Keeping Breathing: A Reflection On One Crazy Life


The first time I can remember being called crazy was in the fourth grade. Kalae, who always advertised her atypical name (“My parents just rearranged the letters in Kaley and dropped the y and added an a”) as a source of pride, was upset at me for hitting her too hard with a dodgeball. She said something, I called her a bitch because I had just watched the Linda McCartney movie on Lifetime with my grandma and heard the word even though I had no idea what it meant I knew it was mean thing to say, and she threw out something even worse.

“Well you know what?! You’re crazy. Just totally CRAZY.”

I don’t remember what happened after the little, elementary school tiff. Probably some much needed sessions with our expensive, private school provided counselor and mandatory apologies. But what I do remember is the gut-wrenching feeling in my nine-year-old heart.




It was as if this bitchy (Sorry Kalae but you really were such a little brat back then) little pastor’s kid had taken a knife and stabbed me exactly where it would bleed and hemorrhage and ruin me the most. Even at nine, even at this pre-pubescent, adolescent stage I knew there was something different, something off.

And if I knew it, and Kalae knew it, that meant it was only a matter of time before everybody else knew it.

And that shook me to my very core.

When you grow up in the heartlands there is not a whole lot of open communication about anything that doesn’t involve pheasant meat or hockey. We are notoriously happy-go-lucky people but with that reckless optimism comes a tendency to sweep the bad things under the rug. Uncomfortable topics are not discussed and mental illness is just gibber-jabber if you ask any of the moms with their caramel rolls and Ford Escape keys in tow.

I didn’t believe therapy was a thing for anyone who hadn’t actually attempted suicide until college because I wasn’t allowed to. Psychiatry was a dirty word; a term that meant your parents failed you and you were beyond care. The only girl who was openly in therapy the entire time I was in middle and high school was a cutter who would hairspray her open wounds in front of people to make them puff up so no one would fuck with her.

She made us all look weak. If she was in therapy and therapy was only for the severely screwed up then I was obviously magnifying my own problems. I couldn’t be as bat-shit as her. Oh no no no.

But it wasn’t just me.

I have witnessed friends fight through eating disorders with just Chicken Soup for the Soul and sheer will because their parents insisted it was “just a phase” and that they could ride it out with close family monitoring and removing the lock from the bathroom door. I watched a dear, dear friend battle with her anorexia until it reached a point where it could have potentially taken her life and her parents never breathed a word about it. Even when a feeding tube was placed in her concave, pale stomach nobody would call a spade a spade. I would see a mom just ignore the remnants of crushed up pain killers on her counter because prescription drug abuse and “family game night” don’t go well together.

Growing up in the heartlands “crazy” really is the dirtiest of words. We’re friendly, good people, raised right.

We could never raise someone crazy out here.

The first time I was caught throwing up was by my mom and I had the shower running. I to this day consider getting caught a mistake on my part because if I had just gotten into the shower and thrown up into the drain like I had many times before it would have been much more muffled and she never would have been able to distinguish the sounds of my gag reflex from the 1980s pipe work in our home.

The second and last time I was caught throwing up was by my college best-friend. I was messing around with her ex-boyfriend and feeling incredibly conflicted. To convince myself I wasn’t doing anything wrong I had rough, violent sex with one of my guyfriends and was sporting the bite marks and bruises. It was a sad attempt to prove I was in control and to suppress my feelings for her ex who would eventually turn into one of the great loves of my life.

Needless to say I was a mess.

She forced me to make an appointment with a college guidance counselor saying that if I didn’t go she would tell my advisor that she walked in on me soberly clutching a trash bin with my fingers down my throat. I’d for sure lose all credibility and the thought of people talking about me behind my back even more than they probably already were terrified me.

The guidance counselor was a piece of shit.

He attributed my bulimic tendencies and shaky, overly confident that “Everything was fine!!” state to stress and gave me a CD of relaxing audio sounds and mediation guides to listen to. He told me if I needed further assistance I’d need someone “a little more hardcore” and should contact the actual hospital in town.
I broke the CD in two and promptly had sex with my guyfriend again even though I was technically in a relationship, breaking his futon and the friendship in the process. He and I have barely spoken since.

“You’re in a manic state. You need to be prepared for what is going to happen when you come out of this.”

I remember looking at my therapist’s face and it was like her features were molding together. She was like one of those advertisements for pore erasing creams. But not only was her skin completely devoid of anything definable her eyes were lacking color and her voice sounded like she was trying to talk to me underwater.

I was drunk. I had been drunk for days. Part of me was drunk on actual alcohol and part of me was drunk on the fact that my boyfriend and I had just gone from violently fighting with one another to having an all out fuck-fest at his place where we didn’t leave the bed. We kicked a hole in the wall, yanked a curtain rod from above the window, and drank our weight in the cheapest, most pungent vodka we could find. Instead of paying my rent that month I had bought him new things for his apartment. Art for the walls he would later be evicted from and groceries we’d be too strung out to consume.

“You won’t stay like this forever. Eventually you will come down and you need to brace yourself for it.”

She was warning me. And she was right. Even with her marbleized features she knew what she was talking about.

A week later when I found him naked in bed with a girl who was young enough to send him to jail I stood over him and repeatedly slapped him in the face. I screamed from the deepest, darkest place inside of me that I didn’t even know existed until he tried to get me to shut up by pushing me through concrete. He called the police on me that night and I cried for hours, completely lost as to how I had gotten to that point.

I went back to him the next day believing his claims and pleas that he didn’t know what he was doing and believing even more that he wouldn’t hurt me again.

A month later when he cheated on me again and left me for good I forced myself to block his number and I finally I let my therapist reissue a prescription for pills I had been avoiding for so long, just convinced they numbed me.
To a certain extent they do and to an even bigger extent that is a good thing. But each year when the seasons shift from the sort-of-warm that spring creates to the pulsing heat of summer I find myself being a little thirsty for his skin. And that’s when I consider doubling my dosage.

It is four in the morning, I am sobbing so hard I can’t catch my breath, I have fresh tattoos on my wrists and all I can think about is ripping them off to see if the ink will come up with them.

I joke that I put the tattoos on my arms because it will stop me from cutting myself open because “who wants to ruin $120 worth of art!?” But I’m not joking.

It takes four people to talk me down to a place where I can even consider going to sleep and even then I stay up staring at reruns of Friends wondering why keeping my apartment as clean as Monica, being as carefree as Phoebe, and emulating the very essence of Rachel hasn’t made me happier. I graze my laptop screen with a finger hoping that some weird, sci-fi shit will happen and I’ll be sucked in leaving this world behind for something new.

The next morning there is toilet paper covered in tears, mascara, saliva, and makeup all over my bedroom because I never buy tissues. My dog clings to my side out of worry. She knows something is wrong.

When I text one of my best friends the next day about what happened and tell her about how I had a panic attack and was still coming down from a manic episode she doesn’t tell me she has those “all the time” about work and divert the conversation back to whatever guy that week was bugging her. She listens, asks me if I’m okay, reminds me that even though it feels like a heart attack it isn’t one, and reminds me to drink water and take a nap.

She reminds me to keep breathing and that it’s going to pass and that I’m not crazy.

I’m not crazy.

Even through the addictions, the highs, the lows, I’m still here. I’m still breathing.

I’m not crazy.

And I never have been.

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