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.”

My July Birthday

I turned 23 yesterday.

I used to think that birthdays were nothing more than an excuse to wear a hat and ingest an alarming amount of chocolate cake. It didn’t take long before I traded the hat for low-rise jeans and the cake for a bottle of Pineapple Malibu. Slowly but surely, they became another painful reminder that I was alive.

That sounds dramatic. Maybe it was.

I see those Tumblr pictures and I have to laugh. They feature the bottom halves of girls with thigh gaps and short shorts and captions that say things like “Summer Love,” as if summer isn’t fun and love is out of reach without those two elements. I have to laugh because I had the thigh gap and the short shorts and summer still seemed like an endless stretch of eternity that I would rather have slept away.

My July birthday was something I loathed, yet waited around for every year in a desperate sort of anticipation. I kept waiting to wake up more at peace, more mature, more fun. I kept waiting to “grow out of it.” I imagined opening the door for the people who arrived at my party and feeling safe in their presence, like nothing would change and we could always contort our mouths into pained smiles and pull the strings in our backs to release an enthusiastic “Let’s be friends forever!”

I waited for these things, and yet, I woke up with the same knots and insecurities that I had fallen to sleep with the night before. I woke up with the same fears that had always kept me from having fun, the ones that reminded me that I was different and strange and everyone knew it. When the people floated through the doorway and wished me a happy birthday, their smiles of admiration looked more like contempt, and I always found myself searching their palms and their eyes for the instrument or the secret that they might use to damage me further.

This is not anyone’s fault.

My July birthday was a mirror to the way I felt about myself. My July birthday was a reflection of the expectations I had and the standards I set, and the sick way I sat around feeling like I was the only one who had the right to sadness and humiliation. My July birthday was a reminder of the truths I couldn’t face, and the way they made me a liar.

I celebrated 23 years on Earth at the bedside of a dear friend. I celebrated 23 years watching her breathe peacefully inside a deep slumber, grateful that she was breathing at all. I celebrated 23 years by reflecting on the 7 and a half I’ve been lucky enough to know her.

Her fingers twitched in mine, and I knew for certain that this must be the most valuable gift I’ve ever held. They were warm and full of life, full of strength and, though they remained still, they clung to life with a vicious tenacity that one can only find in the hands of someone who has beaten (no, smashed) the odds. As she does this, I know what my July birthday means (and has always meant.)

My July birthday is another mark on a tally on a score sheet of a mind game, a brain teaser more puzzling than any riddle. My July birthday is the candle that remains lit after all the others have been blown out. My July birthday is the gift that I do not deserve, but am given anyway.

My July birthday is a mirror to the way I feel about myself, and my July birthday felt pretty fucking great this year.

 

“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?!

Ferris Wheels That You Wanna Get Stuck On

Today

I’m tired.

I’m the kind of tired that lets me know that even if I could slumber, there aren’t enough hours in the night for the kind of rest i require. The kind of tired that makes my eyelids feel a little too heavy. The kind of tired that makes the whole world look like an apparition.

I’m the kind of tired that smiles weakly when you say “You’re so strong.” The kind of tired that smiles but wants to tell you not to call me that, because today I don’t want to be. Today I want to imagine that my legs are long and feminine, delicate and intricate. Today I don’t want to see the bruises that cover my knees. Today I want to imagine that words are beautiful for the way that the syllables roll off of tongues and not because of the weight they carry. Today I want to paint my nails and ignore the dirt underneath from years of holding this very ground too tightly while the world spins and tilts and all I can hear is “You’re so strong.”

I remember holding a handful of magic. It looked like glitter and felt like every good thing my mother ever sang to me about before bed. I had so much of it that at any moment I could imagine that I was a plane and you were the landscape. I could look over you and see only the vast amount of you, the way there was never an end to you, feel the distance between us as if it were only temporary, only until I needed some crackers or a nap and decided to touch down upon your ground once again.

When you’re young, you don’t notice that handful growing smaller until it’s too late. By the time you stop running and open your palm, you’re already seeing the magic flicker away on a breeze. It doesn’t matter how tight you close your eyes, how hard you wish, you can’t take flight and so you must see the landscape for what it is, accepting the inalienable truth that there are monsters far worse than any you’ve seen in your nightmares, watching the people you love unzip their skin to try on new flesh that doesn’t quite fit like you remember it should.

The trouble is that I’ve spent all these years with you surrounding me and keeping me flat against you so that I wouldn’t have the space to breathe, to think, to dream. I did, though. All these years on the ground and still I can feel myself suspended in the air, see you inviting me warmly to fall, promising me that it would be an adventure I couldn’t imagine from all the way up there.

I still see the magic occasionally, clutched in the sweaty fist of a child. I see the trail of glitter flowing behind her as she runs and yells “come and get me!” I watch the way she trips over her feet, but feels no fear because she doesn’t know yet that she can fall. She doesn’t know yet that there are monsters who will trip her and hold her down, and I can’t tell her. She squeals with delight as I chase her around the room hoping always that she will want to play cat and mouse, hoping always that she never lets me catch up.

I want to see her up there laughing and transforming from planes into fairies into dragons and back. I want to tell her never to believe you, I want to tell her never to touch you because you will steal her magic and you will steal her mind. I want to tell her to stay up there as long as she can, where clouds are cotton candy and stars are balls to throw and chase across this universe.

She will have all the time in the world to learn to read, to long divide, to kiss the back of her hand and imagine some kid named Stephen. She will never again have the time to spare with her guard down and her head thrown back, eyes crinkled. She will have to worry and ground herself from now on. I will have to put band-aids on her elbows and across her heart. I will have to watch her wrestle with the world between reality and the places she’s seen in her sweetest visions. I will have to tell her that the only magic in her fist will be the magic that she creates to lift her head from the mud and continue on this unforgiving journey.

I will read her Roald Dahl and promise her that the cold dissipates and seasons run through one another, always creating space for her to branch out and bloom again. I will kiss her forehead and tell her that I will read her the next chapter tomorrow, because I’m

Tired.

A Bee Wouldn’t Fly Without the Flowers Below.

This morning I woke up and felt like a complete and total failure.

I keep waiting for the days to stretch out into a melody of happiness, where my attitude doesn’t have to be “one day at a time.” I’m finally starting to grow into myself. My hands are sure and strong where before there was a hesitant shakiness when I dared to reach for anything. I can feel vines weaving themselves through my fingers and I know that there is progress, growth. I stand, arms outstretched to meet it, but my brain is the barrier between us.

I think we’re conditioned to want everything at once, and I don’t think this struggle is exclusive to the mentally ill. We are only physically capable of accomplishing so much before we collapse in exhaustion, but the mind doesn’t tire. Even with our eyes closed, we’re still sitting in front of a picture show of want. A yearning to have more, do more, to BE more. It is somehow both beautiful and torturous, like almost every delicious bite we take knowing that soon we will have finished and must wait to taste something that delectable again.

I wonder, though, if those moments would feel so idyllic if we knew that they would never end. I had a dream the other night, about the vines wound through fingers, winding around my arms. I felt roots spilling from my heart, anchoring me to the ground. My shoulders sprouted wings, and I suppose the whole mystery of the dream was how I could possibly have both.

See, I think I need roots. I need to know where I came from, who I’ve been and all the hands that have taken their turn in shaping me. I need these roots so that when the storm blows in, and it will, I will remain steadfast and wait for the winds to set down my branches. I need these roots so that when I awaken to the wreckage in front of me, I will know that I am the mightiest tree, and I will grow again. My leaves will sprout with beauty and with wisdom, and I will watch the cycle in front of me in awe.

But I also need wings. I think that the wings represent my mind, my imagination. The ability to be anyone, anywhere doing anything. When the scenery becomes dull, I can fly away on a passing thought and live in any vessel I please. These wings are important because they will always carry me back to my tree, to the roots, where perhaps I will have realized that

this was where I was supposed to be all along.