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 Straight and the Narrow

I would be an absolutely shit criminal.

I’ve thought about this at length, and those people have a gargantuan set of nuts. They are able to separate themselves from their conscience and just run with it, which is a quality that I do not possess. I smoked someone’s last cigarette once. They told me how they felt by punching me in the chest while I was sleeping. (I thought it was a bit of an overreaction, but I do feel that I learned a lot about consequence due to this series of events.) That’s about as far as the badassery goes for me. Anyway, I’m not sitting here condoning any kind of illegal activity. All I’m saying is that criminals have a certain air of confidence, and I find it to be quite the mind fuck.

I thought maybe I could be in charge of driving the getaway car, but I’m much too cautious for that shit. I’d be all like “Hey, stop being so yelly. This is a red light and I care about your safety. Also, could you please buckle up? I would hate to get fined.” I like to play Fleetwood Mac on road trips and pretty much any other time that I am in the car, which probably wouldn’t sit well with my thug friends.

There are a lot of reasons why prison is not for me. One of those reasons is jail tattoos. Everyone would be like “Karlee, let me inscribe upon your body this symbol of brotherhood.” I don’t think so, man. Hep C is not my bag, and I’m gonna need to see your portfolio before we go any further.

High risk situations give me tummy trouble. When I’m afraid, I have to make an honest effort to keep myself from shitting my pants.It takes every ounce of concentration (which I do not have a lot of to begin with,) and I often have to sit down because I get sweaty and light headed. Something tells me that nobody is going to wait for me to dook before we hop into the aforementioned getaway car.

I couldn’t hustle drugs, either. Mostly because I’d never actually sell any. Some dude would come to me all twitchin’ and sketchin’ and I would be thinking “Those are some sick scabs. Wait- that’s what they want me to think. I bet they are just very severe acne scars. This is definitely a narc.”

All joking aside, I think that the real reason I could never indulge in criminal activity is because I’ve never had to. I don’t know what it is to steal to survive. I don’t know what it is to sell narcotics to provide for my family. I don’t know what it is to view the walls of a penitentiary as shelter. While I feel incredibly fortunate, my heart still aches for those who belong to this reality, and I wish that there was some way for me to let these people know that they have a choice and a right to a clear conscience.

I believe that if we wish our communities to be safe havens for all who reside there, we must be willing to give back. If we live and provide for only ourselves, then we can expect every man to act according to their own personal agenda. We catch more flies with honey than we do vinegar, and I think education and rehabilitation are of paramount importance.

Life has a way of surprising us. Just when we think that we know what we are getting, the phone rings. Tires squeal. A storm blows in. We are never more than a stone’s throw away from desperation. And if it ever happens to me, I hope that people will see me through, no matter what mistakes I make, no matter how hard I become in my fight. I hope that there will always be a second chance to do things right.

Take It From Me

I said in a previous post that I wouldn’t be much help in providing sound advice for young girls about to enter high school. I think I said something along the lines of “I sucked shit at it,” which is true. However, I did make it through relatively unscathed, so I figured I would offer what little information I found to be universally true:

First, let me cover the wardrobe thing: I reject the concept of dress codes. I am of the opinion that fashion is a form of art and I encourage all young people to create. However, you must understand that if your skirt is higher than Willie Nelson at Woodstock, people are gonna scope out your goods on the stairs. Undergarments are a good idea if you don’t want to be known as the girl with the vagina.

Remember when your mother said that Tommy was rude to you because he liked you? I’m here to tell you that while it may be true, it is also a pile of steaming horse shit. You do not have to accept anything less than decency from anyone that you interact with. There is a difference between keeping someone on their toes and being a total dick fart.

There are going to be folks that try to intimidate you simply because there is an imaginary hierarchy in high school and they think they are at the top. It is a natural situation and it will occur in many areas of life, but you do not have to abide by these “laws” simply because they are there. You have the right to be treated fairly, so ruffle some feathers and make some noise. Chances are good that these people only talk down to you because it works.

Clubs and activities are not lame. If you want to play chess, fucking play chess, okay? Whoop some chess ass. Nobody is too good to do things that they enjoy. And for Christ sake, quit doing things that you don’t like simply because your peers deem them to be socially acceptable. You’ll regret that shit later on.

Understand that this is not forever. I know that it seems like a helluva long road, and it is, but you’ll be better for the experience. A high school education is worth more than what you absorb in class. You’re going to learn what it is that you want. Emotionally, academically, athletically, sexually. You’re also going to have a better understanding of what it is that you DON’T want out of life. Don’t phone it in. Some days are going to be harder than others, but it is important that you stick it out, because the only thing worse than entering high school is leaving without anything to show for all of your scars.

Lastly, I want to say that it’s alright to be unsure of who you are. Everyone keeps telling you to remain true to yourself, right? Well, that’s really important. However, there’s a lot of factors that make up your entire being, and you’re going to notice that those factors grow and change and some of them may even disappear. I still have no fucking idea who the fuck Karlee is. (I spent a portion of my life believing that I would be a ventriloquist. Then R.L Stine ruined everything. I was pretty lost.)  Whatever happens, don’t be discouraged- self discovery will be your life’s journey.

You’re gonna be alright, kid. Take it from me.