Eyes Open #WorkForHappy

(Or Alternatively, “Turning Twenty And Realizing My Eyes Have Been Shut The Whole Time: A Brief Birthday Reflection”)

Ascending into the two-decade old plane of existence was almost anti-climactic, but to be fair, it had to close a rather turbulent turn of the globe. Since last year, August 31, 2017, I have taken four total double 10+ hour bus rides, snared a dream role at a start-up publication, and even started dating a rather dashing lad who has an affinity for calling me a water buffalo in his free time.

At the same time I have screamed, panicked, had a handful of crises (less in comparison, though), was ghosted, and learned what it’s like to be between jobs about… five times. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the Mercury retrograde – I don’t even believe in that stuff and I still felt it in my bones that something was off in the heavens when I couldn’t even sip tea without burning my tongue.

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Artwork by Tanya Shatseva

I survived 20 years of life. That’s cause for celebration, even if the sky doesn’t glow for me. The main difference between this year and the year before that is probably just how much I have matured.

Once I turned 20, I was faced with a very real responsibility – growing the fuck up. Being 19 was the last time I could plead being a teenager.

Do I miss this trump card? I thought I would. Do I still reach for it as if it’s still in my pocket? You bet your ass, I do.

The earth didn’t exactly pause in its orbit the moment I was born one humid Monday night in a Lester hospital, and it didn’t twenty years later either. The occasion was marked poignantly by my mother, who not only was celebrating my birthday, but the moment she officially became a mother. Every milestone and accomplishment in my life belongs, in part, to her as well.

My eyes were closed for my teenage years, and my mother had to remind me again that my eyes are hers, and she will not let me screw them shut any longer. I opened my eyes, witnessed everything I chose to ignore about myself, and realized that there’s a marked difference between walking through the dark, and walking with your eyes determinedly shut.

“You are my eyes, and I want you to see the world for me.” My mother never misses an opportunity to tell me this. Any moment I have self-doubt, or feel like a failure, I am reminded to open my eyes for her.

…there’s a marked difference between walking through the dark, and walking with your eyes determinedly shut. [Click to tweet!]

I have survived twenty years of existence, and now I am now en route of my twenty-first, I have decided not only to survive, but thrive. This sounds a bit tired, since everyone has a bit of a resolution when they get older, usually more and more sombre with every passing year.

My resolution, however, isn’t just to sit down and grow up – I want to grow. Perhaps now I am resourceful enough to actually push myself to do so, now, with eyes wide open.

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Why And How I Developed Self-Control #WorkForHappy

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Artwork by Megan Brewty

Upon my second and last visit to the hospital, I realized something essential that transformed my outlook on life forever: being depressed is a hell of a lot easier than being happy. I had just realized that the support of my loved ones had run out, and I was officially on my own.

It was time to turn my life around, and I would only have one chance at it. It was now or never. It was life and death.

This is a new self-care series where I will be exploring how to be a better person in my struggle with mental illness. My first lesson: developing self-control.

I Almost Destroyed Myself… Here’s Why Self-Control Is Essential

Continue reading “Why And How I Developed Self-Control #WorkForHappy”

Fixing Yourself: A Brief Look At My Mission For Self-Improvement #WorkForHappy

I have an incredibly flawed personality. The first sign was probably around the time I got diagnosed with an actual personality disorder – unspecified – after my behavior led to a pretty self-destructive, “self-prescribed” binge behaviour. Honestly? I never actually considered it problematic for a long time.

Clearly, it was everyone else with the problem. Tsk, tsk.

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Artwork by Christian Russo

The problem with having a diagnosis that’s “unspecified”, especially when it concerns something as intangible as personality, is that the solution to your problem is also unspecified. At that point, all the doctors could prescribe me was a harsh slap to the face when it came to my true reality.

Now it’s like every move I make, I scrutinize. When I’m an asshole, I usually know it. A little bit of denial doesn’t hurt, until that becomes a flaw as well.

Do other people think like this? I’ll probably never know, but the scrutiny I have adopted has become both a blessing and a curse. I’m able to look at myself objectively and understand that whatever behavior I’m choosing is not appropriate. It’s like a super power, because I now understand mine and other people’s motivations and reasoning with everything they do. I get it now, when someone is an asshole. I do. Because I can do it too, sometimes.

But with great power comes great responsibility, or something like that.

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“Infinite Introspection”, by Francisca Borzea

I recognize my behavior, but do I actually do anything about it? Well… I’m trying. It took me years to figure out that I was wrong, and another year to come to terms with the mistakes I had made in the process. Do I regret these mistakes? Of course. But would I change it? Not at all. I am the person I am today because of what I have struggled with.

That being said, I’ve been trying to actually prevent such things happening ever again, but that takes a little more work than just some introspection. I have to actually change my habits, my mood, and, well, my personality. I’ve had to heal those wounds, and now I have to take actions so that I don’t inflict them on myself or others ever again.

What do I have on the agenda to actually fix about myself? There are the common pitfalls, like procrastination, lack of sensitivity, and impatience. Then there are the big ones, like bad attitude, lack of responsibility/motivation, dependence on others, and over-thinking. At this point, all I can really do is acknowledge what I’m doing wrong, be aware of problematic behavior, and seek to replace it with healthier moves by developing better, healthier habits. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but… I have the privilege of being surrounded by people who care enough to call me out on my bullshit when I miss it.

Go and love someone exactly as they are. Then watch how they transform into the greatest, truest version of themselves. When one feels seen and appreciated in their own essence, one is instantly empowered. —Wes Angelozzi

The people around me… man oh man. I’m lucky, so incredibly lucky, to have such a strong network of people who care about me deeply enough to not only forgive me when I mess up, but support me in my journey to become a better person. I’m just so grateful that I now have the foresight of actually understanding the magnitude of how lucky I am. Privilege can be a lot of different things for different people, but for me, true privilege is having the support of people around you.

Like I said, this process is a blessing and a curse. You can feel hopeless sometimes, like you’re gonna be stuck being a bad person forever and that you’ll never be worthy of love – this is a common late-night thought that induces panic attacks for me – so I’ve learned to become aware of my good qualities too. I have a strong sense of maternal instinct. I am a compassionate person. I’m smart enough to succeed, when I put my mind to it. I can write, draw, sing, laugh. I even make other people smile, from time to time. I love others, and they love me. I repeat that last bit like its a mantra whenever my mood dips below the dark surface.

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Artwork by Mari Toh

Do I deserve love? That’s something I still grapple with, and honestly, it’s probably the main question that drives my mission for self-improvement. For a long time, I didn’t think I deserved the love I got from others, and that was because deep down, I knew that I was a fuck up.

But now, I want to deserve it.

I have an incredibly flawed personality. But flaws make the human, and the human can only work hard to rectify those flaws. And this is me doing that.

This is me. I’m the one with the problem.

And… I’m fixing it.

 

 

Crappy Poetry

The mind is too beautiful, too phenomenal, and too much of an utter enigma to become a cliche. The window to my mind is closed. The garden rooted in my amygdala has withered, the neurons unconcerned with typical metaphorical ideas. I don’t think, I just happen to exist (I swear I’m not trying to kiss Descartes’ ass), but I am not a slave to the precious aquarian trapped in my skull.

My brain, and therefore my mind (come at me, UofT Professor Vervaeke), is too complex, and I am tired of it becoming just a prefix for crappy poetry.

That being said… I feel like your mind and mine are one and a whole.

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I feel like you have held my mind in your own very two hands, and have tangibly tweaked with the dendrites and axons until they made drawbridges between me and the memory of your smile.

I feel like while my neurons are too lazy to spin serotonin into gold and relinquish too much control to the venus traps in my amygdala, they still get a rush just out of hearing your laugh.

I feel like while my precious dopamine has lost its way through my mesolimbic labyrinth and my old coping mechanisms have thus turned to dust, my whole brain still lights up when you say my name.

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don’t be fooled, this is actually brocolli

The mind is too beautiful, too phenomenal, and certainly too delicate to be handled like a cliche. My mind may have become black, cavities and caves of endless temptation, but you make it come to full potential again… but your mind is too singularly captivating to be rendered nothing more than a crutch to mine.

That being said…

You are too special just to become a prefix to my crappy poetry.

For the Artists

Straitjackets are, and always were, a popular trend throughout the history of the artist community.

It has gone as far for people to say that my mental illness would be perfect for the biographies that will one day tell the story of my own artistic career. I’ve been told that my fight against my own will to die will make my biography a best seller.

I’ve been told that to really be able to make it in the world of artistry, I have to wear tragedy like the crown of a proud tsarina sitting before an audience of buzzing flies.

Such accusations remind me that minds are like gardens – Luscious, colorful, varied, and dimensional. Flowers represent our knowledge, and they say knowledge is the most fearsome weapon of all – but what if a war is waged here? What if the garden is cannibalistic?

I already know the answer.

I jump backwards off a cliff and find myself falling like a magnificent meteor. I end up a burnt up heap in Southern France, 1880’s. A lonely Dutch man traipses the country side at dusk, his exotic chalky paints and pig tail brushes thrown in a beaten canvas bag. I can smell his perspiration mixed with the metallic taste of blood that hangs in the air. It oozes out of the shriveled mass on the side of his head, his ear: a gruesome mess.Image result for van gogh

I want him to realize that the world he sees in yellow splotches and starry nights is aching for him to stick around a little longer. I want him to not succumb to the whims of his bipolar mania, or to the wretched bullet that will soon rip through his hollow stomach.

But he continues on his way, ambling into the sunrise towards a little yellow house, humming snatches of an old tune.

I find myself floating once again, as I bubble up into the atmosphere and am blown to London, England, to a neat little apartment tucked away between townhouses lined like dominoes. It is midday, 1950s, when I spy a woman lurking behind paisley curtains. Her orange blush is harsh on her pale face, her gaping teeth peek between her lips like pearls in an oyster. Beside her are a million million notebooks. Her words swirl about the small room, chattering with the same particles of depression that plague the vulnerable garden of her mind as well.

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I want her to realize that like Lazarus, she cannot rise again from the ashes. I want her to stop toxic air from committing genocide to her blood cells. I want to tell her how her children will mourn.

But she continues to watch them play peekaboo with hazy eyes, as she fidgets with small memorabilia painted yellow and black like glittering bees.

Once again, I am consumed kicking and screaming into a black hole, which delivers me to the edges of the universe. I swim through liquid helium, my skin rupturing, my nerves coiling around my organs until I choke. My spine cracks, but I swim on. I reach out the corpses drifting about around me, their faces expressionless,  their fingers unmoving, their minds: lost.

IMG_20170618_185931_833I am reminded of when I myself had walked into my pantry and taken a handful of sleeping pills, hoping to escape as well to that very green void on the other side of the universe. I look to my fellow artists, to the sunken faces of my predecessors, the very men and women who bled yellow like I did.

I want to remember that I am an artist, not the chemical imbalance in my brain or the skewed events of my timeline – I am defined not by the ailments of my mind, but the potential of my mind; not the pills that I pop like candy but the ability to actually accomplish something when I do.

I don’t fight for a best-selling biography. I fight for them.

For the artists, the soldiers of creativity, and the ability to say that I survived.

I survived.

Lionheart

I slipped into the bathroom and stared long and hard at the creature in the mirror. I pulled out my stolen stick of red lipstick,  previously hidden under the layers of colors and pastel powders in my mother’s drawer. I drew cleanly onto my lips, shaping my mouth into beautiful , brilliantly red, bloody blossoms that simply dripped with scarlet pleasure. I put the lipstick down and contemplated my appearance. Slowly, I smiled. I plastered my face with the most sardonic, creepy, superficial, poster girl smile of a delusional megalomaniac  psychopath I could muster. And I thought (and I thought): This is me. This is who I have become.

Even after I wiped that lipstick off with the back of my hand, smearing it raw all around my eating hole until it looked like I had taken a bite out of a lion’s heart, I couldn’t stop the ringing echo of that thought, rattling around my skull. I stared dead pan into my still putrid eyes, wide like a doe’s. I couldn’t stop smiling.

That image will haunt me forever.

I Fear Silence

Silence is intimidating… to me, anyway. There are some select people in our loud community who do, in fact, embrace Silence. They don’t mind and, if anything, see Silence as an occasional dropper-by with whom they exchange shy glances across a busy street, before getting on with business.

Not me, however. Whether it’s a lull in conversation or the gentle hum of emptiness on weekends, I am intimidated. Why must I be? Silence won’t hurt me. Silence has nothing against me.

Silence doesn’t have an agenda. Does Silence?

Silence likes to massage my shoulders and whisper things in my ear. Scary things. Things I’d rather not remember. Thoughts that usually would drift at the back of my head come to center-stage only when Silence decides to drop by.

My thoughts and Silence converse so easily. They stand on the horizon as dark silhouettes. They stand there, hand in hand, waiting for me to drop my guard long enough for them to pounce and devour.

Silence is stern. Silence watches intently, glares at me from across the room when I am incapable of being interesting to the person with whom I try so desperately to communicate. I try to hint at Silence’s presence, nudge others around me in Silence’s direction and try to make them see its potential for danger. But they never notice my urging. So, I am forced to look hesitantly over again at Silence, who smiles sardonically and settles more comfortably into the armchair.

I ride the bus, sometimes. I try to drive Silence away with music. I remain plugged into my cellphone device like it’s my life support, but Silence still sits next to me. Squishes me against the window. All I can do is sigh, and hope time will fly by as fast as the pipes in the tunnel walls.

Silence will sometimes settle right next to me at any given time – at home, at school, in bed – and play with my hair. Occasionally, Silence will put a hand to my chest, ghostly fingers curling around my heart.

And Silence will settle in: into my heart, soul, and being.

I doze off, but my mind is awake and screaming.

Silence has come to visit. And I fear… Silence has come to stay.