Perfectly Broken

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Lately I’ve been dealing with a lot of depression, anxiety, and self-loathing, and I figured I’d talk about it here, because chances are other folks go through this too and it’s always helpful to know one is not alone. General content warning for the post.

So, first: I want to say that objectively, my life is pretty great. And subjectively, too. I’m engaged to a really awesome person who respects me and my career. We live together in a nice place, in a nice neighborhood. I’ve started a new business and my career as an author is going pretty well. Overall our life is a nice thing.

But of course this does not preclude shitty things happening to us, and of course our lives are not 100% great. There are definitely areas that are causing some long-term stress and, for me at least, depression, anxiety, and all those other fun things I get to deal with already for no particular reason. Except now they’re being given a reason, and I’m finding my already fragile mental state being poked at constantly.

The main thing that’s poking the bear of mental illness for me right now is my physical state. Some of you know that almost 3 years ago I suffered a spinal injury. That’s actually not entirely accurate; the injury itself happened in 2009. It didn’t flare up like a fireworks show, however, until 2012, leaving me bedridden and unable to walk for weeks. After a lot of hard work in physiotherapy, I slowly was able to walk with a walker for short bursts, and then longer bursts, and then finally upgraded to a cane. I’ve been walking with a cane since 2012, though there have been times when I’ve been able to go without for a short period of time.

Likely, had I continued with the physio after getting to that state of wellness, I would eventually have gotten to a point where I could walk without a cane, and probably get somewhere near the state of health I was at before the injury knocked me down. Even in the years I had the injury but it hadn’t flared up I was doing pretty well, despite the new, sharp, knife-twisting pain in my lower spine that I had chalked up to “Another weird permutation of the chronic back pain I’ve had my entire life because genetics is a shitty lottery.”

But I didn’t continue with the physio. I quit in 2012. This wasn’t because I wanted to, or because I thought I was done: I wanted to continue and knew I needed more. But I could not find a new physiotherapist when I went back to Nanaimo after staying in Coquitlam for several weeks, and not only that — the price went up. You only get a few visits at the reduced rate with a doctor’s prescription, you see, and I would need to continue to go every week to see progress.

Fifty dollars a week is too steep for me. Then, and now.

So for 2 years I have lived no where near what “normal” is for me, just dealing with the pain, taking a strong painkiller on the days when I can’t move without it, and continuing to do things that are probably contraindicated for my spine’s condition but hey, what else am I going to do? My social life has dropped off considerably and my ability to do a lot of things in a short period of time has gone to zilch, approximately. I now need a few days to recover after an event that wouldn’t have left me winded 3 years ago.

It has been an adjustment, to say the least. I still overextend myself because I am used to a body that can handle more than it can. And though mentally I have gotten better since it first happened, I still have dark nights of the soul.

So when I broke my leg this summer — 3 months exactly as of this coming Saturday — I slipped into depression again.

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Auditory Processing Deficit: It’s not a hearing problem, but…sorry, what did you say?

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I have Auditory Processing Deficit. I’ve had it for most of my life — the test that shows the age level one’s auditory processing is at starts at age 5 and goes to age 18, but we are fairly certain my deficit started when I was 2 years old. Trauma can often be the cause of these sorts of deficits, and there was a doozy of one directly associated with hearing and listening when I was two. (I’m not getting into the story right now. I might at some point in the future.)

Before I took the test, mom thought I was just being a teenager with selective hearing. She’d have to repeat herself several times before I would remember what she said. I explained that I wasn’t forgetting or mishearing things on purpose; it was just that I literally had no memory of her saying certain things.

When I took the test she realized it was an actual problem, so we took steps to fix it. The test, called the Gibson Cognitive Test Battery, is part of a program called PACE — Processing And Cognitive Enhancement. It tests several areas of processing and function in the brain — the framework upon which you put content learning. Auditory processing, memory, visual processing, and other areas are tested. Often people who bottom out in one area will max out in another, because it’s their brain’s way of coping. I had maxed out on visual processor and a few other areas.

It’s a program my mom does, and she’s damn good at it. I did the program with her, though I didn’t get the full benefit. Ideally PACE is done quickly — the 36 hours within a few weeks — because this ensures the most advancement for the brain. Because mom had other students and I was in theatre we were both so busy we rarely had time for PACE sessions. We did the program over 2 years, often sitting for several hours in a session, determined to get as much done in one sitting as possible. For the longest time I held the record for levels passed in a session — not hard when your sessions are 7 hours long.

Still, even though it took us 2 years to do the program, I came up several ages in the areas I was lacking. When we were done I was age 16 in auditory processing — that was an advancement of 11 years (14 if we accept that the deficit was lower than 5 and likely at 2 years of age).

We tested me again recently and I have somehow made it up to age 18. However, I still struggle with remembering things that are said, and when I’m stressed or tired my processing goes down the tubes. (It also does not help that Mr. Katje is an avowed mumbler.)

It’s important to note that auditory processing is not a hearing problem. It is not a physical problem with the mechanisms for hearing things — my ears work fine (with the exception of the constant tinnitus). It is a problem with my brain — specifically the area used to process sounds.

However, so few people are even aware of auditory processing deficit as an actual thing that when explaining why I don’t listen to podcasts or why someone has to repeat something to me a few times to make sure I remember I often default to saying “I have a hearing problem,” even though I don’t. I can hear you just fine. Unfortunately, my ears don’t always give my brain the memo — especially when I’m stressed, or when the words are said in certain tones (because said tones stress me out). And these days I’m pretty much always stressed.

It’s honestly pretty shitty having this. School has been a struggle since high school, and last time I asked a teacher to slow down because he was speaking a mile a minute and I needed extra time to process, he said “Why don’t you try just listening?” (As if I wasn’t.) I explained the processing deficit and he and the entire class laughed in my face. That was in University, by the way, but this wasn’t the first time I was treated like that for having learning disabilities. (I was in Special Ed throughout high school and I swear, the fact that my mom kept fighting for me to get certain help in school was the only reason I graduated. If it weren’t for my mom I would have dropped out.)

Because the test that shows the deficit isn’t considered an official source by most schools I often can’t get any concessions for classes. This, combined with my other learning disabilities, depression, anxiety, and more recently physical disability, ensured that it took me 10 years to get my Bachelors instead of 4.

There are tons of podcasts I’d really like to listen to regularly, but I can’t because podcast listening for me entails sitting stock still and concentrating very hard on everything being said. It’s exhausting, and soon my mind starts to wander and then I need to rewind and find my place again.

Also it contributes to lack of communication with people I love, which creates fights. Just the other day I thought Mr. Katje said something that he didn’t, and we fought for over an hour over it. I misheard a sentence because I was really tired and my processing skills weren’t up to par, and he was mumbling more than usual that day. We made up, and talked it out, and all is forgiven — but I hate fighting with him and for that hour we were both miserable.

But, like with all things I have to live with, I learn to cope. I’ve done what I can to bring up my auditory processing to a manageable level, and I’m planning on doing PACE again with mom — maybe it’ll improve some more. In the meantime, I accept that I might always have problems processing what people say, and I work harder to keep it from adversely affecting my life too much.

In return, I only ask for a little patience from my loved ones.

So next time I need to ask you to repeat yourself, or I don’t remember what you say, please don’t take it personally. It’s just my super fucked up brain making my life a little more difficult. (So original, brain. I applaud your creativity. /sarcasm)

-Katje

Minimizing Mental Illness: a message to allies

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TW: discussion of depression, thoughts of self-harm and suicide

I’ve been in the midst of a severe depressive episode for the past month. I have barely been able to keep house and home together, and not very well at that. Beyond that I’ve had no get up and go to do much of anything else.

I’ve kept my brain and hands busy, for the most part, by watching TV shows, knitting, and playing video games. This is because during this particular depressive episode if I get too much inside my own head, if I’m too still, I start thinking about hurting myself again. I start thinking about all the ways I’m terrible and I deserve this depression, and it becomes a sneaky spiral of doom and death that I get locked in and have a lot of trouble getting out of.

Driving has been the most dangerous activity for me, because I start to think while I’m driving, and I start thinking about what a horrible person I am, and how I should just put everyone else out of their misery by offing myself. Driving is the most “inside my own head” activity in my life, so I’ve been avoiding it as much as I can this month.

This means I’ve mostly been inside the house. I have a lot to do inside the house and I’ve tried to be productive as possible. Of course, because I have impossibly high standards for myself and I am incredibly hard on myself all the time, this has only added to the depression as I’ve been unable to complete as much work as I want to, and that is, my brain tells me, my fault because I am lazy and horrible.

This is a sneaky way the depression and anxiety manifest themselves: make me have impossibly high standards so when I inevitably fail them I can hate myself more. Huzzah! Ale and whores for everyone, except Katje, because screw zir.

I haven’t really been able to talk to people about this, because some of the conversations I’ve had about it have gone like this:

Me: My fish are dead.
Other person: Have you tried feeding them?
Me: They’re dead.
Other person: I’ll help you look for them!
Me: My fish. are. dead.
Other person: Do you know why they’re missing?
Me: Why can’t anyone see how dead these fish are?

(Analogy courtesy Allie Brosh.)

And it becomes exhausting trying to figure out who will see my fish are dead and who won’t, so I just don’t talk about it with anyone. I’m tired of people asking about the reasons behind my depression, as if 20 years of mental illness has a fucking reason. I’m sick. I have a disease. It flares up. There’s no reason except that’s what happens and I’m stuck dealing with it.

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When a Parent Becomes a Terrorist

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Trigger warning: abuse, stalking, disordered eating, self-harm

Abuse is like terrorism. It is terrorism. When you’ve suffered abuse, you can spend years living in fear that it — that your abuser — will come back.

I cut my father out of my life on my 26th birthday. I’d tried for years to have some sort of relationship with him, but every time we got off the phone I wanted to binge-eat again. Every time he dropped by unexpectedly, I spent the next several hours double- and triple-checking the door locks, my heart threatening to pound itself out of my chest.

I’d spent my childhood afraid of him, and when I became a teenager that fear didn’t go away — it just became tempered with rage. When I entered college, I tried to let go of the rage. For a while I fooled myself into thinking I had.

I hadn’t. I’d just masked it; convinced myself my relationship with my father was good now. Never mind that no matter what I did, nothing was ever good enough for him. Never mind that every visit, every talk, every email exchange with him was full of venomous barbs, the same verbal abuse that had kept me down since I was a baby.

(You think I’m exaggerating. I’m not. He started his verbal abuse the day I was born — and never stopped reminding me of exactly what he’d said, because it was hilarious to him.)

I’ve spent most of my life thinking I’m ugly, stupid, smelly, a waste of space, a worthless daughter, a mistake (his word, not mine). I was hammered with those beliefs falling from his lips like the word of god.

He was always angry. You never knew what would set him off. To be near him meant walking on eggshells. Something might be a lighthearted joke one day but would have him shaking me and screaming in my face the next. His temper was completely unpredictable.

He was worse when he drank scotch, which mercifully happened not that often. But I knew, if that amber liquid was in his cup, to keep my mouth shut and avoid him until he’d slept it off.

During the separation, the endless divorce, I began to fear he’d murder my mom. I started doing anything I could to keep him happy — because I believed if he was happy with me, he’d leave her alone. Of course, keeping him happy never worked; I never knew what, exactly, would keep his mood level, and I have a deep rebellious streak that I cannot seem to tame no matter what I do. I’d always slip up, and he’d be angry again.

I’ve lived with the fear that he’d kill my mom for almost twenty years now. He hates her, though she never did anything to him.

He thinks she stole me; he thinks she brainwashed me to hate him. She didn’t. She didn’t need to — I needed no help in cultivating an unhealthy-to-me amount of hate for the dude who donated the sperm to make me.

The night before my 26th birthday I got a letter from him in the mail. It was full of more abusive statements. It left me in tears on the floor of my bedroom.

Then, in the perfect clarity that comes when you’ve cried out all the moisture in your body and you’re sure you’re going to die from the pain in your heart and you transcend that into a perfect numbness, I realized it was time. I had to let him go. I had to cut him out of my life.

I’m sure he thinks he loves me, but that’s not good enough. His “love” is toxic and abusive. His “affection” puts a shard of ice in my heart, encases me in fear.

After I cut him off — sending him an email telling him I never wanted to speak to him again, never wanted to hear from him, that he was effectively dead to me — he spent a year stalking me online, asking my sister (his other daughter) to get me to talk to him, sending me messages on Facebook and via email.

I, of course, felt terrible — I’d been well-groomed by him.

People wonder why others don’t leave abusive relationships, whether those relationships are romantic or familial or platonic. “It can’t be that bad if she won’t leave him,” people will say. Or, “She’s obviously abusive; why won’t he go? Why won’t he help himself? I guess he’s weak and stupid.”

The people who wonder this have never suffered abuse. If they had, they would know the answer as to why people don’t go, and they would know it has nothing to do with being weak or stupid, or the abuse “not being that bad”.

Abusers know what they’re doing (on some level; not necessarily consciously). They’ve done it before. They’ve picked up their skills either from practice, or from having it done to them.

Abusers also often come from an abusive background. This is why it’s called the cycle of abuse — people repeat roles that played out earlier in their lives.

Part of the abuse cycle is grooming. Grooming is what makes it possible for people who say “I’d never be with someone who abuses me; I’d get out right away” to find themselves trapped in a long, abusive relationship.

Because abusers never start out as terrorists. They start out funny and charming and smart. A bit into the relationship, you might notice a bit of a temper, but that’s normal, right? Everyone gets road rage from time to time–the food at that restaurant was really bad. Besides, they made up for it right away. They apologized for yelling. They brought flowers.

Then you notice that the temper gets lost more often and the time between it and the flowers or reconciliation becomes longer. Yet the time never takes too long, always coming just when you think you might have had enough. Then you think to yourself, “No, I am really loved. People sometimes just get mad.”

It’s a process, grooming is. They get you used to a cycle of behaviour wherein they abuse you and then they apologize. By the time the really bad stuff starts — the stuff that anyone would look at and say, “That’s abuse” — you’re already tightly ensnared in the web.

My father groomed me for years. I’d get the abuse, and then I’d get a reward for suffering it. I began to believe the rewards were proof he loved me, and the abuse was just his clumsy way of expressing his love.

Even if that’s true, it’s no way to live.

So I felt bad after I cut him out, because the rewards had trained me well — always to think about him, about what I was doing to him, about what a bad daughter I was.

I kept the inner voice telling me I should let him back into my life at bay, and held out for a year.

Around my 27th birthday, I decided to give him one last chance. It would not be without conditions.

I wrote out a lengthy letter, outlining the conditions I expected him to meet if we were to have any sort of father-daughter relationship again. I was very, very clear, resolutely firm on my boundaries (which were very narrow — they must be, with him: he will take any widening of boundaries as a sign of weakness, inviting a fresh invasion).

He responded with a message that broke several of the conditions outright.

That did it. I was satisfied, finally, that I had done everything I possibly could have to save the relationship, to save him. I was able to put that part of myself, the part that whispered in my ear But you’re not giving him a fair chance! to sleep. A deep sleep from which it will never wake up.

I gave him more than enough chances. I gave him more chances than he deserved. Him, the man who doesn’t believe in giving people second chances, because “Screw me once, never again!”

(Everyone is out to screw him. He is paranoid and delusional.)

He didn’t stop stalking me. Sent me a message around Christmas. Tried to friend my best friend to stalk me via her profile.

A while ago, my mom was sleeping in the other room and I was just dozing off. She had a nightmare and screamed out in the night. I woke up in a tearing hurry, convinced I’d find my father standing over her and the dog, a smoking gun in his hands. He’s done it–he’s finally done it–he’s killed her and now I’ll kill him ran through my tired, fear-soaked brain.

Of course, Mom was fine. The dog hadn’t even stirred, which tells me there was no real danger — he’s pretty good at distinguishing. His nose would have alerted him to a stranger far before my mom would have shouted in fear.

But this is the terror I live with, every day.

My father knows where I live.* He says he doesn’t, because he’s a liar, but the place I live has been part of my mother’s family for over twenty years. I spent most of my childhood here, visiting my Oma. He knows where it is.

In late January, I started receiving calls from the intercom downstairs — you can tell it’s from there because of the double-ring. The messages were silent (if I’m not expecting anyone, I wait for it to go to message so I can see who it is before I answer — this is part of the terror). They came every day at the same time.

I was scared to leave my house. Coming up from the car with a load of stuff, I would be on hyper alert, waiting to hear my father’s voice down the hallway, and ready to bolt back to the car if I did, tearing out of there in an effort to escape to anywhere else. I was convinced he was waiting downstairs to charm someone into letting him in, just as he used to do in the bad old days in the throes of divorce.

It turns out the calls weren’t from him but I lived in terror for weeks, afraid he’d come by for a “visit”, to “talk” to me about “this silly silent treatment”.

It’s much easier to keep at bay those voices in my head that live by virtue of the grooming I’ve received when he’s not physically near me. Faced with him in real life, I don’t know what I’d do. Cry, likely. Scream, probably. Attack him? Maybe. Tell him I was wrong (when I wasn’t) and let his toxins seep back into my life (which would eventually kill me)? Definitely possible.

This is what abuse does. It turns life into a battle against terror. Every day, until the day he dies, I will fear him. that he will come back to hurt me again, to kill my mom — to finish the job he started when I was a child, to destroy me completely.

My father is a terrorist. I am always on red alert.

~~

*I am in the process of moving, but I am not fully out of my old place. Midpoint next week I will be settled in my new house, the location of which he is ignorant. I will finally feel safe in my living space again.

Bell Let’s Talk day and Mental Illness

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I have depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and PTSD. On any given day you might think I’m doing just fine by looking at my outside — but inside, I’m telling myself it’s okay, I deserve to eat food. I’m telling myself I’m worthy of love. I’m trying to calm the rising storm of panic, at least long enough so I can get to my closet to hide. I’m screaming against the noise of my illness, trying to be as loud as the ocean, trying to drown the voices once and for all.

I ended up blogging about this on my profile at Google+ — it’s public, so anyone can read it. I figured I’d quote a bit from it, and if you want you can read the whole thing.

Embracing Quitting

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2013-Participant-Vertical-BannerI’m a perfectionist. Type A personality. I don’t quit things. I finish them, and they’re always perfect. If they’re not I need to take anti-anxiety meds and hide in my closet.

Very rarely this can be a positive thing — makes me get things done right the first time — but mostly it’s the fucking worst. I mean, generally this attitude makes me unable to deal with failure of any sort, which basically makes me unable to function because being human means failing at something on almost a daily basis. No one is every any good at anything until they practice, yet I’m the worst sort of drill sergeant in my own head, screaming at me, calling me a maggot, because I wasn’t perfect the first time — or because I THOUGHT about quitting.

Gods know how I ever got to a point where I not only finished but published two novels. I think I have, entirely, my outside support system to thank for that.

This year I signed up for Nanowrimo. Again. I do it every year, it seems (except 2010 — can’t remember why not, now, but likely I was just under unholy amounts of stress and made the smart decision) — Nanowrimo is like a drug I cannot resist. Its siren call urges me on to the greatest heights of success…or the lowest depths of failure.

Often I beat myself up for not finishing Nano. Even last year, when I reached 60,000 words two weeks before the end of November — I was upset because I hadn’t actually finished the story, which was what I had set out to do. Give me a chance and I’ll always find a way to be hard on myself.

Which is silly — a year later and that book, the one I started for Nano 2012, is published. Obviously I’m not a failure. My brain is a liar.

So this year I decided I wanted not only to write my ID — that is, write whatever the hell I wanted and not worry about story mechanics or whether my main character was too Mary Sueish or not — but also publish as I finished chapters. I felt it would give me…some sort of accountability, if only to myself.

I then decided to pants writing a story set in a world that needed extensive worldbuilding. Not my best decision.

At the beginning of November I was still deceiving myself into thinking I could do this, even without any portable writing tool — my laptop is on the fritz and experiments with the iPad have revealed it’s quite impossible to use it to write away from home. At least until Scrivener has an app for it.

And then came the editing and formatting delays with Stranger Skies, which I’ve mentioned here before. And I got so caught up with the work of publishing that I had to put writing aside.

I stressed about this for a while. How could I not? I was failing again.

And then at some point the stress just…melted away. The stress regarding Nano, at least. I got to the end of the formatting and editing work and…just never got back to Nano.

It’s not that I’m dissatisfied with what I’ve written so far; far from it. I think I have the beginnings of a good story there. I just don’t have the energy to write in the constraints of Nano this year. And, honestly, I should really be focusing on some WiPs before I go starting new projects to get halfway through before dropping.

So I’m embracing quitting this year. I’m not winning Nano; I’m not even going to up my word count any higher than where it is — a piddly 3,763. I’m letting it sit and I’m going to be okay with that.

Even if I need a little help from my good friend chocolate.

The Epic Battle between my Delusions of Grandeur and my Crippling Self-Doubt, part two million and sixty-five

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If you’re anything like me you know exactly what this is like. Half your brain goes “You could totally model for Addition Elle/write for xoJane/dance burlesque and dominate the scene because you are a queen/maybe do something adult with your life like trying to fix your massive piles of debt!” and the other half goes “But what about your complete lack of talent/complete lack of talent/crippled back/complete inability to function in the real world?” and you spend the rest of the night curled up in bed, crying and eating ice cream, because that apparently fucking helps, until you run out of ice cream and can’t afford any more.

Then the next day you feel better after some sleep and coffee and terrifying nightmares that make you never want to sleep again, truthfully, and take a step towards realizing one of your dreams and the step is HARD and it reaffirms your crippling self-doubt, and you go and hide in the closet and play Plants vs. Zombies 2 on your tablet but you keep failing that one level which is also, like, stupid hard, and you feel worse about yourself so you wrap yourself in your Reading Rainbow shirt and cry and scream SET PHASERS TO LOVE ME.

Eventually you crawl out of your closet, feeling a bit calmer and less shaky, and try to take a step again on one of your dreams. Maybe this step isn’t so hard, so you get it done, and then you start to believe you can do anything! Do ALL the things! You’re on a roll, you’re amazing, you are the fucking queen, you can function in the real world, you’ll be a star soon, everything is coming up roses….

And then one tiny thing goes wrong and you start to doubt again. The crippling self-doubt makes a comeback, knocks your delusions of grandeur on their ass. You try to soldier on, convince yourself you can still do this, you can, because you’re amazing.

But they always snowball, these things, and because — if you’re like me at all — you can’t function when problems arise in your life, you cannot deal with these problems. The big HARD things come up again and you can’t. fix. them. You curl up into a little ball and hope the problem will go away if you just shut your eyes tight enough.

This is what happens every time I get a new idea about something I want to do. Addition Elle is currently running a contest for new models. They’re a 14+ store, so there’s an actual chance I could get it. I do have modelling experience, and apparently I’m pretty damn hot and confident (haha, what). The first step is to submit headshot and full body pic.

And that first step is basically the biggest fucking hurdle I have ever encountered. First I think well maybe I’ll submit my headshot, professionally done, from 2 years ago, but no, says the other part of my brain, no it needs to be CURRENT or you’re fucking your chances, which is TRUE, so where the hell am I going to get a current headshot? Where the hell am I going to get a current full body shot?

With, remember, like zero funds, because that’s what I have right now. I do have friends who are pro photographers, which is why I’d never ask them to shoot me for free; fuck, I’m an artist too, we need to be paid.

So that’s one battle. Another is the fact that I would just really love to write for xoJane but, well, I have no idea how to go about even applying for that sort of job and I’m pretty much solidly convinced they wouldn’t want me anyway because whatever I say could probably be said a million times better by Marianne Kirby or Emily McCombs. I don’t have a real journalism background, besides writing for the paper at Maui Community College, and times like these I actually regret not getting my degree in Journalism or something.

And, because we can’t stop at just two battlefields on which the two parts of my brain can duke it out, there are the burlesque and “being an adult” things. Becoming Burlesque is coming up again, and I really really really want to take the class, but, well. Two big hurdles there: 1. my spine and 2. money, which basically are both money, because my spine is still fucked because I can’t afford physical therapy. (No, Canada doesn’t cover it, and I’m “not disabled enough” to have it (or anything else!) covered by disability. Because not being able to work or even clean my house IF I can even get out of bed is apparently, you know, perfectly fucking healthy, go get a job you lazy bitch. Thanks Canada!)

But, you know, even if I could get over those hurdles in time to sign up for this class the chances of my doing it are slim, because again: CRIPPLING SELF-DOUBT, my favourite bedfellow, jerk hogs the fuckin’ covers.

And I mean, at this point do I even really need to go into being an adult and why that’s such a problem for me? No. No I do not. I believe I have covered all my bases here.

So if you’re anything like me and you face similar problems in chasing your dreams, come hang out here. This blog is a safe space for us all to be completely fucked up together. Solidarity and all that. (But you’ll have to bring your own ice cream; I am all out.)