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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a net.

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

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

For more information on suicide prevention, click here.

A Stigmatic Society and a Little Girl’s Laughter

“I have a problem with stigma.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.”

“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.

Sanity Sold Separately

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This is my mom.

She is 54 years young. She likes gardening and talking to strangers. She’s a mother of four with an iron will and a tender heart. Her kiss has a sound and if you are lucky enough to have one placed upon your temple, her lips will echo in the background of every beautiful melody you hear forever after.

But she doesn’t know who she is right now.
My experience with mental illness began long before mine ever surfaced, though I would not understand what that meant for quite some time. My first clear memory is from when I was about six:
My mom was seated on the front steps smoking a cigarette. I was watching her from around the corner, noticing that she was crying. I thought she looked beautiful when she cried, and I found it strange even then.
I asked her what was wrong, asked her if she had ‘owies.’ She smiled through her tears and tried to explain that sometimes people just get sad for no real reason at all.
I asked for a Fruit by the Foot and she hummed “Band on the Run” while she fumbled with the packaging.

It always went like that.

As I grew up, I knew that she was struggling, even if I couldn’t pinpoint where it came from. Sometimes I asked her, but she just brushed it off and continued to put scrunchies in my hair and coming to school to help me clean out my desk, which was always as messy and colourful as my imagination.

She finally sought help in 2001, where she was met with a diagnoses that indicated her thyroid was not functioning properly. She was also given some antidepressants. She became softer somehow, like falling off of a pair of skis into powder.
She was tired a lot, and because I was so young, I didn’t stop demanding her time and her energy. I didn’t stop shouting “Mom! Mom! Hey, MOM!”
Sometimes I wasn’t sure that she could hear me, even when she was staring right at me.
I heard the term ‘Schizoaffective Disorder’ in the winter of 2009, the first time I watched her stumble across the line between reality and her thoughts; the first time the ambulance came to collect her.
It was difficult not to fear what I had seen, but when I finally got to visit her a couple of days later, she had her hair slicked back in a bandana, she smelled like coconut body butter and waved hello to every person she passed.
That’s the kind of woman she is.

You could be the meanest of mugs, and you still couldn’t intimidate my mother. You could throw boards over every window in the room, but she would learn to make her way in the dark. You could hurl insults left and right, but you would always miss, because she would tune out every word.
My mom is a rare and beautiful creature who meets fire not with aggression, but with the knowledge that fire will eventually burn itself out.
Argue, scream until you are blue in the face, but know that when she says she doesn’t care, she actually MEANS it.

This time when she had to go, we were on vacation, and I was ready.
I saw her off with the understanding that nothing lasts- that life has its own seasons; that we are never any one thing at a time.
When I got to see her the next day, she was as tender as ever, laughing at jokes that didn’t make any real amount of sense, brushing hair from my eyes and simply saying “Well, I don’t like it in here, but it’s okay. Do you think you could bring me a Big Mac tomorrow?”

In the hours that most people would spend in agony, she thought about me, about all of us, because she doesn’t know how not to.

In the days that followed, she took me through the facility and showed me what it had to offer. I was delighted to see that she had the option to bake, play basketball, meditate, and participate in activities like yoga and tai chi.
She showed me all of the art supplies and lit up when she pulled out the pictures she planned to colour for her grand babies.
After a game of twenty one, I cuddled up next to her on her tiny hospital bed; her little spoon. I felt the pressure in my chest release when she said “I feel safe here. I feel like I can heal.”
As she stroked my hair, my mother asked if I was angry with her. She tearfully told me that she was sorry that she gave me this illness; that this was not how she wanted to be remembered.

I turned to face her and told her that I remember her skin being soft like the velvet skirts of the dresses I wore on Christmas eve. I told her I know that if she were stranded on a desert island and had the option to play any album for the last time, it would be The Eagles’ Greatest Hits, but that she would be okay with Cat Stevens and that Van Morrison makes her snap her fingers while she dances.
I reminded her that she could moonwalk across the entire kitchen floor; that I only recall her loving me more than she loved herself.

She gave me far more than an illness. She gave me the ‘oomph’ to work my way through one. She gave me the sense of humour to laugh when my eyes burned too much to continue crying. She gave me the imagination to carry me away from despair and the gratitude to understand that the fact that I’m still here means that I am lucky.
She smiled and asked “Would you write about me?”

Here’s to you, my beautiful-eyed, iridescent soul. Here’s to scrunchies and Barney and Gushers and old English lullabies. We’ll take care of you now.