebrate, and on shit days, I evaluate. That’s healthy, and to do otherwise would be to deny myself a basic human requirement. I wish we had evolved beyond the need for tear ducts, but we’re not there yet, so I’m damn well going to use them.

Nathaniel Hawthorne compared happiness to a butterfly. I think it’s so beautiful, and I feel in my soul that it is accurate. It’s fragile and fleeting, and a butterfly couldn’t inspire laboured sighs of awe echoing through the world if it were trapped and squished in our fists. It’s okay not to be able to catch it and make it a pet. If someone is building a railroad through the centre of your angry town, if they’re calling “ALL ABOARD: DESTINATION HAPPY!” It’s okay not to take the train. Walk until you feel like experiencing change, because there will ALWAYS be another one sending its joyful choo-choo down the line. And, if not, there will always be another plane, another electric car, another path.

I imagine myself watching ol’ Borden as he dances, and I imagine seeing a young boy finally catch him. The jig is up. I don’t feel jealous or inadequate. My only thought is “Well, damn. Good for you.” I get the feeling that the bill wasn’t mine to catch, and I lay back down in the soft grass, waiting for something, anything, to happen.

Life Outside the Lines

The term “comfort zone” is funny to me.

I don’t know about you, but I was never really all that comfortable inside of mine. It was this space in my mind that I created to lounge around eating chocolate chips and making excuses for every part of my life that had fallen apart because I had been diagnosed with a mental illness. It was a lot like sitting down in the middle of a concrete sidewalk, painting a circle around myself and deciding that this tiny spot was an adequate area in which to spend the rest of my life.

But life didn’t stop because I had laid claim to this part of the sidewalk. People walked by in an endless stream of conversation and laughter, beckoning me to join them.

“Hey Karlee, we’re going to a concert. They’ve got this really great opening act and you look kinda lonely.”

Because I still desperately craved friendship and human interaction, I would say

“Nah, man. Crowds are hell on Earth, nosebleed seats are the worst, and does live music ever sound as good anymore? You guys should come and hang out with me in here. I’ve got chocolate chips and I won’t charge you $8 for a beer.”

Nobody ever wanted to come and hang out in my painted circle in the middle of the sidewalk, and though I would find myself angry, calling them stupid assholes under my breath, I knew why. I knew why because I actually really liked live music and $8 beer and contagious energy, but I feared all of these things at the same time, and besides, I couldn’t just leave my comfort zone. Soon enough, people watching felt like a tedious exercise. They stopped approaching my circle. Where it used to feel like an eternal cluster of people walking toward me, I could only see them walking away.

“Where are you going? Come back. Come back and tell me about all of the parts of your day that went awry so that I can feel better about being trapped inside of this circle. Don’t just walk past while I catch fragments of conversations about things you enjoy. Why are you doing this to me?”

A comfort zone is supposed to be this sanctuary that shields us from the danger of the world outside. Some might argue that it does, but I would remind them that it doesn’t shield us from the danger that builds and boils inside, which is perhaps the most destructive and the most widely experienced danger there is. It wasn’t until someone I love very much sat down in the circle across from me with a somber expression on their face and held a mirror directly in front of me that I realized this. “What are you doing? Did you come in here just to upset me? What the fuck am I supposed to do with this? Get out of my circle.”

I was so angry. I screamed and I cried and I yelled, hoping to remind them that I needed the circle, that showing me how aged and sad and blank I looked only made it worse for me since there was no way out. They didn’t even react. I sat alone in my circle, staring into the mirror. I examined the bags under my eyes and the way they seemed permanently swollen from weeks without any real sleep. How could I be so exhausted, so drained if I were truly as comfortable as I believed? It occurred to me that I hadn’t even tried to escaped the confines of the painted line that surrounded me. I began to wonder whether the circle was keeping the pain out or if it was really just keeping me in.

I thought about this for weeks until I decided that I didn’t want that to be my life anymore. I told myself that if I tried, and if it didn’t work out, at least I could say with certainty that my comfort zone was where I belonged. I took my first step outside of the circle on a September day last year when my friends said “There’s this kickboxing thing going on at the elementary school. You wanna go?” For the first time in what felt like forever, I said yes. And that’s when I met Alycia.

The class started at 8. I showed up at 7:15, determined not to walk in late so that people wouldn’t look at me or take note of my presence. The parking lot was full, but the doors were locked, and it was cold. There were these two little boys standing in the foyer staring at me through the window with their mouths open, as if I were a giant pickle wearing a toque. My brain was all “Fucking shit fuck, Karlee. These kids think you’re so weird that they don’t even want to open the door for you. Go home and watch documentaries about people who do things like this.” I waited it out another 5 seconds and sure enough they opened the door. I was reminded that kids are just funny little beings who can’t seem to help hanging out with their mouths wide open.

When I walked in to find her I was the first one there. Under any normal circumstance I would have felt overwhelmed, but when she looked up I saw that she looked just as nervous as I did. She fumbled around, handed me a form and introduced herself. She asked me my name and I told her a little about my situation. My hands started to sweat when I told her “Sometimes I might have trouble understanding you. I hear voices.” She was the first person who didn’t look at me like a science project after the words fell out. She just smiled and said “That’s okay. We’ll make it work.” As the rest of the ladies poured in, she took us through the class and didn’t hover over me once, except to say a quick “nice work.” I couldn’t remember the last time I felt like I was the same as everyone else. I went home and cried.

Wednesdays became magic for me. I didn’t want to admit it to anyone, but I waited all week to go to class and do something that people outside of my tiny circle did. I began to allow myself to dream of doing more. One evening Alycia told us that the company hosting the classes was pulling the kickboxing program out of our town, and my heart broke. I had become so attached to her and the people who took the class with me, even if I didn’t talk much. There was two whole seconds where I feared that I would be stuck inside of my circle of doom before she said “I can’t give up on my Sexsmith girls, though, so I’m going to teach it on my own.” I will never forget that moment, because it did something very specific for me. It reminded me that the margin of risk can be less important than the possible reward. It reminded me that the reward is not always in paper form. Sometimes the reward comes in the form of a smile or a hand to hold or a “thank you.”

Alycia teamed up with Frances, an equally radiant soul and together they opened Pure Fitness, which quickly became my happy place, my escape. It was the one place besides my own home that I could feel free and secure. When I would have episodes, they would both smile and tell me how proud of me they were for coming, for fighting through the voices, for coming back again. They would tell me that I could leave if it got too much, but that they wanted me to stay, and that it was okay not to have my shit together all the time. Alycia came over to me once, standing in front of the bag confused. She said “You tell those voices that I have you and that you’re just fine. You tell them that you’re kicking ass.” At the end they would meet me with hugs and I would leave every time feeling like someone more self-assured than the person who walked in. I forgot about the noise and the pressure and I felt a true appreciation for all that I could do when I allowed myself to feel as if I deserved it.

I don’t know why I felt that I didn’t deserve it. I don’t know why any of us do. All that I am sure of is that it is a lie. Maybe it’s a lie that we invent in moments of confusion and sadness, and maybe it’s a lie that is whispered to us enough to recognize it as a familiar and comfortable pattern. Maybe it is then that we paint our circles, telling ourselves that if we don’t dare to desire anything beyond that which we are certain we are capable of, we won’t be disappointed. I wish that I had the words to tell them what it means to me to know them, how much I didn’t know I needed them. I wish I could tell them that heroes don’t always wear capes or armour. Sometimes they wear 3 year olds on their backs and smiles of encouragement on their lips. Sometimes they are single moms who give up the remainder of their free time to make other people feel great about themselves. Plus, it makes all the difference to be trained by people who will enjoy a well deserved slice of pizza and beer with you when the week is through.

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 I lost 50 lbs, but that isn’t what I want you to take from this. What I earned from the hours I spent working on my physical strength and battling my ego was far more magnificent than that. What I earned was a dream come to life. Yesterday I accomplished the goal that I quietly allowed myself to envision when I took the first steps out of my circle. Yesterday I battled my head and my heart as I ran 11 miles, conquering my fear of heights, crowds, darkness and greatness, often all at once. Yesterday I sobbed as I crossed a finish line that was so much bigger than the event itself. I finished the race against my brain. I can’t tell you what a miracle it was to wake up today and know that I am an undeniably strong, committed, worthy person. To say with absolute certainty that I am capable of whatever ridiculous, crazy, unfathomable idea graces my thoughts. To believe that I am a credible source when I sit here and type that you are capable of all of these things, that you too are a worthy individual.

I know that this is incredibly long-winded, but I wanted to be able to write it from start to finish to tell any of you who are stuck inside of the painted circles that your past or circumstance has left you with that there is a way out. Whenever you’re ready, dare to reach out and run your finger along the line, noticing how little depth it has, how little control it has, until you feel comfortable enough to move beyond it. Tell your story. Talk about your circle. I don’t know anybody who wants to hear a tale about someone who adapted to everything with ease, so give them your rawness and your jagged edges, show them the undeniable will that it takes for you to make it through a single day. Not everyone will like it, but there will be more than enough that love it, that love you, so much so that you may find your edges have smoothed being surrounded by people who give a shit what happens to you.

Today when I look in the mirror I see someone who is young, curious, beautiful, and best of all, happy. I see someone who sleeps through the nightmares her brain plays for her. I see someone who a painted circle is just no match for.

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Sanity Sold Separately

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This is my mom.

She is 54 years young. She likes gardening and talking to strangers. She’s a mother of four with an iron will and a tender heart. Her kiss has a sound and if you are lucky enough to have one placed upon your temple, her lips will echo in the background of every beautiful melody you hear forever after.

But she doesn’t know who she is right now.
My experience with mental illness began long before mine ever surfaced, though I would not understand what that meant for quite some time. My first clear memory is from when I was about six:
My mom was seated on the front steps smoking a cigarette. I was watching her from around the corner, noticing that she was crying. I thought she looked beautiful when she cried, and I found it strange even then.
I asked her what was wrong, asked her if she had ‘owies.’ She smiled through her tears and tried to explain that sometimes people just get sad for no real reason at all.
I asked for a Fruit by the Foot and she hummed “Band on the Run” while she fumbled with the packaging.

It always went like that.

As I grew up, I knew that she was struggling, even if I couldn’t pinpoint where it came from. Sometimes I asked her, but she just brushed it off and continued to put scrunchies in my hair and coming to school to help me clean out my desk, which was always as messy and colourful as my imagination.

She finally sought help in 2001, where she was met with a diagnoses that indicated her thyroid was not functioning properly. She was also given some antidepressants. She became softer somehow, like falling off of a pair of skis into powder.
She was tired a lot, and because I was so young, I didn’t stop demanding her time and her energy. I didn’t stop shouting “Mom! Mom! Hey, MOM!”
Sometimes I wasn’t sure that she could hear me, even when she was staring right at me.
I heard the term ‘Schizoaffective Disorder’ in the winter of 2009, the first time I watched her stumble across the line between reality and her thoughts; the first time the ambulance came to collect her.
It was difficult not to fear what I had seen, but when I finally got to visit her a couple of days later, she had her hair slicked back in a bandana, she smelled like coconut body butter and waved hello to every person she passed.
That’s the kind of woman she is.

You could be the meanest of mugs, and you still couldn’t intimidate my mother. You could throw boards over every window in the room, but she would learn to make her way in the dark. You could hurl insults left and right, but you would always miss, because she would tune out every word.
My mom is a rare and beautiful creature who meets fire not with aggression, but with the knowledge that fire will eventually burn itself out.
Argue, scream until you are blue in the face, but know that when she says she doesn’t care, she actually MEANS it.

This time when she had to go, we were on vacation, and I was ready.
I saw her off with the understanding that nothing lasts- that life has its own seasons; that we are never any one thing at a time.
When I got to see her the next day, she was as tender as ever, laughing at jokes that didn’t make any real amount of sense, brushing hair from my eyes and simply saying “Well, I don’t like it in here, but it’s okay. Do you think you could bring me a Big Mac tomorrow?”

In the hours that most people would spend in agony, she thought about me, about all of us, because she doesn’t know how not to.

In the days that followed, she took me through the facility and showed me what it had to offer. I was delighted to see that she had the option to bake, play basketball, meditate, and participate in activities like yoga and tai chi.
She showed me all of the art supplies and lit up when she pulled out the pictures she planned to colour for her grand babies.
After a game of twenty one, I cuddled up next to her on her tiny hospital bed; her little spoon. I felt the pressure in my chest release when she said “I feel safe here. I feel like I can heal.”
As she stroked my hair, my mother asked if I was angry with her. She tearfully told me that she was sorry that she gave me this illness; that this was not how she wanted to be remembered.

I turned to face her and told her that I remember her skin being soft like the velvet skirts of the dresses I wore on Christmas eve. I told her I know that if she were stranded on a desert island and had the option to play any album for the last time, it would be The Eagles’ Greatest Hits, but that she would be okay with Cat Stevens and that Van Morrison makes her snap her fingers while she dances.
I reminded her that she could moonwalk across the entire kitchen floor; that I only recall her loving me more than she loved herself.

She gave me far more than an illness. She gave me the ‘oomph’ to work my way through one. She gave me the sense of humour to laugh when my eyes burned too much to continue crying. She gave me the imagination to carry me away from despair and the gratitude to understand that the fact that I’m still here means that I am lucky.
She smiled and asked “Would you write about me?”

Here’s to you, my beautiful-eyed, iridescent soul. Here’s to scrunchies and Barney and Gushers and old English lullabies. We’ll take care of you now.

All Great Things

It’s World Pride week, and I could not be more excited. Some of you who have followed Lipshits and Mental Fits from the beginning might remember that I first spoke openly about my sexuality in a post called “The Other, Other ‘B’ Word.” I’m so proud to say that Lipshits and Mental fits stands with the LGBTQ community, and even more proud to celebrate this week alongside them.

Although I believe that we should be proud of who we are every day of the year, Pride Week is important because it gives us the opportunity to come together and reflect on the progress we’ve made, the people who have devoted their lives to the movement of equality, and to celebrate the future of this movement.

It’s hard to grow up in a place that feels a little frozen in time, like the ground 6 months of the year. While most everybody is friendly, you don’t see a ton of openly gay couples. When I was young and visiting larger cities, seeing men holding hands and women with their smiles pressed together-it mesmerized me. The way that people strolled by without taking notice fascinated me even more. I remember wondering why seeing this kind of love felt so familiar to me. It made me warm all over, and I thought about those people for days afterward. Then I would return to the prairie, and the cold would steal my breath.

Some people I know still gain their knowledge from evening sitcoms featuring the flamboyant gay man with a cardigan around his neck, giving relationship advice at an all girls’ sleepover. For awhile, that was really the only impression that I had as well. These conflicting feelings ate my brain, and I began to see myself as a total alien. As I imagine it does for a lot of people, the confusion I felt grew thicker as I got older, like a strange haze that only I could see. The subject became important all of a sudden, and high school was difficult to navigate when the words “faggot” and “dyke” were thrown around like frisbees. I found myself saying things like “being bisexual is a fad,” even though it left a sharp pang in my chest every time.

Part of the reason that I and many others like myself hide their sexuality, especially from our peers, is because people get this weird impression that we want to make out with them or that they can’t associate with us for fear of being mistaken as LGBT as well. For those of us that haven’t come out yet, relationships can feel extremely shallow when we cannot be open about the things that make us a whole person. Many people stay silent for reasons of fear. Bullying, both at school and online can weigh on a person’s chest, choking them until they decide that it’s time to give up, to stop struggling, to cease to breathe. Add to this a volatile home life, and you’ve got a gay kid’s nightmare. No two situations are quite alike, and circumstances may vary, but the statistics don’t lie. According to egale.ca, LGBTQ youth are at a greater risk of taking their own lives than their heterosexual peers. 33% of us have attempted suicide in Canada alone, and many more are contemplating.

This number may not be high enough for you to be alarmed, but those who choose to pull the plug on life have parents and siblings. They have cousins and neighbours and best friends. Part of these people dies alongside them, their insides rotting from the words that didn’t get the chance to be said, from the guilt of knowing that it was preventable.

In 2003, a gay couple were pronounced legally wed for the first time in Toronto, and two years later, the federal government legalized same-sex marriage across the nation. I am grateful to live here, where my rights are protected. However, homophobia still hangs like a dark cloud, especially in small, rural areas. We know that if we fall madly in love, we can be wed, and that’s great, but what about the years leading up to that moment?

I don’t know about you, but I want to see more people make it to that moment. I want to see hugs at graduation and legendary touchdowns. I want to hear about sweaty hands and first loves. I want the only tears at 3 AM to be after the first love is lost. I want to see these things because it doesn’t matter if it’s two men or two women, the difference is irrelevant when I see their gums as they throw their heads back and laugh; it’s irrelevant when I see their eyes gleaming with that all too familiar shine; love.

All great songs, poems, novels, they’re written with love in mind. They search for, they celebrate, they agonize over, they curse love. Love of all kinds, wether it be a love for a human being or a love for baseball. These great songs, poems and novels are written because it is only love that can feed us and bleed us dry, sometimes all at once. A goodbye would just not be as gutting if we were watching people we disliked as they left our door and our lives. In the cold confusion that is the world, love is warm, and we forever search for, celebrate, agonize over, and curse love.

I can’t tell you where to go from here, and I certainly can’t tell you where your path will lead, because it took me 10 years to work up the courage to love and accept this part of myself. What I CAN tell you is that my life is infinitely better since coming out. I feel great about owning who I am, and I feel great about sharing my confusion with others. (Let’s be honest. I am a very confused human being.) If you are struggling with your sexuality or even simply questioning what sexuality means to you, I urge you to reach out and talk. Connect with me here, on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Let’s celebrate who we are, even if you feel like you have to do so quietly for now. LSMF will always be a safe place to land.

 

 

Where The Heart Is

I know I bitch about it all the time, because it’s cold and slippery and familiar, but I love my country.

Canada is a beautiful place to grow up, to make a life, to grow old. It is quiet but majestic, and I like to think that we create our own warmth around here. I don’t say enough how thankful I am to go outside into the vast nothing and, somehow, everything all at once. I can see the stars, I can catch a snowflake on my tongue.

There are times I dream of living on a beach somewhere, hearing the waves slap the shore and feeling the sun in the part of my hair, somewhere life is slow and simple. I dream of these things but I can’t imagine living where I couldn’t kiss a cold face passionately until it warmed like I gave it life. I couldn’t imagine life without the stillness of the first snowfall, the one that I always claim to have been dreading but is one of my secret and greatest pleasures in life.

Canada is a beautiful place to grow up, to make a life, to grow old. I think most people who live here would agree with me. In Canada I have rights and freedoms and the ability to feel secure in using them wherever they apply. I am free to to marry whomever I choose, to vote, to have an education and a career. In Canada I live as an equal. If all of this fell down tomorrow, and I had to leave, this is what I would remember.

I believe that under the right circumstances, our hearts never really leave home, because home is the backdrop, the setting of life piecing us together, maybe even pulling us apart. That’s what Canada means to me, and I take great pride in where I live. How could I even begin to imagine, then, what it must be like to leave it behind? How could I begin to imagine fleeing the terrain under which I gained my footing? To start fresh in a country with a language I cannot understand but will be forced to learn at rapid speed, to adjust to the culture, the atmosphere, to being the minority? It would take a great deal of strength that I’m not sure I could muster.

I hear people complain about the “foreigners” that work and live among us, and I’m not proud when I say that there have been times I’ve been the one doing the complaining. I hear people become frustrated and even aggressive towards them simply because they are not being understood. How quickly we forget that the person standing in front of us, inconveniencing our day is not a “foreigner,” but a human being trying to make an honest living. A human being who cannot understand us, but understands tone and body language and knows he or she is being berated. A human being who is fully capable of feeling shame, embarrassment and sadness.

I’m sick of people associating bad customer service with ethnicity. Why don’t we ever evaluate how we could make this situation less frustrating and deal with it accordingly? Why is it easier to yell at the young girl across the counter instead of asking to talk to someone who is more equipped to deal with our request? Why are we so quick to anger instead of seeking understanding? It saddens me to see and to hear when I know that a lot of the people who were born and raised right here in this city believe they are above working in the fast food restaurants and call centres that they so often complain about.

 Maybe if we thought more about these people than the fact that they screwed up our dipping sauce likeeveryfuckingtime, we would be able to reach that level of understanding. Maybe it would be easier to teach them with patience and kindness that we would like bbq instead of plum. Maybe if we went the extra mile for them, they would return it tenfold. If we’re not happy with the service we receive, what can we do to change that? The answer is not “fire the fucking foreigners.” The answer is to address the problem, suggest more hands-on training for the employees and for Christ’s sake, remember that they are living in a world of people just like us, who yell at them and take our days out on them because it’s so damn easy.

All I know is that if you lay down next to me and press your face to mine, if I put my hand on your chest, we will discover that we are breathing, blinking, beating. We will discover that here, in our most raw form, we are equals. We serve equal purpose in the world. I have thoughts, some brilliant and some, well, otherwise. Your eyes dart around and I know you must have these thoughts too. If we are both thinking, we will find a way to communicate. We will discover that together we are a greater force than we were alone.

How beautiful.

“‘Cause I’m a Creep, I’m a Weirdo.”

I think it’s funny that all of us (including me) squander so much effort on appearing normal.

I mean, what the fuck is that anyway? It’s certainly not universal. I know this because in some cultures, belching after a meal is a show of appreciation. That’s normal and you’d be rude if you didn’t. However, if you burp at my mother’s table, don’t be surprised if you get smacked upside your brain cave. It’s been said before and I know I’m not a genius when I tell you that there is no normal.

I remember a lot of my childhood, and sometimes, when the world overwhelms me, I go back to those memories. I lay down and think about that time my family got a new van with a motherfuckin’ sun roof. I’m strapped in but I’m staring straight up at the clouds and picking my nose while “Truly, Madly, Deeply” plays and I think “everything in the world is right.” I love that song to this day, and not because of any romantic notion, but because it was a really good pick and the clouds were fluffy and OUR VAN HAD A SUNROOF.

A portion of the people who have read this far will be skeeved out and thinking that I could have left the snot rocket patch bit out of the description. The others will understand me when I say that I think that is fucking stupid. Why does everyone want to pretend that they don’t get boogers? Why is it so top-secret? EVERYBODY GETS BATS IN THEIR CAVES. That is normal. If you have never developed mucous inside of your nasal cavity and proceeded, at least once, to pick it out with your fingers you should probably see a doctor or maybe even a therapist because you are missing out on a very small, nasty joy. I’m not telling you to dig at dinner for everyone to see, of course. Don’t be a fuck about it.

Everybody wants to appear as if they’ve grown up with dignity, grace and charisma. They like Seinfeld and hockey and they recycle because they care. This is all a big crock of shit. I grew up thinking that I was this weird, creepy creature on the inside because every other girl had sparkly purses and married a different boy every recess. I felt like that one indecisive sheep who wants to walk a different way but follows the herd instead because “OH MY GOD I’LL DIE ALONE.” Alone and weird. I worked hard on being the girl with the sparkly purse. I embodied her at school because 3rd grade politics are not easy to navigate when you have no support from the 8-9 year old community. At home, though, I was full on weirdo. I used to play barbies, but not the “normal” way. In fact, all I did was comb their hair and hold them out in front of me, shaking them around and making faces that cannot be described adequately but saying absolutely nothing. My family thought it was hilarious, and I of course found it horribly shameful because if anybody at school found out I’d probably take shit for years.

When people tell you that you’re weird, it stings. It stings and then it numbs, and in time it becomes the one card you have. At least if you’re weird, you’re not invisible. You subject yourself to a life of mediocrity because that is what you think you should want. Why then, are you tortured with visions of beaches and dreadlocks and ukeleles? Why, late at night when all is still, do you imagine abandoning everything and spending your entire summer’s savings on a one way plane ticket to New York City to live on Broadway?

Why should these feelings be any less real? Nobody ever wants to talk about the dark parts, the parts they keep hidden in chambers of their heart for nobody to find. Well, I do. I’m tired of agonizing over what I might say or to whom. My brain is too damn wild for that and I can no longer hide it. I no longer WANT to hide it. This is my normal. This is my baby voice and my air guitar that looks nothing like a guitar. This is my booming voice and the way I use it to interrupt people without thinking first. This is my “fuck you” attitude when I’m being disrespected.

Some people might not appreciate any of that. To them I say “Fair enough,” and I will move on. But never again will I put my head down and pray when I don’t believe. Never again will I change clothing because someone might find it unfashionable. Never again will my body slump down in shame, even shame masked as victory, when someone says “You’re weird.” I’m a lot of things, and weird is only the tip of the iceberg. Some people may not appreciate it at all, but for those of you who do, join me in letting go of the backlash that comes with eccentricity. Join me in saying “I don’t give a fuck.” And let me know where you’re at. Send me a tweet, leave me a comment. Give me your best shout. Let’s get a little weird, shall we?

Maybe what we’ll find is that none of us are really all that weird.

It’s All Gravy

My whole life I have dreamed of creating something beautiful.

I was always told that I had potential. I heard it from my teachers when my grades were lower than limbo. I heard it from my peers when I didn’t run for the ball and stood still instead. I heard it from my parents as they watched me climb out of the lows from the highs that I constantly created for myself.

At the time, those words seemed like torture, for the problem wasn’t that I didn’t realize that I was unique. The problem became amplified by the fact I was acutely aware of it. I felt so different, so foreign to almost any activity that I tried, and because of that I chose always to back out of the spotlight and fail quietly in the shadows by never beginning, never investing, and certainly never winning.

A year ago today I typed my first words onto a blank screen and sent them out into the abyss of the worldwide web. Though it would be some time before I would choose to advertise my new hobby, something about it felt alright. When I created this blog, it was mostly as a means of speaking up over the voices that I could not seem to overpower in real life. It was a way for me to feel light and funny when in reality I had been rotting from the inside out. I was sick and I was desperate. I kept thinking, in case this doesn’t get better, in case I go, I want the truth to be known. I want someone to know the girl I’ve kept locked beneath my skin, and even if nobody reads it, I want to know that I had the guts to say it.

I didn’t expect any of you to find me, and I definitely didn’t expect the overwhelming support, praise and unwavering love from both the blogging community and my own community. I didn’t expect anybody to read paragraph after paragraph of what I had thought was merely rambling. I didn’t expect you to laugh, to cry, to cheer me on or push me forward. I didn’t expect all of you to launch me into reaching my full potential. But you have.

I expected to bleed, to cry, to scream. (Which is a damn good thing since there was plenty of that shit involved.) I did NOT expect to adapt, to heal. But I did. A year ago I was losing entire days to the white ceiling above my bed and entire nights to the insanity that beckoned to me to join it every moment. A year ago I was unhappy with my life, my body, and my lack of contribution to the world. A year ago, I didn’t expect to see today. But it’s here.

Not only has keeping this blog created friendships and rekindled old connections, given me perspective and strength, it also allowed me to see the changes in myself firsthand. It is a permanent reminder of my progress and the pain it took to arrive there. It showed me that for everything I missed out on, for every time I thought I had nothing to give, there was a time when I was present, there’d been a time when I’d had a victory, no matter how small it seemed.

I’m still unemployed and still occasionally feel like a useless drain to those around me, but here’s what accomplished while I was busy convincing myself that I was a useless drain:

– I quit smoking.

– I joined a kickboxing class, something I had never attempted before, in a room full of noise. I look forward to that class 2 days a week.

– I exposed my true, naked self, the one I feared and kept hidden. I love her.

– I shed 25 lbs and the vicious, self-loathing thoughts with it.

– I apologized, and I forgave.

– I committed to, and have been training my ass off for a Tough Mudder event.

I know there will still be dark days, and darker posts. I know that I will battle this condition for the rest of my life. I know these things, and yet I am fine with them. I am glad for them. The truth is, I wouldn’t be able to write what I do without the burden and the blessing of my experiences. I have grown to see beauty and wisdom beneath the cloak of pain, and I’m grateful for every moment I spend on this planet, even if those moments beat me black and blue. I’m grateful for every one of you who believed in me enough to follow, to share your own heartache, to comfort me in my own. You have all had a hand in giving me something to work for, to live for, to fight for.

Oh, and here’s the best thing about this year! I’ve finally done it. I’ve created something. And I think it’s pretty damn beautiful.