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.

Sanity Sold Separately

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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.

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.

“Please Don’t Stay In Touch.”

I feel sometimes, although I pour every emotion I have into this blog and feel like what I’ve written has made sense, people still get it twisted. I want to make a few points very clear.

I don’t need anybody’s sympathy. Though I so love the well wishes and the people on the sidelines cheering me forward, I want people to understand that they do not need to be sorry. I have had a comfortable and colourful life, and for the most part, I still do. I don’t want people to be sorry because my illness is not a weakness.

I think it gets thrown out there that mentally ill people are a little less sharp due to their condition, but I strongly disagree, and here’s why: I may not be able to concentrate as well in everyday life as I used to, but rest assured, my focus is not waning. If you can imagine yourself having a conversation, imagine having one with ten people shouting into your ears. Imagine driving and hearing the rising and falling of voices that are not really there. If you can’t picture this, I’ll just tell you that it’s hell. But it’s my hell, and I am ploughing through it.

I’m no damsel. A condition like this causes one to suffer, but because I know this suffering, I know that there is life beyond it. Suffering has made my skin as thick as leather, and my heart soft like butter. I have a deeper compassion than I have ever possessed, and patience I’ve never known before. I feel so deeply that I often live in the past, thinking of ways to correct all of my wrong turns, though I know it cannot be done. On the other hand, I’m determined to create a better future, and I’ll basically crush anybody who tries to intervene. Rumi said “The wound is the place where the light enters you,” and I fully believe that this is what has happened.

By sharing my story, by stripping myself bare for anybody to read, the light has come and it has filled the holes left by other people. I cannot be hurt anymore, because I cannot hide. My naked mind and heart used to feel a chill, and now I cannot imagine ever covering them. I am drunk on the freedom of it all.

Make no mistake, though I try to be compassionate AND patient, I still have a fire under my ass that can’t be put out. If you doubt me, if you wrong me, I welcome that. I will take the bitterness and seething anger that would usually apply and use it to smash every last one of these goals like an orange ditz on the Jersey Shore. I will do it better than you could ever imagine simply because you don’t think I’m capable. And I promise, when I come back, while you’re busy eating that crow, I will tell you to go FUCK yourself.

This has been “Hulk Smash: the Softcore Version” with Karlee Gorrie.

It’s All Gravy

My whole life I have dreamed of creating something beautiful.

I was always told that I had potential. I heard it from my teachers when my grades were lower than limbo. I heard it from my peers when I didn’t run for the ball and stood still instead. I heard it from my parents as they watched me climb out of the lows from the highs that I constantly created for myself.

At the time, those words seemed like torture, for the problem wasn’t that I didn’t realize that I was unique. The problem became amplified by the fact I was acutely aware of it. I felt so different, so foreign to almost any activity that I tried, and because of that I chose always to back out of the spotlight and fail quietly in the shadows by never beginning, never investing, and certainly never winning.

A year ago today I typed my first words onto a blank screen and sent them out into the abyss of the worldwide web. Though it would be some time before I would choose to advertise my new hobby, something about it felt alright. When I created this blog, it was mostly as a means of speaking up over the voices that I could not seem to overpower in real life. It was a way for me to feel light and funny when in reality I had been rotting from the inside out. I was sick and I was desperate. I kept thinking, in case this doesn’t get better, in case I go, I want the truth to be known. I want someone to know the girl I’ve kept locked beneath my skin, and even if nobody reads it, I want to know that I had the guts to say it.

I didn’t expect any of you to find me, and I definitely didn’t expect the overwhelming support, praise and unwavering love from both the blogging community and my own community. I didn’t expect anybody to read paragraph after paragraph of what I had thought was merely rambling. I didn’t expect you to laugh, to cry, to cheer me on or push me forward. I didn’t expect all of you to launch me into reaching my full potential. But you have.

I expected to bleed, to cry, to scream. (Which is a damn good thing since there was plenty of that shit involved.) I did NOT expect to adapt, to heal. But I did. A year ago I was losing entire days to the white ceiling above my bed and entire nights to the insanity that beckoned to me to join it every moment. A year ago I was unhappy with my life, my body, and my lack of contribution to the world. A year ago, I didn’t expect to see today. But it’s here.

Not only has keeping this blog created friendships and rekindled old connections, given me perspective and strength, it also allowed me to see the changes in myself firsthand. It is a permanent reminder of my progress and the pain it took to arrive there. It showed me that for everything I missed out on, for every time I thought I had nothing to give, there was a time when I was present, there’d been a time when I’d had a victory, no matter how small it seemed.

I’m still unemployed and still occasionally feel like a useless drain to those around me, but here’s what accomplished while I was busy convincing myself that I was a useless drain:

– I quit smoking.

– I joined a kickboxing class, something I had never attempted before, in a room full of noise. I look forward to that class 2 days a week.

– I exposed my true, naked self, the one I feared and kept hidden. I love her.

– I shed 25 lbs and the vicious, self-loathing thoughts with it.

– I apologized, and I forgave.

– I committed to, and have been training my ass off for a Tough Mudder event.

I know there will still be dark days, and darker posts. I know that I will battle this condition for the rest of my life. I know these things, and yet I am fine with them. I am glad for them. The truth is, I wouldn’t be able to write what I do without the burden and the blessing of my experiences. I have grown to see beauty and wisdom beneath the cloak of pain, and I’m grateful for every moment I spend on this planet, even if those moments beat me black and blue. I’m grateful for every one of you who believed in me enough to follow, to share your own heartache, to comfort me in my own. You have all had a hand in giving me something to work for, to live for, to fight for.

Oh, and here’s the best thing about this year! I’ve finally done it. I’ve created something. And I think it’s pretty damn beautiful.