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.)

Raise Your Hand if You Feel Awkward Right Now

They tell me that experience is the most brutal of teachers.

I agree, but I don’t want to talk about that today. Today I want to talk about experience being that teacher that is awkward and makes you slightly uncomfortable, but is also hilarious in an understated way. You know, like the male teacher who freezes and turns crimson whenever someone yells “tampon!” (Maybe this didn’t take place as often for most people as it did for me, but I digress…) Today I want to share some of the weirdest, most uncomfortable experiences that have turned out to serve as great pearls of wisdom in my life.

Why Confidence Wins Every Time: When the neighbouring community built an indoor leisure centre, friends and I would spend most of our free time hanging out there. “Romance” would bloom over greasy french fries and sweaty hand holding at local hockey games. The pool had a water slide, and if you put all of these components together, you have a twelve-year-old kid’s Shangri-la. I remember one particular afternoon after swimming, sitting in the change room waiting for my friends to finish stuffing their bras and applying the mascara I wasn’t allowed to wear yet. I was feeling ugly, jealous and petty. I heard a grunt and looked over to find a middle-aged woman completely nude on the bench next to me. I had no idea what to do or say, so I just did the awkward turtle and moved my shoulders around a lot. I kept thinking “Should I leave? Does she want privacy? Am I creepy for sitting here? I should leave. No, wait. That seems rude. That might make her think that she is making me uncomfortable.” I settled on staring at the ground, watching her out of my peripherals. She was a large woman, covered in stretch marks and sporting undergarments that would make a nun chuckle. She did not look up even one time; she didn’t seem to notice my presence at all. Out of nowhere, two tall, beautiful twenty-somethings in a bikinis floated (yes, floated, beautiful people seemed to defy gravity in my adolescent mind) past, one muttering “Take that shit somewhere else.” A wave of pity and embarrassment for the woman washed over me then, and I stared at the ground even harder. I couldn’t believe it when I heard her call “Do you have something you’d like to say to me?” Fuck looking down, this was an invitation to a party where shit was about to get real! The two women stopped and gave each other a shockingly ugly expression of what I can only assume was horror. The beautiful blonde replied “Um, no.” and they continued to float. Nude Lady wasn’t having it, though. She stormed up to the duo and said “Listen, perky tits, when you get to be my age and realize what’s truly important, you’ll be sad that you didn’t have it in you to let those perky tits of yours hang out while you still had ’em. Take your friend and your tramp stamp and get out of my face.” Perky Tits and her friend walked away defeated, and Nude Lady went back to putting on her bra. That’s the day I stopped seeing beautiful people floating above ground in my head. I left that change room hoping that I had the balls to be half the woman Nude Lady was.

Why Being Kind Matters: One day in what I believe was fourth grade, I was walking through the halls of my elementary school, about to go stand in the washroom and pretend that I was peeing to avoid math. I had learned that if I dragged my hand along the railing and pretended to walk like I was a piece of spaghetti there and back, I could shave a solid 15 minutes off of that horrendous class. So, there I was, walking like spaghetti and minding my own business when I was abruptly pulled into a hug by a crying woman who I did not know. In between sobs, she told me that she was so thankful for her daughter having a friend at this new school and that she’d heard all about me. When she pulled away and saw my confused expression, she asked if my name was Alyssa. I awkwardly informed her that it was not. She ruffled my hair and walked away looking horrified. Although I was shaken, I was sort of wishing that I was Alyssa, because I hadn’t ever been so warmly embraced for doing nothing before. I wanted adults to weep over my kind gestures, too. Later on I saw this in a less narcissistic light, of course, and I finally understood that small expressions of love may not feel like much effort in the making, but could be the band-aid on the wounded heart of somebody else. Important stuff. Kudos to you, Alyssa, whoever you are!

Why Patience is a Virtue: This is a two-in-one. I was in my doctor’s office recently, and I was not having a fantastic time. The waiting room was jam-packed, every seat filled by a rump. I think it’s a general rule that people feel more comfortable ripping a fart when there’s that many other people in the room that could be blamed for it, so there was a lot of that going on, as well as incessant chatter from the two women on either side of me. One was very upset, and the other was trying to comfort her. The only problem here is that they would put their arms around each other sort of over top of me. I asked numerous times if they’d like me to move so that they could sit side by side, they said no and looked annoyed that I would interrupt or eavesdrop on a conversation that I was literally in the middle of. Farts. Coffee breath. Crying. NO. I stood up and told them that I wanted one of their seats because they were driving me crazy. They looked hurt, and everyone in the room became quiet and looked at me like I was an asshole, which I did not understand. That same day I went into the grocery store, looking for something that I can’t recall now. Apparently I couldn’t recall then, either, because when I asked one of the young stock boys about it, I had totally forgotten what I was looking for. The voices got really, really loud and then I started crying. While I was crying, I picked up a  honeydew melon and shook it out of frustration. When it still wouldn’t come to me and the discomfort of the situation became too much, I left the store. Later on, I remembered the two women I had raised my voice to, and remembered that they, too, were struggling with something that I didn’t know anything about. I remembered the stock boy, and how even though I was crying and grunting and shaking that melon, he didn’t become edgy or irritated. He didn’t ask me if I was crazy, and didn’t interrupt me at all except to ask what I can only assume was “Are you alright?” I learned (and I’m still learning) that I don’t have to understand everything. What I must do is understand that if I want people to be patient on my way to figuring it out, I have to do the same for them, even if I DO find them insufferable.

So there it is: Experience, the most awkward of teachers.The most wise and weird and beautiful and awful of teachers. I suppose, if we must shake melons and walk like spaghetti and see other people naked, we must at least be able to tell a great tale as a result.

Keep the Change, Ya Filthy Animal

Sometimes I feel like I live in the spaces between my memories.

I catch myself telling the same stories over and over again, because they are the only form of magic that I know to be true. A memory can make a mundane day feel extraordinary in a matter of seconds. It’s the way I stroll down the aisle of a 7/11 and see a Mars bar, and there I am, 8 years old, hair sopping wet from swimming lessons. I’m strapped in to the back of my sister’s old Suzuki, She has the top off because it is an Indian summer and she knows I love the breeze. She is 18, and the Backstreet Boys echo through the wind. I feel limitless. And I’m eating a motherfucking Mars bar. Best day ever.

I see the Mars Bar, and I start to hum. It’s always the same. “I’ll never break your heart, I’ll never make you cry.” I smile at the thought of 8 year old Karlee resonating with those words. There is something so innocent and soft about that time. I don’t know if it’s because I  grew older or because I grew harder, but these magic moments seemed fewer and further between as time marched on.

I’m not complaining. These small pieces of time are vivid. They are real and they are colourful. The day I cease to remember them will be the day I lose sight of who I am, the very core of my being. I don’t want to forget the little girl with loose teeth and firm beliefs, because I need her. I need her to carry me through the things that I’m trying so desperately to forget, but cannot. I need to be able to remember what she would say about these dark things that take place in the tall shadows between the dusk and the night.

I’ve done what feels like a very terrible thing. I’ve taken this box off of one of the shelves in my brain, and in it are pictures of memories that I promised myself I would never look at again. I’ve always been aware of the presence of this box, because I am not sure I could ever truly hide it well enough never to think about it. However, in the number of years that it’s been sitting on the shelf, I have done a very fine job of ignoring it as if it did not exist.

I took the lid off of the box, and I stared at the images one by one. There I am, and there she is. But she doesn’t look like me. She looks different in a way that I do not have the words to describe. She looks sad in some, angry in others. For the most part, though, she just looks blank.This was not my life. I shuffled through the stack and became furious in a way that I haven’t been in a very, very long time. I was fucking pissed at myself. It was a pole frozen and glistening in a Canadian winter, and I had just stuck my tongue on the silver metal knowing full well what the consequences would be. How very masochistic of me.

I  feverishly and frantically arranged the pictures and put them neatly back in the box. The only problem was that the lid would not close. I rearranged, I pleaded, I screamed, I used every ounce of mental force I could muster to close the box, but it popped open defiantly and startled me every time. When it became clear that this could not be undone, I placed the lid neatly on top and moved as far away from the box as possible.

The problem is, they’re not just images anymore. What used to be fragments of a motion picture of a life that I did not recognize as my own started piecing themselves together in my dreams. The smell, the faces, the feelings, I know all of them. I remember them so well that it’s almost as if it happened yesterday. The thick shame and disgust is back and lingering over me like a fog that refuses to dissipate. It occupies every corner of my mind as if it is holding me hostage.

I keep asking “What do I do? What do I do with these images? What do I do with these feelings? How do I get rid of them?”

I keep receiving the same answer. “See them. Feel them.”

This answer is equal parts exasperating and satisfying. I’m in pieces, and I want a quick fix. I want to run. But the part of me that is capable of logical thinking knows that this is the right answer, and I have too much pride to move. I know that my only choice is to let the memories break me down until they become less terrifying, less shameful; until I am not bothered by their presence. Until my brain expands to welcome them as part of its chemistry and fuel to reach beyond the limitations that the box set so solidly in place.

I haven’t figured it out yet. I don’t know how long this is going to take. All I know is that there are Mars bars and loose teeth and clouds that look like sailboats moving across the sky with the wind.

“I’ll never break your heart, I’ll never make you cry.”

My Experience as a Lamb

The other day I stumbled upon the journal I kept in 8th grade. Have you ever been embarrassed in front of yourself? Reading that was like punching myself in the face repeatedly, and it would really destroy my street cred if anybody were to see it. One thing that stuck out to me as I skimmed the pages was my conviction; You wouldn’t think so, but at one time, I was a soldier for the big JC. I was honest in a way that I could never really be now. That book was my connection to God, and I used it faithfully.

One thing I prayed for a colossal amount that year was a set of boobs. I was already plucking my fucking lip hair, and I didn’t think it was fair that I could be confused for a prepubescent boy when I was supposed to be luscious and curvy.. or something. In almost every entry, I asked God for a pair of soupcans.

It was all very Judy Blume.

Except he didn’t deliver at the end of this coming of age tale. I turned 14 and entered high school as flat as the desks into which I had carved crosses and bearded men. I wish I could describe to you how angry I was, but there are no words to do so adequately. This is when the spiral of doubt entered my brain. Do you know what it’s like to come back over summer break and notice the girls sporting melons while you are stuck with mosquito bites?

That was another problem that accompanied this summer of booblessness:

Noticing girls…and there are an abundance of them at Christian summer camp. Girls had always just been fellow aliens to me, but that something about the heat that year made lips more than just lips. I saw dimples and collarbones and eyelashes. My brain was in a state of utter chaos. I think it would have been easier to absorb if we hadn’t been sitting around a campfire every night discussing the consequences of homosexuality.

The more I heard, the less welcome I felt. It seemed that doing right came so naturally to these people, while I was constantly fighting off urges to do things like steal small trinkets and then throw them out. I was certainly never pure in thought. That sneaky spiral of apprehension continued to grow inside of my soul until I thought it might burst.

I mean, C’mon guy. I can deal with the sunken chest, but if you don’t want me to like women, why’d you make ’em so cute?

I couldn’t tell you exactly when it happened, but I separated myself from the idea of an infinite spirit filled with unconditional love. It sure felt like a lot of conditions to me. In the end, I chose the life that I was guaranteed- this one. This one, where I swear colorfully, love tenderly, and feel unabashedly. I feel okay about that.

And, if I’m wrong, well, I guess I’ll be seeing most of you often.

The Glue

I feel strange.

I used to think I was the strangest person I’d ever met, until I visited Orlando and turned on the local news. There’s a lot of fucking lunatics in Florida, eh? Anyway, it isn’t long after I’ve met someone that I start feeling this powerful urge to walk right along the lines of social boundaries, always teetering as far over the edge as I can get away with. And I’m not a psychopath, okay? It’s my way of weeding out the weaker beings. I am genuinely pleased when I meet someone who loves the game as much as I.

Oh, if I could offer you one piece of advice about life, it’s to stop hanging out with squares who don’t appreciate you while you’re still young enough to laugh at yourself. I would guess that all of us know somebody like that- the person you’re only friends with because you’ve known each other for an eon?  That friend holds us back, man. We’re always evolving, and maybe one day we begin to notice that they are not “becoming” alongside us. There’s a certain comfort and fierce loyalty when it comes to an old friend, though, isn’t there? You just kind of wander around together, because it’s better than wandering around alone. And that’s bullshit, too. We have some of our most brilliant thoughts when we’re alone, don’t we? We lay there lost in our minds, and we are free from scrutiny. We’re honest.

I don’t know about you, but I always felt like I was busting out of my skin in junior high. I was all like “Who am I?” and “Why don’t I have any boobs?” I am saddened at the thought of how much time I spent going through my closet of personalities and putting on the one that seemed the most appropriate for the occasion. They say the clothes make the man, right? I absolutely disagree. No amount of fancy evening wear could hide the holes in my soul. It didn’t hide the awkward, uncertain way that I walked or the hesitance in my voice. I may have fooled some, but I was never convinced myself. I wish I could tell all of the 12 year old girls out there how to navigate their way through the total fucking mess that is high school, but I can’t, because I sucked shit at it. I guess what I CAN do is tell them that it gets better. The real world is tough, but the mirror in the girls’ locker room is tougher, if you ask me.

There is a feeling unlike any other when you finally meet one of your own. It’s this giant rush of relief. Once you’ve felt it, you realize that life before was actually just this throbbing wound that you grew to accept, and they came along with this giant scalpel and cut you open to remove the cancer beneath the surface. I firmly believe that this is all that it takes to light a fire because if there is one, there may be others. And you grow, and you grow, and you grow. And maybe you like yourself a little more because, well, they do.

Yeah, it’s awesome. Go on and get you some! It’s easier than ever to connect with the people that think you’re fucking awesome. Put yourself out there. Confide in someone. Allow them to confide in you. Have farting contests. Bond over pocket pens. Braid each other’s pubes. Whatever. It’s the best thing in life.

           DERP

Also, don’t take yourself too seriously. People are not as interested in you as you fucking think they are.