I can’t imagine my life without her and I don’t want to but as she sleeps in my bed as I write this, the tears inevitably fall because soon I know I will have to reconcile this idea – that she won’t be by my side forever. Of course I knew this and am no stranger to grief having lost my father at the ripe age of fifteen to lung cancer, yet somehow I always imagined her invincible or some form of celestial magic. Harmony is magic and celestial because she is a guardian angel sent to save me from myself.
When I first moved to a new city for the first time (the summer going into Grade 7) I did not adjust or adapt like most kids. I completely shut down but I was always too proud and empathetic to ever let this show in public and even most cases even in front of my family. Looking back, that year was the first indication of my struggle with mental illness. I would come home from school having been bullied most the day and came home to my sanctuary – my room – the one place I could safely explode into fits of what seemed like never ending tears. I would literally draw all the blinds so it would be as dark as possible, crawl into bed, and emotionally decompress, holding the one thing, the only thing that kept me holding on while my world felt like it was coming apart.
That thing was and has been for seventeen years my companion, my baby, my light, and sometimes the only reason I would push on days I felt suicidal – not ever wanting to leave her behind without my affection. My cat Harmony is a piece of magic sent to me who saved my life. She gave me a reason to go on, her presence something to look forward to after a long day of putting on a front and battling the demons in my head that I was and will never be good enough.
Harmony sat with me and kept me company the long manic nights studying til 4 am in high school. She would occasionally sit on my textbook reminding me she was there. She was present when I was manic, but also when I was depressed and extremely low. She would crawl under my arms arranging herself as my teddy bear for the sixteen hour stints I would stay in bed, immobilized by my troubled and racing mind.
She was a constant source of comfort in a world where I felt very alone and misunderstood. She understood that some days I wanted to play, we would chase each other play fighting cause FYI my baby is sassy like me. But she seemed to really understand the days when I needed to rest from the demons in my mind, letting me cry into her fur, dampening it with my tears. She’s always there, never far behind, always by my side. I mean literally the poor girl has some attachment issues, and never leaves my radius unless forced to by my temporary absence from home.
I like to say she’s “needy” when she gets on my nerves smothering me with kisses and head butts in moments where I’m irritable and want to be left alone. As I just finished writing that previous sentence, I felt a pang of shame that I ever had resented certain moments of her affection I’m realizing now – are and were fleeting. I thought I had learned that lesson harshly at a young age and would never forget it, “life is fleeting.”
I think I got comfortable and took for granted her life span because she’s always been so vivacious, spunky and “full of life” (for lack of a better term). She has an infectious energy that most people, even those who hate cats, notice and comment on. I can’t count the amount of times someone has met Harmony and exclaimed “She’s not like most cats! She’s so affectionate and chill.” She has a lot of love to give and has primarily given it to me for that I am so thankful. She chose me, literally. I love recounting this story but I did not technically choose Harmony. She chose me. She instinctively knew I needed her and would be able to provide what I was missing – unconditional love.
I went to the Humane Society to pick a kitten to adopt after begging and emotionally manipulating my mother into the idea. I wanted a pet of my own and felt I deserved, no needed, a companion. I approached the cage with the only three kittens available in the centre and exclaimed, “I want the grey stripped one!” I always preferred that colour of coat on cats. I was immediately deflated when the lady showing the kittens said, “sorry, that one was just adopted! I haven’t even had time to put the “adopted” tag up yet. I’m so sorry but the other two are available.”
She nudged me towards the cage and I looked forlornly at what I deemed “the rejects” in my young mind and cursed my constant bad luck for not getting there sooner. As I looked from the calico to the tan-and-white kitten, and back again, I grew slightly frustrated wondering whether I should wait until more kittens came in or “settle.” I was pondering these thoughts when the calico pushed her face against the cage aggressively and pushed her paw at me as if she was trying to reach and grab me. She meowed this aggressive, high-pitched, almost desperate meow that my heart just stopped and responded to. I smiled and said, “can I see that one?”
The lady brought her to the back room for me to meet and play with for a bit. I did not know it then but I was meeting for the first time, the other part of my soul. Harmony would carry me through my darkest days and remind me why it’s important to open your heart. And every time I gave too much of it away and was let down, she sat with me and soothed my bruised ego. She passed days, sometimes months, and occasionally years, keeping me company until I felt healed and was ready to try again.
Things you need in life rarely come in the packages you expect. Harmony is the light, the light that reminded me I do not need to stay in the darkness.
After my first manic psychosis, I was left dejected and heartbroken. I had worked towards an undergraduate degree at Carleton University, double majoring in Art History and English with a minor in Psychology, for three years and mentally shit the bed so to speak as I was about to finish my fourth and final year. I put all, literally all my effort into accomplishing this goal my entire life (I wish I was exaggerating for it’d be less embarrassing and shameful) – the goal of earning a University degree. Every action, every thought I took especially while at Carleton was premeditated to lead to accomplishing this goal and to set up the course for a subsequent masters and ph.d. Academia has always been something I excelled at and where I felt the most comfortable. I never once questioned my ability to succeed in that environment until I was in the wake of my first very serious break with reality.
As the antipsychotics and mood stabilizers coursed through my system as I came down from the scariest experience in my life – a manic induced psychosis, during which I experienced grandiose delusions and visual, as well as auditory hallucinations – my mind progressively slowed to the point I thought it was stalling out. Memorizing facts and making meaningful connections between various academic content was suddenly unfathomable. The thing I excelled at my whole life was threatened as what I can only compare it to with the neurotransmitters in my brain struggling to connect and seemingly degenerating. I stared at my books trying to study and could not even process a sentence on the page as it distorted into fragments and mocked me. I was genuinely terrified and decided to return back home with the thought that if I couldn’t finish my fourth year strong and at the top of my class like usual, fuck it, I wasn’t going to finish at all. I felt brain dead and any form of concentration became a foreign concept. I believed and convinced myself for years after, my psychosis had caused brain damage and I could no longer in fact “learn.”
I slipped into a depressive coma for years where I accepted this as the new norm, that my brain was damaged and it would never function as highly as it did prior to my manic psychosis. I was also during this time abusing drugs which fed the depression even more. I became stuck on these thought loops, “You’re not good enough,” “You’re not smart enough,” “You invested all your life into something just to fall short at the very end,” “You have no potential or follow through,” “You’re worthless.” These thoughts were like the news cycle, pervading my brain on a twenty-four hour cycle. Eventually I had had enough. I decided to experiment with sobriety as a way to increase my mood thinking this would be the first step to changing my life around. And I had never been more right in my entire life for addictions counselling led to me not only quitting drugs but changing my life around to the point I’m making a comeback (still in the process but it’s been initiated).
I explained to my counsellor a very real goal of mine was to attempt school again but this time instead of University, I wanted to give college a shot more specifically the graphic design program at Niagara College. She asked what was stopping me and I explained how my brain seemed to unravel after my first manic psychosis. I went on to recall my issues with memory and concentration at the time and how my failed attempt at finishing my degree led me to believe I can no longer learn or grasp new ideas. I genuinely believed I was brain damaged. She was the first person to equate my psychosis to a trauma and explained how memory in the brain is affected by trauma. She assured me I had the potential to learn and when I was trying to finish my studies originally and failed it was a unique situation since my brain had just endured massive stress. She explained and it was quite comforting, “Your brain just needed time to heal. Your brain needed time to recover.”
And recover, is what I slowly began to do. I started to prove to myself I was capable of learning again. I had to trick myself into believing it once again and I respond the most to empirical evidence so I enrolled in two graphic design courses at the college part time to test the waters so to speak. I told myself If I managed to simply pass these courses I would consider re-evaluating all the negative views bombarding my brain, false beliefs about my potential or rather lack thereof to learn. I proved myself wrong in the best possible way. I did not merely pass but aced those courses and showed an affinity and skill for something I had never considered before – the field of graphic design. A flashback of a conversation with my high school guidance counsellor came to resonate. She shuffled her papers and looked at my applications for University and looked at me genuinely confused. “You’ve applied to three of the more difficult Journalism programs. I understand you are an excellent writer but based off your art I’ve seen, I just assumed you’d pursue that?” I replied, “I love art but you can’t make a career out of it,” shrugging her off and letting go of a conversation that in hindsight should have sunk in further.
The two courses I took were more hands on and I began to think “sure, I can handle this but when it comes time to design digitally I’ll be royally fucked and then this delusion of turning to graphic design as an alternate route for my life will officially blow up.” I had a deep anxiety when it came to pursuing graphic design because of the digital aspect of it. I have very limited experience with computers and zero experience using software designers use like Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop and INDesign. I decided it was now or never to learn these skills or fail at them and bail out of the program before I got too far ahead of myself. I enrolled in one of the harder graphic design courses, following my success with the two courses before, called digital art in which students are exposed to the three main Adobe programs I mention above for the first time (however, most students already come into the program with experience in this software). I was extremely nervous because I felt like this was the ultimate test whether I was meant to pursue this diploma seriously or not. I realize now that was a lot of pressure to put on a course, however, I am delighted to say (spoiler alert) I ended up acing this course too, even more so than the initial ones I took.
Taking Digital Art, or rather “Digital Technology,” opened my eyes to the possibilities of not only the strong likelihood of pursuing this field as a career but also opened my mind. It proved to me I could not only learn new skills, but challenging technical ones to boot, I never dreamed I could. I owe my newfound passion of graphic design to my digital technology teacher who taught in a very straightforward and accessible manner. He was always on standby for any questions (whether they seemed insignificant or silly) and encouraged discovery in the design process but more importantly the discovery of self. He was kind enough to take the time to do some one-on-one video conferences with me (as I’m pursuing this diploma online currently due to covid restrictions) and stressed to me, “put yourself into your work. Show who you are through your designs and the more you include of yourself the better, that will give you an edge. That will make you stand apart from other designers.” I commented, “I was scared I was putting too much of myself in my designs actually,” to that he replied, “You can never put enough of yourself and it will make what you create more authentic and meaningful.” I will always carry this conversation in my mind in my future design endeavours and try to remember the importance and value of inserting your beliefs and values into your design.
My favourite program to work with is Adobe illustrator in terms of graphic design, however, I discovered I am extremely proficient in Photoshop and InDesign as well. The assignment that my instructor had us do for Digital Technology 2 (I completed the first course and then completed the second part!) will always stand out to me as a life changing assignment (not only because of the technical skills learned but because of the opportunity to express my values through my design). Our teacher laid out a “cookbook assignment” in which we were to design a cookbook with ten recipes or rather layouts. We were to include a cover page, a back page, a inside cover page, a table of contents and ten spreads (with pictures and content) using the program InDesign which until that point I was starting to like the least out of all the programs we were learning. I thought the idea of a cookbook was boring and always hate the idea of doing the exact same thing as the other students in my class. So I emailed my teacher and pitched an idea that I created a book more in line with my values and interests. I asked to layout a book with ten unique spreads on ten different mental health topics taken from popular blogs or articles. He loved the idea and appreciated my passion. I took the go ahead and designed what would become my favourite project I have ever completed to date (including and counting the three years of University which had a lot of cool projects, don’t get me wrong). It resonated with me because I was able to apply design to a topic that interests me and where my true life’s passion stems from – mental health.
I titled the book “10 Perspectives Through The Lens of Mental Health.” Inside you would find a brief bio about me the designer (picture included below), ten spreads on various mental health topics ranging from post-grad blues or depression, to letting go of negative people, (my own seamless self-promotion of my blog post “Sever The Tie, Let That Shit Go”) to signs warning of suicide. The book was a compilation of topics in the mental health world I find interesting or pertinent. I also wrote a poem summarizing the intent of the book’s creation to appear as the back cover. The poem is as follows:
It was refreshing to not only have an assignment I was genuinely interested in but showed me the capacity of design to create beautiful and meaningful things. I gradually learned more and more skills and found nearly every assignment in this course to have value. I designed an “ad lyric” for a magazine editorial spread assignment in which I took the lyrics from my favourite band of all time, Canadian band “Stars” and visually portrayed some of my favourite lyrics from “Dead Hearts” with a heart design I created inspired by the song (Pictured below). I had the joy of printing this design onto a hoodie at a local print shop and seeing my design come to life! It’s now my favourite hoodie and quite comfy too! I designed a heart being gripped by a hand on top of a heart beat flatlining. I thought this flatline was clever as the lyrics are about “dead hearts.”
Learning the technical aspects, the digital side of design gave me the confidence to start exploring ideas and new designs on my own accord without the guidance or pressure of class assignments. This is when I realized graphic design is more than a career choice but a passion because I genuinely love it and the process of bringing an idea into a completed concept/design. I also see graphic design everywhere I go. I notice the designs on beer cans, advertisements in grocery stores, billboards, etc. I reflect on whether these are effective designs, if there is anything that could have been improved on, but more times than not admire the creativity and effort it took to develop an idea into something tangible, sustainable. I am starting to figure out what does and what doesn’t work for me in my design process. For example, I have discovered I prefer to sketch out my ideas in black and white then scan them into the computer and illustrate digitally from said reference point. Every day, I am learning new techniques and ideas. I am excited to grow as an artist and designer in this industry. I finally found something I am interested and intrigued by to the extent when challenges arise either technical, conceptually, etc., I am not discouraged but genuinely want to figure it out. I may have found my calling through a series of misfortunate events. I may have not realized my dream of graduating with a degree from Carleton University but perhaps (don’t want to jinx it but…) I rediscovered what I was born to do – share and make a living from my art.
On Roughly May 30, 2019, I made a life altering decision to embrace sobriety and battle my previous five year addiction to drugs. This means soon I will be going on two years sober. I am not proud to say I dabbled in a little of everything prior to getting sober but my main addiction was smoking pot. I could not seem to live without it and no matter how hard I wanted to stop smoking up (towards the end of my smoking days anyways), I could not kick the habit.
The initial days of smoking weed, or rather the first couple of years, it was like the honeymoon phase of a relationship – everything was coming up roses. I managed to be more productive while high and creative in that it opened my thought processes to channels never explored before. I became a more relaxed version of myself I fell in love with, as I have struggled my entire life with being a Type A personality – everything, including me, had to be perfect and when things were less than that I would panic and freak out.
But like every honeymoon, it eventually ends, or at least for me. I began experiencing unusually long bouts of depression where I lacked all motivation (strange for someone who has been Type A their whole life) and spent hours, sometimes days in bed. I began taking risks like trying other, more harder drugs – FYI “weed as a gateway drug” is an actual thing. Weed relaxes you and puts you in a more open state of mind and I started to contemplate, “well what’s the harm? I tried weed and it seems to be going quite well for me so far.” I can tell you, if you couldn’t already tell, I was completely and utterly naïve when it came to drugs and their effects. Curiosity got the better of me, however, and soon I was falling down the rabbit hole of addiction. You know they say, “curiosity killed the cat” for a fucking reason! Well I fucking ran over that Tabby with all four wheels.
I had never even smoked weed until I was 18 never seeing the allure until curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to know why everyone was constantly stoned in my dormitory at University. I wondered “what the fuck is the big deal?” and I wanted to experience it for myself. I mainly tried it for the first time because I wanted to understand why my then serious boyfriend was consistently showing up baked off his face, to the point he’d be drooling almost. I’ve always had this insatiable need to know – to know why or how things worked.
The first time I smoked up, I was in a circle of about eight people from my dormitory who were passing multiple joints in both clockwise and counter-clockwise direction. I must have puffed over a hundred times and felt no different and grew frustrated when my closest friend at the time from my floor asked, “Are you high yet?” Because my answer was no. I more specifically said, “I don’t know if I’m high but I’m not really feeling anything to be honest,” to which my friend replied “then you are definitely not high. Here, let me explain how to inhale it properly and most effectively.” She then described to me the words I would live by for the next five years when trying to get high. I inhale, hold it in the back of my throat, inhale again before exhaling, hold that breath in as well until I feel the smoke ticking the bottom of my esophagus. I’ve always been a visual learner and to have the breathing technique explained in a more visual way sunk in better….and then I was fucking high off my face.
I can not explain that first high or the next ten, or thirty, but they all felt as if I was seeing the colour red for the first time in my life – my emotions were heightened tenfold and sensations felt well for lack of a better term – “sensational.” The thing that hooked me the most about smoking up was something so simple yet so beautiful to me. Music sounded like it was in surround sound regardless of how I listened to it, by that I mean the notes and melodies churned in my soul and surrounded me in a warm embrace I had never experienced before. Everything was better high, or seemed that way – Love, Sex, Studying, Partying, Writing, Drawing, you name it – everything seemed more epic while high.
As I mentioned earlier, it was all fun and games for the first few years but then, for me at least, it turned into things much darker. It turned into nights of blacking out, risk taking behavior like one night stands, a gradual progression into trying “new and more exciting drugs,” that led me to spiral faster and faster towards what would ultimately be my first serious mental breakdown, a psychosis.
It was a result of this psychosis that I would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder and the way I saw and related to myself would forever be changed. Many people with an addiction have a co-existing mental health condition such as bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder in its basic nutshell – causes mood swings between intense emotional highs and lows. Although it’s not fully understood why, bipolar disorder makes people more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol often make the symptoms of bipolar disorder worse. People with no history of mental health issues can also develop bipolar disorder that were previously dormant as a result of drug abuse.
My drug abuse and my development of bipolar disorder at the ripe age of twenty-two begs the classic question, “What came first? The chicken or the egg.?” Did my abuse of drugs lead to bipolar or did my bipolar cause my drug addiction? And this one conundrum plagues me to this day because it makes me sick to my stomach to think I unintentionally caused the most traumatic experiences of my life from the abuse of substances I could of and should of just simply avoided (almost killing myself due to crippling depression, experiencing two manic psychoses in which I had hallucinations and delusions of grandeur). My biggest fear is that I have substance-induced bipolar disorder rather than it being a result of my genetic make-up.
There is no real way however to really tell what caused my disorder. But as a person who is now sober and who can think more rationally (to an extent, I am still bipolar after all, haha!) that thought creeps in and bothers me from time to time, “Could all the heartache and trauma caused by my bipolar disorder have been avoided if I had simply never been so curious as to try drugs in the first place?” And I’ll be honest, after everything that I have been through this is a troubling idea.
So what made me get sober after years of abusing drugs (mainly pot)? The same thing that got me into that whole mess in the first place – curiosity. I was curious whether my depressions, which seemed to only be getting progressively worse, would be less extreme once off drugs for good. I was curious whether being sober would improve my mental health and rejuvenate my energy levels that always seemed to be lower than normal. I was curious whether a sober version of myself might be the better version of myself I had been searching for.
The thing that led to my eventual recovery and sobriety was a mixture of different actions I decided to finally take, instead of simply pondering how to quit I put into action a plan to end the co-dependence between me and drugs. I called an addictions counsellor through a non-profit organization and began seeing her for one hour sessions every two weeks to discuss why I was still holding onto drugs and what plan of action I should take in ridding them from my life. She suggested I slowly wean off and start by smoking less and less amounts of pot, however, each week I would come back with the same excuses as to why I smoked excessively that week and did not manage whatsoever to decrease my pot intake. My counsellor was patient however and kept strategizing with me regardless of whether I met my goals or not.
When I saw how invested my counsellor was in my case, demonstrating she genuinely cared, I shifted my motivation for quitting drugs onto her, in that I wanted to make her proud of my progress. I decided randomly one week to quit cold turkey and test myself and see if I could come into my counselling session with the proclamation that I had done it, I had gone two weeks without dope! After months of what I felt was wasting her time (in hindsight though we were building the foundation for me to quit) I finally was able to come in to my session with the boast that I had been sober for longer and longer bouts of time.
My main motivation at first was to make my counsellor proud but then it changed – to being able to maintain the positive changes I started to notice just four weeks clean of substances. In a blog post that I wrote at my four-week clean mark I write: “I am going on four weeks sober from quitting smoking marijuana and I’ve already noticed some changes. One of these changes is that I seem to be the Energizer Bunny with a shit ton of energy and inability to sleep. Prior to this endeavor I was napping constantly and having a hard time being awake and alert. I feel as though I am making up for lost time. I want to do the things I was unable to before and I want to do it all!’’
I also mention the following: “The most beneficial change and the one I’ve noticed the most is I have a much better accepting and positive attitude. I can accept where I am in life and have slowly made plans to make small changes in order to achieve the longer term goals I am now setting for myself. While smoking dope I was prone to commiserate on my current situation and smoked even more dope to deal with the commiseration. I want to be more active in my life both physically and figuratively.”
The farther I got away (time wise) from smoking dope and the closer I got to being the better version of myself I had envisioned, the easier it became to simply not smoke up anymore. I can honestly say almost two years later (of being sober) that I will never regret this decision nor will I ever make the mistake of lighting up again. I realize now I have an extremely addictive personality and there is no such thing as “Oh, I’ll just have one puff” because with my brain wiring I will always want it all, and will continue to cross the line in order to get it. I am now a much more clear- headed and rational person whose decisions are not based on where I’ll be getting my next fix. My life has so much more meaning and I am so glad that I am starting to figure it out once again – what that meaning is for me.
Russell Brand’s book “Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions” was instrumental in my journey towards sobriety. I mention, in a blog post exploring this book, while actively in the throes of addiction still the following: “Brand mentions in the first chapter of his book that most of us are divided: “…usually part of us wants to change a negative, punishing behavior, whereas another part wants to hold on to it” (Brand 21). I want to change my drinking and smoking habits yet part of me wants to hold on to them. I like the way they make me feel in the moment but I feel terrible after coming down from my high. I do not want to crash anymore but is my drive to rid alcohol and drugs from my life bigger or less than my enjoyment of them? I have decided to test myself and ultimately find out. I will never know if I can live a sober life if I never try to live one.”
I continue to reflect on the possibility of sobriety and mention just starting counselling, “I think, no I know, that I deserve more credit. I believe I am fully capable of sobriety so why do I fight it and struggle so much against it? Addiction is a difficult beast and I am aware that there is a chemical dependency to drugs I am also fighting as well as my willpower to stay sober. My brain is at war with itself and I think it’s finally time to draw up a peace treaty. I will be seeking various support groups until I find one that fits me so to speak and am beginning addiction counselling this week. I am taking an active role in what I hope will be my recovery and will not sit idle hoping that by some divine intervention I will find the answers. I am trying and I think that should count for something.”
I am proud reading this old blog post because I didn’t just try to quit drugs, I succeeded. I have been almost two years sober and the most common question I get from my friends who still smoke and seem to think this is a temporary part of my life (a phase so to speak) is, “don’t you miss getting high?” To that I reply, “Never.” I know without a doubt I am leaving weed behind me and I consider it a part of some former life I barely recognize now where I was WEAK. In a blog post two months into sobriety I wrote the following, “Being Sober is Scary cause you’re painfully aware of what is lacking and you don’t have a substance to fill up that space so you have no choice but to confront…confront your life and start conquering it.” I was weak before, using weed as a crutch for all the negative thoughts and feelings I was struggling with and trying to come to terms with. My brain was a constant war zone constantly trying to hit the self-destruct button and instead of grappling with why that was the case or how I could change my thoughts to be more positive – I self-medicated.
There reaches a point in your journey when a fork appears in the road, and you can continue on the same path you’ve been travelling in hopes it one day changes for the better or you can take the road you’ve yet to explore. You’re not quite sure if it will yield what you hope for but at the very least it will assuredly offer something new and different. After a long couple of years of misery, I decided I was either going to continue down the path of substance abuse mindlessly covering my internal wounds with essentially band-aids, or I could be brave and choose a new path – one where I struggled, got sober, and came to terms with myself honestly and authentically.
Consider the road that challenges you the most when these forks appear on your life’s journey. I can tell you from personal experience, they are more rewarding and you learn that you are truly capable of whatever you set your mind to. Set your mind to exploring, exploring self-growth and you will never regret it. Each day I come closer to understanding myself a little better and I know now I am extremely susceptible to becoming overwhelmed with emotions and thoughts that do not serve me. I keep this in line by keeping my wits about me since (as I can attest) drugs just add to the chaos. I want to fully appreciate and interpret my world without dulling it or numbing it on some whim. I want to feel…everything. I no longer wish to hide behind a substance as a way to cope with some shit reality. I intend to create my own, better reality.
You gave me the freedom to fly when I felt trapped in the cage that was my mind. Running turned to gliding with the support of your stability. I ran faster and harder, leaving behind demons who tormented me. I never knew such power until I met you, my inner strength constantly unleashed by the strides you allowed me to take.
I want to thank you for showing me consistently I am capable of more than I give myself credit. You set the pace for my tortured mind to find grace. There is a stillness and peace found in your presence I have yet to find anywhere else.
Regardless of the distance travelled, I never regret the journey with you. I find myself a little more with every adventure we take together. When life becomes unbearable there is perspective in your steps, pushing me forwards – towards the light.
You lift me up when I need to soar, reminding me of the bigger picture once more. You never judge me for the thoughts I express but rather offer to help me work through them. The pace is always mine to set and there is never resentment whether it be faster, or slower.
I want to thank you for teaching me resilience, that recovery is a process. No two strides are ever the same as you continually teach me I am capable and worthy of change. You fight for my right to become the best possible version of myself – I love that about you.
The more time I spend in your shoes, the more I realize life is not always about the destination rather the adventure one experiences on the way there. There are times I want to stop, hit pause, and give up, but you inspire me to keeping moving forward despite this.
I want to thank you for demonstrating the only competition I have in this life is with myself. I know I can always rely on your steadfast commitment to my growth. You allow me the space to explore my potential without judgment.
I run most days to think through my thoughts and emotions and somedays, to avoid them. Regardless of the intent, my mind is always clearer and less cluttered, no longer bogged down by the negativity I am ashamed to admit can crowd my brain.
More than anything I run to fly, to take my mended broken wings and force them into the sky.
There is a verse in a very popular song by Drake from his “Take Care” album (my favourite of all time) that comes to mind as I contemplate something one of my exes (and now really good friends) said to me today. It is verse three from the song “Marvin’s Room:” “I think I’m addicted to naked pictures/ And sitting talking ’bout bitches that we almost had/ I don’t think I’m conscious of makin’ monsters / Outta the women I sponsor ’til it all goes bad.” He mentioned that he appreciates and values the way I talk about my exes, referring to not only him but every and any ex I ever bring up. I was severely confused as to what he was getting at and asked what he meant by that statement.
“You never put your exes down. You speak objectively and highly of everyone you have dated. You always mention honestly the traits or qualities that got in the way of the relationship fully developing any further but you also make a point to highlight the redeeming qualities they had or memories that touched you.”
I realized he has a point but it took me nearly a decade of self-discovery and throwing myself in and out of relationships to develop this emotional maturity. I will not negate the lesson that a person brings to my life and I genuinely believe everyone comes into your life for a reason. Each relationship is an opportunity for growth and the same idea relates to the end of one. I learn different aspects of myself every time I explore the mind, soul and body of another. Each ex has helped me explore my life in a different way and I will forever be grateful for that.
It’s easy to get caught up in or hurt by the idea of rejection but when you view it as I do – as a stepping stone to a better truth – it ceases to lose its power over you. Each failed relationship taught you something whether you want to admit It or can see it. Like Drake said, “I don’t think I’m conscious of making’ monsters/ Outta the women I sponsor ’til it all goes bad.” The truth is I let that person into my life for a reason, at some point they brought joy or value to it. I cannot negate all the positive experiences with the negative ones and fall trap to bitterness and “talking shit about exes.”
I can however, be honest and realistic about their shortcomings when discussing why my relationships failed with my friends but I am also brutally honest with my own and where I learned due to that experience, where I need and could grow. We are constantly evolving and sometimes certain people who come into our life romantically aren’t ready to grow at the pace we are, or we realize we do not share the same values, or often cases we outgrow them. That’s ok…Learn, Move on, and Become Better For It.
Talk shit if it makes you feel better, I don’t really care what you do to cope but I would like you to consider shifting perspectives. I want you to consider re-evaluating why people walk into your life. I believe everyone walks in and out of your life with a purpose and a meaning. Their presence was meant to show you something that you either really want or often exactly what you don’t want. Both are valuable to understand about oneself.
We’re constantly learning and changing what we value, think, belief, etc. Do not be afraid to let go of something or someone that no longer aligns with who you are. It’s ok to change up the game when something is not working. Do not ever regret the beginning or the end of an experience because it was meant to happen to you – to change and evolve you.
I talk objectively about the relationships I have had (highlighting both the negative and positive) because to genuinely learn and grow from it, I must be honest with myself. I am not going to make someone out to be a monster because they lacked the communication skills or emotional intelligence I have. I also won’t hold it against exes who treated me disrespectfully since they were the most valuable lesson of all – to stand up for myself and love myself enough to walk away. But most importantly I need to address that I don’t blame exes who left me because I did not measure up to their expectations of what they think they deserve.
Love isn’t a race. There’s no rush. Be open to the idea that someone may be a lesson, and not your “forever.” If you shift your perspective in this way I promise you’ll feel better about the failure of a relationship. You might even come to enjoy them more as opportunities to learn about yourself and less about the feeling of rejection. You don’t have to be that bitter ex talking shit about your ex if you don’t want to be. Let it go, see the bigger picture, especially and even if they don’t. This life is yours and you’re wasting energy holding onto things that no longer serve you. Remember, and don’t necessarily forget, but move on. Allow yourself and them the grace of being human.
It’s easy to make monsters out of the relationships that went bad but it shows strength to want to find the good in them and let it go.
I have never been so called out in my life when reading this definition, sitting back analyzing my most recent failed relationship or rather “rebound” that lasted six months.
I never took the time to heal from a loving and very supportive relationship that lasted nearly three years. It came to a natural end when he confessed his struggle with gender dysphoria and the desire to transition into a woman.
Could you imagine unpacking all those feelings? First, resentment because I got attached and wasn’t told sooner, then despair because I genuinely loved him but couldn’t continue with “her” since I am not, contrary to my sexually fluid youth, a lesbian. This wasn’t something that could easily be overcome or fought for because if it was, we’d still be together.
Picture yourself dealing with a confusing orchestra of doubt in your head about love and whether you will ever find or deserve it again, when in walks a man who catches your eye. He seems to notice you when no one else does and though you’re in a crowded room his concentration is only on you. You begin to wonder, “maybe losing the last relationship was meant to happen to bring me to this person? Perhaps that loss was actually a part of a longer journey to this truer love instead?”
The problem when you’re a hopeless romantic, hurting in the throes of a break-up, is you tend to dawn rose-coloured glasses. What should have been a short-lived relationship equivalent to a summer fling or a one-night stand, painfully drags on. I wore glasses tainted with idealization because it was easier to perceive what I wanted to believe than confront the fact I was only looking for comfort to distract myself from painful feelings – mainly loneliness.
I ignored his lack of communication, attention and affection to keep distracted and at the end of the day that’s all it was – a band aid for a bullet wound. I didn’t know it yet but he would become my rebound, my “second best,” because honestly all he was ever good for was distracting me from my ex, the person I legitimately loved. He was a band-aid for the bullet-sized hole “she” had left on my soul. She left a mark, an impression on my heart that no one had before.
I did not want to face all those messy feelings that made me uncomfortable so I settled for mediocrity in a new relationship to keep the charade that I was “fine” alive. I am and was not okay when I lost who I thought was the love of my life. I ran into the arms of another person looking for comfort to distract myself from acknowledging this – accepting I had experienced a loss.
When the fog of distraction lifted, I found myself in the worst relationship I had ever been in. He was jealous, aloof, uncommunicative and unwilling to change. He was always this way. The rose coloured glasses came off when I decided to walk away and face the delayed inevitable need for healing.
My rebound was second best in that he distracted me from my previous relationship and a person I was struggling to let go of, but also because he distracted me from myself. The most important relationship I will ever have in this life is the one I have with myself. If I am being honest I have a lot more growing to do and exploring the dynamics of Me, Myself and I before I can begin to fathom letting someone back in to my heart. That’s okay because one day I will be in a better place to accept and recognize the next great love of my life.
The fact is, I’m newly single yet I feel like I’m exactly where I was six months ago before this rebound ended. I refused to let go of him sooner, hiding from facing the pain of my previous failed relationship. Now I must confront those feelings again, the ones I buried by throwing myself into a new relationship instead of healing and exploring myself first.
I’m sad, angry, confused, happy, and a whole other slew of emotions that seem to come and go. Though this may feel intense and overwhelming, it’s beautiful. I am no longer numb, mindlessly going through the paces of a relationship going nowhere fast. Allow yourself the time and grace to heal, to properly grieve before moving on or you’ll find yourself like me – holding onto somebody for the sake of holding on and delaying the inevitable need for healing.
This is a clapback post to all the bigots, judgers, sexists, misogynists and quite frankly asshole keyboard warriors with limited, prejudiced views. I recently been posting pictures on Instagram showcasing my body and a person who I recently reconnected with clearly did not agree with it and felt the need to express themselves in the most rude, obnoxious and bigoted way. I am writing this post to say firstly you can post whatever you want regardless of mental illness or mental health and secondly to those who don’t like it: unfollow, unsubscribe as you wish but please keep your opinions to your self! Below is an image of the email he sent me…
Let me address the more annoying part of this email I received first, “Women pose like this because they think it’s what men want to see and so becomes counterproductive and counter exploitative.” Last time I checked you were a man and therefore do not try to understand or underestimate why “women pose like this.” Contrary to this man’s opinion that I am being “attention seeking,” I am posing like this to demonstrate my strength and resolve. It has absolutely nothing to do with men and everything to do with women. I want women to see these images and be inspired to celebrate their bodies. If you got it, my god, fucking flaunt it! If you look through my Instagram you can see a plethora of “working out” and gym posts as I progressed from being overweight to being the fittest I have ever been in my life – Fuck You! Of Course I am going to celebrate and showcase that!
As for his comment, “#MeToo and equality gives you every right to pose as you wish” rattles me. First of all the #MeToo movement has nothing to do with sexy poses being posted on social media and everything to do with sexual harassment and violence. To equate the “MeToo” movement to me having the freedom to pose “as I wish” is ignorant and negates the genuine motives behind this movement.
In 2006, the “me too.” Movement was founded by survivor and activist Tarana Burke. Burke wanted a way to empower women who had endured sexual violence by letting them know that they were not alone—that other women had suffered the same experience they had. In 2017, the #metoo hashtag went viral and woke up the world to the magnitude of the problem of sexual violence. The ‘me too’ Movement believes in the radical possibilities of a movement against sexual violence led by survivors. In 2017, the phrase was reintroduced by actress Alyssa Milano as a way to encourage women and men to share their stories as part of an anti-sexual harassment movement.
I am not a victim of either sexual harassment or violence and never claimed to be nor do I hide behind a hashtag to “excuse” my posts. I do not have to excuse myself for celebrating my body and how far I have come in my fitness journey. I felt like this man emailing me was implying #MeToo opened the door for me as a woman to post anything and “get away with it.” This is a strong misunderstanding of the motives behind the movement which are to give power and a voice to sexual assault, abuse, and harassment victims. I do not need to hide behind any movement or organization as a scapegoat for my actions because they are just that, MY actions. I act with intention and consideration. I do not think, for example, my posting provocative pictures hurts my mental health community or perpetuates stigma.
Another frustrating part of this man’s emails and messages was him mentioning my mental illness as a reason not to post these types of pictures and that I am essentially giving people with Bipolar a bad name. First of all, what the fuck does mental illness have to do with this? Secondly, just because I advocate for mental health and fighting stigma does not mean I can’t be “sexy” while doing it. In fact, I’d argue it’s fighting the stigma more because I am showing that yes, a person with mental health issues can display their body with self-confidence too. There is no shame in putting it out there if you feel comfortable doing it. What separates me from every other woman on Instagram posting sexy pictures? – That I am Bipolar? I do not see this man attacking or sending them condescending messages.
He calls me “vulnerable” because why? I dare to post a picture in a bodysuit or my underwear? And can we address that for a second – women post full nudes with exposed nipples on Instagram and this man is attacking me for modelling lingerie? So I guess I am a “Tramp” then? (his words, not mine) I am not promiscuous and stand for a lot more than this man is giving me credit for. I stand for freedom of expression above anything and these pictures are just that – an expression of my body. If showing off my body – something I worked really hard for – makes me look “vulnerable and needing attention” then so be it. Except it does not, it demonstrates I am comfortable in my own skin, something in my opinion that is vital to good mental health.
“And if people know you are bi-polar it doesn’t really help you or people with your condition…” was probably the part of this man’s email that infuriated me. People with Bipolar are just like anyone else in that we too have different interests and personalities. I can be Bipolar AND interested in modelling lingerie and posting sexy pictures – that’s just me. My illness will never stop me from pursuing something I enjoy nor will the stigma towards “people with your condition” as he so eloquently put it. I never realized celebrating my own body would upset somebody so much to the point they had to send not one, but two nasty messages.
According to PsychCentral, mental health advocates “are the individuals who tirelessly share their stories in all sorts of ways. They remind us that we’re not alone in our struggles—and there is real, tangible hope and healing. They shatter stereotypes and myths about mental illness, helping the public see that people with mental illness are just people.” Let me hone in on the following part, “helping the public see that people with mental illness are just people.” I am a person first, above anything else, a person who likes to share my progress on social media. This has culminated in my most recent posts in lingerie demonstrating the epoch of my fitness journey. I worked hard to get to the point where I am comfortable putting it all out there. . I am also a sensual person who likes to get in touch with their sexy side when posing for the camera. People with mental illnesses can be sexy too and it doesn’t make us any less of a person or mental health advocate for wanting to display that.
I think if anything I am showing that people with mental illness do not fit in these neat little boxes. Being a mental health and illness advocate should not mean you do not get to express your “sexy” side if you have one and want to flaunt it. I should not be taken any less seriously because I am a young woman who likes to show off her body. However, I know it doesn’t work that way, people are judging me not only for posting those pictures but also judging me by my looks. Just because I am an attractive young woman who likes to post “liberal” images of herself does not imply I am lacking intelligence or do not have anything of value to say. Stop judging books by covers and stop trying to belittle women or imply they are a “slut” for celebrating their bodies on social media. I am confident in my own skin despite struggling with a mental illness and quite frankly it suggests confidence and self-esteem I can post these pictures but not only that, it demonstrates my integrity to this esteem in not taking them down the minute somebody did not like the idea of them being out there. I am going to post whatever the fuck I want or feel comfortable sharing on social media because that’s who I am – a person with integrity who will not let some man tell me what or what I should not be posting.
As for me regretting this “later in life,” I can’t help but laugh. I don’t believe in regrets and I strongly believe in living for the moment. This moment in time I felt compelled to share those pictures and not for whatever misguided reasons people assume when associated with sexy pictures. These pictures represent something for me – this moment – when I felt the most confident and secure in my body image. I’d honestly regret not posting them because then I’d be left wondering, “Did I not post them because I was afraid of the opinions of others?” I feel and look the best I have ever felt in years and damn straight I want to share that. I want to look back on these pictures and remember how confident, sexy and strong I was in THIS moment. No regrets, I won’t look back. You can call me a slut, tramp, mindless Instagram Babe or whatever suits your fancy but just know I ain’t here for it. Your name calling and condescending opinions will never censor the content I put out which is authentically me. I AM Bipolar AND sexy too but I won’t apologize for it. I also will not allow people to belittle me into thinking I am any less or that I am not a good person or a good mental health advocate because I display my body. You’re simply ignorant in my opinion if you think the two some how correlate. I am a woman above all else with the freedom to post or not post whatever the fuck I want. If you don’t like it, hit the unsubscribe button quietly then walk away and please keyboard warriors, just get out of my fucking face!
I have been neglecting what I hope will be my life’s work, writing my memoirs about living and struggling with bipolar disorder, specifically my experiences with multiple psychoses. I decided to get a rose gold cuff bracelet engraved with the acronym, “JFDI,” which stands for “Just Fucking Do It.” I want to remind myself daily by wearing this that I need to simply sit my ass down and write whether I feel like it or not. However, despite this new beautiful addition to my jewelry collection, wearing it has yet to spur much action on the writing front.
I decided to journal about how I was feeling regarding writing this book and the following words spewed onto the page and as usual my own writing process has exposed me and shed some light on my avoidance:
“I believe a big part of my procrastination is that this is a painful story to share. When I sit down and write it, I have to dig deep in the dark recesses of my mind and retrieve memories that quite frankly hurt to hold onto. No one wants to admit that they lost the one thing that most of us would never fathom losing – their sanity. Let me be very clear here, “losing your mind” and “losing your sanity” are two very different things. One you have more control over and can recover from quickly while the other is a complete loss of control, a complete break from reality.
When you lose your sanity, you dissociate and your mind fractures into something unrecognizable. I am not saying you cannot come back from that but it’s harder to reconcile – that your mind was not your own. You’re scared shitless then reality slips back through the cracks and you wonder, “will that happen again?” Unfortunately for me it happened not once, but twice. You start to feel like a visitor in your mind and wonder when the darkness will come again and consume you.”
Now reading that back to myself after writing it was an “Aha!” moment in that I did not even realize I was harboring a deep rooted fear and pain towards writing this story. It’s understandable. I just didn’t know that this was yet one more thing holding me back from writing. I have decided to start slowly to confront the pain and sit with these memories a little bit everyday until I am ready to unpack them and process them. I believe through writing this book I can come to heal even more than I already have – and don’t get me wrong I’ve come a long way from those days spent rocking back and forth crying slumped against my bedroom door coming to terms with the fact I had lost my mind to a mental illness I was now saddled with for life. I spent days, weeks, and years drowning in grieve that I would never be “sane” or considered “normal.” I had a very real identity crisis accepting my bipolar disorder and letting go of the vision of myself pre-diagnosis.
I am in active recovery and have been stable on medication for years now and think it is finally time I start putting off my goal to write my memoirs. Is it scary? For sure, as I have laid out my thoughts above on it. Am I capable? Absolutely. I know in my heart of hearts this is something I was meant to do – to share my journey in the throes of mental illness so that someone trying to navigate those same waters may have a guidepost of hope to look to and understand that it does get better. I am living proof it does get better. I am not saying I do not still struggle with the inevitable ups and downs of this disorder but I have come to realize you need to give yourself grace. You need to understand healing is a process, a journey unto itself. I simply want to show that you can go from falling apart on your bedroom floor to managing your symptoms and picking yourself back up.
I listen to a lot of music lately (who am I kidding, I always do) but one artist has really stood out for me as a new great addition to my music library – Kiana Ledé. Her r&b vibes, smooth yet sexy voice, honest and clever lyrics make her a powerhouse of a female singer. I am drawn to her naturally during a time (post-break up) where I want to emulate her – a strong, beautiful, independent woman. The song that captured my attention right away was “cancelled.” as I can relate to it way too much right now. The beginning lyrics had me sold right away and I usually tune in or out of a new song within the first verse and she killed it, “I am a single queen, you know the fuckin’ vibes. Fuck men these days, fuck them all. They will hurt everyone’s feelings and fuck them all.” I could immediately identify with being a “single queen” and being over men to the point I am ready to say “fuck them all” myself – at least for now.
This song repeats “you know the vibes, vibes vibes” as its chorus tying back to the original verse and being a single queen. The fact is being single IS A VIBE – I am starting to realize and own again. There is a certain peace of mind when you are single that you can do, say and act however the fuck you want. I am not constantly thinking how my partner will interpret me and just doing me. I do not stress over whether him not texting me all day means he was busy? or because he just simply doesn’t give a shit about me? I am not insecure more than anything which I love! You would think the opposite would be true – having a relationship end usually fucks with the self-esteem. However, for me, this particular relationship ending boosted my confidence. I feel I can be my playful, sarcastic, insightful self again and one day maybe, someone won’t make me want to hide away those parts of me.
The third verse of “Cancelled.” also struck home cause I know it’s true but I needed to be reminded of it: “And you gorgeous, Fuckin’ gorgeous. You got options. Made bad choices. Only cry so much ‘Cause he lied too much. You don’t need nobody.” I felt like the end of my relationship was the end at my chance of love forever but I know I was being dramatic. Firstly, cause I never felt anything resembling love for this boy. Secondly, like Kiana sings in “Cancelled.,” “You gorgeous, Fuckin’ gorgeous. You got options. Made bad choices.” I have options for sure such as the option to explore myself instead of jumping into relationship after relationship. I made a bad choice by dating this boy but it isn’t the be all, end all. There will be other opportunities to grow, to love.
I have decided to “Just Keep It Movin” like Kiana sings in “Movin” (another great song!). I could easily fall apart and let the disappointment overcome me but I choose to move forward and focus on myself and my goals. The ironic thing is I lost site of them in my previous relationship – my goals. I was completely distracted and lost my sense of purpose in this life. I am excited to rediscover that, my purpose, and start working towards what I deem meaningful.
I am not going to get caught up in those post-break-up traps such as questioning my inherent value and whether or not I will ever be loved authentically. These hang ups are not nearly as important as what I need to discover – my life’s work. I want to take some time to figure out what I can do to get myself to a point to truly empower people – specifically young women with mental health issues. For now…I write this blog, but it’s not enough. I am finally in a place to admit that and work on finding my way into this world.
I tend to shy away about talking about my relationships on here because I tend to treat them as sacred. But I realize that would be negating a big part of my life that my readers may relate to and honestly, walk with me through this break up, and I will have you better on the other side for it – because I generally have a level head when it comes to relationships and the sometimes inevitable ends of them. I can experience the pain of rejection, loss, and missed opportunities wash over me but I will forever be rational in the way I choose to interpret these feelings.
The simple fact is and what I genuinely believe: what is meant for me will be meant for me. Basically, if he walked then I am actually one step closer to where I am supposed to be – clearly not with him. I gave this person so many opportunities to rise up and grow with me but unfortunately he was not interested – and that’s ok! That’s on him and not me. But what IS on me is the question I have been asking myself the past few days since breaking up and that is: “Where Do I Begin and Where Do I End?”
The fact is whether I want to admit it or not, I made myself smaller than life for him. Let me explain that… I kept quiet all the pieces that make me uniquely me and that I adore personally – that I am passionate about writing, mental health advocacy and most importantly and unfortunately I kept quiet my belief that everyone deserves a certain level of respect in a relationship (whether romantic or not but most especially romantic). I accepted less than I deserved from this person CONSISTENTLY, seriously I am debating whether I am a sadist at this point, hmmm…?
Things I let slide that I would never tolerate before, or let alone accept my friends to let slide in their own romantic endeavours. I became a less shiny, push over version of myself that quite frankly I feel as though I must have fell down the rabbit hole to some alternate universe that I ever became this version of myself – it’s my least impressive version yet. I’m starting to wonder am I “mousy?” as in a meek person in general or was I so blinded by this person’s potential love (key word potential because he was giving me nothing to go on from the start) that I made myself dull to be more accommodating or “easier to love?”
I am used to being called “Firecracker!” by strangers who meet me the first time, and told I have an energy that is delightful but I fell trap to this rebound that lasted six months too long. If I am being honest I made myself into a gray version of myself because not only did I want so desperately to be in a relationship (having ended a very serious three year one before this), I also on some deep internal level did not trust this person to see ALL of me. And again, that’s ok! But I should have trusted my instincts that consistently screamed “Get Out Now!” instead of continuing to make myself small for a person who honestly was worthless.
Never have I been consistently treated like garbage since my early 20s – when girls typically let all kinds of shady shit slide. I somehow convinced myself that’s what I deserved and that maybe that’s how a “normal” relationship is supposed to work, and I just didn’t get the memo. My gut told me “to walk” over and over again and with each ignorance of my instinct, I became even duller in my opinion.
At the dark core at it (sorry to bring it back to the dark place), I was simply afraid to be alone – to die alone. My clock is ticking and I can hear it mocking me, “You need to settle now to have someone in the bitter end.” But honestly fuck you! To people who drive this cookie cutter idea of what love is supposed to be down our throats. I want to stand alone in the end, loving myself, and if someone joins me, that’ll just be the icing on an already delicious cake!
So Where Do I Begin and Where Do I End? I’m still figuring it out but I am taking the time to do that. I do know I shine brighter when by myself and after each break up, I return to an even better version of who I am. I’m learning…and if my unnecessarily long rebound taught me anything – it taught me to take time to heal and sort through the mental baggage that comes from all those scary and real feelings when something that you thought would be special comes to be trashed.
I will not make myself smaller to fit into anyone’s misguided idea of a box for me,