A Stigmatic Society and a Little Girl’s Laughter

“I have a problem with stigma.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Accidental Addict (Revisited)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sean: NO! Which ones?!

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

Sean: NO! Oh my GOD! 

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

Bobby Borden and the Hunt for Happy

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

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

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

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

This is what an obsession with finding happiness feels like.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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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For Those You Know and Those You Don’t

Having a blog is weird.

It’s this endless space to talk about yourself. I mean, that’s what you’re supposed to do to form a connection. It still feels weird and slightly narcissistic, but c’est la vie. Such is life, er, blog. A lot of you have been sending me messages, sharing your stories and asking questions. I LOVE this and appreciate the support so very much, and I figured that since there are some frequently asked questions I’d address them here today. Please remember that I can only speak for my own illness and my own recovery. Everybody affected is complex and different.

I’ll start with the voices, since people seem to be the most curious about that portion of my story:

1. What Do They Sound Like?- They sound exactly as you would expect. They sound like voices in rapid conversation. It’s like going to a girls’ night and every female is wasted off of their asses, shouting over each other and laughing. Sometimes the tone can be very heated, and other times they are simply whispers. They distract me from conversation and often become louder than a person I am trying to have a legitimate conversation with.

2. Do They Ask You To Do Bad Things?- No. People always look 1 of 2 ways when I tell them this: A) relieved or B) disappointed. The voices talk serious nonsense and are so fucking irritating because they never say anything worth listening to. I’ve mentioned it here before, but for a while all they would say was “Blue paint!” “Ohhhhhh, BLUE PAINT!” and now, after tax season has come and gone, they ask me “Taxes?!” and whisper a bunch. So, no, my psychosis does not give me the urge to kill you or your family. I know, take your time.

3. Are You Ever Afraid?- I won’t lie to you, sometimes I do get scared. On harder nights, it can be easy to lay paralyzed in fear and allow myself to become completely taken over emotionally. In fact, I spent the better part of a year doing just that, which is why I didn’t ever sleep. Having lived with it consistently since 2011 has given me the ability to adapt. To be honest, it’s not much different from a childhood fear for me, like being scared of the dark. Once you run headfirst into the dark, and stay there, it becomes familiar, comfortable even.

4. Will They Ever Go Away?: I have great hope. I’ve been taking the medication route and thus far it has been a disappointing journey. I have made amazing strides in therapy, however, and I have been able to do some pretty incredible things despite their chatter. I feel like I have fought and earned the peace I feel in my stomach, and I did it all while the voices did what they could to distract me. I’m proud of that. I will continue to look for ways to eliminate them from the equation of my life, but I’m content here and now, and I’m proud of that, too.

One thing I really want to make clear is that not everybody who hears voices is walking around talking to themselves. Most of us live pretty normal lives once we establish a routine and mechanisms to cope with the hands that we are dealt, be it with the aid of medication, therapy, or other methods. That’s another thing: If you notice that a person may be dealing with a psychotic episode, please don’t cringe or laugh at them. Please don’t assume that the root of the problem is crack. Ask them if they are alright, and if you fear approaching them, please call 911 to be sure that they do not hurt themselves or others.

Another thing I get asked about often is bipolar disorder itself. Again, I can only be sure of my own experience and it’s important for you to note that every case is different. I’ll try to address this, too:

What Kind of Symptoms Do You Have?- I fear large crowds and clustered conversation in unfamiliar territory. I may have minor meltdowns if my routine is disrupted or if it’s just a really bad day. Sometimes it makes me overly excited and I talk. A lot. Loudly. Soon afterward I will probably crash and pull a Brian Wilson. It intensifies my emotions and I find it very difficult on occasion to feel anything, because it’s just so much. It’s like trying to eat a whole cheeseburger at once. Like, “This is so fucking delicious but I’m also choking and possibly dying and OH GOD WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?”

Here’s what you should know, the real reason my fingers are banging dramatically on these keys: 1 in 5 Canadians will suffer a mental illness in their lifetime, and get this: only 43% of people who suffer will ever seek professional help. THAT is what’s REALLY crazy. Think about it guys, it’s likely that more than one of your friends or family members are dealing with a mental disorder, and if not, there are likely people you wouldn’t suspect going it alone. Why do you think this is? My guess is shame. The stigma is that if we talk about it, if we ask for help, we belong on a psychiatric floor with a Thorazine drip. People are terrified to get better for fear that it will only make matters worse. If you take anything at all away from this post, please let it be this: It’s important for us to recognize these symptoms for what they are and to educate ourselves on mental health awareness simply because we cannot afford not to. Over 400,000 Canadians self harm every year.

If that’s not enough to help you understand the severity of the situation, over 90% of people in Canada who commit suicide have a diagnosable disorder, whether it be a mental or substance abuse disorder. Over 90% of the people who felt that they couldn’t make it any further were dealing with a treatable condition and a chance at a better life. Over 90% of the people whose hearts are bleeding and tear ducts burning might have seen their loved ones alive had they had the courage to come forward and ask for help.

So what does this say? How does this speak to you? This is how it speaks to me:

It’s not up to me to decide whether or not someone is dying for attention. It’s up to me to be an ally and a safe place to land. Besides, even if that IS the reason I suspect that someone may be self-harming or otherwise inflicting pain upon themselves, it is certainly a matter that deserves attention. It tells me that I need to live so openly that people understand that there is an ear, there is a heart, there is a mouth that is dying to hear, to be let in, to tell them that they are important and that they, too, belong in this world.

It tells me that we need to stop being so damn ugly to each other. I often wonder how people would describe me if they thought I would never hear it. The only thing that would kill me to know is that people found me to be aggressive, jaded and mean. There was a time when I was those things, certainly, but I also believe that people are who they are by way of where they’ve been, and I am grateful to say that I am not these things anymore. I asked people yesterday if they could change one thing, anything, what would it be? Well, for me it’s the people I caused pain to during a time when I couldn’t see a way out of my own. I cannot unsay what I’ve said, undo what I’ve done. All I have is right here, and right here I am choosing to be less of a lion and more of a butterfly. Both serve an undeniable purpose in the world, but I want to do more healing and less roaring.

Be a light wherever, whenever you can. It may not always pay off but on your darker nights when, alone and convinced that YOU don’t belong, this light will keep you warm for it is fuelled by your raw, human compassion. I think we all deserve to feel that way about ourselves. To educate yourself further on the matters of mental health, go to http://www.cmha.ca

(Oh yeah! Lipshits and Mental Fits has its very own Facebook page now!  You can find it there on the sidebar! ———-> Come on over and jump into conversation, let your weird out! I’m always waiting for a good discussion.)

 

Untitled Due to Not Giving a Shit About the Narrow Spectrum of Titles

This is another post that’s extremely difficult for me to write. Like I’ve said before, describing the people I truly love is hard because the description always feels inadequate. It’s like writing about them is torturous (in the best way possible.)

I’ve mentioned Sean here a few times. He’s my husband of almost two years. I don’t know where to begin explaining him, explaining us, because it’s like dropping a Mentos in Pepsi. Hundreds of happy moments explode and flood my memory, and to tell you what he is like would be like trying to describe the taste of water. Here’s what I can tell you: His eyes are kind, his shoulders are strong and his mind is sharp. His smile is the kind that reaches beyond the face and grabs you. I used to think it was amusing to imagine that his lips were arms in disguise.

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I met him in March of 2010 when he approached me at work and asked if he could take me for dinner. I was 18 and I’d never been on a date in my life, at least not with a complete stranger. No dude had ever formally asked me to do anything, and it was both flattering and completely terrifying. I took him up on his offer and gave him my phone number. After so many failed attempts at meeting up on my part, I’m surprised he kept calling, but he did. His persistence wasn’t overwhelming or unattractive. It was just the opposite, actually. I asked him later why he didn’t just assume I was a bitch, and his only response was “I really wanted to go on that date.”

We went on that date. I verbally vomited all over him at lunch with topics that are not suitable for the table. I was so nervous that I talked about the horse scene in Jackass film over fucking pasta! He didn’t call for a week and I was sure I had blown it, vowing never to go on a date again in my life. Turns out he had no idea how dating worked either, and said  that he thought 7 days was the rule so as not to seem overbearing. It was complicated and it was simple. Neither of us were looking for much, but came out with more than we could ever have imagined. I had spent so much time on people who weren’t capable of giving the kind of love that I needed, and I spent much more being someone else to fit the image of what I thought they expected from me. It was all such a facade. This was the first time somebody had known the real, raw, inappropriate creature I really was. It’s like I unzipped my selfish and immature personality and (tried) to learn and live with honesty. He liked me without makeup. He held my hand proudly when I walked around town wearing sweatpants and rubber boots. He just didn’t give a shit about any of that, and I liked it that way.

I’m fully convinced that our love was (and is) the kind that people write books about, write songs about, paint on canvas. Let me just be real with you here: Marriage is really, really hard. People who have been wed longer than I might snicker at me saying that, but it’s true. You live with this person, press yourself against them at night and eat off of their plates. They kiss you goodbye and elbow you unintentionally trying to master the art of two people brushing their teeth in a tiny bathroom because it’s all you can afford. You’re no longer responsible for only yourself, but now have to smile and weep at their accomplishments and massive fuck-ups. That’s another thing; marriage is a series of really big fuck-ups that often pave the way for the life that we desire. You’ll both have them, and there’s no way around it. But let me be clear: laying in the nook of their shoulders and playing rock paper scissors and having two arms around you like shelter is worth the cost.

When I got sick, things went to shit. I was an irrational mess, a time-bomb. He was afraid for me and frustrated at the state of our relationship. There was a period of time when I felt us crumbling and I was sure that I would be the 22-year-old divorcee with voices in her head and a chip on her shoulder. It got to the point where just looking at each other made us want to bitch about something. I kept thinking that he was, that we were a sand castle I’d made when I was 9. Something I’d built and loved and had to say goodbye to before its time. How could it be that my brain couldn’t grasp how much I loved this person? Didn’t it know that it was only making its situation worse? Didn’t it understand that I needed this, didn’t it feel the urgency to get better for this? No.

Mental illness doesn’t discriminate, and even if one has all of the necessary tools to move through it, it doesn’t mean that one will find the strength to do so for a very long time. The mind is much like the body in the sense that it protects us from the blows of life by leaving us in shock, unable to feel and recognize the situation. The would numbs itself and becomes a dull ache. This is the cycle. These are our lives. It would be so easy to pass the buck and imagine myself as a helpless victim and pull the card every time he has an irrational moment. It would be so easy to say “Stop shouting! You know I can’t handle it!” Well, I guess I realize that maybe he can’t handle it either. I realize that it inconveniences his life as much as mine, and in a way I imagine that he suffers more knowing that there is no quick fix for the problem. I realize that I would rather be in hell with him than anybody else.

Sean, I don’t know how to end this post. I feel like I’m rambling now, the way I did on our first date when I described people spitting in each other’s mouths. Here’s what I want you to know, if you remember nothing else. You make me better. You launch me forward and allow me to discover my potential. You take care of me, from counting my pills to cutting my sandwiches, to dressing me when I don’t feel like getting out of the covers because it’s cold. (Sorry.) You took a broken and confused girl and made her into a woman who wants to sing you songs by Paul Simon at 3 AM. You can call me Al. (Couldn’t pass it up.)

I love you in the most generous and the most selfish way. You have given me solace, love and inner peace. In you I have found a melody worth listening to and a story worth writing. In you I’ve found life. I don’t know why we’re here or where we’re going. I don’t know if it’s fate or extremely pleasant coincidence. All I know is that I thank whoever, whatever, even the nothing that placed you in my path.

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Love,

Karlee