I’ll probably never recover

And that’s okay. I’ll get better. I’ll learn to manage my symptoms. I’ll find ways to live a good and fulfilling life despite my struggles. In fact, I’ve already done these things. And I will continue to do them so long as I’m breathing. But will I fully recover? Nah. Especially now that bipolar is in the mix (it never goes away!) but even without that, I don’t think C-PTSD is currently curable. How could it be? Why would we expect that of people?

My parents used to ask what it would take for me to get better and live a normal life with a normal job. What I should have said was that it would have taken a childhood that they weren’t involved in. I remember sitting down at an intake for residential treatment, my parents seated next to me. My dad turned to the greying counselor seated across the room and said, “so can you fix her or what?”

Ohhh, you stupid idiot.

I wish at the time I’d had the knowledge or the audacity that I have now – enough to say something back to that. But instead I sat there, head in my hands, probably still hungover from the night before.

For the record, the treatment didn’t fix me. Didn’t even come close. It added more trauma to my life in the form of my friend hanging herself in the room next to me the night I relapsed. I left in far worse shape than when I went in. I got sober again a few months later on my own, without the expensive, infantilizing treatment.

I think so often we forget in our excitement to get better that mental health treatment is an industry. For many people, it’s a business. In some ways, we – the sick – are both the product and the consumer. The business couldn’t exist without us and no one would buy it if we didn’t exist. We are fueling a monster. A cursory Google search just now revealed that the industry is worth AT LEAST an estimated $300 billion. That’s more than the fucking diet industry. The two have a lot in common – false promises of a better life, faulty methods, and a system that people end up depending on for years upon years because… it doesn’t work.

I feel kind of crappy because for months – even years – I have tried to convince my partner to see a therapist even though my own experiences have been shit across the board. It’s no wonder he digs his heels in after seeing the bullshit I’ve gone through trying to find a decent person to talk to. And the help I get is free because I get help from the government. If he sees a shitty therapist, he has to pay partially out of pocket. If they suck or mistreat him, he’s literally paying for his own suffering.

I think I suggest therapy because a part of me still wants to believe that there’s a magic fix out there. That talking to someone can cure these massive traumas, these years upon years of pain and suffering. But most of these people haven’t come close to suffering in the same ways and if they have, they usually aren’t mentally stable enough to be helping others. Can’t really win.

Will I keep looking for the right therapist? Probably. I found someone decent to shoot the shit with but I don’t think she’s going to heal my trauma in a profound way. She’s more like a friend that I can vent to. In some ways, I think that’s the best I’m going to find until there’s a radical awakening within the entire system. It starts with adding C-PTSD to the DSM and ceasing to label deeply traumatized people with BPD. DBT is not the cure. I’m sorry, but it’s just not. It might help people stabilize to a certain extent, but that’s it. It doesn’t get to the core issues. I have yet to find a type of therapy that really attacks the core of complex trauma. And yes, I’ve tried everything that’s been recommended.

The more I strive for something unattainable, the more I suffer. The more I realize that I’ve made it in so many ways – that I’ve survived despite my circumstances – the happier and more satisfied I feel. If this is as good as it gets, I’m okay with that. I’ve come a long fucking way on my own.

You know what helps? Writing about it. Making art. Sharing your feelings with people you trust. Loving people. Making friends. Chilling in nature. Maybe the occasional therapy session but, trust me, it isn’t black magic. If your life isn’t 100% better after a handful of therapy sessions, there is nothing wrong with you. You’re just on the shit end of a terrible money-making machine.

Sorry to be so jaded but that’s what I have for you today.

Wish you well.

xo,

Leif

It’s all bullshit and lies.

a little home for my chronic emptiness

We’re striving for bullshit. We’re feeding on lies. Every moment I spend thinking about what I don’t have is a wasted moment. I have it all. I have a family, a home, clothing, food, pets, safety. And yet.. I want. I want fame and fortune, glory and attention. I want to be seen and heard. I am seen and heard! But I want more. I’ve been taught to want more. I was taught by my parents and then by American society. And even after detaching myself from those original teachers, I’m still left wanting. I sit here teaching myself. I tell myself that what I have isn’t enough. It’s not enough to blog for a small audience – I need a HUGE audience. Why? I don’t know. I just know that that’s what I’m supposed to want. It’s what I should have if I’m going to feel like I have purpose.

I’m supposed to do more. Louder. Bigger. I’m supposed to attract attention – a lot of it. I’m supposed to be universally appealing. I’m supposed to have money that I can spend on things that will allegedly make me happier – things like clothing and VR headsets and expensive vehicles. Survival is no longer coveted. No, we must go beyond that. We must THRIVE. And by whose standards? I can’t say I know anymore. I think it comes from American/European values, which are hollow and meaningless and yet so many of us strive and strive and strive to achieve them.

It makes me feel awful.

I am happiest when I’m not trying to achieve anything for anyone other than myself. I feel best in the woods, surrounded by no one but trees with no need to impress anyone or anything. This pandemic + the changing of the seasons makes living up to that ideal kind of difficult. And as time has gone on, I’ve spent less time in the woods and more time in front of screens. I’ve been trying to find happiness in places like TikTok that do nothing but make me feel small and worthless.

Social media is a comparison machine. The higher the numbers I see next to the people smiling at me from my screen, the more I feel like I need to compete. When I turn it all off and enjoy the silence of my life, I feel better. I had a nice life for a few months when I was completely detached from social media. I took pictures and went on road trips and had a more stable mood throughout. Then I decided I needed more. I needed to share my photos, so I went on Instagram. I started following other photographers for inspiration and then the comparisons began. It got so bad that I completely stopped taking pictures because I realized how many skilled photographers exist and how far behind I am with my own photography. Just browsing Instagram made me give up a hobby that I previously found so much pleasure in – just for me. Slow, beautiful enjoyment. It was gone like that, just because I was following some strangers on a stupid app.

The numbers game started. Once I started posting my own photography, I started obsessing over how many likes my photos got. They didn’t get a lot, so I told myself I was shit. I had restarted the addiction cycle. The attention I was getting there wasn’t enough, so I downloaded TikTok and started posting there, though I knew that was probably the worst place for me to spend time. And sure enough, after a few weeks on TikTok without much “success,” I decided that wasn’t enough and started thinking about going back on OnlyFans, which would undoubtedly trigger a manic episode. Where in the hell would I find the time or energy for that? I would find it in the extremes of my ego, probably.

So here I am, just a few weeks later. I’ve mostly stopped blogging. I’ve entirely stopped taking photos. I spend hours upon hours on TikTok, just staring about people and striving for things I don’t have. I’ve started obsessing about fame again, which is a red flag for my mania. Last night, I was strongly considering restarting my OnlyFans and even posted an “I’ll be back soon” message. The more time I’m on social media, the more I think about my other addictions, especially weed. I’ve thought constantly about smoking again. By spending time on social media, I am feeding the cycle of addiction. It is safer and slower here on WordPress where I can share my thoughts and feelings for you without worrying about numbers. I mean, I will still probably worry a little bit because that’s what these platforms are designed for, but it’s slower and steadier here. I can manage it better.

And I deleted TikTok. Let’s hope that lasts, huh? It’s amazing how fast my life went down the shitter after I downloaded it again. I’ve been chronically dissatisfied since the moment I opened that evil app and I’m tired of it. I’m better than that. Though it doesn’t really matter how much self-control or awareness you have – TikTok, by some sort of black magic, will easily destroy all of it. The only solution is to stay away.

Anyway, that’s all I have. Let me know if you can relate to any of this. I would love to hear from you.

xo,

Leif

Imposter Syndrome

Another post I’m transferring from my new blog because it fits better here.

I enjoyed my blog more when I wasn’t trying to get followers – when it was just a project meant to provide a home for my photography. Now I’m back in that sick cycle of feeling irrelevant unless I have such and such amount of followers. I got back on Instagram and now I’m back to comparing myself and judging the quality of my photos. I see professionals who have probably been at this for 10 years and I think, “well I might as well give up because they’re so much further along than me.” But is that really why we, as humans, have hobbies? To show off? Or is it because we love the craft and the process.Mother Mary

I know this about myself – as soon as I get wrapped up more in gaining attention than in the process of making art, the art becomes miserable. Why do I do this? I don’t know. It could have something to do with my mania. But it’s unnecessary. An artist makes art because they have to, not fundamentally for others. Sure, the eyes of others are a bonus. We want that validation – everyone does. But that’s not why we make the art in the first place. It’s not why we need to write or paint or sing. We need to do those things because there exists a force within us that tells us those things are necessary. Save us all!

Because I have only been taking photos for about a year, I struggle endlessly with feeling like an imposter. It’s a brand new craft and even though I love it, there are many things I don’t yet understand and haven’t been able to grasp. Something that brings me solace is the fact that I’ve seen loads of old people take up photography as a hobby in their old age and, in doing so, they probably rarely if ever think about the eyes of others, but only about the fact that taking photos brings them joy. I hate this obsession I have with validation and needing the eyes of others to create and I think the only way to fight it is to keep creating regardless of who watches. To do it because I have to, because I love it.

I’ve been doing things I don’t really enjoy because I get more followers. Things like making videos for YouTube and considering a podcast and posting videos on TikTok. I did those things because I knew there were people consuming that type of content, even if it wasn’t the type of content I wanted to be making. Part of the reason I stopped blogging was because I knew people weren’t reading blogs as much, even though blogging brought me more joy. It was a slower pace and allowed me to practice the skill I went to school for – writing. I traded that for something hollow for the sake of validation from people I don’t know and will probably never meet. I couldn’t just be satisfied with the modest reader-base I had acquired. I needed more.

And I do think that’s my mania speaking. My manic self wants fame and glory. My depressed self doesn’t give a shit. She’s satisfied with hiding, with the slower paced, more modest life. My manic self is not. She wants the spotlight. And perhaps that’s not only because of mania but also because of my trauma. I seek attention because I don’t have a lot of people in my life. I seek validation from strangers because I don’t have a family. That’s sad. The validation I get from strangers isn’t the same. It’s not like the love of a family. It’s fleeting. And that’s why I always need so much more of it.

I don’t really know what I’m doing with my life. I thought I would have a book published by now but instead I have a child and I can’t afford to edit a potentially traumatizing book while I’m trying to raise her. So it’s gone on the back burner and I have photography in its place. I’m not the best at it but I’m not the worst. I’m just okay. And if I want to progress at all I need to be satisfied with that and stop striving for this American ideal of being the best. I know that’s where half of this comes from is just American dream bullshit. We’re not supposed to be satisfied with having just enough. We’re supposed to want millions, the big mansion, the fancy car, the perfect family, the perfected skill. We’re supposed to strive for greatness. And I think that American ideal got lodged somewhere in my brain even though my heart doesn’t fully agree with it – even though part of me wants a humble, quiet, just-enough life. I suppose that bipolarity fits my diagnosis, doesn’t it? I’m a person of extremes.

The undertone with all of it is a fair amount of self-hatred. I’m just endlessly uncomfortable with who I am, how I feel, the way I exist in the world. Because I haven’t been on social media for a few months, I feel like no one, like all of my friends have forgotten about me. It feels like in order to be loved, you have to be a slave to these systems that you may hate. And boy do I fucking hate them. I hate the feelings I get when I scroll Instagram and see people who seem to be doing better than me in this or that way – a feeling I don’t really have when I’m not on the Internet. I’m much more comfortable with modesty and humility when I’m disconnected. Social media raises the stakes in ways that feel involuntary. Does anyone else feel that?

I prefer the quiet life to the comparisons, judgment, self-hate, and isolation I feel when I’m connected to the Internet. Isn’t it supposed to have the opposite effect? But then how would they rope us in? These negative emotions are crucial for maintaining an audience. The worse you feel, the more you check, the more you compare, the more you judge, the more your scroll. It’s brilliant, really. And since social media has been compared to a casino, we can roll with that metaphor and consider the poor soul who loses ten bucks to a machine, feels shitty, and then is hit with this determination to feel better using the very thing that’s caused them distress. They spend ten more. Lose it. Another ten. Lose it. And on and on. That’s what I feel every time I post.

Blogging is different. It is slower. It’s fairly desolate. I’m doing it for me more than for accolades. And so I will continue to do this so long as I still have words to write. Typing hurts less than handwriting these days because of my pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel. And I enjoy providing a home for my photos. But the more I think about the eyes and trying to find validation, the more I want to curl up and die. So perhaps it’s best to just do this in silence, for myself, because I have to.

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!

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

Cut You Open, Crawl Inside

By Jia Sung for my Narrative.ly piece.

The following is the result of me trying to fit a bunch of thoughts about love, sex, and intimacy into a single piece. It came out as a poem… or a list… or something. It’s a quick and probably painless read that dips into things like saying “I love you” too quickly, unfortunate standards around intimacy, and ineffective healing strategies.

Can I plz sleep inside ur skin, bb?

Continue reading