Why Not To Be A Jerk: Notes From A Recovering Bully

Sometimes there’s no other way to slice it than with the truth; I used to be an asshole. I know a lot of inspirational tales about the survivor, but I almost never hear much about how life turns out for the bully. (It makes sense if I think about how many people actually want to own up to their bullshit.) Since I try to live with no shame in my game, I’ll tell you how it goes. I can’t tell you how not to be an asshole, of course. That one is all you. But if you’re reading and nodding along, that’s a good step. I’ll just tell you WHY not to be an asshole instead.

5 Things That A Bully Knows

1. Words are glass. Small, jagged shards that wink as they hang in the light. These moments last only seconds, but these seconds in this light make the shards look as much like the truth as they felt leaving our lips. It is not until we lay sleepless inside of ungodly hours that we taste the blood in our mouths.

2. We have our reasons. Reasons like self-respect and love and justice. We see ourselves as the messenger rather than the villain, for a villain would surely use his fists.

3. Hate is heavy. To rule this way brings discomfort that is felt at all times, like stacking those we dislike atop our shoulders. We do not feel discouraged, because it takes a strong person to carry this weight. We blame them entirely, all the while questioning why everyone is on our back.

4. Bullies have bullies, too. There is the one person we all know, the one who started it. The one who gave us all of our reasons. An objective perspective would tell us that the virus did not begin with them, yet we will maintain the idea that this person doesn’t have reasons; just a blank space where a soul should be. We will imagine that even for a soul that is black like soil, there is, at the very least, hope that good things might still someday sprout.

5. We are just confused. How could we not be? So few of the people we know walk around with the weight of nothing and nobody. This is not malice; it’s survival. Surely if you cease to be the one holding the saw, you become the one laying on the table.

5 Harsh Truths That A Bully Learns

1. Awakening to life’s purpose will more than likely not involve pretty pastels, no third eye, no peace. It will feel as if we are going about life, skin held together by staples while our body attempts to shed this and replenish itself. We will resist, clinging to our rough exterior as if it were worth more than it is. We will not let go until we realize how painful it is to embrace ourselves.

2. Change, the grand, sweeping kind is almost never launched in quiet, thoughtful moments. Change is brought in by heavy gusts that shatter window panes. Change becomes the guest choosing to stay; invited or not. We will adapt and flourish next to it. Or we won’t, and we’ll find ourselves brushing up against it, hearts like sandpaper, vowing that we’ll teach our kids not to be wimps, because life is tougher when you’re a wimp. We’ll find ourselves spitting glass.

3. Everyone has their reasons. Reasons that make us unimportant to them, like them to us. Reasons like pride disguised as self-respect, vengeance disguised as love and loss disguised as justice. We will not see this great wheel of reasons until we and all involved notice that we’re running in circles.

4. Nobody with any kind of character bets on the bully. To be an asshole, to fly off the handle, so far it’s (kinda) worked. However, there are VERY few areas in life in which these strategies are efficient or tolerated. One day, when our sideshow is no longer the freakiest in town, the crowd that coos and strokes our fragile egos will begin to thin until it is us and the dust. We will be remembered, but people will not find it entertaining. We become the empty vessel after the party.

5. Perhaps the most jarring truth is that we matter more than this, that our lives are worth more than we’re doing with them. Our voices are melodious when they are not being used to wound. The energy we squander on hate takes real commitment, and there are innumerable positive outlets we could use to fine tune that rather endearing bit of our character. As we turn this over we will see that almost every black, rotten part of us started growing with the hope of something good. We alone are something good. The road is a unique, authentic journey for all who travel, but the pattern of change has been the same since Moses was an angsty teen. We become who we are when we discover that we can no longer be who we were.

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.”

Bobby Borden and the Hunt for Happy

Robert L Borden on a string, fluttering in the wind.

I watch him dance and I smile. I think about how nice it would be to dance with him, but I know better. I haven’t always known better, of course. I’ve only just learned. It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon on a Saturday in June, and I’ve spent the entire day chasing him around the park.

I felt the $100 bill brush against my wrist this morning as I lay in the soft grass, waiting for something, anything to happen. I reached for it immediately, my fingers turning to claws and my heart turning to an empty pit, ready to be filled. It darted away on a prairie breeze, taunting me, urging me to get up and work for the feeling of paper inside a closed fist. “Nothing is free.”

I knew this, and so did my feet, because they started to run. They leaped and twirled and pounced, trying to catch the bill. I came close numerous times, but never close enough before it took flight again. “C’mon Bob, don’t be a dick.” The sun flickered through the trees as I sat once more at a distance, waiting for the right moment. As it did, the light caught, blinding me a little too temporarily, and I noticed something just ahead. Invisible wire. I couldn’t touch it to verify, but all at once I knew this was not the wind, and not a windfall, either. Not pennies from heaven, but a prank. I raced alongside the glimmering streak, trying to locate the culprit, but the tears clouded my eyes until I could not separate the end of the wire from my beginning.

This is what an obsession with finding happiness feels like.

I keep looking for the answer, listening intently to anyone willing to let me in on their secret. It’s gotten so bad that I scroll through video after video on YouTube on nights when the bed is empty and closing my eyes feels eerie and lonesome. Search bar. Typing. H- Deleting. Typing. “How to Be Happy.” Go.

I put in my headphones, unsure if my best friend can hear this carrying down the hall. Hoping that she can’t. She knows everything about me, but in this moment I pretend that neither she or anyone else can guess that I have no idea what THE FUCK I am doing. “Exercise, it releases endorphins!” Okay, cool. I do that. I must be at least semi-close to my destination. “Travel, it releases prejudice and fear of the unknown!” Right. I can get down with that. I like planes and the idea of fruit that grows year round. “Meditate, it releases, like, everything!” I could probably benefit from letting my brain marinate for a while. “Just choose happiness!” Wait.

She says it like we’re at a movie theatre. “Junior Mints or Caramilk?” She says it like there’s a choice to make. She sounds like Cat Stevens in Moonshadow, telling me that she wouldn’t be upset about losing her legs. Are you fucking with me?! Still, I’m left feeling painfully inadequate that I don’t know how to make this non-existent decision.

I suppose part of me gets it. If the choice is “Go sing karaoke with that one friend you have who is bloody terrible and hilarious or stay in your bed and wonder why you have no social life,” Then it would seem that it makes sense what the happier option might be. But that’s not what Cat Stevens with a vagina said. Back button. Close tab. Imagine punching that condescending bitch in the face.

What she means I’m not sure of, but I know it can’t be the way I’m interpreting it, because I’m interpreting it as a slap in the face to myself and every other person who sees happiness as a dart on a map that can’t be reached by any form of transportation that we are familiar with. A blow to people who work their asses off, hearts vulnerable, open to receive it, only to catch debris.

I don’t want to make it sound as if I’m not content. I am, exceptionally so. Sometimes, though, it can be difficult to evaluate as I wade through the how-tos of happy that are constantly put in my path. Should I want more? Should I be doing more? How do I know what it is I should want? How do I know exactly what life should feel like? Lately I feel as if I’m failing every time I get angry. Every time I do something that isn’t considered 100% selfless and efficient for everyone. Every time I have a shitty day, I cover it with the idea that I SHOULD feel gratitude.

Why?

Some days are shit, and there isn’t a trace of gratitude in my veins. Some days I don’t feel like thanking the universe for sprinkling fecal matter all over me, and I certainly don’t feel like thinking about all of those who might have it worse. I am unbelievably tired of everyone trying to solve the problems of other people with “Just think positive!” I know that positive thinking is an asset in overcoming, in becoming; I’ve seen it. But I don’t need to do it every minute of every goddamn day.

If you ask me, sadness and anger are just as important. They have had an equal part in my metamorphosis, in building my character. I would even venture to say that they have provided far greater incentive to reach for more than any great day I’ve ever lived in. On great days, I celebrate, and on shit days, I evaluate. That’s healthy, and to do otherwise would be to deny myself a basic human requirement. I wish we had evolved beyond the need for tear ducts, but we’re not there yet, so I’m damn well going to use them.

Nathaniel Hawthorne compared happiness to a butterfly. I think it’s so beautiful, and I feel in my soul that it is accurate. It’s fragile and fleeting, and a butterfly couldn’t inspire laboured sighs of awe echoing through the world if it were trapped and squished in our fists. It’s okay not to be able to catch it and make it a pet. If someone is building a railroad through the centre of your angry town, if they’re calling “ALL ABOARD: DESTINATION HAPPY!” It’s okay not to take the train. Walk until you feel like experiencing change, because there will ALWAYS be another one sending its joyful choo-choo down the line. And, if not, there will always be another plane, another electric car, another path.

I imagine myself watching ol’ Borden as he dances, and I imagine seeing a young boy finally catch him. The jig is up. I don’t feel jealous or inadequate. My only thought is “Well, damn. Good for you.” I get the feeling that the bill wasn’t mine to catch, and I lay back down in the soft grass, waiting for something, anything, to happen.

Life Outside the Lines

The term “comfort zone” is funny to me.

I don’t know about you, but I was never really all that comfortable inside of mine. It was this space in my mind that I created to lounge around eating chocolate chips and making excuses for every part of my life that had fallen apart because I had been diagnosed with a mental illness. It was a lot like sitting down in the middle of a concrete sidewalk, painting a circle around myself and deciding that this tiny spot was an adequate area in which to spend the rest of my life.

But life didn’t stop because I had laid claim to this part of the sidewalk. People walked by in an endless stream of conversation and laughter, beckoning me to join them.

“Hey Karlee, we’re going to a concert. They’ve got this really great opening act and you look kinda lonely.”

Because I still desperately craved friendship and human interaction, I would say

“Nah, man. Crowds are hell on Earth, nosebleed seats are the worst, and does live music ever sound as good anymore? You guys should come and hang out with me in here. I’ve got chocolate chips and I won’t charge you $8 for a beer.”

Nobody ever wanted to come and hang out in my painted circle in the middle of the sidewalk, and though I would find myself angry, calling them stupid assholes under my breath, I knew why. I knew why because I actually really liked live music and $8 beer and contagious energy, but I feared all of these things at the same time, and besides, I couldn’t just leave my comfort zone. Soon enough, people watching felt like a tedious exercise. They stopped approaching my circle. Where it used to feel like an eternal cluster of people walking toward me, I could only see them walking away.

“Where are you going? Come back. Come back and tell me about all of the parts of your day that went awry so that I can feel better about being trapped inside of this circle. Don’t just walk past while I catch fragments of conversations about things you enjoy. Why are you doing this to me?”

A comfort zone is supposed to be this sanctuary that shields us from the danger of the world outside. Some might argue that it does, but I would remind them that it doesn’t shield us from the danger that builds and boils inside, which is perhaps the most destructive and the most widely experienced danger there is. It wasn’t until someone I love very much sat down in the circle across from me with a somber expression on their face and held a mirror directly in front of me that I realized this. “What are you doing? Did you come in here just to upset me? What the fuck am I supposed to do with this? Get out of my circle.”

I was so angry. I screamed and I cried and I yelled, hoping to remind them that I needed the circle, that showing me how aged and sad and blank I looked only made it worse for me since there was no way out. They didn’t even react. I sat alone in my circle, staring into the mirror. I examined the bags under my eyes and the way they seemed permanently swollen from weeks without any real sleep. How could I be so exhausted, so drained if I were truly as comfortable as I believed? It occurred to me that I hadn’t even tried to escaped the confines of the painted line that surrounded me. I began to wonder whether the circle was keeping the pain out or if it was really just keeping me in.

I thought about this for weeks until I decided that I didn’t want that to be my life anymore. I told myself that if I tried, and if it didn’t work out, at least I could say with certainty that my comfort zone was where I belonged. I took my first step outside of the circle on a September day last year when my friends said “There’s this kickboxing thing going on at the elementary school. You wanna go?” For the first time in what felt like forever, I said yes. And that’s when I met Alycia.

The class started at 8. I showed up at 7:15, determined not to walk in late so that people wouldn’t look at me or take note of my presence. The parking lot was full, but the doors were locked, and it was cold. There were these two little boys standing in the foyer staring at me through the window with their mouths open, as if I were a giant pickle wearing a toque. My brain was all “Fucking shit fuck, Karlee. These kids think you’re so weird that they don’t even want to open the door for you. Go home and watch documentaries about people who do things like this.” I waited it out another 5 seconds and sure enough they opened the door. I was reminded that kids are just funny little beings who can’t seem to help hanging out with their mouths wide open.

When I walked in to find her I was the first one there. Under any normal circumstance I would have felt overwhelmed, but when she looked up I saw that she looked just as nervous as I did. She fumbled around, handed me a form and introduced herself. She asked me my name and I told her a little about my situation. My hands started to sweat when I told her “Sometimes I might have trouble understanding you. I hear voices.” She was the first person who didn’t look at me like a science project after the words fell out. She just smiled and said “That’s okay. We’ll make it work.” As the rest of the ladies poured in, she took us through the class and didn’t hover over me once, except to say a quick “nice work.” I couldn’t remember the last time I felt like I was the same as everyone else. I went home and cried.

Wednesdays became magic for me. I didn’t want to admit it to anyone, but I waited all week to go to class and do something that people outside of my tiny circle did. I began to allow myself to dream of doing more. One evening Alycia told us that the company hosting the classes was pulling the kickboxing program out of our town, and my heart broke. I had become so attached to her and the people who took the class with me, even if I didn’t talk much. There was two whole seconds where I feared that I would be stuck inside of my circle of doom before she said “I can’t give up on my Sexsmith girls, though, so I’m going to teach it on my own.” I will never forget that moment, because it did something very specific for me. It reminded me that the margin of risk can be less important than the possible reward. It reminded me that the reward is not always in paper form. Sometimes the reward comes in the form of a smile or a hand to hold or a “thank you.”

Alycia teamed up with Frances, an equally radiant soul and together they opened Pure Fitness, which quickly became my happy place, my escape. It was the one place besides my own home that I could feel free and secure. When I would have episodes, they would both smile and tell me how proud of me they were for coming, for fighting through the voices, for coming back again. They would tell me that I could leave if it got too much, but that they wanted me to stay, and that it was okay not to have my shit together all the time. Alycia came over to me once, standing in front of the bag confused. She said “You tell those voices that I have you and that you’re just fine. You tell them that you’re kicking ass.” At the end they would meet me with hugs and I would leave every time feeling like someone more self-assured than the person who walked in. I forgot about the noise and the pressure and I felt a true appreciation for all that I could do when I allowed myself to feel as if I deserved it.

I don’t know why I felt that I didn’t deserve it. I don’t know why any of us do. All that I am sure of is that it is a lie. Maybe it’s a lie that we invent in moments of confusion and sadness, and maybe it’s a lie that is whispered to us enough to recognize it as a familiar and comfortable pattern. Maybe it is then that we paint our circles, telling ourselves that if we don’t dare to desire anything beyond that which we are certain we are capable of, we won’t be disappointed. I wish that I had the words to tell them what it means to me to know them, how much I didn’t know I needed them. I wish I could tell them that heroes don’t always wear capes or armour. Sometimes they wear 3 year olds on their backs and smiles of encouragement on their lips. Sometimes they are single moms who give up the remainder of their free time to make other people feel great about themselves. Plus, it makes all the difference to be trained by people who will enjoy a well deserved slice of pizza and beer with you when the week is through.

20140906_203638

 I lost 50 lbs, but that isn’t what I want you to take from this. What I earned from the hours I spent working on my physical strength and battling my ego was far more magnificent than that. What I earned was a dream come to life. Yesterday I accomplished the goal that I quietly allowed myself to envision when I took the first steps out of my circle. Yesterday I battled my head and my heart as I ran 11 miles, conquering my fear of heights, crowds, darkness and greatness, often all at once. Yesterday I sobbed as I crossed a finish line that was so much bigger than the event itself. I finished the race against my brain. I can’t tell you what a miracle it was to wake up today and know that I am an undeniably strong, committed, worthy person. To say with absolute certainty that I am capable of whatever ridiculous, crazy, unfathomable idea graces my thoughts. To believe that I am a credible source when I sit here and type that you are capable of all of these things, that you too are a worthy individual.

I know that this is incredibly long-winded, but I wanted to be able to write it from start to finish to tell any of you who are stuck inside of the painted circles that your past or circumstance has left you with that there is a way out. Whenever you’re ready, dare to reach out and run your finger along the line, noticing how little depth it has, how little control it has, until you feel comfortable enough to move beyond it. Tell your story. Talk about your circle. I don’t know anybody who wants to hear a tale about someone who adapted to everything with ease, so give them your rawness and your jagged edges, show them the undeniable will that it takes for you to make it through a single day. Not everyone will like it, but there will be more than enough that love it, that love you, so much so that you may find your edges have smoothed being surrounded by people who give a shit what happens to you.

Today when I look in the mirror I see someone who is young, curious, beautiful, and best of all, happy. I see someone who sleeps through the nightmares her brain plays for her. I see someone who a painted circle is just no match for.

2014-09-28 11.23.16

Sanity Sold Separately

IMG_3991

 

This is my mom.

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

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

It always went like that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What To Expect

I keep getting the same question when I run into acquaintances:

“When are you going to start making babies?”

My reaction is always the same. A quick “ha!” and a change of subject. Look, I get it. It’s a question that’s been asked for ages and it’s not intended to make me feel inadequate, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. I don’t want to come across as if these words have never fallen from my own lips, because they certainly have, but I’ve learned a thing or two about myself and the world since then.

It’s difficult for me to explain why, but the short answer is that I’m not ready. I would gladly let it go and ignore that it was ever said, except for the fact that I am almost always met with a response such as:

Nobody is ever REALLY ready to have a child!”

I agree. It’s hard to prepare yourself to push a human out of a hole in your vagina, and it’s even harder to prepare yourself to be sleepless for the next however many years in which that human decides that it is afraid of the dark or their bladder is too small to carry you through an 8 hour slumber. There is no real study guide for the first conversation about mortality, or for the first time your child points at someone with a huge nose and asks them about their beak. That shit is not lost on me. But while you’re busy describing the trials and tribulations that come with motherhood, I’m busy with all of the thoughts that I do not feel prepared to share with you.

I want to tell you that I’m not worried about any of that. I want to tell you that this isn’t the first time I’ve mulled it over. I want to tell you that it’s not about “me time,” or having 7 more years before that dreaded biological clock that you speak of starts to tick. It’s not about body image or focusing on my career (though, if you ask me, these are all valid reasons to remain child free.)

I want to ask you if you’ve ever been so distracted by a noise that you’ve walked away, forgetting your newborn and leaving them to roll off of a changing table. I want to ask you if you’ve ever been so sleep deprived that you’ve walked out of your house ass naked, babbling about paint. I want to ask if you’ve ever had such an out-of-body tantrum that you glanced at your child in the aftermath and noticed their terrified expression as they backed away from you slowly. I wonder if you’ve ever cried because your toddler asked “Mommy, who do you keep talking to? Is it a ghost?”

I wonder, but say nothing, because this is not on your radar. I say nothing because I don’t want you to feel like the one who is unprepared. I say nothing because I don’t want to see your smile of encouragement stretch into a straight line. I don’t want to see your eyebrows lift in shock. I don’t want to hear your voice shake when you say:

“Well, you’ll adapt. A lot of good moms face these challenges.”

Indeed, they do, and more power to them. I applaud the brave mother who puts aside her own monsters to chase the monsters that really matter out from behind a little girl’s dresser. I am so proud of the women who lose count of the cracks in the sidewalks and the number of red things in the room to answer the question “What is 5 more than 9?” But I am not those people.

I am me, and I’m still learning that this is okay. I’m still learning to walk atop this rough new territory. I’m still telling myself that if I get out of bed today, and if that’s all I can muster, it’s alright. I’m still adjusting to small victories like hitting every green light in town or concentrating hard enough to read 3 pages of The Wind in the Willows. I know you care, and I know that you think these things are just fine, too. So when you argue about my ability to procreate, I am sent into a tailspin. Instead of being enough, my thoughts get darker, angrier. They turn into thoughts of being more, and so begins the burning frustration when I don’t know how to achieve that.

I love children. I love their minds, and watching them put together the puzzle of everyday life. I love witnessing their transition and the growth in their perspective as time passes. I love to colour and play Twister and to see how many marshmallows I can fit into my mouth. I love to sing and skip and count and ask questions.

But this is not enough.

I need to know that I am in a position to provide the safety, discipline and time that is necessary in rearing a child. I need to know that they will not run to their father 5 days a week and say “Mom’s in the basement screaming at the walls.” Most of all, I need to become comfortable enough in managing my illness so that if I have a child who struggles like me, I won’t be shamed into running from them. I need to know how to reason with myself before I can offer that kind of support to a tiny, needy being.

If that day never comes, I need you to understand that I’m okay with it. I’m okay with it because I have everything that I need to be content. I have 2 dogs, and though they are not comparable to two toddlers, I still get the chance to nurture, love, and train them. And just because I do not actively plan on having children of my own does not mean that I cannot care for the children of others, because I do. I love my nieces and nephews. I love pushing them on swings and giving them shit when they’re talking back to their mamas. I love seeing the kids in my morning exercise classes running wild and attempting to hug the other women while they do push-ups.

I will take your advice. I will be open to whatever comes next. Now, take some of mine, and stop asking that fucking question, okay?

“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?!