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.

Spinning a Tale to Avoid Going Stale

I collect fear.

I collect fear in the way that some people collect stamps or coins or porno. When exhibiting fear, I trail my middle finger along my wrist, searching for my pulse the way that others might run their fingers along grooves in the glass that encase their prized possessions. I examine fear under the lens of criticism, side by side with the possibility of a pleasant outcome. It doesn’t seem to make a difference how shiny this pleasant outcome might be. It doesn’t matter that the light hits it and illuminates even the darkest corners of my mind. I cradle fear, holding it close, feeling the familiar warmth and weight until I inevitably place it on display next to the seemingly endless rows of fear that already occupy an alarming amount of space.

I am at capacity.

My fears range in logic like antique furniture ranges in value. Some are commonly owned and frequently discussed, like heights, spiders and tight spaces. Others are more concerning, like social situations and happiness. Still others are illogical and strange, like death by choking on ginger beef and opening medicine cabinets. (These make great conversation pieces and sit on a pedestal in the middle of the exhibit.) It would seem that I have a rather expansive and well maintained selection.

Do you know who travels from all four corners to visit the showcase of fear? Nobody. For such an exhausting amount of work, this presentation is not very fucking lucrative. I spend the majority of my day bent over the agony of my anxiety, and at this point I’m not even sure what for.  Most of these fears will never have the chance to become anything more than what they are, yet they are the only thing I am aware of that have the uncanny ability to blossom and decay simultaneously.

Much like my painted circle, this exhibit has got to go. There is nothing to gain in absorbing the glory and the plight of those around me. It’s like drinking molasses in attempt to quench a biting and undeniable thirst. Besides, if this life has taught me anything, it’s that misery will find me no matter where I hide. Should it not find me doing something that I love? Should it not quiver in doubt at the sight of my courage?

After Tough Mudder I began to wonder where I would take Lipshits and Mental Fits. There was a period where I wasn’t sure that there was anything significant to draw from, no experience intense enough left to jam into the keys. Like most writers, I am acutely aware that almost any subject can become stale, and that’s just not something I ever desire for my blog. I write it as I live it. It’s as if almost every tear slipped from its chamber, landed and splattered here for all to read. Though I’m more than pleased, I’m a little sick of crying.

Just before the race began, the speaker asked “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” I almost laughed, since aside from that moment I made a valiant effort never to venture into the world of intentional change. I crossed the finish line and wondered why not. I wiggled my fingers and toes, scanned the clusters of faces, heard the garbled hum of hundreds of voices and thought “Everything works.” I have spent the last 3 years becoming comfortable accepting that I am damaged, like the dented can of tomato soup that we keep on the back wall of the shelf. There is no reason for this. I am so capable, so full of good intentions. It’s time that I acknowledge and honour not only my dents, but my durable and nourishing nature.

So I’m bringing something new, and I hope you enjoy reading about it. I’m calling it “First Time Friday.” It’s my way of forcing myself out of the confines of comfort on a weekly basis in order to grow. This week I’m playing bingo. I don’t like the idea because I imagine it being stuffy, featuring uncomfortable lighting, people bathing in Red Door and a ton of laboured breathing, but I hear that you get pretty coloured dabbers and can swear unabashedly, so it seems like something I should carve somewhere into the story of my existence. I’m going to post about my experience every week on the Lipshits and Mental Fits Facebook Page, so follow me there to see pictures and expose yourself to (even more of) my nonsense. If anyone in the Grande Prairie area wants to join me on my personal mission to try anything and everything, drop me a line on the page and I’ll fill you in on where I’ll be and what I’ll be tackling that week.

I hope that I teeter and shift until I split wide open with gaps large enough to allow the light to seep in. I hope that I meet people who will share their stories, filling me with inspiration like a tank of helium and allowing me to give some of that back to all of you who have shared my journey. I hope that I too can be a floating orb of colour across the sky, unaware of the distance between myself and the ground or the fact that there is no hand holding tight to my string. I hope that next time I can write

“I collect dreams.”

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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My July Birthday

I turned 23 yesterday.

I used to think that birthdays were nothing more than an excuse to wear a hat and ingest an alarming amount of chocolate cake. It didn’t take long before I traded the hat for low-rise jeans and the cake for a bottle of Pineapple Malibu. Slowly but surely, they became another painful reminder that I was alive.

That sounds dramatic. Maybe it was.

I see those Tumblr pictures and I have to laugh. They feature the bottom halves of girls with thigh gaps and short shorts and captions that say things like “Summer Love,” as if summer isn’t fun and love is out of reach without those two elements. I have to laugh because I had the thigh gap and the short shorts and summer still seemed like an endless stretch of eternity that I would rather have slept away.

My July birthday was something I loathed, yet waited around for every year in a desperate sort of anticipation. I kept waiting to wake up more at peace, more mature, more fun. I kept waiting to “grow out of it.” I imagined opening the door for the people who arrived at my party and feeling safe in their presence, like nothing would change and we could always contort our mouths into pained smiles and pull the strings in our backs to release an enthusiastic “Let’s be friends forever!”

I waited for these things, and yet, I woke up with the same knots and insecurities that I had fallen to sleep with the night before. I woke up with the same fears that had always kept me from having fun, the ones that reminded me that I was different and strange and everyone knew it. When the people floated through the doorway and wished me a happy birthday, their smiles of admiration looked more like contempt, and I always found myself searching their palms and their eyes for the instrument or the secret that they might use to damage me further.

This is not anyone’s fault.

My July birthday was a mirror to the way I felt about myself. My July birthday was a reflection of the expectations I had and the standards I set, and the sick way I sat around feeling like I was the only one who had the right to sadness and humiliation. My July birthday was a reminder of the truths I couldn’t face, and the way they made me a liar.

I celebrated 23 years on Earth at the bedside of a dear friend. I celebrated 23 years watching her breathe peacefully inside a deep slumber, grateful that she was breathing at all. I celebrated 23 years by reflecting on the 7 and a half I’ve been lucky enough to know her.

Her fingers twitched in mine, and I knew for certain that this must be the most valuable gift I’ve ever held. They were warm and full of life, full of strength and, though they remained still, they clung to life with a vicious tenacity that one can only find in the hands of someone who has beaten (no, smashed) the odds. As she does this, I know what my July birthday means (and has always meant.)

My July birthday is another mark on a tally on a score sheet of a mind game, a brain teaser more puzzling than any riddle. My July birthday is the candle that remains lit after all the others have been blown out. My July birthday is the gift that I do not deserve, but am given anyway.

My July birthday is a mirror to the way I feel about myself, and my July birthday felt pretty fucking great this year.