Falcon Ridge 2018

I've been trying to figure out how to write about Falcon Ridge this year since the moment I got on site.  There is one thing I'm sure of now, the festival gives you what you need if you let it, and sometimes what you need is some deep healing. Healing hurts, and I hate to associate my home with pain, but this year was a strange and visceral rollercoaster that threw me off the other end into a peace that I know I can't really feel anywhere else. A peace I know is not lasting unless I foster it. 

This past year broke me, physically, mentally, emotionally, artistically, and financially,  and good part of this year's fest was spent in quiet contemplation, often painful contemplation about what and who I lost and what I hope to gain in the next year. Falcon Ridge is a touch stone for me, each year I can look back on the previous one and notice how I've changed and how my family there has changed. This year I noticed that I needed to be closer to that family, I spent more time at camp mostly listening to the conversation, jumping in when I was able, but trying to soak up the calm as much as I could. 

It is the people of this festival who make it so incredible, I watched a child chase a butterfly across the hill, my photograph was taken under the milky way, I danced alone on the hill to Vance Gilbert as I sobbed cleansing tears after a tough day the day before. I was allowed to be quiet and feel my sadness on Friday, but I was also lifted up and not allowed to sit in it by people who have been where I am right now. The love and safety that surrounds our little bubble in Hillsdale is something indescribable, and the relationships I've gained and deepened from this festival are special, a glance shared with Katie, while Tracy Grammer sings our anthem brought back how far we had to come to get right where we were, I'm not usually a softie but on that hill I let down my armor, I cry, I laugh, I dance. 

I mentioned family a few times, and when I say family I mean a fiercely protective beautiful tribe that I've come to know and love both inside and outside the festival.  One that has no problem handing over food and aloe for my empty stomach and my sunburnt back. One that tells me the world will open up even if it doesn't feel like it now because it did for her. One that greets me with open arms and a reassuring word when emotionally things got a little too intense on the journey that was given to me this year. It is the Budgiedome family that keeps me going back every year, and it is that family that serves as a reminder throughout the year that there is a little bit of peace in the world even if it's only for a couple of days on Dodd's Farm. 

This festival is a gift. The people are a gift.

So thank you. There are not really words for what you all have done for me.

I guess what I'm saying is what we say every year. 

I'm going into town for 51 weeks, I'll be home soon. 

 

 

a new place to call, a place: art to follow

I've gotten about 1/4 of the way settled into my new room in a strange town with strangers living around me. I'm comfortable in the quiet, I get up, go to work, come home, eat, make a little art, and sleep. My new place I am not willing to call home yet, but it is comfortable, I am comfortable. Of course what comes with big huge scary changes is a lot of uncertainty, having to move so suddenly and what feels like so irrationally has thrown me for a loop, my fight or flight response is in overdrive. The rug has been pulled out from my feet and I don't think the floor is underneath it anymore. I am always anxious. Even when I'm sleeping I'm anxious. You could probably power a small television with my resting heart rate. Yet I am comfortable, or at least comfortable in the uncomfortableness. I think being an artist especially prepared me for that, change in location or attitude can make dead art alive again. That's what I've been creating recently, dead art, so a change of pace, of place, maybe I will start creating something alive again.

Of course I am alone and struggling and thanking the universe that I have friends and family who bring me food and talk me up for the next photo gig, it makes a huge difference, it makes me feel like I have a village, a team behind me. 

I write this from my bed in my new place and I'm content. Unsure of what's going to happen next or if this little experiment in flying from the nest in a very non-ceremonial fashion is going to crash and burn in a couple months. I hope it doesn't, because I am content. I am ready to create again

folding,fading

i think, i think i might be fading
fading or maybe shrinking
maybe both
i think i may be folding
the soft parts of my body
so i take up less space
the box i need to fit in
the small space
is much smaller than i
so i keep fading, shrinking, folding
my bones ache
like growing pains, but shrinking pains
compression and cracks in my thick skin
my skin is not thick anymore
i am soft and shrinking and fading
sometimes i think maybe, maybe
it is not fading but change
it may be rebirth after long periods of danger
my fading and folding and shrinking
it might be metamorphosis
maybe i'll walk tall again
walk outside in full HD
no longer shrinking, no longer fading
maybe the box will break
and i'll run free

in between

we're here, but we're not
in that in-between phase
where the fear runs our days
and the heaviness our nights
each night we close our eyes
whispers of stay, stay, stay
please stay
but every morning our hearts
say go, our heads say run
we were never good at running
slow and always looking behind us
always preparing to trip
the fog that settles in
right before the heaviness
is our only solace
telling the outside world
that we are worth it
but only with a push
 

Faith, Frustrations, the Sacrament of the Sick, and Flowers

The whole world fades to nothing when a family member is dying, and as the clock starts moving at an impossible speed towards the end, the more exhausted you and the other caretakers are, the more terrified you are, and the more frustrated you are. Then for her, the one actually dying from a disease that she cannot understand because dementia has taken away her ability to hold conversations, to use words that make sense, to say what's going through her mind without getting frustrated it's so much harder. Pain, hallucinations, distress, it's all a terrible guessing game with the hope that you've given her the right medications in the right order so that she is suffering as little as possible, because there is no cure. People around us are starting to help in wonderful ways, sending food, cards, coming to visit, the generosity has been overwhelming and beautiful. 

For me, it's hard, I'm a loner, so the constant revolving door of people has been exhausting, because I have to show up. I was taught to show up by some very important people in my life, and now I do. I do wish that I could really give a person who doesn't live with this every day a glimpse into what it's really like, because it's terrible, death is all about the living, but the dying process is painful for both the caretakers and the person who is terminally ill. There is no way to explain to someone what it's like to hold your breath every time you walk into her room because you are afraid you will find her not breathing, gone, or you're afraid to find her still breathing because she's in so much pain both physically and mentally. That kind of cognitive dissonance brings to me at least the kind of guilt that is tearing me apart a little. There's no way to explain the ice pick to the heart that is a very kind "you're a nice girl, thank you" after helping her back to bed, knowing she's got no clue who you are. 

Also people keep sending fucking flowers. My. House. Smells. Like. A. Funeral. Home. At least send a potted plant (which if I'm being honest I probably wouldn't be able to keep alive either but still), flowers just die in that droopy sickly sweet manner which is so depressing, and we have enough depressing around here right now. 

My grandmother received the sacrament of the sick last weekend, I am not a person who has any faith, but me, my mother, my aunt, and one of my cousins sat around her holding hands while her favorite priest Father Jim prayed with us and sang us a beautiful Irish blessing. I saw a weight lift off my grandmother, and even though the rest of us were crying, she was at peace in that moment. I haven't seen my grandmother so happy in a long time. I think the idea that she may not have time, even though she does, had gotten into her head and once that bit of important piece of business had been taken care of she could relax a little bit. 

It was beautiful, it is beautiful to have faith in the way that my grandmother has, in the way that she knows she is going to see her husband who she's missed for nearly 20 years, that she is most looking forward to meeting St. Mary, because St. Mary was there when she flatlined in the hospital room waiting with open arms, even though that wasn't her time then. 

Now it almost is, and I don't know how to come to terms with that, I don't think I will, but I'm most at peace because she is at peace, at least with her god which I know is so important to her. Probably not with the rest of us because she's not a fan of taking her meds, but who is? 

Anyway, I just wanted to give an update. To be honest this is not for my readers (reader?) really, it's for me, because the only way I know how to process is through art, and since I'm not making anything right now except a very tedious gemstone poppy plant (think paint by numbers but with sparkly stuff), I'm going to write. 

Her house, the hospital, the funeral home

As many of you know grandmother is dying, it will be a great loss to the world, and there will be a tribute post to her when I am ready, but that is not today. Instead I'd like to talk a little bit about what it's like to be living in the same place as a person who is dying. The first thing you will notice is your friends and non-immediate family will offer a lot of thoughts and prayers, they will say things like "I'm sorry for your mom/grandmother's struggles", they will shy away when you offer information about the dying process. They will not use the word die. Typically these friends and family will be okay with you talking about being sad, angry, confused, hurt but there's always a shift in comfort about three to five minutes into the conversation. To which you have to make a quick emotional u-turn to prevent the person from feeling uncomfortable about the death of your loved one. 

You will want people to listen, but you also want them to leave you the fuck alone while you mourn your loved one who isn't quite dead yet. Again no one wants to say die. We live in a culture where death is mysterious and shrouded. You will find yourself getting up at six in the morning so you can lay in your grandmother's bed and wish she would hold on forever and that she would let go now simultaneously. You will want her pain to end but you will not want her to end, but you know deep down that the only way the pain will end is when she dies. Your tiny human brain can't really connect those two things, so you walk around like a zombie.

Your space will fill with strangers, ones that you have no choice but to immediately trust, because they are the nurses, the aides, the social workers, the chaplain, they all deserve your trust, they're going through this war with you.  You do everything you can to help, you skip outings, you slow down your career and settle, at least just for a little while. 

Then there's the deterioration, watching someone you love slide down a hill that has no way back up is impossible. It's physically painful to watch someone who used to have so much life in her, even when that life was yelling at you is no longer be able to sit up without help. You find the medicinal smell of her room off putting, like you're not quite in her room anymore, and the flowers that were sent with good intentions have that sweetness associated with the funeral home. The smell that covers up death. 

The other day I learned what the symptoms were for each time period of hospice, starting with one to three months and ending with minutes. I think of all of the preparation that I've had that was the thing that hit me hardest, I'm a person who needs hard facts, I like hard facts, ask any of my friends I'm almost annoying about it (I might actually be annoying about it). Seeing the words black and white on the page was what solidified this for me, I don't know if there will be anger and bargaining or any of the other stages. 

I do know that being here is the most rewarding and difficult point in my life so far, I'm tired, and I'm not even the one doing the heavy lifting. I'm isolated from my friends, because it's hard to talk about watching someone die. It's hard to watch someone die, of course this is only part of the story, I'm painting a picture here that tries to balance the comfort and the pain, but do not mistake that balance as what is truly happening. It is darker here than I ever thought possible, I wish I could sugarcoat it, but there is no sugarcoating it. 

So, her house, hospital, funeral home, the great memories you've had here, the complicated dark and twisted feelings you've had here, it all kind of fades away when only one thing matters, at least for now; because you love her, because she helped raise you.

PBF

I was at work on my lunch break, getting ready to make a call after a text that ended with -not urgent-, for some reason those words made my heart rate shoot up. I knew deep down it was urgent, maybe not drop everything and leave urgent, but urgent enough to get that kind of notification. The call of course, was from my aunt telling me that my grandmother, who I love dearly has lung cancer and she was going to start hospice the next day. All this is true, but I would also like to pay tribute to the things about my grandmother before she got sick.

Patricia Beyers-Florio is not an easy person, you must work to get her approval (unless you are a grandkid), she's particular about who she lets into her heart, but when she does she's loyal to the end. She is a teacher, and many of her students remember her fondly some still contacting her 30 years later, others of course remember her as "the strictest teacher they ever had", leading me to believe that she had a nice balance going on there. She is so dedicated to the job that when she got pregnant she continued working until very late on in the pregnancy despite the fact that there was a rule that once women got pregnant they had to leave their job.

As a grandmother, she softened from her days as a mother, she was warm and loving, she played and smiled. When I was tiny she used to line a laundry basket with blankets and slide me around by running and pushing the basket. We would visit every Sunday when I was very young and when we drove back home if the stoplight was red she would encourage me to blow it out like a candle so it would turn green so we could have our pizza. When my mom was very sick she took care of me and my brother. She took our family in when we had no other place to go, making sure that we felt at home when we first got there. She used to like to tell the story that when I was in high school me and my friends had decided to carve pumpkins and all of us were too afraid of doing it wrong (and also the knives). I think she liked that story because even though I was 15 or 16 I still needed her. The truth is I still need her, and I know that I have her strength, her tenacity, and yes occasionally her temper. 

In the past four years my grandmother became two different people, the person I know and love, and the person saddled with the terrible disease of dementia. She was brave, and fought for a long time to keep her rights, to keep her ability to make decisions, for those of you who know her you wont be surprised to know she wasn't the easiest patient. She demanded what she needed, and while that was exhausting to those of us who were caretakers, it did her well in the end. Dementia is a terrible disease to watch happen to a person, especially someone as sharp as my grandmother..

Patricia Florio is tough on the outside, and occasionally on the inside too, you had to put in real effort to win her over. Sometimes difficult doesn't even begin to describe it, but she really cared. She cared about her students, enough that some still write. She loved me and the other grandkids unconditionally, willing to give me a Mickey Mouse shirt after I "accidentally" got my other clothes wet when I was three, I really just wanted to take home as many disney clothing as possible. She loved her husband so dearly, and believed they would be together soon, which I truly hope brought her comfort.

It's hard to talk about my grandmother without mentioning her dogs. I think the proudest she ever was was when she was taking my dog Bruce on therapy dog visits. The joy that they brought to so many people is something my grandmother holds deep in her heart, even on the worst days you would mention Bruce and her face would light up. They did great work together. 

To wrap up, it's hard to imagine my life without my grandmother, but I know she isn't in pain anymore. I wish I could have years and years with her, I feel that there's so much more that she has to teach me. There's so many more adventures I could have tried to talk her in to, like eating peanut butter for example. I miss you so much, I hope you are at peace, I hope you find grandpa, and I love you so much.

Art, Interrupted

It's been a long time since I've made anything. I have been in some sort of dark hole of depression or anxiety or exhaustion, or whatever. I'm not going to lie, I currently feel like shit. I feel frozen and overwhelmed and sad that I really haven't created anything significant in months. I love making art, it's therapy, and freedom, and beauty all rolled into one, but when you have a chronic illness that needs medication (which in turn numbs your brain a little bit), it's really fucking hard to make stuff. 

I'm not making excuses here, but I'm going to try to explain what it's like to try to make work when your brain isn't working.

It's really difficult to explain to someone who is neurotypical what it's like to have a mental or chronic physical illness. I'm going to try, and odds are I'm going to fail, but here goes nothing. First off I'm on medication, the medication tries to brings me from 100 to 50 and from 0 to 50, a nice even number, a nice even temper. However the medication does not always work. Sometimes I'm at 110, sometimes I'm well into the negatives. It's about 65-70 where you really have to worry, depressed enough to want to die, and hypomanic enough to act on it. So when I'm feeling really bad I try my damdest to stay away from those numbers. 

When I'm manic all I want to do is work, I hallucinate, I spend more than I have, my decision making skills have been completely out the window. I self harm because I need to feel something. when I'm depressed I can hardly get out of bed, my memory goes, my body hurts, I have a hard time doing basic things like showering, brushing my teeth, doing laundry, cleaning. I am truly disabled. 

What does this have to do with art? Well, mania has had a part in some of my best pieces, and depression has had a part in some of both the best and the worst. I have different levels of depression, mild, moderate, and severe. My most comfortable is moderate, because that's pretty much the default I live my life at. Since I turned twenty I think I've had a total of four days where I felt what I assume is "normal", my default state is depressed. Which works in my favor most of the time, art and depression/mania go together, all you have to do is read some good art history to figure that one out. 

I love to create, I wish there were a way to push myself past the mania, depression, and anxiety to submit to shows, but for now I'm just working on keeping myself together long enough to survive the next hour, then the next day, week, month, year. 

This was a pretty depressing post, but that's where I'm at right now. 

if you're struggling please get help, please go to a clinic, or check yourself in to a hospital. 

If you've got a plan please call the national suicide hotline or 911. 
1-800-273-8255

 

Being Part of a Caregiver Circle

Today I'm going to speak on something a little different than what I usually do, mostly because this is what is taking over my entire life at the moment. Every moment I'm not working, I'm thinking about it, every time I'm at work I'm worried about my other family members trying to deal with this impossible situation. I may say some things that will make you uncomfortable, but I always promised to tell the truth, at least in my prose. 

I split up caregiving responsibilities of my grandmother, who has dementia, between my mother, two aides, my aunt who lives far away, and my father. Even with that team of people, plus the doctors, nurses, physical therapists, speech therapists, and occupational therapists I am exhausted. I don't even do the heavy lifting as far as helping out, most of what I do is gentle reminders, medications, and company and comfort as well as taking care of the dog. It's my mother, my aunt, and the aides that are working tirelessly (well not so tirelessly, it's literally 'going to kill you' tired but we do it anyway). 

We do all this because collectively we believe in human dignity and this is what grandma wants, she wants to stay in her home, she made it very clear that there would be no nursing home or partial or anything of the sort. We will continue to obey her wishes, because everyone deserves to feel comfortable, especially when her default is extremely confused. 

Now I'm going to start out this next section with saying that I love my grandmother with all my heart, many of my childhood and teenaged memories have her at the center of them. She taught me and my friends how to carve a pumpkin when we were freshmen in high school, I used to intentionally get my shirt wet after getting out of the bath at her house because she had an awesome collection of disney t-shirts that I liked to get my hands on. She took care of me and my brother when times were hard, and in turn took care of our family when we lost our house. Collectively we owe her our lives. 

That however, does not mean that being even a tiny part of the caregiver circle is not excruciating, you're constantly anxious, you're on your hands and knees when 1:00 pm runs around and you're hoping that she's going to decide to take a nap today so you can have an hour to yourself. The aides occasionally dodge things thrown at them, verbal abuse from my grandmother is a daily thing at this point, never to me, my granddaughter status seems to still protect me from the vitriol, which is why I think I might be the most objective family member at this point in the game.

Dementia is a terrible thing to watch happen to a person, especially one so full of life and creativity, it strips away the persons humanity, and uncovers the darkest parts of her personality. Those that had always been there, but had been filtered through layers of societal norms and politeness, most of us will be there eventually, so do your therapy now folks. The darkest parts being the anger, but also the depression, the constant reminders to me and her other caregivers that she wants to die, sometimes violently, she wishes she died when she had a stroke, she wants to be with her husband, she saw Mother Mary when she coded and wishes she had just taken her then. Dementia means the person suffering with it has to give up all of their bodily autonomy to make sure that they can stay healthy, clean, and in the least amount of pain possible. That's hard. It is impossible to go from doing everything yourself to not being allowed to shower on your own. It is also impossible for the caregiver(s) because we are essentially working two jobs one at home and one that pays. 

I'm 25, and I can't lie I feel trapped in this situation, even when I have time to go out I'm usually too exhausted to even think about it. I wouldn't give it up though, however many years left with my grandmother I'll cherish, even when it's scary, even when my darkest parts of my personality come charging through (as most of you know it can get pretty dark up there), when I have to put my customer service face on and take a deep breath before continuing an interaction. We still have good times, we still laugh and watch MASH together, but unfortunately the communication is minimal, and we've learned to understand each other through half words, gestures, and routine. 

My grandmother is an impressive woman. Impressive does not always mean easy. She has never been easy. Impressive means she gets shit done, and doesn't give a fuck what other people say or think about her (if she knew I was using that language she'd be...not thrilled). Impressive means she ran a tight ship and a spotless house. Impressive means her students were terrified of her, but knew they could come to her if they were in trouble. Impressive means the love of her life died almost 20 years ago and she kept on keeping on probably for the sake of us. Impressive means that despite her anger that has been obvious my whole life, she loves us with all her heart. 

I get a lot of my strength from her and my mother. Right now I feel like my life is on hold, I'm not making as much work as I wish I was, I'm still living at home, and I really would love to go to grad school. 

I've got time for all that though.

What there isn't enough time for is to show love even when she shows hate, to show patience, even when she's being difficult, and to help out in the only way I know how, to be there, to do what I can, and to not let my darkest bits of my personality come out during a time of frustration.   

I do not mean this as a tell all on my family drama, in fact I'd like you to think of it as a snapshot of being the low man on the totem pole in a house full of people who are working together to keep this ship afloat. At the moment I'd say we're taking on water, but we've got the supplies to plug the holes for now. 

peace,
bri 

Mourning the Way I Used to Create Work

For those of you who knew me before my early 20's you know that I used to be a force of nature, I used to not stop until I got what I wanted or made what I wanted or convinced someone else that I'm the one they need to make their artistic visions. 

Even in college, I worked through the dumpster fire that was my mental health, I somehow continued to create through three hospitalizations, two very traumatic ones, a suicide attempt, and just art school in general. Towards the end of my final semester I was happy with my work, I had a concept, it was good, and I was proud of my final product. I was a workhorse, as long as I had some sort of structure in my life I could bang out a project in a couple of hours and still go to bed at midnight. 

Now, with my mind more in check and my priorities are mostly not to go into complete bankruptcy and move the hell out of my parents house.

How does that affect the work though?  

First of all I have very little room to create, the studios and large study rooms as well as the dorms where I spent my first two years at MSU, had plenty of room to create large pieces, small piece, and dirty gross pieces that could easily be cleaned up because the floors were hard. 

Now my living space (a very small room) is piled with canvases and art supplies that are the opposite of organized. I'm not quite as quick as I used to be, psych meds slow you down, and going from manic to "normal" (I like to call it fake neurotypical) really changes the way that I create. I have to slow down, which isn't a bad thing, but it certainly is not the way I was used to working. I have to work full time at a job to be able to afford my supplies. I have a harder time keeping up with my social media presence because sometimes I'm fighting to get out of bed and interacting with people is draining. I make different art than I used to, and I feel like I'm starting over again, relearning and adjusting to my new way of doing things.

However as much as I mourn the way that I used to create, I understand that this is part of my growth as an artist. I hope its growth that will be a good thing in the long run, because dry spells are tough, and non-dry spells that have you creating shitty stuff are even tougher. 

I want my energy back, but it's also nice to sleep for more than three hours a night. I want my brain to be non stop, but I also enjoy my silence every now and then.  I suppose it comes to acceptance, which is a theme in my life quite a bit lately. I'm sure I'll get back into the swing of things, but I don't think I'll ever work in the way that I used to again, keeping myself alive and healthy is the most important thing.

peace
bri

 

Lets Stop Breaking Vulnerable People's Trust

Years ago I was hospitalized for bipolar I disorder, I had hurt myself and I wanted to die. I went to a lovely place to get on meds and get stable. I felt relatively safe there, having been in an institution that was somewhere between Coo Coo's Nest and Girl, Interrupted, this one was different a breeze, even comfortable, and it was my second stay, so I was ready to be well again. This was a place that even when I was being stripped searched (tradition in mental health residential facilities) I felt exposed, but safe. I trusted the nurses and even the other patients, being the youngest one on the ward had its perks, a lot of people proud of you that you're taking care of yourself now instead of waiting like they did. A lot of people relying on you to make them laugh, a psych ward, done well, is a place of comfort and healing, and being part of that feels really good. (I'd like to point out that a psych ward done badly is truly horrifying)

 

 I felt heard, I felt protected, and I felt like I could and would get better.  

 

It was New Years, in fact we all celebrated with sparkling cider and some crackers, at 10 pm, because that was lights out. We comforted each other in our own distant ways, each of us knowing it was hard to be away from family or loved ones, or even just missing home. I was lucky, some of my friends had brought me snacks and cheese to go with our crackers, we shared it was nice. 

The next day I was called into my room, a man, and at this point it gets a little blurry, tells me to sit down on the bed. He asks me a few very basic medical questions, then tell me to lie down and proceeded to grope my breasts, calling it a breast exam and then going on his way. I've since had a proper one and I know that what he did was not a medical procedure. Now I don't know how many of you have been in a psych ward, but you're never alone, even when they had to strip search me there was a nurse and a nurses assistant in the room to make sure nothing happened. I don't know if he was a doctor, a orderly, or what; I'm sure he told me, but my memory is fuzzy from that time. There was no reason for a "breast exam", this was a move of power.

I was in just about the most vulnerable position a person could be, adjusting to new meds, manic, coming off drugs, used to being poked and prodded, and scared. But this man came in  to my room on the ward, kept the door open, and assaulted me. While he was hiding behind medicine.

Now, over the years I've thought about this incident and decided to push it back into the deep dark crevices or my mind, but the other day I clicked on one of the survivors statements of that horrible man who called himself a doctor and she spoke about being told to trust doctors. 

When I couldn't put the trauma out of my mind I blamed myself, I should have said something, I had had always promised myself that I would say something. I couldn't. I was too sick and too vulnerable to stand up for myself. I was also disgusted with myself that I never said anything, because what if he did it to other young women? Or worse? What if my silence was the reason some other woman is walking around with piles of self doubt and shame. That's the hardest part, I don't know when or if I'll forgive myself for not saying something, for going along. I know I have to get there though, the guilt is a burden on my soul that I should not be carrying. It's going to take time though.  

 

 

We need to do better.  We need to do better for people like me, people without money or a voice or celebrity. For working class people who may be hard on their luck. We need to move beyond wealthy people in the industry, who deserve just as much justice as the rest of the survivors, but we also need to remember that there are people out there that still don't have the power to stand up without the potential of a lost job. 

We need to do better for the mentally ill, for the disabled, because if I came forward with this story my mental health history would come into question, the fact that I was in the hospital for mental illness at the time would also be questioned. I probably would not be believed. We need to listen to what other humans are saying to each other. We need to help each other.

We need to believe the first person who comes forward, not the 8th or the 9th or the 150th

#metoo 

A Melancholy New Years: Plus Some Hope

I always try to be honest in these posts, I always try my best to put a good spin on things, and there will be some of that of course. There were amazing things that happened to me this year, but I'm not going to lie, I like many Americans are looking outside of our own personal year long thoughts and thinking about how the last year of relentless bad news, harsh words thrown around, literal Nazi's marching in our streets, and an administration that seems more interested in flexing it's muscles than actual diplomacy. 

I like most Americans am feeling scared and exhausted and lost. Right now I'm listening to an album released in 2014/2015, a year for me was a year of personal hell, one of sickness, and self abuse, and really terrible decisions but I almost miss the selfishness that came from being that ill, I had no energy to focus on anything other than keeping myself alive and trying to pass my classes (part of that probably came from understanding professors who could see I was struggling). Selfishness is sometimes a godsend. 

Take time for yourself this year, just not too much.

Now I have been forced to wake up to the reality of the good old USA, a reality that has been in existence long before the white supremacists became part of our mainstream vocabulary, and yes, they have been there all along.

So for the good things. 

I am so much more aware of what other people are going through, and while I cannot understand the struggle of a POC or an immigrant, I can shut the fuck up and listen to them when they tell me that something is contributing to their oppression.

I am also learning to research my own history, the queer people who came before me to fight a fight that in a way I fear I will have to join in again. At least we have a blue print. 

I have made some amazing friends this past year, people who I never thought I'd be able to call friends. Heroes that became mentors, and mentors that became friends. Strong role models that make me feel like I can make my weird dreams come through.

I became a better artist this year, I did not finish anything, but I have lots of concepts in the works, and I'm very excited about it. I shot my first album cover, I'm extremely excited about that. 

I also lost some people this year, people that I don't think I will talk to again for one reason or another, but I want them to know I hold nothing against them. It was not meant to be. 

I was describing to a friend that right now I feel like two different people, the one during the day (although it does not neatly fit into these two things, this is just easier), and the one at night. During the day I am confident, albeit shy, but happy. At night alone, I am inclined to inch towards to my darker demons. Maybe this year is the year that I consolidate the two, I've made it this far, it's not time to start fighting yet. 

I have been struggling with some agoraphobia, and leaving my house is difficult, so if you invite me places and I decline please don't give up on me. I'm not sure if that's an appropriate sentence to put in a wrap up, but I've been too chicken to write a whole entry on it so there it is. 

I don't actually believe that New Years makes a difference, you can start over any day of the year, but I suppose the tradition of the changing numbers makes it feel more real. I do know that this year I will continue making art, I will continue fighting, and I will continue to make mediocre decisions, because I am human, because setting unrealistic expectations for yourself is setting yourself up for failure. 

I will be going to bed before midnight, even though I am a night owl, I will be going to sleep so I can wake up to a new year and a metaphorical new start. 

So to quote my favorite quote I learned in 2017

It's Chaos Be Kind
-Michelle McNamara 

 

Much love, 

Bri

excavation

have you ever thought about going on an adventure?
past the pale thin rock covering a whole different world
you break through into the blood red walls
into a river a little bit warmer than you expected underground
the air is not fresh here, but the designs in the walls look like
roadmaps to places you find yourself longing to visit
you aren't sure how to get there, but you made sacrifices
to get here, so you know it's possible
you wonder what amazements lie deeper and further south
you close your eyes, take a deep breath and smell something metallic
you hope that it might lead you to the places drawn on the road map
you get on a train, rushing through sloshing liquid
your arm hurts a little, the train is moving quickly
you hope it will stop,
you did not uncover this mystery land just to ride a train forever
your arm hurts a little more
the train is slowing, you see pink and yellow mountains
standing there as if ready to welcome you home
your arm still hurts
you begin the climb

When the Depression Breaks: I'm not ignoring you because I hate you, I'm ignoring you because I hate myself

It's been a long time since I've written, I've started blog entry over blog entry, I wrote about things that I am not willing to share with the world just yet. I wrote about feeling ashamed. 

Today instead, I'm going to write about the feeling that washes over a person with severe mental illness when they realize an episode is over. Of course it's different for everyone, usually for me it's a gradual climb up (which is the preferable version because the other way I have to look out for mania). This time I was driving home from a job interview, which I did pretty well at (I got the gig!). The only way I can describe it is if someone cracked me over the head and it hurt for a hot second, and then a sense of relief trickled down my body, I relaxed, I took a deep breath, and I said outloud to myself that "This one is over". 

I can't accurately describe the relief, I can however use some worn out metaphors to try to get my point across. It's invisible chains that are really heavy, and they aren't just around your wrists and ankles, it's a full on Silence of the Lambs esque holding system. Movement is hard, thinking is hard, writing is hard, getting out of bed is hard. But when it breaks it's the most beautiful feeling in the world, like someone you love came and unlocked all those chains and then gave you the warmest hug ever. 

As someone with chronic illness, I don't have any romantic ideas of this being it. I'd love for this to be it, but the reality is in a couple of months I'll be reduced to just going to work and spending a lot of time watching trash TV. 

But that in between time, it's hard to explain, it's so beautiful, and tends to show me the beauty of the human race, it gives me the energy to answer text messages and e-mails (hence the subtitle). 

I'd like to use this temporarily 93% stable Bri to specify that I don't ignore your texts and calls maliciously, I ignore them because my energy is taken up by really tiny things, and having a consistent conversation with someone is REALLY hard during a depressive episode. I've lost a lot of friends this way, the "fadeaway" way, I don't mean it. I'd like to ask my friends to do me a small favor, please don't give up on me. I still love you. I'm just exhausted and a bit sad a lot of the time. 

Anyway, the good news is I feel really good right now, I hope it lasts for a long time. Meds help. People caring helps. Having a break like I've had the past few weeks helps. Being productive helps. 

For those of you who've stuck by me, thank you. So much. There aren't words. 

For those of you who haven't, I understand, it's not easy being the friend of someone with a mental illness. I still love you. 

And for those of you who were really shitty, I don't need you in my life. I hope you find peace elsewhere. 

Today I am grateful that my mind feels good. My energy feels good. I feel like I have some power back. 

Anyway, it's time for work.

With love

Bri

Emotional Labor

So as we're navigating the world of mental illness there's a topic that has been on my mind, but I'm not really sure how to approach it, because it's relevant to so many more things than just mental health. Since the framework that I'm writing these in is my own mental illness I'm going to stick to in that framework. 

There is nothing more exhausting than having to describe what it's like to be mentally ill. 

Let me say it one more time, there is nothing more exhausting to me than having to explain to you why I can't get out of bed or I'm acting erratically, or anything like that. 

That being said, without describing it in detail to many people in my life they wouldn't get it, in fact many people in my life don't get it. Many family members and friends are well meaning and lovely but no matter how many times I try to describe whats going on in my head I often get blank stares or oh that sucks, or a solid "I'll listen" which typically is about a minute or so before distraction sets in. 

And then after a while the traditional "I don't understand why you can't do x, y, and z" happens no matter how many times I've explained that my energy does not work like that. 

What I'm getting at, and this is going to be a pretty short entry because I've had a long day and some crappy television show awaits me, is it's really tiring to explain to people what it's like being mentally ill, and when a friend opens up and tries to let you know, keep in mind that it's taking that person so much energy to try to educate you. 

It shouldn't be on the people with mental illness to educate those without, but unfortunately it is. So I ask maybe listen a little harder and pass on the message next time someone tells you what it's like, and believe people when they tell you they know their own mind/body, because it's theirs not yours. 

Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and other Ridiculous Mental Health Tropes

CW: Manic Pixie Dream Girl, 13 Reasons Why, Rape, Suicide, Language

Now that we've established that bipolar disorder can cause you to be kind of a disgusting human being, and do some pretty disgusting things (more on that eventually, I've gotta ease myself in). I'd like to conquer the possibly well meaning, but usually disastrous trope of the Manic Pixie Dream girl. Often written by male writers who may or may not have been rejected by a beautiful but "crazy" girl at some point in their lives. I'm looking at you John Green. There's no way Margo Roth Spiegelman wasn't some sort of weird dream girl in his mind. 

"You can’t divorce Margo the person from Margo the body. You can’t see one without seeing the other. You looked at Margo’s eyes and you saw both their blueness and their Margo-ness. In the end, you could not say that Margo Roth Spiegelman was fat, or that she was skinny, any more than you can say that the Eiffel Tower is or is not lonely. Margo’s beauty was a kind of sealed vessel of perfection – uncracked and uncrackable."
-
John Green, Paper Towns

That is not a description of a person, that is a description of an idea of a person, "uncracked and uncrackable". Usually by having a conversation with a person, and listening to them you can "crack" them. I also take issue with the use of the word cracked to describe trying to get to know a young woman, but that my friends is a feminist rant for another day. 

The boy is sad, he meets a girl, who's not like other girls, she's a little sad and super edgy, and just a little bit dangerous. She pushes him out of his comfort zone, and he falls for her. It is never about healing on the woman's part, only about lifting up her male counterpart. 

I can say almost the same exact thing about Natalie Portman's character in Garden State. She was only there so Zach Braff didn't off himself, but she was most definitely sick herself her personality written so one dimensional if not for the subtle acting choices that Portman made because she's a talented actress, she would have essentially been a glorified prop. But Braff is heralded as a genius for that film, because her character was there to save him.

Now these offenses are not nearly as bad as the worst example of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl that not only is irresponsible, but is straight up dangerous. There are many subtle ones that don't quite fit the mental health theme of these blogs, but this one does in a massive way. I've written about 13 Reasons Why before, and how dangerous I think it is. I watched it on Netflix, I was going to keep an open mind even though I remember the book being a little horrific, and I have never regretted watching anything as intensely as I did after watching this show. 

The show is about a girl, Hannah Baker, who kills herself and leaves 13 tapes to the people who she blames for her impending death. A concept that is just quirky enough that the thought sends shivers down my spine when you consider the subject matter. In the show there is not one mention of Hannah having mental health issues, they do not use the word depression, or bipolar, or anxiety or anything like that. Hannah Baker is a one dimensional character who's entire existence is set up so that Clay can realize he's actually a good guy who didn't really have a hand in her death. 

There are two rape scenes, without a content warning. (Allegedly they have changed that since the show first came on, but I'm never turning it on again so someone can correct me if I'm wrong). The rape scenes are graphic and played out so realistically I had to turn it off. Towards the end of the show there is a scene that starts with Hannah stealing razor blades from her parent's store, going into the bathroom, running the hot water, and violently slitting her wrists. The camera stays on her as she dies. Her mother runs in screaming. This happens in "real" time. It was done for shock value, the people who worked on the show said it was done for shock value. It was not essential to show something that triggering just to shock your audience. 

There's another character who self harms, and when asked about it she simply says "It's what I do instead of killing myself". I'm 100% sure they did not do the research or listen to any mental health professionals when it came to that one. 

I used to self harm, it was not what I did instead of killing myself, when I attempted suicide it had nothing to do with all of a sudden not having that outlet, because that was there before and after my suicide attempt. I was sick, I needed treatment. I got treatment, and now I work hard to keep myself afloat. 

I cannot begin to say how irresponsible the handling of this show was. The character of Hannah never got help, and when she did she was dismissed by a guidance counselor. There are probably tons of teenagers (which is who this show is aimed at) who would rather make the decision to end their lives because they don't think the people who are supposed to help them are willing to help them. The show blatantly says that people are not willing to help you (which is sometimes true, more on that later), and if you kill yourself and leave a detailed note, you will be remembered forever. That's bad writing. That's bad research. That's dangerous to your audience. Of course, they've been picked up for a second season, and it seems it will be dealing with a school shooting and another attempted suicide. 

Finally, to end on a bit of humor (I use that term lightly) , screenwriters, regular writers, people in and around my life, for fucks sake please stop going straight to "did you take your meds today?" as a response to someone acting a little messed up. THAT'S NOT HOW IT WORKS. See most psych medicine takes a while (usually about a month) to build up in your system, so if you skip one day you might get a little headache from withdrawal (anyone who says antidepressants don't have withdrawal symptoms is full of shit) but you're not going to go full on manic for skipping one day. In fact you could probably skip a week without any psychological symptoms.

*I would like to point out here that I'm not encouraging anyone to stop taking their meds, it is a bad idea to do without a doctor helping you*

All I ask is do some research before you write something you haven't experienced, all it takes is asking a friend, preferably multiple friends, with a mental illness (If you don't think you have any you do) what their experience is like. If they tell you to fuck off, then respect that, not everyone wants to go into detail about their life struggles. Or don't write it, I'm positive you've got some life experience that could be interesting. This goes for everything, listen to the people who the work or world is directly affecting, if a black person tells you a statue is racist and it makes them feel unsafe, the statue should come down. If you're at a gay bar and your "gay best friend" is trying to ditch you so they can get some, leave them alone they aren't your prop. And if a mentally ill person tells you to do your goddamn research before writing something potentially dangerous, do your research. It's. Not. That. Hard.

I guess if I had a too long didn't read for this it would be, people are not props, they are never one dimensional, and crazy is not a personality trait. 

The Sanitation of being Mentally Ill: Part 1

I suppose I'll do a little introduction here, since it's been months since I've last written, and the blog is going to change for a while. I will not be focusing on my work (although I suppose this is part of my work), instead I'll be focusing on having bipolar disorder, and really diving in there. I'm not sure how many parts this series of writing is going to be so I guess we all get to strap in together. 

I'm using this line as a content warning, it will be in all of the blog posts, 
Here's the list
suicidal ideation
self harm
drug use
bipolar
psych meds
trauma
13 reasons why

I'm not going to be holding back, there will be no metaphor or dancing around subjects that might make other people uncomfortable. I will talk candidly about diagnosis, medical professionals, and symptoms. Sometimes mental illness is disgusting (more on that later). Sometimes you say or do things that truly hurts the person you love. A lot of the times you say or do things that hurt you. 

The first topic I want to tackle is the sanitation of mental illness, often by the media (until a white dude shoots up a concert, school, or movie premier) then there's commentary about the mental health system for about thirty seconds and then it's over. There's a lot of romanticism that surrounds being sick, people think of the beautiful art that Van Gogh made, or the music of Amy Winehouse who was very publicly breaking down well before her death.

Being mentally ill is fucking ugly, more than one month out of my life I have been in a major depressive episode and I didn't do laundry, I had piles of garbage in my room (yes garbage, not "hey my room is messy", straight up trash with fruit flies). I used to own zero sheets that didn't have blood on them from self harm incidents, and when I was really down I didn't bother cleaning those either. It was a mental war every day to shower and brush my teeth, and frequently the part of me that was desperate to feel clean lost.  That's gross, and I knew it was gross, I hated myself for it, but I also didn't really care, and any energy that I had left was being used up by doing things like eating and showing up to work like a zombie and pretending I had a fun night out with the friends so I was a little tired. No one called bullshit on that one (except for a few close friends, but no one knew how bad it got), I don't think I'm that good of a liar, people could tell something was up, it was just easier to hope things would go away. 

Then there was the other side, the mania, mania is the most difficult thing to explain, but it's also the most damaging part of my illness. I was manic when I sliced a nerve in my wrist causing permanent damage to my hand. I was manic whenever I drank myself into a stupor. I was manic when I said cruel things to my friends and family. I was manic when I started taking hard drugs. 

Please don't misread this as my blaming my illness for my poor decision making and destructive behavior, because no matter what it's still me. The poor decision making and destructive behavior were definitely amplified by the crazy, but I was still the person in the body.

We are not programmed to try to empathize with something we do not understand, it is easy to wrap your head around the version of mental illness presented in films like Silver Linings Playbook, or the repulsive book/netflix series 13 Reasons Why (which will have it's own blog post eventually). They tug at your heart strings with quirky characters who are a little broken, or they use pure shock value that doesn't do anything for anyone except maybe trigger a whole bunch of people (seriously how irresponsible was 13 Reasons Why?). I am quirky, I am weird, I am actually fairly personable once you get past the prickly parts, but there is a lot of ugly that I have to trudge through on a daily basis to give you all the appearance of a sort of awake, kind of responsible person, and I frequently don't even make it to that. 

I can say that I'm doing better now than I can ever remember, but it doesn't go away. I have more good days than bad now, but the bad days are still really fucking bad. 

Here is an excerpt from my journal on a particularly bad day


"I'd like to tell you a secret, when someone tells you they are sorry you are suffering, what they really mean is 'thank god I'm not suffering'. The care is temporary, because you know what's wrong with you will outlast their patience to help. They love you, but they fear your inevitable implosion. They fear you will hurt them more than you are hurting"

A little bleak yes? Very dramatic? Yes. But written from experiences. There are so many people who have stuck by me even after they realize they did not know what they were signing up for by being my friend. There are many others who went running in the opposite direction the second the fun manic party animal came knocking on their door with blood running down her arms high as a kite and to be quite honest ready for a fight. 

Here's my unsolicited advice, if your friend tells you that they have a mental illness, ask them what they need from you. Often we will just answer, a little extra support every now and then, and no encouraging manic behavior. Don't do your research on a TV show or a movie, because they're mostly wrong, and when you realize that you can't just pull your friend out of bed, make them put some clothing on and give them a pep talk while sending them on their way, you're going to not only be frustrated with your friend, but you're also going to be disappointed in yourself. Healing comes from meds, therapy, understanding, and occasionally binge watching comedy specials definitely not a passionate pep talk (which is also appreciated, but it's not going to stop my brain from occasionally trying to convince me driving off the road is a good idea). You can't fix us, you can be there for us, you can tell us hey maybe you should try to do the thing today,  you can wrap us up in a hug and bring us soup (don't do that to me I don't like to be touched when I'm having a bad day). I do like soup though. 

I will see you tomorrow with another installment. 

 

fields of flowers

once i whispered in your ear
that fields of flowers terrified me
that for some reason i could never fathom that much life
you kept telling me i was missing the beauty
and i couldn't explain that the beauty was there
but it was also so much
so much more than i could take in
as the gentle breeze swayed my beautiful nightmares
i calmed a bit, thinking about dancing with them
wondering if the overwhelming feeling was not fear
but a longing to join them
standing one by one, not like soldiers, but like worshippers
as if the sun nourishing them was enough
that moment i closed my eyes and turned my face towards the heavens
and wondered what it would take for something to just be enough

cracks

there are cracks in this foundation
ones that wont really make a difference
until we are long gone
sure the house shifts
but we are safe
we still feel at home
but some of us are sounding an alarm
because some cracks are larger
unable to withstand the war going on outside
and we see the damage that has been done
to our brothers and sisters
and only now we are standing along side them
those chasms have been there forever
but we've turned a blind eye
but we cannot anymore