A life update – 2021

Hello, friends. I hope everyone had an okay holiday. Mine was alright. My mother-in-law was here and we rearranged our living room and Clementine’s bedroom. I’ve managed to maintain my house for the past few months. I’ve found that I’ve slipped more and more into a housewife role as I spend more time being a mother. I don’t hate it. I thought I would, but I don’t. I have taught myself to cook, to tidy, to clean, and to watch my child for 13 hour days. It gives me more satisfaction than I thought possible. It’s a new kind of satisfaction – slower, steadier, simpler, but deeper than any I’ve felt before.

I think I am finally finding stability.

Stability looks like routine, lots of sleep, eating regular meals, playing with my kid, going for walks with my neighbor, cuddling with my partner, taking my dogs outside, making dinner, doing dishes, watching my favorite shows, reading books, kissing my kid. Stability is wonderful. Sometimes I still sink into depression but I know I’ll always climb back up. I won’t always stay in bed. That’s the good thing about having a mood disorder – the moods never last. They always change. Nothing is forever, just like in life.

I’ve been reading voraciously lately. I’m currently reading the Millennium series by Stieg Larsson. I can’t put the books down. I relate deeply to Lisbeth and always have, so it’s fun to read about her rather just watching her come to life on a screen. Reading fulfills me. I find it meditative and dissociative at the same time. It’s an escape unlike watching TV in that it consumes me fully, whereas with TV I’m not fully engaged – half of me is elsewhere. I can fully disappear into a book, mind/body/soul. And lately, I love that. It’s helped me climb out of the massive depression I experienced in December. I’ve read nine books in about three weeks.

I am still struggling with my feelings of inadequacy, which is partly why I’m writing. I feel like I am obligated to create and to write and to do something with my time even though my heart knows that motherhood is enough. I struggle with feeling like a failure because I’ve applied for disability and if it’s approved, that means I acknowledge that I am incapable of working and living the life that’s expected of most Americans. I know it’s for the best and it would be a huge weight off my shoulders but it still hurts and feels awkward.

I think my obsessions with fame and success come from a variety of places – my family, capitalism, white supremacy, ego, self-hate. We’re born into a world that stresses the importance of wealth and achievement. I don’t think it’s like this everywhere, but it’s like this here and because I am disabled, I am automatically less than. At least that’s how it feels. I know that in the grand scheme, my survival is what matters and I have done a good job at being alive. That should count for something, especially when your mind works against you. But here, in this place, it barely does. You’re supposed to want more, bigger, better. You’re supposed to be an individual and you’re supposed to conquer and achieve and make more and more money. I don’t want that, but it’s ingrained in me that I’m supposed to want that and search and strive for it.

Anyway, I’m still working this out in myself. I don’t know where to go with it other than to try to fight it. So to fight it, I’m going to stop writing now and go back to hanging out with my kid.

xo,

Leif

Blogging again.

Hello. I miss writing. I was going to start writing on a new blog but I realized that the things I want to say probably fit better here. So here’s a recent post from the blog I tried to start. I’ll be moving all of my recent posts to Big Mouth and then I’ll start blogging new stuff once I’m done.

Hi friends. I just finished cleaning my house and so now my brain is clear enough to write. Does anyone else find that you can’t do anything that requires thought when your house is a mess? I’m not the best cleaner, but I have to tidy in order to think creatively or otherwise. Sometimes I feel insecurity over my cleaning abilities because I feel I just do the bare minimum. I still have some of that punk rat mentality in my bones, though I’ve gotten better over the years. One time my brother came over to my house and told me my bathroom looked like it belonged to a drug addict. He wasn’t far off.

I guess that’s a decent segue into where my mind has been recently. I made some drastic changes in my life this summer and I’m not sure how happy I am with some of them. I’ve been clean (I hate that word) from weed for three months now and I’m considerably less happy than I was when I was smoking it. I love weed. I really do. But right now I can’t afford it and it doesn’t mesh well with my medication. As in, it makes me feel like I am on meth (which I have never used). If they ever change my meds and weed is legalized federally or locally, I will surely smoke it again. I have no shame about that. It was medicine for me, as it has proven to be for many folks who suffer from PTSD.

I’m not super impressed with the “care” I got from the Mayo Clinic over the summer. They’re the folks who made all these changes in my life and told me I needed to quit weed and CBD permanently. They didn’t put me on Latuda – another doctor did – but they certainly won’t let me get off of it. A few weeks ago, I decided I was going to stop taking it on my own and I got a stern lecture and a threat with inpatient. I didn’t appreciate that very much. As soon as you take their control and power away, it’s like these doctors have to resort to threats to maintain their hold on you. They especially did not like it when I told them I probably know more about mental health than anyone working in inpatient. Perhaps that sounds conceited but when you consider how young many of the employees in the system are, it’s kind of true. I’ve been in the system for 20 years, which is longer than most of them have been in school.

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abandoned property with lots of old cars and trucks.

And I don’t just swallow my pills. I do my research. I know my body and my mind pretty fucking well. And sometimes the things they say don’t sit right with me. Sometimes the things they tell me to do feel wrong. I let these doctors take full control over my life this summer and then they dropped me and I’ve been suffering since. I don’t feel pleasure anymore. I feel flat and uninterested in life. I miss the ways I used to think. Sometimes I even miss my mania. I miss my antics. I miss the excitement.

That’s not to say that my life is bad – it’s not. I have a ton to be grateful for and I am. I am even grateful, some of the time, for the stability. Stability just scares me because it isn’t distracting. I’m forced to sit with and confront the pain that I’m able to avoid while manic or smoking weed or traveling across the world and sleeping with a bunch of randos. And again, I’m not saying any of these things are better for me, but sometimes I get bored when things are… boring.

I know I talked about that last week.. my unending boredom. It’s getting sort of better, I guess? Idk, I’m kind of your typical Aries in that I always need to be starting new projects that I rarely finish, like this blog or like becoming a seamstress, which is what I decided I was going to do a few months ago and which I now realize I hate. Why in god’s name did I ever think I would have the patience to sew full getups for myself? Am I crazy??

Well, yes.

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Earlier this fall, Forrest and I were determined to start a podcast called Grim River, thinking we could maybe find time between parenting, work, and maintaining our house to do something like that. Turns out we don’t really have that kind of time and we generally aren’t even that good at working together on that level. We’re better at maintaining separate passion projects because we have vastly different working styles. But anyway, that’s just another example of a project I put a ton of work into only for it to fizzle out and transform into something else (this blog.)

Parenting takes up most, if not all, of my time. I get two nap times a day where I can do what I need to do but you can’t cram it all into that time. Like just now I remembered that I’ve forgotten to meditate today. Well, how exactly am I supposed to find time for that when I’m also responsible for cleaning, cooking, and caring for a child? And when I have ideas for, say, a YouTube video or a blog post that I want to churn out in the small period of time while she’s asleep? Then the meditation doesn’t feel like medicine, it feels like slow torture, lol. It feels like me prying myself away from my life so that I can do something arbitrary and check off a little box on a list.

The thing is, no one knows what is best for me other than me. People like the Mayo Clinic doctors can make guesses, but I am ultimately in control over my life. I am not powerless and I refuse to believe that ever again. What a horrible thing to tell survivors of assault! No, we are not powerless. We are not destined to give our lives over to others so that they can dictate what we do and how we live. We are no longer children. We are no longer being bullied or abused. We are adults and we get to make choices over how we live. If I want to smoke weed, that’s within my rights. If I want to stop taking Latuda, that’s my right. Do I plan to? No. But for my own sanity, I need to know that I am the one in control over me and not some doctor who has only talked to me for ten minutes.

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I am sick of feeling frail and week. When I got my bipolar diagnosis, I felt just that. I felt out of control and like I didn’t know myself anymore. I felt like I needed someone to tell me what to do and how to live because I thought I’d gotten it all wrong for all these years and that I was truly just batshit insane. But I am not insane. What we call insanity, a quote that I don’t fully remember says, is a sane reaction to an insane world. I am fundamentally incapable of pretending to see things in ways that don’t ring true to me. I was born to be fully honest about how I see the world and myself and if there’s anything I can give people, it’s that honesty.

And, friends, I honestly hate the mental health system. All of it. I hate it. I think it’s fully inadequate, misguided, and problematic. I hate feeling infantilized by people who frankly know less than I do (and less than most of the afflicted know). I hate feeling forced to give over my self-control. I hate feeling imprisoned. The main reason I wanted to be hospitalized earlier this year was because my perception of myself didn’t line up with the perception others apparently had of me and it was a terrifying feeling to experience when I’ve spent so much time trying to be fully honest with myself and others. It was like… how could I have missed this? Maybe I don’t know myself so well after all.

But I do and I did and there was no need for me to feel powerless. I have held my personal power all along. I am capable of being sober if I want to be sober and I’m capable of smoking weed if I want to smoke weed and I’m capable of being medicated if I want to take meds and I’m also capable of doing the opposite of all of those things. The most important part is knowing that I have a choice. For so long throughout my childhood, I didn’t have any choices. I was trapped, imprisoned. That is no longer the case. And the more I tell myself I am powerless, the more those memories of abuse and assault and imprisonment start to consume me. I am free. Hallefuckinglujah. And I will never allow anyone to take that from me.

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I think of my “insane” siblings of the past and the things they went through in order for these changes to be made in the mental health system. Changes like having a choice over your care. Having a choice over the meds you take. Having a choice about whether or not you go to the hospital. So many people like me were taken (and still sometimes are) against their wills and imprisoned in asylums. They were beaten and betrayed by the very people who were supposed to help them. And these practices are hardly old and, in some ways, they have hardly changed. Asylums still exist, but not as publicly. Psych wards are more like prisons, too unlike the “real world” to be effective for anything other than keeping people from killing themselves for short periods of time. And if you’re not suicidal but you are feeling downdowndown, where do you go? There is nowhere for you, really. You just suffer through it, especially now during pandemic times. Most of our safe spaces are closed. We are left to fend for ourselves. Can we? How many will die by their own hands by the end of this?

I fear for winter.

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My view is dark and depressing, sure, but I live this. I watch my loved ones live this. I watch people clench their teeth and suffer through life, experiencing so little pleasure because of their limitations and because of the limitations society has placed upon us. How much easier would life be if people made room for difference? I suppose we can’t know that.

My life is good, though, and I’m happier than I’ve been in months this week. I remind myself daily of the things I have to be grateful for – my daughter, my partner, my dogs, my home, my breath, my being. But being grateful doesn’t mean I can’t also be angry and dissatisfied. You can be both-and. You can feel the full spectrum of emotion at the same time – that doesn’t make you wrong.

I think I will always challenge the things I don’t agree with. I’m not a sheep – I can’t be herded. I won’t be silenced. I won’t be satisfied when I know we could do so much better. I’m not exactly sure what that looks like. I have ideas and they fizzle out. I think about things like starting a big Zoom meeting for survivors and people suffering through the pandemic and I make these plans and then I feel small and powerless and useless and like i want to give up and hide. I don’t know the answer. I just have a lot of questions.

This week, I’ve challenged myself to stop striving and start accepting. My goal is to stop setting so many goals. To just be – still and satisfied. My goal is to do nothing and to be okay with that. To rest, to move my body, to make nourishing meals, to spend time with my child. To not have to strive for something grandiose beyond that. To be okay in my skin, where I sit. I must do this so that I can come back wiser and with more fight in my bones. I’ve been fighting blindly in my pain and rage. It’s important to take time to reflect on where we want to direct that fight so that we aren’t wasting energy. So that I’m not wasting energy. I’ve been wasting my energy on these blind fights. I will sit and reflect so that I may someday find my way again.

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Motherhood has left me with an identity crisis like I haven’t experienced since the start of my pregnancy. When I found out I was pregnant, I feared I would have to throw my life and dreams away. Now I just don’t know what or where my dreams are. I don’t know what I want. I barely know who I am. I am caught in this place between mother and artist, sometimes falling more to one side than the other and realizing my balance is off. Realizing that I need to make a change and show up more for one part, only to find then that the other is missing. I wonder if and when I will ever find that balance. I wonder if I will find my footing again.

Being real with myself, though, I know I’ve never found that footing. I have never had balance. I’ve always been wild. I find stability for a short period of time, get bored, and destroy it. This is the longest period of stability I’ve ever had in my adulthood and I know that’s part of why I am having this crisis… because so much of my identity has been plain and simple chaos. The chaos is gone and now who am I? Mother? I’m a MOTHER?? That’s a wild concept to a formerly wild child. But every day, I choose to embrace it. I choose stability. I choose my family. And that choice isn’t wrong but it comes with pain and uncertainty. And yet, I still choose it. I choose it despite my own discomfort because I know it’s a million times better than where I was.

Why do we crave our own sickness? As a child abuse survivor, it’s probably because that’s what I know. Sickness is what I grew up with. Sickness, chaos, insanity – it’s in my bones. I have to actively choose against it in order to be safe and okay. And I do. And I will continue to.

Perhaps I’ve drastically contradicted myself through this blog post. Forgive me if so. My brain is still recovering from the summer and my switch from massive mania into deep depression and then slightly back up to this… stability? And stability is more uncomfortable for me than either of the extremes. It is the most unknown – it’s foreign. And so I hate it, lol.

Maybe my inconsistency in this post will make more sense if I tell you that the first and second parts were written on two separate days. Can you feel, then, how jumbled and uncertain my state of mind is? I never know who I’ll be when I wake up. I never know what outlook I’ll have or what mood I’ll be in or how I’ll interact with the world around me. And that, fundamentally, is what makes me “crazy.” But it’s also what makes me an artist. It’s what makes me … me. And I think I’m okay with that so long as I still have my breath, my heart, my family, and my ability to communicate those wild feelings with words – here, for you.

Bye!

Oh, hi.

Been awhile, huh? I barely know how to write anymore. I did the YouTube thing for a few years but it doesn’t bring me the same satisfaction that writing does. I’m starting a new blog called Grim River. I’ll post a link when it’s ready. Until then, here’s a little update:

I … have a one year old little girl. Her name is Clementine and she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. That’s my biggest update.

I finally cut ties with my family. They’re abusive. Wasn’t hard to see that from miles away, was it?

I got into photography.

I live in the Driftless Area of Minnesota.

I still haven’t published my memoir but I want to… badly. Having a kid takes up most of my time (as it should.)

Oh, and I found out I have Bipolar Disorder, just this summer actually. Bipolar I to be exact. I’m sure no one is surprised.

My new blog will be about mental health, tragedy on the Mississippi River, and my photography. The Mississippi River will be the focal point, but I’ll also be discussing my mental state.

That’s all for now. I’ll have a link for you soon.

Check out my new YouTube channel

As part of my undying quest to find the appropriate outlet to express myself, I’ve started adding content to my YouTube channel and plan to do so until I run out of steam. That could literally be next week, who knows. The point is that I made a video and I’m inviting you to watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4RDgHuWMrE&t=3s

Myths of Men

* This essay was originally published on Lunch Ticket, Antioch University Los Angeles’ student-run literary journal. Check out our website for handpicked fiction, poetry, translation, memoir, and more.

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Myths of Men

I am a myth-maker; I make myths of men. My journals and essays and mental spaces are filled with names like Jared, Jeter, and Jefferson, all of them monsters I tried to tame with a pen. My version of myth-making is a form of self-deception. I don’t do this on purpose. It’s a defective coping mechanism—a way to withstand unbearable situations, like drinking to warm yourself on a cold night. You may fool your brain into thinking your body is warm, but it doesn’t stop your body from developing frostbite. These myths may pacify my terror around abusers, but they don’t stop the abuse.

This is where the perennial truth versus fact debate in creative nonfiction gets even more complicated. What happens when I feel like I’m telling the truth, but it turns out to be a lie? What if the facts are correct, I just left some out? What if I feel just as duped as the reader when the truth reveals itself? Continue reading

If You’re Crazy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands!

I will never again read a book about mental illness by someone who doesn’t suffer from it. Yesterday morning, I found my mother’s copy of a book on borderline personality disorder that I’ve long resisted reading because of its name: I Hate You — Don’t Leave Me. I decided to peruse a few chapters, hoping they might shed some light on the increased rage I’ve been experiencing. This was a mistake.

A few paragraphs in, the shame was dripping like sweat down my body. The borderline’s outbursts of rage are as unpredictable as they are frightening…  Most therapists will, whenever possible, try to limit the number of borderline patients they treat.

Ouch.

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Looking For Love in All the Dark Places: Self-Harm, Romance, and Sheep Centaurs

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I want to tell you about a very stupid and embarrassing thing I did this morning. (If my shame list was still being written, this would be on it.) When I got home from Milwaukee last night, I squeezed ketchup and mustard all over my face and took some pictures of the aftermath in one of many personal attempts to challenge aesthetic conventions. And then – big mistake – I posted it on social media. It went mostly “unliked” and, feeling humiliated, I deleted it. I do this quite often. I post a photo, wait to see if it’s worth any social capital, and, if it’s not, I virtually incinerate it. I then spend a few hours fighting the urge to put a Jewel-Osco bag over my head.

How’s that for an unflattering truth? I’m mortified to confess that I’ve enlisted myself in this battle for online attention, but I’m doing it because you’ve probably enlisted yourself, too.

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Runaway Bride Confessions and First Year Anniversary Reflections

Holy shiz, yesterday was Big Mouth’s first year anniversary. Time continues to mystify me.

I started this blog shortly after my wedding was called off and I returned home from Europe. The first post was both an apology and a goodbye letter — an apology because I felt like I fucked a lot of people over in my runaway bridehood and a goodbye letter because I would soon sprint back to Europe under the guise of needing to “find myself” — the empty claim of every 20-something runaway ever.

I wasn’t as candid then as I am now and there’s finally enough distance for me to be honest about what happened.

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Tramp Stamps and Pillow Sex: A Master List of Things I’m Ashamed Of

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(let’s get naked. emotionally.)

Shame sucks. It’s seriously one of the most detrimental feelings a human being can experience. Its goal is to cut you off from the rest of the world so that no one else has to see how horrible/disturbed/disgusting you really are. Shame shows itself in red faces, clenched fists, and lacking eye contact.

Guilt, when it’s justified, can be useful. Guilt inspires positive change and keeps us from repeating the same mistakes. Don’t know the difference between guilt and shame? Guilt is feeling shitty about something you’ve done that violates your own moral code. Shame is going from “I did a shitty thing” to “I am a shitty person.” Shame revolves around the idea that there is something inherently wrong with you. It’s triggered by rejection, by ostracization, by embarrassment… any number of things, really. 

Guilt promotes forward movement. Shame keeps you stuck and scared and small. Shame prohibits growth.

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Stop Rocking My Shame Boat: Women, Shame, and Sexuality

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A few months ago, a friend suggested that I write something about shame. I’ve resisted doing so until now because a.) shame is an enormous topic b.) it sucks and c.) it permeates pretty much every facet of my life, so WHERE WOULD I EVEN BEGIN???!!!

(Caps aren’t appropriate for professional writing, Leif.)

(Fuck you, subconscious parenthetical voice.)

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