Kicking Horse, more like dragging myself kicking and screaming toward accepting I’m bipolar

All of the coffee I’ve made today has been weak. I’m not sure why. I’ve been using the expensive beans that I usually do when I’m home by myself, taking them from their sealed black bag with the plastic air valve on the side and the little foldy twisty bars at the top that hold it closed and grinding them in the little Japanese hand grinder my ex-boyfriend gave me two years ago.

I brewed it in the same way I’ve been doing for years, too—boil the kettle, put a number-two paper cone filter into the plastic drip cone, balance it over a mug, pour in the fresh grounds, wait for the sudden mad boiling sound and the satisfying click, pour the water, wait. My dad taught me to make it like that when I was a kid so that I could bring it to him, and he coached me kindly through the first time I overfilled the cone with water and the first time I forgot the mug altogether. In fact, I can still hear him saying, “Don’t worry, it’s not going to drip onto the floor,” when I poured too much water, panicking as it leaked, tarlike and hot, onto the white Kenmore stovetop.

Now when I make that same mistake I’m transported back into our old yellow kitchen, holding the white plastic kettle my mother was so suspicious of—even though I’ve since learned that sometimes the coffee will drip all the way to the floor, and even though Dad has since painted the kitchen a nice shade of real estate beige.

Anyway, it tastes terrible today and I’m not sure why. Maybe the beans are just stale. I guess it’s been a few weeks since I bought them, and I guess they don’t keep that long after they’ve been opened. I just never imagined they were actually that fragile. I thought it was more of a precaution, the same way that fancy coffee blogs tell you it’s imperative that you pour the hot water on the grounds in an extremely slow, circular motion, making sure the stream of hot water only hits coffee and never touches paper. They talk about it like every coffee I’ve ever had was undrinkable garbage, overwhelmed by this supposed “paper taste” I have never in my life detected.

I thought it was like that. But I guess not, since my first cup was so tasteless I had to pour it down the sink and try again. More grounds, and the water fresher off the boil this time around, and it’s still barely tolerable, so now I’m not sure what to think.

In general, I pride myself on class mobility as far as coffee goes. I hope to never get so uppity that I can’t chug a gas station coffee waiting for the bus or salvage something truly nasty with enough cream and sugar. But now here I am turning down stuff I’ve brewed with my own hands, in my own dumb apartment. I guess I never imagined I might be fragile either, and I guess that’s the heart of the problem.

I just expect everything to be hotblooded and harsh and galvanizing, and it’s a letdown to me every time anything is anything less than that. Burn my tongue, raise my blood pressure, spike my IQ, disrupt my circadian rhythms. I don’t have time for staleness, I don’t have patience for weakness, and I’m not going to stop feeling at war with the low points in this sine wave psychology of mine. If this is a little on the nose, I’m not worried.


what did you expect

I have been swinging in all directions lately, trying harder and harder to figure out which way to move, and the only thing that seems at all appealing right now is leaving town, heading north and not calling anybody to explain.

I’ve been daydreaming about secluded cabins, cottages in pine forests, shacks on the edges of lakes covered in snow. A fireplace for heat. A blanket of ice. Frost patterns marking the motions of winter all across the windows. An impenetrable place.

A place like that would let me be alone with my thoughts and help me learn to understand my disappointment. Because that’s all I seem to have. That’s all I seem to be: disappointed.

I’ve been trying and trying to cut to the root of the mood swings that have been eating me alive, and that’s the biggest truth I’ve been able to find. I am disappointed that I haven’t accomplished anything yet. I’m disappointed that I’m struggling, that I’m not fixed, that I’m not cured. That even if I corral myself into working hard, studying, attending class, participating–even if I do everything right–even if I eat healthy and sleep well and keep my place clean and remember to spend time with my family–even if I do everything right I can still be sabotaged.

My own brain can short out on me at any moment. I thought that getting out of that house, that school and that town and getting into care–a doctor, a psychiatrist, a therapist–would change that. I thought it would give me stability. I thought I could achieve things once I got here, once I had resources at my fingertips. I thought I could make myself into something, and I thought it would feel worth it to try.

Instead I feel skeptical of everything. There’s no idea I don’t have a reason to reject, no compliment I can’t turn down, no positive I can’t spin into a negative. The committee of judgmental jerks in my head who scoff at everything have never scoffed louder.

I have been sitting here in Sylvia Plath’s plum tree for years now, feeling like the most disgusting caricature of myself possible. Nobody has ever actually made a derogatory comment to me about how I am this walking Damage Girl With Vague Literary Ambitions stereotype, and yet my head is full of them and I can’t shake them out.

I hate who I am now, and even if I follow all my ambitions to their hypothetical ends I’m not sure I’ll like myself then either.

I also don’t think I can get there, because I keep getting bulldozed by depression and then set back by the waves upon waves of emotional and social fallout that come with recovering. And the symptom list is growing, not shrinking. Yesterday I had some kind of anxiety attack, the likes of which I’d never experienced and didn’t understand.

And yet, who knows? I may wake up tomorrow filled with joy and motivation and enough ambition to surpass all the garden-variety immature inability to delay gratification in exchange for hard work. I might achieve things for the moment. But in my overzealousness I will sign up for things, make commitments, make promises, begin projects, and I will never, never be able to fulfill anything once the pendulum swings in the other stupid direction.

I feel like I am building myself a future of constantly setting myself up to fail.

I feel like I am feeding a cycle of disappointment.

I am so, so disappointed.

There’s gonna be someone

There’s gonna be someone, soon enough. Someone else to make my heart skip for a while and ache a while longer, someone to agitate my thoughts and drag them like iron filings in a single, tenuous etch-a-sketch direction, compel them into points like pinpricks of light on a vagabond horizon.

Someone’s bound to come along who will electrify things. Someone who will send surges up my under-insulated synapses, make me rethink this serotonin reuptake inhibition business, let me live like a live wire without shocking me senseless. Someone to remind me it’s the current that’s dangerous.

Someone–eventually–someone’s going to see that I already have all the power I need. Someone’s going to get the importance of polarity, and most of all he’ll see that we’re a circuit, not a battery.

Right now I’m still making lamps out of lemons and alligator clips–allegorically, I am still in ninth grade science getting stuck with the broken lightbulb, wondering all the while where my circuit was mislaid.

I’d like to say

That I see you there across the room, fingers stuck together with electric tape. But “you” have always been abstract, even when I thought I recognized the patterns. I’ve never drawn a schematic that would tell me what to look for.

But you’re gonna be someone, I’m sure–and I can’t map out the mechanisms, sort these options, bend these prisms from the back bench of the class. You’re a hypothetical, and until you get close, all this extra energy has nowhere else to go


It’s so much easier not to try than it is to deal with screwing up.

It’s so much easier to pretend I don’t have any real goals, or that they’re all pipe dreams I’ve never really believed in, than to take actual steps toward achieving them.

It’s so much easier to stay in bed than it is to face daylight.

It was so much easier to be with you than it is to live my life thoroughly.

No amount of knowing better will stop me from missing the snow on the ground and your arms around me, skipping class and wasting the whole afternoon. You and I insulated each other so soundly, and I know I’m supposed to be ambitious, but right now all I want is that safety back.

I know the reason we got out of the shelter we’d been using each other for was that we were both getting restless. But all my moods are so short-lived, my eyelids are heavy and I wish you were here to tell me my heart palpitations are nothing to worry about. I need rest.

I’m not happy with myself tonight because I’ve let myself down by not prioritizing right.

I’m frustrated that I’m not improving as fast as I’d like; that I’m backsliding; that I’m not the force of nature I thought I might be once I shook you off.

I’m disappointed in myself.

But it’s so much easier just to miss you.

Going Home

The thing about the city is that, from the very beginning, it felt more like home to me than my hometown ever did.

I used to be extremely wrapped up in staying in my hometown, in loving the house I grew up in, in having a sense of identity that hinged on living there. More than anything, this was just a little kid thing. My brother and I had always hated change, and growing up under the constant threat of moving to another town (a threat which never actually came to pass) we were, well, pretty clingy about our town.

I always dreamed of traveling the world and seeing new places, as pretty well everyone does, but I don’t think I ever truly imagined enjoying living anywhere else. I was a pretty miserable kid, but I was generally so firmly entrenched in my angst that it never occurred to me that I might be happier under different circumstances. Feeling like an outsider had been my experience for so long that I took it for granted as part of my identity.

When my friend The Snark first visited me at my new apartment in the city, the first thing he said was, “Whoa–you’re so…happy.”

I really was, and it really was kind of noteworthy. When I started university, it took a long time for me to realize that my intense cynicism about it was actually, for the most part, misplaced. I rolled my eyes at the ads for student services, scoffed at the clubs and societies and was generally dismissive of all the things that purported to be cool or useful.

Those were an awkward few weeks, because I was basically wrong about everything.

University was, quite honestly, everything I could have wanted it to be. It sounds ridiculous, but it actually was the free-thinking, diverse, politically aware and well-run place of my dreams, only forty-five minutes away from the conservative, racist, run-down and narrow small town where I’d spent the first eighteen years of my life. Rather than dragging my cynical, sad old self along with me, I basically checked most of my baggage at the door. I was no longer isolated or limited to friends who liked me but didn’t really know what I was talking about. I wasn’t the odd one out of every conversation, I wasn’t constantly being made to feel like my interest in classes was coming off too pretentious and I wasn’t the smartest or most radical person in the room anymore. I was in a place where upward mobility was possible all around me, and it changed everything.

My first semester of university was stressful, sure, but it was also punctuated by bouts of sheer euphoria. It was filled with all these little moments where I was so goddamn happy to be alive I didn’t know how to fully express it. It took a while to place the feeling, but eventually I recognized it for what it was: belonging.

Miss Elisabeth once told me, near the end of grade twelve, “Well, you don’t really fit in here, after all.” She was referring to our mutual hometown, and the comment was made in a positive enough way–she was supporting me when I said I couldn’t wait to move out–but man did it ever sting. As much as I hated the place, it was hard knowing that for all years of trying, all my friendships and connections, all my eighteen years of citizenship, my whole childhood, my neighbours, my two jobs, my entire life as a native of that stupid town, it was still so apparent that I was an outsider. A misfit.

I was never really in sync with the culture of the place, and neither were my parents. They were both transplants from different parts of the GTA, and came out here with no connections at all. I have no idea what possessed them to move to what now appears to be a rapidly deteriorating redneck dump of a town, but I guess that twenty-odd years ago it must have looked quaint or something. Back before the Wal-Mart moved in and sucked the shops on the main street dry, and before they knew what it would be like trying to put kids through a rural public school system or watch said kids have asthma attacks while the neighbours held gleeful, illegal bonfires in their suburban backyards and the fire department wouldn’t do a thing, I guess it must have seemed like a great little place to start a family.

If I’m honest, it was a good enough place for a childhood. I can’t imagine being a little kid in the city. There just isn’t enough grass to go around. Not enough nature, not enough quiet streets for road hockey and cops and robbers, not enough free-roaming neighbour kids, not enough trees. I’m grateful for the woodland trails and the neighbourhood shenanigans, and for the relative safety we had.

But that town was no place for a teenager. To quote Harper Lee, “There was nothing to do, nothing to buy, and no money to buy it with.” After the church-basement movie theater finally got run into the ground by a wildly incompetent owner, the only activities for us were to stay home, go out for coffee or go out to eat. That was all we did, and we did it over and over.

I was often literally bored to tears, but more importantly I was frustrated. Every group or club or service or store failed to meet even the most basic expectations. Everything was bureaucratic and poorly done. Everyone I knew loved to have big ideas and start new programs, but had no concrete plans and never followed through on anything, and years and years of this trained me to believe that this was simply how things were done everywhere.

It was rural, so of course we lacked the activities and special programs that city kids are showered with–IB courses and gifted programs in our schools, fancy arts classes, fancy sports–not to mention our mental health support systems were underfunded, understaffed and generally awful.

It was redneck. It was ignorant. It was exhausting.

There are all kinds of ways to deal with the concept of home, and I tend to alternate. Sometimes I romanticize the place, making it into the same sort of quaint little idyll that my parents must have first visited. Other times I look back to it with plain disgust. But mostly I know that it is what it is, and there are thousands of other towns just like it with thousands of other kids like me who became part of the tried-and-true rural exodus and ran off to the big city.

That said, tomorrow I’m going home for a visit. I don’t do this often, and the last time I did, I was hit with a horrible sinking feeling as soon as the town came into view on the highway.

The sight of the dilapidated shops on the main street depressed me. The astonishingly poor-looking locals wandering around depressed me. The groups of rowdy white tweens in faux gangster gear depressed me. I had the most powerful feeling of regression, and felt all my hometown baggage weighing me down again all at once.

When I go home, I want to be the person I am here, just visiting. I don’t want to be the person I was when I lived there. I want to be able to take up the roots of my sadness dispassionately and turn them over in my hands. I don’t want to have to feel like an outsider in the place where I was born and raised, and I don’t want to feel like a victim of it, because it can’t hold me anymore.

This time, I’m going to try harder to remember that nobody can drag me kicking and screaming back there, and that home is where you make it. I won’t let the town ruin another day. I’ve given the place eighteen years already, and I don’t know how to stop it, but I don’t want to let it take one day more.

I’m going to visit, and this will be my mantra:

It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.