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.”

The Prize and a Handful of Pocket Change

Love is complicated.

It makes you breathe faster, it makes your palms sweatier, it makes you hum songs that used to make you sick. There is no bigger high than to feel lips against your lips, a fit of lust, admiration, maybe both. Of course, like all things, it makes even the radio impossible. It makes you wish that you had kept more of a barrier between yourself and the fire.

Retrospect is funny. It’s like your brain catalogued every intimate moment you’ve ever had and presents itself to you in your weakest form. If people claim to have died at the hands of love, I believe it. To watch love die is one thing, but to watch it go up in smoke against your will is entirely another. The kind of sorrow that love brings can only be matched by other chains, other forms of love. Sometimes I think that this is the only thing that can truly hurt us.

To remain upbeat in a world full of starvation and bullets and fire is a feat, especially if you can make it out without the cloak of guilt hanging over you. There are so many questions that need answers, but I often wonder if people would be satisfied with the truth. We create our own realities, tiny images on the big screen of tradition and history. Still, I wonder if there’s more I could have done. I didn’t ask to be born in one of the most beautiful, free countries in the world, so why me? Is there a point in asking this question at all? $3.00 a day seems meager and easy in comparison to what I imagine that those who are caged in their own circumstance might feel, what every day behind their eyes is worth.

On days like today, when I am unsure of my place and my power in the world, I write. I bleed. This is the only outlet I know that welcomes my complete and whole self. This is my sanctuary, my home, and my strength. A word can make all the difference between a beautiful song and a mundane statement. I don’t have a real ending for this post, all I have is my thoughts. I think, for once, that’s enough.

L Is For The Way You..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet Little Lies

It’s been a minute.

I apologize for the very small amount (none) of posts for the month of February, but lately I’ve been feeling a bit like an onion. Layers of my being have been torn off, and I have been dealing with the frosty breeze of truth against my new and tender skin. It sounds like a pretty lame excuse, but it took a lot of out of me. I would sit down to write and instead of the words I desperately needed to bleed, all that my imagination could give me were dancing hams.

I’ve talked a ton about self-esteem and the importance of identity, but life has a funny way of making you live up to the words that you say, and that’s what this month has been about. I sat down one day and tried to come up with a list of my attributes, and for reasons I still don’t understand, I couldn’t come up with any. When I finally stirred up one or two I could be sure of, my mind would always stop me before I wrote them in ink. It seemed so permanent, so final as if it were being carved into my skin where I would never be able to cover it. My mind would override my hands with doubt and I would be less convinced that I had any attributes to speak of. That page is still very much blank.

I’ve had the time to mull it over, and I have come to the conclusion that my identity, my core being is not at all what I thought it was. For an extensive period of time now, my soul has been neatly wrapped in a tight and unforgiving plastic. I used to assume that this was the fault of other people, but I can’t go on believing that, because it wouldn’t be the truth, would it? No, this plastic is so tightly wound that it would have taken total cooperation from my soul for it to be possible. This is how I know that the culprit is and has always been me.

When Eleanor Roosevelt said “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent,” she was bang-fucking-on. People will lie to you all day long. They will tell you that you don’t have the guts, the balls or the ovaries to do what it takes. They will tell you that you don’t deserve it, so you shouldn’t want it, shouldn’t chase it. They will tell you that your best will never be enough. Sounds daunting, right? I thought so, too. If I’m truthful, I didn’t ever think I’d get ahead of those people and their chatter, and so I stayed amongst them for fear of the walk of shame, the fear of failure, the fear of coming up empty.

Here’s the catch:

People will lie to you all day long. They’ll tell you that George Michael was in NKOTB. They’ll tell you that you won’t hurt yourself jumping off of a balcony. They’ll tell you that kale chips taste just like the real thing. If you went about your life blindly believing these things, where would you be? Well, you could be in a full body cast, eating a single kale chip before you violently spit it out, watching a television special on WHAM. And you will realize that they were wrong, they were wrong about everything. After that you will be slapped with the harsh reality that trusting this information lies with you and you alone. You realize that it was your mistake, and that’s worse.

The lies start as soon as we are able to communicate, when we absorb the actions, the words, the personalities of other people in order to develop our own. We don’t even see the bars of the prison we’re in until we realize that there is more on the other side, until we understand that success, beauty and skill is all relative. The prison is all of the misguided notions we carry about ourselves, the doubt that crushes our ambition and the mirror that makes us repulsed by our own reflection. The upside is that this prison is unlocked, should we make the choice to walk towards freedom.

I’ve realized that I have been walking around under the weight of lost hope and the barriers that keep me from progress, and it’s not anybody’s fault. The blame is on me for letting the words of other people under my skin instead of the burn of desire and the hunger to grab hold of it. What’s troubling is that I still feel fear for letting the lost hope, the barriers float away like a leaf in the midst of an autumn gust. I feel fear because I have no idea who I am without those familiar footholds to stand in. If I let go of all that is weighing me down, I might be lifted, I might be happy. It’s strange and funny that I fear greatness and success over mediocrity, but I think this is true for most people.

So here I am, peeled down to my core, stripped naked. It feels tragically hopeless and liberating all at once. However, I am thinking of myself like the onion. I am bare, but this is the nourishment that I have to offer. This is the flavour I bring to the lives of other people. This is my shot to contribute something unique to the world. Though there will always be people who wrinkle their nose at me, there are plenty who are willing to spread me around their lives and become entangled in mine.

Bitter and beautiful; that’s how I like it.

PS. I played “Careless Whisper” throughout the entire duration of this post.

Are you there, Ann Landers? It’s Me, Karlee.

Did you guys see the movie ‘Detachment?’

If not, you should check it out. I found the film to be more than interesting. Sad and difficult to watch, yes, but very important. There are a lot of things that I don’t want to imagine, but it is imperative that that I imagine them so that I don’t become blinded by my own reality.

And I am. There are days when I become so lost in my pain that I feel as if I am the only person bleeding. But more often than not, I see it. I see it in others. It’s endlessly interesting to me to see the measures that people will take to preserve their hearts- almost to the point of never letting anybody see them again.

And that’s one thing I’ve just never been able to grasp, man. I have been told throughout my life that wearing my heart on my sleeve is unwise. And maybe it is, but I just can’t let myself get there. I mean, what are we here for if not to enjoy and help the people we landed here with? Sometimes I feel that if I don’t pass my love onto other people that I’m going to overflow. Some would look at my personality like a whore in a revolving door, but I would consider myself a majestic fountain.

I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. I don’t believe in karma. I don’t believe that there is a force of good that chooses to ignore us or to smile upon us. But I do believe in making the best of it while we’re here, and that means lending a hand or an ear or a heart.

And yes, occasionally I lend them to people who don’t deserve the charity. I’ve cried, looked in the mirror, saw the size of my pores, and cried harder. I’ve actually thought about punching someone in the vag.

But I never pull up my sleeves.

Because there are people out there who do deserve it. There are people who speak and love and give. It’s these people I remember- not the peckers that screwed me over. I don’t want to be detached. I want to feel. I want to feel everything.

Take It From Me

I said in a previous post that I wouldn’t be much help in providing sound advice for young girls about to enter high school. I think I said something along the lines of “I sucked shit at it,” which is true. However, I did make it through relatively unscathed, so I figured I would offer what little information I found to be universally true:

First, let me cover the wardrobe thing: I reject the concept of dress codes. I am of the opinion that fashion is a form of art and I encourage all young people to create. However, you must understand that if your skirt is higher than Willie Nelson at Woodstock, people are gonna scope out your goods on the stairs. Undergarments are a good idea if you don’t want to be known as the girl with the vagina.

Remember when your mother said that Tommy was rude to you because he liked you? I’m here to tell you that while it may be true, it is also a pile of steaming horse shit. You do not have to accept anything less than decency from anyone that you interact with. There is a difference between keeping someone on their toes and being a total dick fart.

There are going to be folks that try to intimidate you simply because there is an imaginary hierarchy in high school and they think they are at the top. It is a natural situation and it will occur in many areas of life, but you do not have to abide by these “laws” simply because they are there. You have the right to be treated fairly, so ruffle some feathers and make some noise. Chances are good that these people only talk down to you because it works.

Clubs and activities are not lame. If you want to play chess, fucking play chess, okay? Whoop some chess ass. Nobody is too good to do things that they enjoy. And for Christ sake, quit doing things that you don’t like simply because your peers deem them to be socially acceptable. You’ll regret that shit later on.

Understand that this is not forever. I know that it seems like a helluva long road, and it is, but you’ll be better for the experience. A high school education is worth more than what you absorb in class. You’re going to learn what it is that you want. Emotionally, academically, athletically, sexually. You’re also going to have a better understanding of what it is that you DON’T want out of life. Don’t phone it in. Some days are going to be harder than others, but it is important that you stick it out, because the only thing worse than entering high school is leaving without anything to show for all of your scars.

Lastly, I want to say that it’s alright to be unsure of who you are. Everyone keeps telling you to remain true to yourself, right? Well, that’s really important. However, there’s a lot of factors that make up your entire being, and you’re going to notice that those factors grow and change and some of them may even disappear. I still have no fucking idea who the fuck Karlee is. (I spent a portion of my life believing that I would be a ventriloquist. Then R.L Stine ruined everything. I was pretty lost.)  Whatever happens, don’t be discouraged- self discovery will be your life’s journey.

You’re gonna be alright, kid. Take it from me.