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.”

“You Know, Parfait Must Be the Most Delicious Thing on the Whole Damn Planet.”

The more I blog, the more of you lovely people message me to tell me your stories. I don’t know what I was looking for when I started Lipshits and Mental Fits, but this will always be more than enough. I’m fucking fuzzy about it. You also ask me all kinds of questions, and I like to address those questions here as well as a way to further connect with my readers. One thing you guys seem most curious about:

“When and how did things start to get easier?”

This is a very complicated question. If you strongly disliked parfait but had a very aggressive bully forcing you to eat it, I think it would be a lot like that. I say this because parfait has many components that make it what it is, and they’re all stacked on top of one another. I also say this because it’s lunch time and I am hungry.

Anyway, I’m not the kind to mix it all up and go to town. I am cautious in life and in parfait. I go through the layers one by one. I agonize over their texture and whine that I don’t want to be eating this anymore. Then it occurs to me that the more bites I take, the faster this shit will be over. So that’s what I do. That’s what I did. For every bite that I finished, there were new bites to be conquered. That’s how it went, and that’s how it goes. My life is a constant state of parfait. Somehow this is no longer making sense, but I digress. It’s all still happening, still getting harder and easier at the same time. Let me tell you HOW it became easier instead.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, my experience is not and will never be your experience. You own that. It’s authentic. However, there is a lot to learn, and sometimes hearing the experiences of others turns out to be a source of comfort, if nothing else. Here is a list of the great moments as well as the calamities and fuck-ups that eventually led me back to general sanity:

1. I made a single choice.
You might remember this from a post I wrote awhile back called “Make Good Choices.” At the time I was more than miserable and seriously over whatever this life had to offer. Most of that was due to the feeling that I didn’t have a hand in how my life was going to play out. I was supposed to go to an appointment with a cranky old woman who made me feel even more miserable. I went and blew spitballs instead. That completely juvenile moment paved the way for a sense of independence and the ability to make the big decisions with courage.

2. I got pissed off.
In the beginning I was content with crying and hiding in my fort of blankets for eternity. I was content with shoving some Olanzapine underneath my tongue and listening to the voices rise and fall. I was very comfortable in my own misery. It wasn’t until one day when I realized how unfair all of this actually felt, one day when I completely lost my shit and threw a tantrum circa 1995, that I was able to analyze what was happening to me and map a way out. (Don’t get it twisted, this one didn’t happen overnight.) People are always going to tell you not to be angry, to stay positive. For the most part, they’re right. But you own your feelings, too. And I’m here to say that being angry is okay. You just can’t STAY angry. (Or you can, but that won’t help.)

3. I subtracted my many crutches.
There were a few. As I mentioned in my post “The Accidental Addict,” I fucked around with benzos for some time. I also fucked around with a few other drugs, though I wouldn’t say I developed a dependency with those. I’m not going to hash them out here, because it’s the same song and dance. Drugs gave me happiness, relaxation, escape. Until they didn’t. Say what you will, but you cannot convince me that they are a fun and casual time.
Do you like fun, feeling light and having a sense of belonging? I’m sure you do, but these things can all be achieved naturally. Unless, of course, you also enjoy vicious nightmares, cold sweats, vomiting night and day, crippling anxiety and psychosis. There’s really only a few paths when it comes to drugs, and I can’t think of one that’s idyllic in the slightest. Getting sober was the worst pain I’ve ever had to endure, and although it’s been 1 month and 6 days since I started the withdrawal process, the aforementioned symptoms are still happening. If I can stress anything about drugs, it’s this: Stop finding ways to numb, and instead look for ways to heal. Stop flirting with death for the rush, and instead tempt life. Tell life to lay it on thick because you always come clean. Dare it to fuck with you. Then smash it, again and again.

4. I said ‘no.’
There were people who found it entertaining to find ways to aggravate me, who enjoyed saying things to make me fall apart. There were others who watched it happen without lending a hand. It used to hurt and I used to feel a deep sense of loss. I spent weeks wondering how I could have possibly made people feel so spiteful towards me. Alas, number 2 came into play and I got pissed off. So pissed off that all of that sadness and hurt turned into fuel. I said no. I said no so many times and so many ways that all of the weight evaporated somehow. I said no to less than supportive friendships and a fat no to being treated with anything less than decency. That’s something I will never apologize for. All I can say is that sometimes shaking your head can be as positive a decision as nodding it. Your life is not a sideshow for entertainment, and, sometimes people are just that; people. We all know how they are.

5. I accepted responsibility.
Sometimes I am one of those people. Sometimes I am cruel, arrogant, ignorant, narcissistic and guilty of every other trait that irritates me. I know I can’t be perfect, but I CAN be better. I can help where it is needed, I can give what I have. I can speak honestly. Pride has been my biggest downfall in recovery. If it would have swallowed it sooner, I could be a lot further ahead. This doesn’t matter now, of course, but it is important to recognize it because it reminds me that holding onto pride in a present situation could be holding me back instead. I’m forever working on this, yo.

6. I gave faith a chance.
This is not about God. This is not about Buddha. This is not about Allah or Zeus or Tom Cruise. I still don’t believe in any of these ideas specifically. I’ve mentioned before that I believe faith is a key component in the overcoming of any obstacle, and it is. I’ve also discovered that while faith can be tested, it shouldn’t kill your light. It shouldn’t make you berate yourself. I am beginning to see the universe as a beautiful mystery that I will never understand, at least not all at once. I’m beginning to see that this universe looks different facing every set of eyes. I think I like it this way. I may not believe in a giant “something,” but I didn’t get anywhere believing in absolutely nothing. In fact, what I believe in depends on the day, because I am forever changing. Conviction meant sticking to my values, but growth means being able to question those values and add or subtract as I see fit.

So back to the parfait. I realized where I was going with all of this. Through the experiences of others, I’ve developed techniques to make my parfait more tolerable, delicious even. The greatest discovery is perhaps that I have realized that my flaws work against me, but with each other. When they occur in harmony, I become wise and strong. I become real. So real that I can’t be denied. Here’s my nub, folks: Mix up your fucking parfait. Mix yourself up. Get yourself all gooey and lost, test and expand your palate. After all, you can always go back to the familiar, to the boring.

PS. Guess what I’m eating right now?!

L Is For The Way You..

After nearly 23 years on this Earth, I’ve discovered that I have a lot to say.

I love words. I love the way that words sound differently rolling off of people’s tongues, the way they give colour to an otherwise ordinary story. I once dreamed about a woman and I’ve never forgotten her, because the way she said “square” took my breath away. I’ve tripped through pages of books and fallen in love with the characters. I’ve sobbed at 3 AM when love was lost. I used to imagine that I could cover my body with stories I’d treasured so that I could read them when being in my own skin felt excruciating.

The problem isn’t finding the words. The problem is having so many thoughts and words to sort through that I just can’t bear to turn those gears. The words burn holes in my brain while they are being held captive. When they are set free they seem to catch fire and flicker out of control, beyond my reach and become a mighty inferno that I can’t quite remember creating. Words echo, you know. Even when you’re not in an empty space. Words bounce off of the walls of brains, and some never recover.

If words take space inside of brains, If what I say should echo through the tunnels of the mind, they should mean something. And so it is that I torture myself daily. What, more that anything else, do I want to say? If there was one thing that could be heard and recognized forever, which words should fall from my lips? I want to tell you, and everyone to do what you love. But it could never be just that coming from me, could it? No, I have so many more words, so much more on top of it. I know somehow that this is the only way I’ll ever be able to say it and really be heard. This is my goddamn blog and I’m going to elaborate.

To do what you love, you have to pursue it relentlessly, hopelessly. If you’re not willing to die to let it flourish, I’m not sure it’s what you love. Nobody ever wants to read the story about that guy who kinda liked lacrosse and played it a lot but not on shark week or during lent. People want to hear stories about men and women who gave everything they had to their passion and abandoned the fear of risk. People want to hear stories that are built from the ground up, with twisted plots and a naked honesty. They want to hear about the failures that led to the inevitable successes.

To do what you love, you have to be willing to make the climb. Imagine the road that separates you from that which you desire. It’s steep and slick and the weather is never in your favour. You roll your ankles in the deep ruts, you slip through the mud and bruise an elbow. Nobody on the sidelines tosses you an Advil, cleans your wounds, no, no. If there is anybody there at all, they will be telling you to turn back; out of love, fear, disbelief, spite. You have to be willing to look through the fog and see the beam of what you love in the distance, you have to be willing to use your mind, your free will and your perfectly capable, beating heart to say “I have to finish this.”

Don’t be a fuck about it, though, okay? If you want people to root for you, offer them the same encouragement, too. Don’t step on anybody, and don’t mow anybody over in the hopes of traveling this road in a more timely fashion. I won’t tell you that karma will get you, because I’m not sure of that. What I am certain of is that what you love will be forever tainted with memories of those you caused pain to on your journey; not so sweet. If what you love causes you to harm others, it is not what you love. It is an unhealthy obsession that you have taken on and need to confront. Love should call us to do many things, but never to cause violence or harbour hate. Love doesn’t share, and it will not coexist with hatred.

To do what you love sometimes means saying goodbye. To habits that you loathe, to friends that bitter your warm and open energy, to crutches that you have found necessary to lean on in the past. It forces you to abandon your demons, your need for validation and uncertainty. What you love you should be sure of. What you love is sure of you.

If you don’t know what it is that you love, don’t worry. To love you must live, and if you do it openly, freely, it can only guide you to what you love. Now that you’ve heard my two cents, Go do that!

Insomnia and Ichiban

It’s 2:23 AM and there’s no slumber on the horizon.

I’ve been talking a lot about brokenness lately, and in doing that I’ve discovered something that makes this whole situation less daunting. I’ve discovered that there are perks to being broken. One of these perks is that we have the truly incredible opportunity to completely reconstruct ourselves into something new and extraordinary. After all, if we have nothing left to lose, what is there to stop us from grasping what it is that we truly long for?

I’m not saying that this discovery is going to make it hurt less. Oh, no. I know that it’s a dull ache that courses through our veins and rushes through every muscle and makes our knees buckle, takes the air from our lungs. It sits in our minds and fucks with us when it is most inconvenient, like in the grocery store parking lot or a friend’s bridal brunch. It rings in our ears like a fire alarm that some delinquent kid named Adam pulled, just for kicks. There’s no real emergency, because the fire’s already burned itself out. There can be no more flame if we have already turned to ash.

I know it’s sort of odd to compare ourselves to a building, but let’s imagine this, just for a second, okay? I want to know, now that your whole life is scattered on the ground, being carried on a breeze, did you like the vessel you were living in? Was it the home you’d always dreamed of? Was your floor plan open and spacious, was there light spilling in? Did you like the furniture? Was the foundation sturdy enough for dreams to flourish and warm memories to linger? What about the people inside of the building? Did they contribute to the hard work that comes with maintaining a peaceful environment? Did they plant flowers, clean the windows, paint your walls in pretty pastels? Did they lay on the floor with you and laugh, their clothes saturated with water and dish soap after an impromptu chore war?

If the answer is yes, then you already know what it is that you long for. If you can shout “Absolutely!” to every one of those questions, you know what is possible, and if you should choose to do so, you can lay the bricks one at a time until your foundation is as strong as it ever was. The building will not look quite the same, but there will be no denying that what you’ve built is strong, significant, and beautiful.

But if you are honest with yourself and know that the ashes on the ground are only reminders of a life you were living, but not choosing, if the home was dilapidated, dusty, and dark, maybe it’s better this way. Maybe it’s better because today you can stand at the edge of the property of what used to be and know that there is nothing left to cling to. Maybe it’s better because the people moving through your doors were only marking your floors and making a mess on top of a mess. Though it is a bitter freedom, it is freedom all the same. Grieve as long as you need to, but promise yourself that when you are finished, you will take a deep breath, one last glance at the remnants of your broken spirit and walk away. And as you’re walking away, decide that you are going to rebuild. Decide that you are going to rebuild in a brand new neighborhood surrounded by meadows. Or next to a set of tracks so that you can hear the train whistle through the night. Or in a high rise above the bustle of a city. Rebuild in whatever environment offers you peace and serenity. Paint your walls in calming, neutral tones. Or Pepto Bismol pink. Put windows everywhere to let the light spill in from every angle, and then put curtains up for those times when you just want to sit with the darkness. Whatever you do, don’t cheat yourself, because this is your chance. This is your soul. This is your opportunity to create yourself in a way that you can truly live with.

The reality of the situation is that our lives are going to fall apart many times between now and the grave. We are going to be demolished and reconstructed over and over, and every time we will look different. We will feel different. We will BE different. We do not play this life with marked cards, and that is unfortunate, but it’s also part of the fun, isn’t it?  Yes, there are Octobers, but there are also Mays. There is war, but there’s also a group of people a table over laughing and arguing about who is going to take care of the bill. There is death, but there is also life that replenishes itself over and over in a very natural, gradual way.

So, now that we’ve imagined our endings as beginnings, let’s start building, shall we? You can always find me here, on Facebook or Twitter. Let’s create together.