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The Interdisciplinary Work of Lyss Warmland.

Posts tagged resiliance

Content warning: all the usual stuff, but also specific mentions of self-harm, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts.

 

The stereotype of mad people goes something like this: unable to get out of bed, unable to take care of basic needs (ie. food, hygiene), engaging in impulses, suicide attempts, active self-harming, medicated, attention-seeking, manipulative, engaging with any and all delusions or hallucinations- and the list goes on. Some of these things hold truth for some people (heck, all of these things may hold true for some people!), and that is valid. But those are not things that hold true for me.

I identify as being a mad person for a few reasons:

1. I was diagnosed with Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, and as experiencing occasional quasipsychosis when I was fourteen. I was then treated by a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and my family doctor through various therapeutic practices and also with medication.

It should probably be noted at this point that I feel strongly that if I were to undergo a full psychiatric assessment at this point in my life, eleven years after my initial evaluation, I would be given a pretty different set of diagnoses. It should also probably be noted that, while I believe first and foremost that everyone ought to have the right to treat their madness/illness/body in whatever way they feel may work best for them at the time, I am extremely noncompliant with medication and do not believe that it is helpful for me or conducive to my healing process at this point in my life. I also want to acknowledge that there was a point in my life where I did feel as though medication was helpful.

2. Sometimes, I feel mad. I feel crazy. I feel out of control. Sometimes, I am so depressed I want to die for no reason at all. Sometimes, I am so anxious, leaving my apartment takes hours because I have to check and re-check that i’ve unplugged everything in my apartment. Sometimes, I hear, and see, and feel things that other people don’t hear, or see, or feel. More often than not, I wake up throughout the night, either already breathless from sobbing in my sleep or completely paralyzed, as though there’s an alien laying on top of me. 
3. Other people (sometimes) identify me as mad. When I’m having a panic attack, or when I disclose to a close friend that I am feeling “low-key suicidal” as I call it (meaning I am experiencing suicidal ideation but don’t plan to carry anything out/am safe overall), they identify me as mad.When I disclose things to doctors, they also identify me as mad. When my family has to put up with me unplugging everything constantly and panicking about it as I drive away from home, or my partner wakes up to me crying again, they identify me as mad too.
Whether I want it to be or not, madness is a big part of my life, and, given the day, I’ve been known to argue both sides. However, the stereotype of mad folks doesn’t fit for me. No matter how unstable I am feeling, I will always get up, force myself to eat, force myself to drink water, force myself to get dressed, force myself to go to work, force myself to prepare meals beforehand, force myself to maintain relationships, force myself to take time to rest and recharge, force myself to have boundaries, force myself to care for the people in my life. I haven’t attempted suicide in eight and a half years, I haven’t self-harmed in five years, and in that time, I have graduated with an undergraduate degree (with honours), maintained a long-term romantic relationship, improved my family relationships, maintained several long-term friendships, started my career, and found stable housing (finally). I am what people call high-functioning.
I work, I volunteer, I take care of myself, I maintain relationships and extra-curricular interests. People who aren’t close to me generally don’t even realize I’m mad, and in a way, that is a privilege. However, like with any invisible, chronic condition, there is something to be said for experiences being erased by what fits more easily: physical and visible manifestation of symptoms.

The fact that I am high-functioning does not negate my experiences or the validity of my healing process.

Sometimes, I feel guilty for taking up space in therapeutic settings or online support groups for mad people. Sometimes, I feel guilty because I feel as though I’m appropriating language around mental health to describe my experiences. But the reality of the situation is: just because I don’t kill myself, doesn’t make my nearly constant suicidal ideation any less significant to my lived experience. Obviously, that’s the most extreme example I could give, but you get the idea (and I do love the dramatic…).

A lot of the issue comes down to the nature of psychiatry. Lists of symptoms fit the criteria of a mental illness, as defined by the  DSM V, so people are diagnosed and received the treatment that is supposed to alleviate those symptoms. Although this process has been life-saving in many different ways for many different people, there are tons of problems with this way of identifying and treating madness.That is an essay within itself….
The one problem with this that I want to draw attention to within this particular essay is that there exists this binary of “well”/“not well” or “sane”/“mad” or “functioning according to capitalist standards”/“not functioning according to capitalist standards”. While I’m all for resisting capitalism and not defining wellness or worth according to levels of productivity, I also happen to be a person who copes (and literally survives) by functioning. That is my way of resisting feeling like shit. This doesn’t mean that I think I’m better than (or more well than or healed than) people who are not high-functioning, simply that my way of working towards wellness and healing happens to look pretty high-functioning.

This also does not negate my experiences or the validity of my healing process.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been able to access many years worth different kinds of therapies. Maybe it’s because I was medicated for a few years. Maybe it’s because I have some wonderfully supportive, stable people in my life. Maybe it’s because my number one priority is my healing process (even when it may not seem like it). Maybe it’s because I’m a capricorn. Maybe it’s because it’s just the way I am. Maybe it’s because I was brought up in a WASPy, upper middle class, white family, and not being high functioning simply was not an option. It’s probably because of all of these things that I am a high functioning mad person.

Regardless, my experiences and my healing process are valid, even as a high-functioning mad person.

This is a survivor’s love letter to my (current) sex life and how i got there and it contains discussion around consent, sexual assault, death of a parent, compulsive sexuality, self-objectification, sex work, and my healing process around sex. 
When I was growing up, my mom was, like, the pioneer of sex positivity. She was always straight up with me about sex. She told me that she had always enjoyed it, and that, one day, I probably would too. She was right. Two weeks before my sixteenth birthday, I had slow, clumsy, missionary sex with my boyfriend and I thought it was the most incredible thing in the entire world. It satisfied all of the things I craved: passion/intensity/being in the moment/being the centre of attention.

I kept waiting for mom to be well enough so that I could tell her about it and have her actually comprehend. She died 4 days before I turned sixteen: January 1, 2007. I spent the next couple of years feeling pretty fucked up and using sex as a distraction. If you were in a band, I was going to fuck you. It was compulsive. It wasn’t a healthy coping mechanism.

I had this friend who was very emotionally manipulative. He was also a pretty good distraction. I was making out with him one day and he took off my clothes. We were naked, and he was on top of me. I said, “wait, I’m not ready for this” and he didn’t stop. I didn’t say “no”. I remember thinking: holy shit, he’s inside of me and I don’t want him inside of me. Time froze. I was watching myself from outside of my body. I couldn’t move. All I could think of was: I need this to be over now. I finished him off. It was over. I smoked a cigarette. Frozen. 

It wasn’t the first time I wished that I (and the boys I was surrounded by) had a better understanding of consent. There was the time when I was fourteen and the cutest boy whose brother was on my brother’s hockey team told me he wanted to tell me something to took me outside and pushed me up against the wall and stuck his tongue in my mouth. He thought it was passionate and romantic. I felt violated because I had thought that he had actually wanted to talk to me. There was the time I was fifteen and my boyfriend told me that all of his friends girlfriends suck their boyfriends dicks and that I should do that too because its just what peoples’ girlfriends did. And I wanted him to like me, so I did. There was the time that I was three and my grandfather took me to the fire station where he worked and one of the men there…well, you get the point.

I told you this part because I want you to understand how I got to where I am, and why it is something that feels so significant to me. 

When I met my partner, I was legitimately shocked when he waited until I said, “you know, you can kiss me if you want to” to make a move. It felt like… I didn’t know what sex was until I fucked him. I felt safe, and in that safety, I felt capable of genuinely exploring my sexuality. Lucky for me, he was very excited at that prospect. When he made a bunch of money off a movie he was in, he took me to a feminist sex shop and spoiled me with toys I didn’t even know how to use. We did shit that made his “pervy” promiscuous bandmates squirm when they heard about it. And I felt safe.

Almost eight years later, our sex life is still going strong.

One thing I should probably tell you, if we’re gonna talk about me and sex, is that nothing gets me off more than objectifying myself. This is different than being objectified, because it’s something that I consent to. I want to the be the desired object in the context of my lover and anyone else who I choose to let observe. On my terms.

For a while, I moderated a blog of nudes selfie-style photos. I always took them myself, I chose what was posted, and I moderated the response from behind my computer. I was able to be intentional in the way I chose to display my body as a sexual object. It turns me on to feel desired, but it turned me on even more knowing that I was the one who had the power to display it the way I wanted to. And I felt safe.

In the last couple of years, I’ve also delved into camming. Again, I liked being able to objectify myself on my own terms. However, the men (yes, specifically the men) who choose to interact with people in that context have a tendency to be pushy about what they want to see, and seem to feel as though they’re entitled to act this way because they’re paying to watch. I don’t like that part, so my involvement with camming is limited for that reason.

Most recently, my partner and I have expanded our sex life to include a beautiful woman who I both love to play with, and love to spend time with. Our relationship is very different than me and my partner’s relationship, but it’s significant to me. And significant to my sex life. With her, it’s a whole different kind of pleasure. And I feel safe.

I feel blessed to have multiple relationships in my life now where I have power over how I experience my sexuality in a way that allows me to fulfill my deepest desires. I am grateful to work through these kinds of relationships with people who are committed to being honest and open and communicating every step of the way.

But the reality of the situation is that too many people, especially young people, do not communicate consent verbally. Too often consent is implicit. Just because I got naked with that boy when I was seventeen, doesn’t mean I wanted to have sex with him, but he thought that’s what it meant. And I should acknowledge that there are complex gendered components to all of his that I could talk about for days, but that’s a whole other essay.

I’ve found, in all of my various sexploits, that, aside from being straight-up fucking mandatory, communicating wants and needs and desires and boundaries is incredibly sexy. What better way to get what you want out of your sex life than telling someone exactly what you want them to do to you or what you want to do them and receiving explicit confirmation that that’s pleasurable and satisfying for them too?

I’m grateful for the perspective I have, the way I’ve experienced different power dynamics in relation to my sex life- even the ones that have fucked me up. Because it got me here, to this incredible place where I feel so good in relation to my sex life. And feeling good in the moment is enough on it’s own.

There’s something to be said
For the pain of knowing
What you want,
Putting in so much
That you lose the rest of
yourself,
And being rejected
Over and over and over
And getting back up
To put in more
Than you ever had to
Begin with
And finding that what you wanted
Doesn’t feel
Like it was for you
After all.
There’s something to be said
For dreaming and working
And not being seen
And finding that
You were never made for
That dream.
(Or the dream was never made for you)
You were made for
The challenge.

She told me once
“good poetry is what makes you feel”
something real, something bigger
than you:
The Moment.
I am a robin in the tree behind her house
snow cascading, furious,
settling on my wings
like cotton, like my mind
I am hope, she is a tree.
An orchard stands around her
blankets of snow
over firmly-rooted toes
curling around the soil
grounding, anchoring,
pulling her close.
I am a robin, and she is a tree
still close to me.

I am like one of those
green/mossy/grassy weeds
that grow in between
the cracks of sidewalks.

You see something
undesirable/a mess/alive
and you just want to
pull me out by the root.

What you don’t see is
roots so deep I won’t
ever truly get out from
under your skin-

I mean-
the cement.