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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a net.

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

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

For more information on suicide prevention, click here.

A Stigmatic Society and a Little Girl’s Laughter

“I have a problem with stigma.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

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.

What To Expect

I keep getting the same question when I run into acquaintances:

“When are you going to start making babies?”

My reaction is always the same. A quick “ha!” and a change of subject. Look, I get it. It’s a question that’s been asked for ages and it’s not intended to make me feel inadequate, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. I don’t want to come across as if these words have never fallen from my own lips, because they certainly have, but I’ve learned a thing or two about myself and the world since then.

It’s difficult for me to explain why, but the short answer is that I’m not ready. I would gladly let it go and ignore that it was ever said, except for the fact that I am almost always met with a response such as:

Nobody is ever REALLY ready to have a child!”

I agree. It’s hard to prepare yourself to push a human out of a hole in your vagina, and it’s even harder to prepare yourself to be sleepless for the next however many years in which that human decides that it is afraid of the dark or their bladder is too small to carry you through an 8 hour slumber. There is no real study guide for the first conversation about mortality, or for the first time your child points at someone with a huge nose and asks them about their beak. That shit is not lost on me. But while you’re busy describing the trials and tribulations that come with motherhood, I’m busy with all of the thoughts that I do not feel prepared to share with you.

I want to tell you that I’m not worried about any of that. I want to tell you that this isn’t the first time I’ve mulled it over. I want to tell you that it’s not about “me time,” or having 7 more years before that dreaded biological clock that you speak of starts to tick. It’s not about body image or focusing on my career (though, if you ask me, these are all valid reasons to remain child free.)

I want to ask you if you’ve ever been so distracted by a noise that you’ve walked away, forgetting your newborn and leaving them to roll off of a changing table. I want to ask you if you’ve ever been so sleep deprived that you’ve walked out of your house ass naked, babbling about paint. I want to ask if you’ve ever had such an out-of-body tantrum that you glanced at your child in the aftermath and noticed their terrified expression as they backed away from you slowly. I wonder if you’ve ever cried because your toddler asked “Mommy, who do you keep talking to? Is it a ghost?”

I wonder, but say nothing, because this is not on your radar. I say nothing because I don’t want you to feel like the one who is unprepared. I say nothing because I don’t want to see your smile of encouragement stretch into a straight line. I don’t want to see your eyebrows lift in shock. I don’t want to hear your voice shake when you say:

“Well, you’ll adapt. A lot of good moms face these challenges.”

Indeed, they do, and more power to them. I applaud the brave mother who puts aside her own monsters to chase the monsters that really matter out from behind a little girl’s dresser. I am so proud of the women who lose count of the cracks in the sidewalks and the number of red things in the room to answer the question “What is 5 more than 9?” But I am not those people.

I am me, and I’m still learning that this is okay. I’m still learning to walk atop this rough new territory. I’m still telling myself that if I get out of bed today, and if that’s all I can muster, it’s alright. I’m still adjusting to small victories like hitting every green light in town or concentrating hard enough to read 3 pages of The Wind in the Willows. I know you care, and I know that you think these things are just fine, too. So when you argue about my ability to procreate, I am sent into a tailspin. Instead of being enough, my thoughts get darker, angrier. They turn into thoughts of being more, and so begins the burning frustration when I don’t know how to achieve that.

I love children. I love their minds, and watching them put together the puzzle of everyday life. I love witnessing their transition and the growth in their perspective as time passes. I love to colour and play Twister and to see how many marshmallows I can fit into my mouth. I love to sing and skip and count and ask questions.

But this is not enough.

I need to know that I am in a position to provide the safety, discipline and time that is necessary in rearing a child. I need to know that they will not run to their father 5 days a week and say “Mom’s in the basement screaming at the walls.” Most of all, I need to become comfortable enough in managing my illness so that if I have a child who struggles like me, I won’t be shamed into running from them. I need to know how to reason with myself before I can offer that kind of support to a tiny, needy being.

If that day never comes, I need you to understand that I’m okay with it. I’m okay with it because I have everything that I need to be content. I have 2 dogs, and though they are not comparable to two toddlers, I still get the chance to nurture, love, and train them. And just because I do not actively plan on having children of my own does not mean that I cannot care for the children of others, because I do. I love my nieces and nephews. I love pushing them on swings and giving them shit when they’re talking back to their mamas. I love seeing the kids in my morning exercise classes running wild and attempting to hug the other women while they do push-ups.

I will take your advice. I will be open to whatever comes next. Now, take some of mine, and stop asking that fucking question, okay?

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.