The Net: An Honest Conversation About the Holiday Season and Sadness

I’ve been staring at a blank screen for weeks. I’ve typed countless fragmented sentences wrapped in cheer, but none of them felt right. There was the pretty paper, and beneath it, boxes inside of boxes of nothing. I don’t get down like that, so I’m giving you guys something else; some real shit for the holidays.

I loved Christmas as a kid. Lights? The flickering ones, on the fastest possible setting before mom says I’m going to give someone a seizure. Music? That one song by Tom Petty where he sings about not wanting his relatives to kiss him at Christmas. Silly Tom Petty. Carolers? Stand there and sing to me FOREVER! Annual mass? Fuck yeah! (Kinda.)

The entire month of December was a visual smorgasbord. I can’t actually think of a happier string of days in my life, my only complaint being that more of my family liked ham more than turkey (some bullshit.) Perhaps that’s why this time of year has been the most difficult to handle for some time. Still, every December I wait in anticipation of the magic seeping into my skin so that I can have greens and golds.

I feel the sadness take hold beginning in October, but the days are still long enough to conjure up sweet visions of what joy would look like if it had a face. In November my brain is fighting, but my soul is undeterred. “Next Week. Next Week I’ll feel ready.” December comes and brings with it everything and nothing, and some wouldn’t believe it, but both are heavy.

The holidays are a painful time of year for a lot of us, for a myriad of reasons. It can be particularly lonely when we’re tripping over well wishes and brushing up against festive images of social connectedness. There’s also the expectation that everything should be peaceful and celebrated, gratitude glowing in every corner. I find it especially cruel that the time of year we feel the most numb is also the time of year that we most resemble broken records, saying things like “I’m great, thanks for asking.” and “Wonderful to see you!”

Small talk is called small talk for a reason, and the reason is that there is no room for genuine feelings inside of it. When they ask “what’s new?” I will tell them that there’s nothing too exciting. I will tell them this because there is no room for me to say

“I feel like shit. Well, kinda. I mostly don’t feel anything about anything, but, well, that’s pretty shit. It’s been 6 days since I had a shower, and more since I changed my clothes. I watched an entire season of Mad Men even though I knew that the stable version of myself would hate it, because getting up and choosing something else seemed exhausting. I’ve eaten nothing but Quaker Instant Oatmeal this entire week. There is dog hair all over my life. Sometimes I get a feeling or two and I can go somewhere, but talking to people is like driving with a flat tire. Possible, but not a great experience. I feel like the prisoner behind the glass, reaching, but unable to make contact, and all I have is this phone with which I send reassurance down the line. How can a person love life so much and still not be able to get out of bed?”

Fuck small talk, guys. Insincere conversation blows anyway. If nobody has asked you yet, I’m asking: Are you okay? Really okay? If not, that’s fine. Is there something that could be done to make it better?

Maybe for you, like me, it’s depression. Maybe you have suffered a loss and you’re grieving. Maybe you’re just unsure. Whatever it is, it’s okay to feel it (or not feel it.) Whatever it is, I know that bullshit clichés don’t remove the film that covers you. So what I will say is “Me too, friend.” What I will say is that I’m proud of you. Because it’s hard to feed the demand for happiness and stability when both are in short supply. Because you’re kick-ass and even if it doesn’t feel like it right now, it really is wonderful to have you here.

To anyone who is struggling quietly, you are very brave. Please know that being brave doesn’t also have to mean being alone. You may tell yourself that it’s not anybody else’s problem, that they didn’t sign up for this. Please remember that you are not just the space provided for another to write their name and volunteer their time. You are a jarring and magnificent example of what it means to be human. You walk that beam gracefully between two worlds and you balance so well, but if there were a net, would it be okay to fall?

Because there is a net. Sometimes it looks like mom, or a close friend. Sometimes it looks like a psychiatrist. Sometimes it sounds like collective voices saying “Hi, Karlee!” in a support group. Sometimes it sounds like the suicide hotline. And what it feels like? It feels like fear and sadness and frustration and utter relief. It feels like recovery.

If the net looks appealing for no other reason, consider this: I will never know what the inside of your fire looks like if you don’t stick around to walk through it. To write it, or paint it, or sing it. I’ll never know where the fire burned hottest, and that would be an incredible shame, because your story feeds my story and all of the great tales ever written.

This year I want to give my readers the gift of conversation instead of small talk. There is no better opportunity to call a loved one, to tell them you are thinking of them. To ask them if they are okay. There is no better opportunity to offer a hug or a smile or a meal. There is never a better time than RIGHT NOW to ask for help if you need it.

There is no shame in knowing that there are more ways to dig a grave than in the frozen ground. There is no dishonour in feelings that scare you silent. Most of all, it shows no weakness to give them up for the possibility of feelings like self love and happiness. For the realization that there is more to grass than mowing it.

If ever the wind whistles and threatens to blast you off course, and you’ve forgotten how to maneuver, forgotten to WANT to maneuver, Please don’t also forget that

There is a net.

If you or someone you care about is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK

For more information on suicide prevention, click here.

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.

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 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.

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For Those You Know and Those You Don’t

Having a blog is weird.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Keep the Change, Ya Filthy Animal

Sometimes I feel like I live in the spaces between my memories.

I catch myself telling the same stories over and over again, because they are the only form of magic that I know to be true. A memory can make a mundane day feel extraordinary in a matter of seconds. It’s the way I stroll down the aisle of a 7/11 and see a Mars bar, and there I am, 8 years old, hair sopping wet from swimming lessons. I’m strapped in to the back of my sister’s old Suzuki, She has the top off because it is an Indian summer and she knows I love the breeze. She is 18, and the Backstreet Boys echo through the wind. I feel limitless. And I’m eating a motherfucking Mars bar. Best day ever.

I see the Mars Bar, and I start to hum. It’s always the same. “I’ll never break your heart, I’ll never make you cry.” I smile at the thought of 8 year old Karlee resonating with those words. There is something so innocent and soft about that time. I don’t know if it’s because I  grew older or because I grew harder, but these magic moments seemed fewer and further between as time marched on.

I’m not complaining. These small pieces of time are vivid. They are real and they are colourful. The day I cease to remember them will be the day I lose sight of who I am, the very core of my being. I don’t want to forget the little girl with loose teeth and firm beliefs, because I need her. I need her to carry me through the things that I’m trying so desperately to forget, but cannot. I need to be able to remember what she would say about these dark things that take place in the tall shadows between the dusk and the night.

I’ve done what feels like a very terrible thing. I’ve taken this box off of one of the shelves in my brain, and in it are pictures of memories that I promised myself I would never look at again. I’ve always been aware of the presence of this box, because I am not sure I could ever truly hide it well enough never to think about it. However, in the number of years that it’s been sitting on the shelf, I have done a very fine job of ignoring it as if it did not exist.

I took the lid off of the box, and I stared at the images one by one. There I am, and there she is. But she doesn’t look like me. She looks different in a way that I do not have the words to describe. She looks sad in some, angry in others. For the most part, though, she just looks blank.This was not my life. I shuffled through the stack and became furious in a way that I haven’t been in a very, very long time. I was fucking pissed at myself. It was a pole frozen and glistening in a Canadian winter, and I had just stuck my tongue on the silver metal knowing full well what the consequences would be. How very masochistic of me.

I  feverishly and frantically arranged the pictures and put them neatly back in the box. The only problem was that the lid would not close. I rearranged, I pleaded, I screamed, I used every ounce of mental force I could muster to close the box, but it popped open defiantly and startled me every time. When it became clear that this could not be undone, I placed the lid neatly on top and moved as far away from the box as possible.

The problem is, they’re not just images anymore. What used to be fragments of a motion picture of a life that I did not recognize as my own started piecing themselves together in my dreams. The smell, the faces, the feelings, I know all of them. I remember them so well that it’s almost as if it happened yesterday. The thick shame and disgust is back and lingering over me like a fog that refuses to dissipate. It occupies every corner of my mind as if it is holding me hostage.

I keep asking “What do I do? What do I do with these images? What do I do with these feelings? How do I get rid of them?”

I keep receiving the same answer. “See them. Feel them.”

This answer is equal parts exasperating and satisfying. I’m in pieces, and I want a quick fix. I want to run. But the part of me that is capable of logical thinking knows that this is the right answer, and I have too much pride to move. I know that my only choice is to let the memories break me down until they become less terrifying, less shameful; until I am not bothered by their presence. Until my brain expands to welcome them as part of its chemistry and fuel to reach beyond the limitations that the box set so solidly in place.

I haven’t figured it out yet. I don’t know how long this is going to take. All I know is that there are Mars bars and loose teeth and clouds that look like sailboats moving across the sky with the wind.

“I’ll never break your heart, I’ll never make you cry.”

Taking Back October

I don’t really know how to explain this, but…

I fucking hate October, dudes. I hate it for a multitude of reasons that are not rational or reasonable. If October was a building, I would set it ablaze and watch while it turned to ash with a smug grin knowing that it would never rear its ugly head at me again.

You know, September is nice. The leaves begin to change and you can tread softly among them, still having enough of summer left inside of you to keep warm. September brings change, and with that changes comes routine. The school doors open and the radio blares, telling drivers to slow down to 30 km/h to protect our most precious investment. There are people in big, comfortable sweaters with beads of sweat on their foreheads because it’s still t-shirt weather, but they’d rather embrace autumn before it takes them by surprise. September is the month in which you can have a slurpee and a latte in the same day because the possibilities are infinite.

Then there’s October.

For most people, October means pumpkins and candles that smell like pumpkins. October means scarves and boots. October is the breath they allow to escape from their lips and watch it dance through the crisp evening wind. It brings screeching, healthy babies in delivery rooms and “Santa comes in 2 and a half months, mommy!” Yes, it would seem that there is a lot about October that is worth celebrating.

But I can’t bring myself to do that.

I can’t bring myself to do that because the October I see brings a bitter prairie wind to remind me that all that is living and vibrant will soon be no more. The leaves beneath my feet crunch, and I find myself strategically stepping over them because the sound isn’t a happy one; they’re fucking dead. October usually brings the first snowfall, and what’s wrong with that, you ask?  It’s a sloppy, wet, dirty snowfall. I don’t build snowmen or make angels or frolic about. The first snowfall is there to warn me of the silence that will soon take hold; a silence that I am never prepared for. Whatever is left standing is killed by October, and I’m left with the memory of what was. I’m Canadian, so October means thanksgiving, and thanksgiving means putting on my biggest, most comfortable sweater and my biggest counterfeit smile while I pretend that October didn’t kill me, too. I always plan what Halloween will look like, but I can never decide which monster inside of me would win the contest, so I end up avoiding it altogether.

How completely and utterly morbid, right?

Just around the corner looms winter, and I’m okay with winter, too. I become accustomed to the brisk air. I appreciate the rosiness that covers my cheeks and the end of my nose. I make my peace with the stillness and start to think about what was in a nostalgic manner, entertaining the idea of what will be again. I recognize the seasons as a delicate and necessary pattern, and I leave October behind, jumping on the train of possibility, the train of hope. So it goes, and so it goes.

I wanted this year to be different- I really did. I wanted to laugh so hard that everyone could see my gums. I wanted to smell a pumpkin spice candle and remember how much I love the odor without the sadness that lingers long after it is gone. I wanted to dance over the leaves and hear nothing but a beat to match the tune in my soul instead of the sound of voices breaking and bones cracking. Despite my best efforts, it hasn’t been easy. I still hear goodbyes, feel the tightness in my chest and see the wilted leaves.

But guess what? I’m here, right now, writing this. This is the first year that I’ve been able to tell you, and everyone else, what October means to me. This is the first year that I have allowed October to cut me open and bleed me out, dripping the words into the post I’ve just written. I have to believe that it’s the first step. (You know, if ya wanna get over it, go through it, yadadayayaya.) This is not my favourite month, and I don’t imagine that it ever will be, but maybe next year it won’t seem so lonely and hateful. Maybe this is my way of taking back October.

After all, there’s still 16 days left. Maybe October will surprise me.

The Post Without a Title

Today I want to talk about death: Wanting, waiting for, dreaming of death.

It’s morbid, I know. As much as I love to keep things light, I know I didn’t create this blog to roll in fluff and eat fun dip. I created it as an outlet for honesty, and sometimes that means getting down to the grittiest parts of what put my life in motion. So I’m going to talk about it.

I think, to some degree, we all question what death feels like. I can remember being about 6 and wondering if it would be painful, and if people would miss me. I remember wondering what would be waiting for me when I ceased to exist. I suppose the real difference between that time and now is that I no longer think about those things. I don’t wonder what lies ahead. Maybe it’s because I don’t know if I believe in any kind of afterlife. Maybe it’s because I just don’t care. I’ve never wanted revenge, or the satisfaction of knowing that the people who caused me pain would have to live with my memory. In the times that I’ve wished for death, I’ve only imagined it as slipping into a state of nothingness. Quiet.

Quiet: It’s what I long for more than anything. I think about it so often that I swear I can taste it. It doesn’t really make sense for a 22 year old girl to want that. I should crave the vibration of bass and squeals of delight and the dizzy chaos of being young. It’s not that I don’t wish to want those things. I do. I want to dream of freedom, recklessness, the feeling that time is on my side and that I can do with it what I please. But instead, always I wish for a sweet, endless silence. Every story has a theme, right? Well, this is it. And I figure that today is as good a day to share my story with you as any, so here goes nothing.

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This is me.

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Annnnd this is a far more accurate portrayal of what I look like in everyday life, without makeup and spectacular lighting.

It’s a bit difficult knowing where to begin in sharing all of this, but I am going to try to be as detailed as possible. For 20 years of my life, I was a curious, confident soul. This is not to say that I was without insecurity, because anyone who has followed my blog thus far knows that this is not the case. What I mean is that I was an open heart with a certain bullheadedness that was enough to power me through any darkness I would encounter. I liked myself, I relied on myself, and that was enough. In December of 2011, I started to feel differently.

I had just moved out of the city limits and settled into rural life with Sean, my fiance at the time. His work led him out of town, and I found myself alone a lot. I slept fitfully, until one night in particular when I could not fall asleep at all. A strange feeling came over me, a sudden desperation that I had never known. Anybody who knows me understands my unwavering hatred for housework of any kind, and yet, I found myself scrubbing walls, sweeping floors, rearranging clutter for hours until morning. I screamed and shook the entire time. This cycle continued for a week until I allowed myself to feel the weight of it, and I became frightened. Still, I kept quiet because I had no way of really understanding what it was that was happening, and I wouldn’t allow anybody to think that I was nutso.

The insomnia continued, and though I felt like a zombie, my mind was moving so swiftly that I couldn’t sit still. I’ve always had an active imagination, but I started to notice things that overwhelmed me. I would come home to a tap left running, the lights on, a television blaring, and things that had been moved from the places in which I had previously arranged them. I started to believe that I was being haunted by an evil entity. This made my nights alone more frightening and sleep became something I refused to consider. As the sun rose and set, the patterns of my behaviour became more erratic and took such a toll that people started to notice. Sean was concerned and suggested I see a doctor.

My experience with doctors and medical intervention in general had left me a bit sour, so at my first appointment I said something along the lines of “I feel weird.” She asked “Weird like how?” to which I responded “I’m not sure.” Part of me didn’t want anybody to know the extent of my symptoms, and I think I was more afraid of knowing what was happening than the fact that it was occurring at all. She pried out of me what she could, and I came away with some antidepressants and a small dash of hope. It couldn’t be that easy, could it?

Nope.

Soon afterward, I started to hear things. It started small at first. Have you ever walked in to a dinner party and heard the sounds of forks hitting plates and the hum of garbled conversation? It was a lot like that. I would hear it and it would be gone as fast as it started. It concerned me, but not enough to tell anybody. ( I mean, how in the name of Sandra’s virginity was I supposed to explain that?) However, it wasn’t long before I would be left without a choice in the matter. They came like whispers. 1, 2, 5 at a time. When a voice starts speaking to you, you don’t really question the blurred line between imagination and reality. You just answer. And I did. They were as real as any conversation I’d experienced, besides being quite nonsensical. Now, you can’t very well talk to yourself all day without other people noticing that you’re doing it, so the jig was up for me. Along with the voices came hallucinations. One episode was particularly vivid and ultimately ended my working life. I was a receptionist for an oilfield rental company, and my main job was answering the phone. As I hung up, I scratched the back of my head. When I pulled my hand back, I noticed that it was covered in a large clump of hair. The more I touched it, the more hair would appear. I started to scream and wail. By the time everybody had come from their offices to see what the fuss was about, the hair had vanished. My hands were clean. It was all still very much attached.

That was the day I realized that I was facing more than I was capable of dealing with on my own. My employer suggested taking a leave of absence until I was refreshed enough to return. Though I was grateful for their understanding, I was more humiliated in that moment than I had ever been in my entire life. There is something very soul-crushing about losing sight of what is real and what is an illusion. I didn’t understand how my state of being had plummeted so very far in such a short amount of time. A deep depression sunk in, and while I’d been sad before, this was a different ball of wax. How would I tell people of my experience when simply thinking about it made my insides burn? How would I keep a positive attitude while I was constantly tortured by the very tool necessary to maintain it?

I want to tell you that it got better, and that it wasn’t long before I returned to my bubbly, personable self. But wouldn’t be the truth. That day led me on a journey, alright. A journey of psychiatrists and diagnoses and medication that I couldn’t pronounce. A journey of darkness and the nasty backlash that comes about when fighting with oneself.

That brings me back to the theme that began this post. Wanting, wishing for, dreaming of death. Of nothingness. Of quiet. See, I just don’t have the luxury of peaceful moments anymore. There they are, in my head, talking, talking, always talking. I had always thought that at 22, I’d have a healthy fear of death. I thought I would be drinking in every experience within reach before the sand ran out. At the very least, I didn’t imagine that I would think much about death at all. Not like this. But I promised myself honesty and total disclosure, and here it is. I felt that this post was important to write for 2 reasons: 1) I know that there are A LOT of people walking around thinking about this. The circumstance might be different, the feelings may vary, but the idea of death consumes many lives. I want anybody who stumbles across this post to know that they are not alone. That they are not selfish, ungrateful aliens. 2) If I’ve learned one thing fighting the grip of mental illness, it’s that what I think and feel is not always accurate. I cannot always trust those thoughts and feelings to be fact. And because of that, I know that it is unwise to make a decision, especially one so permanent, under the influence of deep pain.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t believe in God. Some people ask “If you don’t believe in God, what is the incentive to get through this?” Here’s my answer: I DO think it is important to believe in something. I think faith is a key component in overcoming any obstacle. For me, it’s about where I choose to place that faith, and right now, it belongs in myself. I believe in tomorrow. And on days when I can’t believe in tomorrow, I believe in yesterday. Yesterday held a lot of great moments, and even more importantly, it held a lot of mind-numbing, shitty ones. And despite those shitty days, the sun rose again, with new possibility. So maybe today is hard. Maybe today I don’t know if I can hold out. But I just can’t cheat myself out of the possibility of a better tomorrow.

And that journey I mentioned? It’s also been a journey of self-acceptance, of understanding, of patience. I may not be whole, but my character has so much more depth because of it.

I want everyone out there to know that it’s okay to feel beaten down and defeated. It’s okay to have moments in which you feel small and insignificant. Life is going to hand them out like tootsie rolls on Halloween. It’s OKAY not to know what to do next. But whatever you do, however you feel, don’t CHOOSE this feeling. If today you are given the option to feel even a small dose of happiness, always choose to feel it. Don’t let yourself forget what it’s like because you are so used to feeling sadness, or because you don’t feel that you deserve it. I want you to know that you do. Please remember that most battles last for years. Remember that there will be blood and tears. But most of all, remember a time before the battle began. Let it guide you through the haze and the smoke and allow you to believe that there will be a time when the battle will cease.

Now that you know my struggle, maybe you could tell me about yours. For as unimportant as you may feel, I want to offer you friendship and hope. I want to support you. I believe in YOUR tomorrow. I can’t promise that my words will heal. I can’t promise you prosperity. But I CAN promise you compassion and support. So what do you say? You can find me here, on Twitter, or on Facebook. I’ll be posting at least once a week to talk. To talk about what made that week difficult, and what made it bearable. I’m going to talk about progress, or lack-thereof. I’m going to talk about the other useless things that filled the cracks. If you would like to join me, just click the follow button.

I love all of you. Thank you for taking the time to read my story. Though it was painful to write, I’m so glad for the opportunity. And if you should choose to share yours with me, I hope that it’s as cathartic for you.