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.

An Open Letter to the Woman Standing in Front of Her Mirror

To the woman face to face with her reflection,

You don’t know it yet, but you and I are very good friends. I feel you there, standing in front of your bathroom mirror, seated across from the window of the bus on your daily commute, flipping open your compact in the bathroom stall of a night club. I watch your neck as it jerks back violently, watch you recoil as if your face were a cemetery come to life. I hear you mutter “shit,” under your breath, the way you would if you had discovered something wildly inconvenient. A flat tire. Spoiled milk. A fire alarm at 3 AM. The kind of thing that ruins your entire day. The kind of thing that you would have prevented if only you could go back; if only you had been given the opportunity.

I know that “If Onlys” riddle your days and nights. They come like a stream of headlights in the dark, and you wonder how a town as insignificant as yours could have so much traffic. You imagine yourself somewhere like Times Square where there are far too many sights, too many sounds to notice the headlights. You wonder what it would be like to see a more beautiful version of yourself on a bright billboard, wonder if traffic could move slowly enough for you to run between bumpers carelessly, unconcerned with the “If Only” headed straight for you.

I know these things because I’ve imagined myself there, too. I’ve hoped for hips built like a suspension bridge, covering the gaps in my self-esteem. I have felt that my thighs were like wearing anchors while swimming. Sometimes I scan my wrists for invisible marks where they’ve been cuffed to the scale. The times in which I’ve felt truly beautiful are catalogued in my brain, and I flip through my memory when I need help leaving my reflection behind.

I need you to understand something. I need MYSELF to understand it, too. Whatever it is that you and I are looking for, whatever nameless quality it is that we seek so desperately, we will not find it in that mirror. It cannot be seen up close while we scrutinize our pores. It will not show up in the time it takes for a sideways glance at the cowlick in our bangs. Staring at a reflection is a lot like turning off a ceiling fan. You know you’ve flicked the switch, but staring at the fan as it slows somehow makes it appear to gain momentum until you wonder if you’ve really moved your fingers at all. We cannot stand there, flicking the switch on an off until we are unsure which is which. We’d never get a damn thing done, you and I.

Please know that when I compare you to a hummingbird, it is not because you are weightless in my hand as I pull you from the cage of your ribs, but because you are so colourful, such a rare and delightful sight to behold. A hummingbird’s wings beat an incredible 70 times per second and there are things in you that fascinate me just as much. Know that it is hard not to think of myself as beautiful when I look at you, someone so captivating, so convinced that they are anything but.

It’s been some time since I banished the scale from my existence, but I still don’t feel done with it, because I see you measuring every inch of your being between the digital decimals and digits, and I wonder if anyone has told you yet that you don’t need to. I wonder if anybody has mentioned that you take up more space than you know, in a more positive way than you will ever understand. I question whether or not you have been told that your face is not a grave if your smile can bring enough light to a room to see dust particles dance, that fire alarms were created to save lives.

Don’t we deserve to see ourselves as part of some unbelievable display of nature? Don’t we deserve to look at photos of ourselves and stand open-mouthed as if we were staring down into the Grand Canyon? Who could shame a rainforest? How could we, such unique and mysterious creatures be any less magnificent?

Today, as you read this, I challenge you to leave the bathroom and do something that heals you. I challenge you do look out the window of the bus at the buildings that pass and marvel at all the ground you have covered instead of looking through yourself. I challenge you to toss your compact, have a drink and flail around on the dance floor until the world spins and you are a puddle of sweat and happy exhaustion. I challenge you to cover your mind in love letters that will be true in ways that your reflection on glass can never be.

If you have trouble, find me and I will do these things for and with you. After all, you and I are very good friends.

With love,

Karlee

Bobby Borden and the Hunt for Happy

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

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

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

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

This is what an obsession with finding happiness feels like.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

Life Outside the Lines

The term “comfort zone” is funny to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Searching For a Heart of Gold.”

To be human is a very complex thing.

The closer I become to feeling as if I I know who I am at my very core, the more I am faced with and reminded of just how much I have to learn. I haven’t decided yet if this is the worst or most wonderful thing that continues to happen to me.

I think many of us lay awake at night asking questions without answers. Maybe for some the questions are about college applications, and maybe for others the questions are about succeeding as parents. Maybe the questions are about love or emptiness or direction. Maybe we’re all asking the same question in different words. “Will I be okay?”

I say it all the time, and I truly believe that people are who they are by way of where they’ve been. Though I believe this, it is not always enough.

Here we are, all 7.243 billion of us, all of us so vastly different. Here are our minds and our hearts, our hands and our mouths. This is the way they do not always connect. I think it’s safe to say that we do not yet know how to coexist, and the questions that haunt me at night usually have a lot to do with whether or not this is possible.

I talk a lot about love and about compassion, and choosing to act with both in mind. This is a relatively new process for me, and I am still learning, still stumbling over the idea. Before 2011, anger was a driving force in my life, and it had many faces. It was more like anger disguised as ambition or my own idea of justice. My days were a perpetual state of survival (or what I thought it meant at the time.) Somehow I had come to the conclusion that everyone was a threat. I would react to minor indiscretions in a way that ensured they could never become major issues. I feared major issues, and now I know that it’s because they would cause me to face myself. I am learning to forgive that part of me and build something more solid.

Letting go of anger is difficult because it is bred by a deep-seeded hatred. What I come to find most often is that it is not a hatred for other people. It always comes down to some kind of inner conflict. Though I do not like to sound so self-loathing, I know that it is part of the journey to loving myself. Sometimes I’m not sure why I bother, but I know that it is bettering my life when I look at other people and find myself making an effort to truly understand them, to truly love them despite the temptation to pick them apart.

I can only be responsible for the impression that I leave upon the world. I know how difficult it is to feel beaten down and mistreated, but I also know that it is infinitely more difficult to come to the realization that I have been the source of someone else’s pain, their unanswered questions.  I still come up against the powerful urge to sink my teeth into the soul until I draw the blood of insecurity, but there is something so much more forceful to combat it. That something is the image of the people who met my anger with an unwavering love. The memory of those who made it their mission to love all of the fear out without the guarantee of anything in return.

It is both a frightening and fulfilling challenge, to love people even when they may not necessarily deserve it. How do we forgive and still manage to keep our dignity intact? How do we bury the hatchet without burying our values with it? These are the questions I whisper to the night, hoping always for answers with the sun. The sun never brings the answers, of course, but what it does bring is warmth to melt the ice of defeat, warmth to spark enough curiosity to imagine that, perhaps this is the day that I will figure it out.

“Please Don’t Stay In Touch.”

I feel sometimes, although I pour every emotion I have into this blog and feel like what I’ve written has made sense, people still get it twisted. I want to make a few points very clear.

I don’t need anybody’s sympathy. Though I so love the well wishes and the people on the sidelines cheering me forward, I want people to understand that they do not need to be sorry. I have had a comfortable and colourful life, and for the most part, I still do. I don’t want people to be sorry because my illness is not a weakness.

I think it gets thrown out there that mentally ill people are a little less sharp due to their condition, but I strongly disagree, and here’s why: I may not be able to concentrate as well in everyday life as I used to, but rest assured, my focus is not waning. If you can imagine yourself having a conversation, imagine having one with ten people shouting into your ears. Imagine driving and hearing the rising and falling of voices that are not really there. If you can’t picture this, I’ll just tell you that it’s hell. But it’s my hell, and I am ploughing through it.

I’m no damsel. A condition like this causes one to suffer, but because I know this suffering, I know that there is life beyond it. Suffering has made my skin as thick as leather, and my heart soft like butter. I have a deeper compassion than I have ever possessed, and patience I’ve never known before. I feel so deeply that I often live in the past, thinking of ways to correct all of my wrong turns, though I know it cannot be done. On the other hand, I’m determined to create a better future, and I’ll basically crush anybody who tries to intervene. Rumi said “The wound is the place where the light enters you,” and I fully believe that this is what has happened.

By sharing my story, by stripping myself bare for anybody to read, the light has come and it has filled the holes left by other people. I cannot be hurt anymore, because I cannot hide. My naked mind and heart used to feel a chill, and now I cannot imagine ever covering them. I am drunk on the freedom of it all.

Make no mistake, though I try to be compassionate AND patient, I still have a fire under my ass that can’t be put out. If you doubt me, if you wrong me, I welcome that. I will take the bitterness and seething anger that would usually apply and use it to smash every last one of these goals like an orange ditz on the Jersey Shore. I will do it better than you could ever imagine simply because you don’t think I’m capable. And I promise, when I come back, while you’re busy eating that crow, I will tell you to go FUCK yourself.

This has been “Hulk Smash: the Softcore Version” with Karlee Gorrie.