The Accidental Addict (Revisited)

I haven’t said it here yet, because I didn’t want to start something I didn’t intend to follow through with.

I stopped taking my medication. I know what you’re going to ask next, and that’s “Are you sure?” The answer is a definite yes. See, I’ve been fighting this battle for 2 and a half years now, and I’ve tried what must be dozens of antipsychotics, anti-anxieties, antidepressants and sleeping meds. Though they came with their fair share of side effects, I have not been fortunate enough to find a combination that came close to eliminating the voices that ring through my ears 24/7.

Haloperidol. Seroquel. Effexor. Olanzapine. Lamotrigine. Latuda. Ativan. Risperdal. Abilify. Wellbutrin. Zopiclone. Clomipramine. Clonazepam. Temazepam. Doxepin. Trazodone. Mirtzapine. Paxil. These are some of the bottles than can still be found in my cupboards, my purse, my car. These are just some of the medications that went from hand to mouth before my brain ever entertained how much might be too much.

It started innocently enough. My skin would feel as if it might shake right off of my bones, and I’d shake the bottle into my palm to produce a chemical acceptance that my brain could not manage on its own. 1, 2, 3 ,4. These pills don’t help me anymore. 5, 6, 7, 8. Something calming when it’s late. 9, 10, 11, 12. Further inward I will delve. I took the tabs, the capsules, the pills because they were prescribed to me, and I took this to mean they were not dangerous.

Before I knew it, I’d gained 30 lbs and absolutely no peace of mind. I didn’t feel sadness, but I didn’t feel happiness, either. I felt absolutely nothing, and anything heavier than nothing was enough weight to make me crumble. I lost weeks to the cracks in the ceiling and months to the sound of that beautiful rattle.

It didn’t occur to me that I might have a problem, not once. All I knew was that I felt terrible, I hated my reflection, and these goddamn circular demons sliding down my throat and coursing through my veins were the only thing that brought me any relief. 25. 50 mg. When the medication would stop working, I was given another pill and for a while life would be tolerable. I knew they wanted me to live, and at the time this was the only way that I felt that I could do it.

Up until a month ago, I was taking a grand total of at least 19 pills daily, (at least 9) of these belonging to the benzodiazepine family. You have your math right. I was taking at least 9 pills to sleep for (maybe) 3-6 hours per night. In retrospect, I should have been alarmed the first time the number registered in my mind. I should have been alarmed that this number had increased by 14 in the last year, but I wasn’t. More. More. More.

A little late, I found myself at a crossroads. Find another route or die here. All 19 of these failed to give me the relief I needed, the acceptance that was vital to my recovery and the self-esteem required to keep slugging it out. Somehow I had become even more miserable than I was when I’d started, and this was an overwhelming truth considering that I had spent the last 2 and a half years trying to combat this misery. A little late, I realized that I was the only one who could truly save me. No amount of scribbled prescriptions was going to write my story, and I could not count on anyone, even someone with a medical to degree to tell me the truth about myself.

So, here I am. I stopped the last 9 pills 9 days ago, and I have experienced severe withdrawal. All 9 of these pills were benzos, and I quit them abruptly. As a result, I am going on day 9 of physical pain and sickness like I have never before experienced. It’s hard for me to write this, because I like to think that I know my limits. I try to operate within the boundaries of safety and I make an effort every day to live the truth I speak here. I would like to think that I am reasonable and rational, that I am above this type of dependence. That just wouldn’t be the truth. There are a lot of people I would like to blame, but I know that this is, and has really always been up to me.

For now, my mind is even. With each day that brings pain, I am glad for it, because I haven’t felt anything so real since the winter of 2011. I am researching all of my options and feeling good about the future, though it is uncertain. I am in therapy and making all of the reparations I can for the sake of my mental health. I’m learning all that I can about my body, nourishing and exercising it so that my mind has the best chance at being clear. There are no guarantees that I will be able to live free of medication, I know that. I also know that there are other methods, there are other choices and they are all worth a shot. I have scared the hell out of myself enough to know that living this lifestyle is completely reckless and will ultimately lead me to my grave. I feel confident in my newly attained knowledge and I sit with it knowing that I will never stumble blindly down this path again.

Here’s what I want all of you to understand: This cycle was a drastic one, and I absolutely don’t recommend it to anyone, especially without being under the watchful eye of a trusted psychiatrist. Please know that stopping your medication can bring just as many consequences and can be just as dangerous. Don’t blindly follow me, because that’s exactly what I’m getting at here; you should not be led blindly into ANYTHING regarding your well-being. Research the fuck out of your diagnosis, then research others that are similar. Read up on your medication and understand the benefits as well as the side effects. Know your body and enough about your family history to aid in finding the one that may be right for you. Seek a psychiatrist that you feel safe enough to be honest with, because they can only help that which they are aware of. Trust yourself enough to walk away from anything that brings you pain of any kind.

1, 2, 3, 4. I’m anxious so I’ll count some more.

5, 6, 7, 8. It feels so good to concentrate.

To learn more about prescription drug abuse, visit www.ccsa.ca.

**Update: A few days ago, I went on a bit of a manic deleting spree. This post was actually written on some unremarkable day in June. In the months between that day and the 29th of October, I experienced a great deal of clarity. I did so much. I felt so much. The summer was dry, but life was in bloom inside of me. The withdrawal was hell, but my grasp on life had never been stronger. I am extremely proud of that run. However, as you probably guessed, it did not (and perhaps could not) last. It came on like that one phrase in a very popular John Green novel that levitated off of the page and made a home in the folds of my mind. “Slowly, and then all at once.” I noticed that the descent was less traumatic this time, but in some ways it was also more difficult. I had so many good days in a row, and it felt like if I could only be brave enough, I could defy gravity. Coming down from a high like that, a high so natural…Let’s just say it’s a real fucking bummer. It became apparent that I would need help again, and though logically I understand that there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with this, I was pissed the hell off. For about a week, medication and I have been rekindling a familiar romance, but we are wiser this time. When I have episodes, I like to do something I should never, ever do. I read my blog. And because I believe that I am more sophisticated in that moment than any other moment that’s happened evereverever, I am left in disgust at how terrible my past work seems. This post in particular was an awful trigger. Explaining the feeling I had when I read it would be a lengthy process, but in short it felt like standing in front of a filing cabinet full of knowledge and anger while the drawers flew open and hit me in the mouth repeatedly as punishment for speaking. I swore I could taste blood. When Sean came home to help me adjust, I told him what I had done. The conversation went like this:

Sean: NO! Which ones?!

Karlee: I can’t really remember, But I know ‘The Accidental Addict’ is gone.

Sean: NO! Oh my GOD! 

His hands flew up to his face. He was in a complete panic. It alarmed me a great deal, but in a twisted way I was very flattered. I had gotten this idea that he kinda had to read what I wrote as spousal obligation, but in that moment I noticed that he was legitimately freaked out that these thoughts had disappeared. When he came up for air, he said both the most encouraging and heartbreaking words he has uttered to date: “I’m sorry. These posts are my photo albums.” He explained that they were so good and so me that he could not stand their sudden removal, and that when he needs to he travels back to those times, even if those times don’t feel all that relevant in the grand scheme of things. I felt loss lodge itself in my throat as I remembered that I probably couldn’t recover it while also realizing that I was not in any kind of position to write it again. Luckily,  Sean is the kind of guy who is so serious about my happiness that he dissects and uses everything I write as an opportunity to make things more stable for me. Which means he had it saved along with every single fucking one I’ve ever written. What a guy, right?! I’m about to click ‘publish’ and resurrect the post from the digital trash. It may not have been the crystal ball that I had planned it to be, but it happened, it was important, and it was so very lovely to catch a glittering glimpse of what would visit, but could not stay.

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.

A Bee Wouldn’t Fly Without the Flowers Below.

This morning I woke up and felt like a complete and total failure.

I keep waiting for the days to stretch out into a melody of happiness, where my attitude doesn’t have to be “one day at a time.” I’m finally starting to grow into myself. My hands are sure and strong where before there was a hesitant shakiness when I dared to reach for anything. I can feel vines weaving themselves through my fingers and I know that there is progress, growth. I stand, arms outstretched to meet it, but my brain is the barrier between us.

I think we’re conditioned to want everything at once, and I don’t think this struggle is exclusive to the mentally ill. We are only physically capable of accomplishing so much before we collapse in exhaustion, but the mind doesn’t tire. Even with our eyes closed, we’re still sitting in front of a picture show of want. A yearning to have more, do more, to BE more. It is somehow both beautiful and torturous, like almost every delicious bite we take knowing that soon we will have finished and must wait to taste something that delectable again.

I wonder, though, if those moments would feel so idyllic if we knew that they would never end. I had a dream the other night, about the vines wound through fingers, winding around my arms. I felt roots spilling from my heart, anchoring me to the ground. My shoulders sprouted wings, and I suppose the whole mystery of the dream was how I could possibly have both.

See, I think I need roots. I need to know where I came from, who I’ve been and all the hands that have taken their turn in shaping me. I need these roots so that when the storm blows in, and it will, I will remain steadfast and wait for the winds to set down my branches. I need these roots so that when I awaken to the wreckage in front of me, I will know that I am the mightiest tree, and I will grow again. My leaves will sprout with beauty and with wisdom, and I will watch the cycle in front of me in awe.

But I also need wings. I think that the wings represent my mind, my imagination. The ability to be anyone, anywhere doing anything. When the scenery becomes dull, I can fly away on a passing thought and live in any vessel I please. These wings are important because they will always carry me back to my tree, to the roots, where perhaps I will have realized that

this was where I was supposed to be all along.

 

The Rules (and Other Bullshit We Buy Into)

I just saw something that blew my mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.)