Crooked Frames: The Robbery of Perfectionism (And How to Kick it.)

My therapist’s credentials hang crookedly along the wall of her office.

On the day she caught me staring, she told me that she displays them this way because she is a recovering perfectionist. “And,” she said, “it helps me spot other people carrying that burden. Like you.”

Most sessions, it’s like we are sitting opposite each other, cross legged in the very cluttered den of my brain as we sift through the junk, discussing the feelings that made the cut and the thoughts that ought to be tossed. On this particular day, it was more like being invited to a roaring gala. I just couldn’t hear her. When I pointed out that it had taken me months to make this observation, she smirked and leaned forward.

“You’re not bothered by it. Perfection is not something you expect from me, but here’s what I really want to know: Could you live with your walls if they looked like mine?”

DAAAAYYYUUMMM, Mrs. P!

After reflecting for a moment, I decided that no, I could not. This pattern of thinking was indeed familiar to me, and up until then it was a pattern that I tolerated because it didn’t register as a swatch of thought that I could repaint. Driving home that evening, it occurred to me what a wasteful system it had been and how strange it was that the things we are most proud of can become grievances simply by hanging them haphazardly.
Since then, I’ve started to distinguish unpleasant symptoms that exist in my own life as a result of a frenzied desire to be spotless in a mud puddle. It’s been an instrumental tool in maintaining happiness, and my spirit is decidedly less turbulent these days.
I realize that there are a ton of people like me out there; the kind that know there’s a pattern, but can’t determine where it originated, much less change it.
I wanted to write a post based on my own experience for any of you who are reading and thinking “this shit is the realest.” I hope it will help you identify the perfectionist inside and start kicking it in the taint. Here are 7 signs that you’re afflicted:

1)You read this, felt weird about it, and subsequently denied the horrible truth that you are the victim of an aggressive (and impossible) vision that keeps you up most nights.

2) You weigh yourself, poop, then step back on the scale to see if anything remarkable happened, like the loss of 35 pounds. (Spoiler alert: it hasn’t. Get down from there!)

3) You refuse to participate in new endeavours by feigning disinterest, the authentic reason being that you are equal parts terrified and full of shit.

4) Someone has actually told you that you apologize too often and encouraged you to knock it the hell off.

5) You’ve thrown a party and spent the entire soiree obsessing over whether or not people are having a good time. (They are. Parties are fun. You are fun. End of story.)

6) You have been known to rip out the entire page due to a minor error. (This also applies if you get mad and draw a giant dick over said page.)

7) You attach happiness to a schedule and spend your life chasing it, convinced each time that if this one thing should fall into place, inner peace will be yours.

The bad news is that this distorted thinking makes your existence a hell of a lot harder. The good news is that you get to practice disciplining yourself to handle your heart with care, which is a lot more fun than holding up the possibility of failure as fuel. Here are 5 methods I’ve been using to allow myself to be human and therefore fallible:

1) Positive affirmations- I mentioned this in my last post, but I’m so sure of them that if I were Billy Mays and you were an innocent patron watching television, I would try to sell you double. I like to replace any self-loathing thought with something I enjoy about living in my skin. If thinking means becoming, imagine all the stunningly beautiful, positive opportunities that await you. (Spoiler alert: Self worth is going to narrrate your life. Allow it.)

2) Emphasizing the good- I used to think that people who practiced the art of gratitude were pretentious. There was just no way to be thankful for everything, and maybe that’s still true. What I’ve noticed is that I am less bothered by things beyond my realm of control or understanding. When I observe my progress, I try to highlight the great decisions, take apart the low moments and look closely at what makes them different before making my next attempt. When you’re tempted to criticize yourself or the current situation, interrupt that thought with gratitude. For example, instead of telling yourself that your hair looks like a hobo’s butthole or wishing your friends would rise your standards, try saying something like “My hair is doin’ a boss ass job of keeping my head warm!” Remind yourself that having a friend is a very lovely thing, even if they act dumb sometimes.

3) Allowing Myself to Be a Beginner- If you’re worried about trying something new in case you are terrible at it, the stone cold truth is that you are probably right. You are probably terrible at it because you’ve never done it before. Luckily, this is an inevitable fact faced by any being who dares to begin. I took up playing the guitar over Christmas and it still pisses me off that i’m no Jimi Hendrix. However, I allowed myself to play so badly that I was pretty sure ears across the land were bleeding, and guess what?! Now I only suck this badly SOMETIMES! I have even gone as far playing for and alongside other people. Who am I?! Oh, right. I’m a woman with shit to do.

4) Knowing that it’s all relative- Something that runs deep in people like us is the desperation that comes with wanting our efforts and achievements to be recognized and validated by other people. We lock ourselves tightly in silver cages, waiting patiently for the words to free us. What I’m getting at is that if we don’t try to find our own way out, the only option is “stuck.” When passion develops, so do answers, but in order to find it, you have to be willing to search. When you stumble upon something that makes your heart vibrate, you’ll know it immediately, and you won’t need an echo to tell you that being so unbound has always been the key.

5) Being mindful- A moment becomes pretty goddamn exhausting when you’re spending it in anticipation of the moment to follow or in nostalgia for moments that have passed, never to return. This will make your memoir look more like a checklist, and who wants to read that? When I feel invisible in the midst of all who are coming and going, I try to listen for the smallest sound that I can hear. As a result,I begin to notice colours and sounds being far more vibrant, more razor sharp than ever before. This ignites the feeling that there is always something to discover, like I can peel back layers of my mind to find that nothing is at all what it seems; it’s more.

Of all journeys I have taken, loving myself has been the most strenuous, because I am constantly arriving. There are always folds in time that wrap me up and tempt me to stay, but the difference is that I’m no longer smothered in fear. Rather, I’m pulled away by the notion of all that I have yet to behold and make sense of. I’m not afraid of the the root that flees the forest floor, because I am no longer looking at it as if it were placed there to trip me.

People will float up to feast upon my joy while others drift away in search of a dream of their very own, each one etching themselves upon my heart.

And this time, all pages of my story will remain as I am; messy with adventure, littered in love letters, and most importantly, still intact.

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?!

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.

 

The Rules (and Other Bullshit We Buy Into)

I just saw something that blew my mind.

Sometimes I think life on the prairies can be pretty dull. I can see for miles, and it often feels like this is all there is. Then there are other times, like now, when I see my very timid border collie rolling around with and grooming a cow, and I realize that this is probably all that most people could ever want.

I remember the moment I stopped believing in God. Before then, everything made sense to me, and if it didn’t, there was comfort in knowing that it wasn’t up to me to figure it out. It’s been so many years and it’s hard for me to tap into that mentality, but it was a very pivotal point in my life and I want to give it the recognition it deserves. Back then I was secure in knowing that I was serving a better purpose. My bible was like the app store. If I was upset, lit with a fiery rage, dizzily happy, there was a verse for that.

As I got older, though, these reasons, this faith became harder to blindly rely on. I had questions, and nobody had answers. I didn’t have a problem living in the Christian world, and I liked going to church. I have fond memories of sword drills and doughnuts after Sunday school. What I did have a problem with was ignoring my instincts and the urge to ask questions for fear of being shushed or seen differently.

I liked church because I knew who I was there. I could recite John 3:16 and play Stella Ella Ola and feel the presence of something bigger than I. When the questions came, when the feelings came, it all changed. All of a sudden “God has a plan,” wasn’t enough to help me sleep, and I discovered that people weren’t really as forgiving and wholesome as they had previously claimed. I was angry to have spent so many nights with that bible clutched to my chest, giving it my vulnerability and trust. I had gotten this idea that God would protect me from anything.

In the 7 or so years that followed I became more and more angry with God, and the anger stacked higher than the Empire State Building. I found the entire concept laughable and felt a certain sympathy for those who had given their lives to serve His purpose. Eventually it got to the point where I didn’t believe in anything at all. If you scroll through my posts from a year ago, you’ll see that there.

However, I heard someone on a very popular television show say “You can’t not believe in God and be angry with him at the same time.” I feel like it’s important to note that I am not comforted or appeased by the explanation of science, either. It’s factual and I’m so grateful for everything that’s been accomplished through scientific knowledge, but the factual reasoning for where we came from and where we’re going is something that I find quite dismal as well.

You know what I want to know? Where does the soul go? The body, yes, I see that it slips out of life and decays, becoming part of the Earth. But there was more to the body, there was the way they laughed and the way their thumb would ache when it was about to rain and all they knew about living inside of that vessel. I want to know where that goes.

I don’t believe in karma, but coincidence is often hard to stand upon. It’s the way that you meet someone and know that you’ve been looking for them your whole life. Your hands fit, and your lips meet each other with a force you don’t understand, but give into anyway. What happens to this connection when all else turns to dust? Will we float next to each other in the vast universe? We can only hope.

We can only hope. We can only do it right this time. I know it seems morbid to think of this life coming to an end, but it’s the only chance that we are guaranteed. If you love someone, don’t wait for the next life to tell them. Don’t tell yourself that you’ll come back again born for the stage and perform in small costumes and make love in the change room.

I don’t know what the reasons are, if there are any. All I know is that a smile can mean the difference between normalcy and a life worth living. Maybe it’s only because I like to write, but I often ask myself if my memoir would be worth reading. Not for sad and impossible feelings, but for my experiences and the way they’ve shaped my being. Did I take risks in love and life? Did I get low enough to empathize with, and high enough to envy? Was I honest enough to connect with people I’d never met?

Writers are introverts, perfectionists, wise. And this is all a crock of shit because I am none of these things and I’m still here telling you stories that probably don’t even make sense to anybody but me. Here’s what I wish for you, above anything else: Have courage. Have courage to be open and honest and to connect with people on a more modest (but extremely human) level. Have courage in love. Don’t kiss someone for the sake of it. Kiss them because it is all that you can think about in that moment and if you were to run you’d forever regret it. And then write it down, exactly as it bleeds from your fingers.

The only problem is that none of us think we have anything to say.

Where The Heart Is

I know I bitch about it all the time, because it’s cold and slippery and familiar, but I love my country.

Canada is a beautiful place to grow up, to make a life, to grow old. It is quiet but majestic, and I like to think that we create our own warmth around here. I don’t say enough how thankful I am to go outside into the vast nothing and, somehow, everything all at once. I can see the stars, I can catch a snowflake on my tongue.

There are times I dream of living on a beach somewhere, hearing the waves slap the shore and feeling the sun in the part of my hair, somewhere life is slow and simple. I dream of these things but I can’t imagine living where I couldn’t kiss a cold face passionately until it warmed like I gave it life. I couldn’t imagine life without the stillness of the first snowfall, the one that I always claim to have been dreading but is one of my secret and greatest pleasures in life.

Canada is a beautiful place to grow up, to make a life, to grow old. I think most people who live here would agree with me. In Canada I have rights and freedoms and the ability to feel secure in using them wherever they apply. I am free to to marry whomever I choose, to vote, to have an education and a career. In Canada I live as an equal. If all of this fell down tomorrow, and I had to leave, this is what I would remember.

I believe that under the right circumstances, our hearts never really leave home, because home is the backdrop, the setting of life piecing us together, maybe even pulling us apart. That’s what Canada means to me, and I take great pride in where I live. How could I even begin to imagine, then, what it must be like to leave it behind? How could I begin to imagine fleeing the terrain under which I gained my footing? To start fresh in a country with a language I cannot understand but will be forced to learn at rapid speed, to adjust to the culture, the atmosphere, to being the minority? It would take a great deal of strength that I’m not sure I could muster.

I hear people complain about the “foreigners” that work and live among us, and I’m not proud when I say that there have been times I’ve been the one doing the complaining. I hear people become frustrated and even aggressive towards them simply because they are not being understood. How quickly we forget that the person standing in front of us, inconveniencing our day is not a “foreigner,” but a human being trying to make an honest living. A human being who cannot understand us, but understands tone and body language and knows he or she is being berated. A human being who is fully capable of feeling shame, embarrassment and sadness.

I’m sick of people associating bad customer service with ethnicity. Why don’t we ever evaluate how we could make this situation less frustrating and deal with it accordingly? Why is it easier to yell at the young girl across the counter instead of asking to talk to someone who is more equipped to deal with our request? Why are we so quick to anger instead of seeking understanding? It saddens me to see and to hear when I know that a lot of the people who were born and raised right here in this city believe they are above working in the fast food restaurants and call centres that they so often complain about.

 Maybe if we thought more about these people than the fact that they screwed up our dipping sauce likeeveryfuckingtime, we would be able to reach that level of understanding. Maybe it would be easier to teach them with patience and kindness that we would like bbq instead of plum. Maybe if we went the extra mile for them, they would return it tenfold. If we’re not happy with the service we receive, what can we do to change that? The answer is not “fire the fucking foreigners.” The answer is to address the problem, suggest more hands-on training for the employees and for Christ’s sake, remember that they are living in a world of people just like us, who yell at them and take our days out on them because it’s so damn easy.

All I know is that if you lay down next to me and press your face to mine, if I put my hand on your chest, we will discover that we are breathing, blinking, beating. We will discover that here, in our most raw form, we are equals. We serve equal purpose in the world. I have thoughts, some brilliant and some, well, otherwise. Your eyes dart around and I know you must have these thoughts too. If we are both thinking, we will find a way to communicate. We will discover that together we are a greater force than we were alone.

How beautiful.

For Those You Know and Those You Don’t

Having a blog is weird.

It’s this endless space to talk about yourself. I mean, that’s what you’re supposed to do to form a connection. It still feels weird and slightly narcissistic, but c’est la vie. Such is life, er, blog. A lot of you have been sending me messages, sharing your stories and asking questions. I LOVE this and appreciate the support so very much, and I figured that since there are some frequently asked questions I’d address them here today. Please remember that I can only speak for my own illness and my own recovery. Everybody affected is complex and different.

I’ll start with the voices, since people seem to be the most curious about that portion of my story:

1. What Do They Sound Like?- They sound exactly as you would expect. They sound like voices in rapid conversation. It’s like going to a girls’ night and every female is wasted off of their asses, shouting over each other and laughing. Sometimes the tone can be very heated, and other times they are simply whispers. They distract me from conversation and often become louder than a person I am trying to have a legitimate conversation with.

2. Do They Ask You To Do Bad Things?- No. People always look 1 of 2 ways when I tell them this: A) relieved or B) disappointed. The voices talk serious nonsense and are so fucking irritating because they never say anything worth listening to. I’ve mentioned it here before, but for a while all they would say was “Blue paint!” “Ohhhhhh, BLUE PAINT!” and now, after tax season has come and gone, they ask me “Taxes?!” and whisper a bunch. So, no, my psychosis does not give me the urge to kill you or your family. I know, take your time.

3. Are You Ever Afraid?- I won’t lie to you, sometimes I do get scared. On harder nights, it can be easy to lay paralyzed in fear and allow myself to become completely taken over emotionally. In fact, I spent the better part of a year doing just that, which is why I didn’t ever sleep. Having lived with it consistently since 2011 has given me the ability to adapt. To be honest, it’s not much different from a childhood fear for me, like being scared of the dark. Once you run headfirst into the dark, and stay there, it becomes familiar, comfortable even.

4. Will They Ever Go Away?: I have great hope. I’ve been taking the medication route and thus far it has been a disappointing journey. I have made amazing strides in therapy, however, and I have been able to do some pretty incredible things despite their chatter. I feel like I have fought and earned the peace I feel in my stomach, and I did it all while the voices did what they could to distract me. I’m proud of that. I will continue to look for ways to eliminate them from the equation of my life, but I’m content here and now, and I’m proud of that, too.

One thing I really want to make clear is that not everybody who hears voices is walking around talking to themselves. Most of us live pretty normal lives once we establish a routine and mechanisms to cope with the hands that we are dealt, be it with the aid of medication, therapy, or other methods. That’s another thing: If you notice that a person may be dealing with a psychotic episode, please don’t cringe or laugh at them. Please don’t assume that the root of the problem is crack. Ask them if they are alright, and if you fear approaching them, please call 911 to be sure that they do not hurt themselves or others.

Another thing I get asked about often is bipolar disorder itself. Again, I can only be sure of my own experience and it’s important for you to note that every case is different. I’ll try to address this, too:

What Kind of Symptoms Do You Have?- I fear large crowds and clustered conversation in unfamiliar territory. I may have minor meltdowns if my routine is disrupted or if it’s just a really bad day. Sometimes it makes me overly excited and I talk. A lot. Loudly. Soon afterward I will probably crash and pull a Brian Wilson. It intensifies my emotions and I find it very difficult on occasion to feel anything, because it’s just so much. It’s like trying to eat a whole cheeseburger at once. Like, “This is so fucking delicious but I’m also choking and possibly dying and OH GOD WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?”

Here’s what you should know, the real reason my fingers are banging dramatically on these keys: 1 in 5 Canadians will suffer a mental illness in their lifetime, and get this: only 43% of people who suffer will ever seek professional help. THAT is what’s REALLY crazy. Think about it guys, it’s likely that more than one of your friends or family members are dealing with a mental disorder, and if not, there are likely people you wouldn’t suspect going it alone. Why do you think this is? My guess is shame. The stigma is that if we talk about it, if we ask for help, we belong on a psychiatric floor with a Thorazine drip. People are terrified to get better for fear that it will only make matters worse. If you take anything at all away from this post, please let it be this: It’s important for us to recognize these symptoms for what they are and to educate ourselves on mental health awareness simply because we cannot afford not to. Over 400,000 Canadians self harm every year.

If that’s not enough to help you understand the severity of the situation, over 90% of people in Canada who commit suicide have a diagnosable disorder, whether it be a mental or substance abuse disorder. Over 90% of the people who felt that they couldn’t make it any further were dealing with a treatable condition and a chance at a better life. Over 90% of the people whose hearts are bleeding and tear ducts burning might have seen their loved ones alive had they had the courage to come forward and ask for help.

So what does this say? How does this speak to you? This is how it speaks to me:

It’s not up to me to decide whether or not someone is dying for attention. It’s up to me to be an ally and a safe place to land. Besides, even if that IS the reason I suspect that someone may be self-harming or otherwise inflicting pain upon themselves, it is certainly a matter that deserves attention. It tells me that I need to live so openly that people understand that there is an ear, there is a heart, there is a mouth that is dying to hear, to be let in, to tell them that they are important and that they, too, belong in this world.

It tells me that we need to stop being so damn ugly to each other. I often wonder how people would describe me if they thought I would never hear it. The only thing that would kill me to know is that people found me to be aggressive, jaded and mean. There was a time when I was those things, certainly, but I also believe that people are who they are by way of where they’ve been, and I am grateful to say that I am not these things anymore. I asked people yesterday if they could change one thing, anything, what would it be? Well, for me it’s the people I caused pain to during a time when I couldn’t see a way out of my own. I cannot unsay what I’ve said, undo what I’ve done. All I have is right here, and right here I am choosing to be less of a lion and more of a butterfly. Both serve an undeniable purpose in the world, but I want to do more healing and less roaring.

Be a light wherever, whenever you can. It may not always pay off but on your darker nights when, alone and convinced that YOU don’t belong, this light will keep you warm for it is fuelled by your raw, human compassion. I think we all deserve to feel that way about ourselves. To educate yourself further on the matters of mental health, go to http://www.cmha.ca

(Oh yeah! Lipshits and Mental Fits has its very own Facebook page now!  You can find it there on the sidebar! ———-> Come on over and jump into conversation, let your weird out! I’m always waiting for a good discussion.)