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.”

“‘Cause I’m a Creep, I’m a Weirdo.”

I think it’s funny that all of us (including me) squander so much effort on appearing normal.

I mean, what the fuck is that anyway? It’s certainly not universal. I know this because in some cultures, belching after a meal is a show of appreciation. That’s normal and you’d be rude if you didn’t. However, if you burp at my mother’s table, don’t be surprised if you get smacked upside your brain cave. It’s been said before and I know I’m not a genius when I tell you that there is no normal.

I remember a lot of my childhood, and sometimes, when the world overwhelms me, I go back to those memories. I lay down and think about that time my family got a new van with a motherfuckin’ sun roof. I’m strapped in but I’m staring straight up at the clouds and picking my nose while “Truly, Madly, Deeply” plays and I think “everything in the world is right.” I love that song to this day, and not because of any romantic notion, but because it was a really good pick and the clouds were fluffy and OUR VAN HAD A SUNROOF.

A portion of the people who have read this far will be skeeved out and thinking that I could have left the snot rocket patch bit out of the description. The others will understand me when I say that I think that is fucking stupid. Why does everyone want to pretend that they don’t get boogers? Why is it so top-secret? EVERYBODY GETS BATS IN THEIR CAVES. That is normal. If you have never developed mucous inside of your nasal cavity and proceeded, at least once, to pick it out with your fingers you should probably see a doctor or maybe even a therapist because you are missing out on a very small, nasty joy. I’m not telling you to dig at dinner for everyone to see, of course. Don’t be a fuck about it.

Everybody wants to appear as if they’ve grown up with dignity, grace and charisma. They like Seinfeld and hockey and they recycle because they care. This is all a big crock of shit. I grew up thinking that I was this weird, creepy creature on the inside because every other girl had sparkly purses and married a different boy every recess. I felt like that one indecisive sheep who wants to walk a different way but follows the herd instead because “OH MY GOD I’LL DIE ALONE.” Alone and weird. I worked hard on being the girl with the sparkly purse. I embodied her at school because 3rd grade politics are not easy to navigate when you have no support from the 8-9 year old community. At home, though, I was full on weirdo. I used to play barbies, but not the “normal” way. In fact, all I did was comb their hair and hold them out in front of me, shaking them around and making faces that cannot be described adequately but saying absolutely nothing. My family thought it was hilarious, and I of course found it horribly shameful because if anybody at school found out I’d probably take shit for years.

When people tell you that you’re weird, it stings. It stings and then it numbs, and in time it becomes the one card you have. At least if you’re weird, you’re not invisible. You subject yourself to a life of mediocrity because that is what you think you should want. Why then, are you tortured with visions of beaches and dreadlocks and ukeleles? Why, late at night when all is still, do you imagine abandoning everything and spending your entire summer’s savings on a one way plane ticket to New York City to live on Broadway?

Why should these feelings be any less real? Nobody ever wants to talk about the dark parts, the parts they keep hidden in chambers of their heart for nobody to find. Well, I do. I’m tired of agonizing over what I might say or to whom. My brain is too damn wild for that and I can no longer hide it. I no longer WANT to hide it. This is my normal. This is my baby voice and my air guitar that looks nothing like a guitar. This is my booming voice and the way I use it to interrupt people without thinking first. This is my “fuck you” attitude when I’m being disrespected.

Some people might not appreciate any of that. To them I say “Fair enough,” and I will move on. But never again will I put my head down and pray when I don’t believe. Never again will I change clothing because someone might find it unfashionable. Never again will my body slump down in shame, even shame masked as victory, when someone says “You’re weird.” I’m a lot of things, and weird is only the tip of the iceberg. Some people may not appreciate it at all, but for those of you who do, join me in letting go of the backlash that comes with eccentricity. Join me in saying “I don’t give a fuck.” And let me know where you’re at. Send me a tweet, leave me a comment. Give me your best shout. Let’s get a little weird, shall we?

Maybe what we’ll find is that none of us are really all that weird.