On Love, Artistry & Choice
I am disordered.
In medical terms, I am diagnosed with Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
During one particular mental health crisis, my Toronto-based doctor sat bouncing on a large blue exercise ball, back towards me, asking me to rate my depression and anxiety from a scale from 1 to 10. Luckily, I scored brilliantly, and was able to access a temporary tranquilizer—the word repeatedly yelled out by the drugstore staff while describing its effects to me and seemingly every patron behind me.
I am painfully insecure as I sleep. I awake each day short-of-breath and sweaty-chested, due to a chronic state of subconscious anxiety. My first waking images usually involve someone I care for taking careful action to avoid me. Flashes of dead loved ones being secretly alive all this time, or stern academic advisors informing me I cannot graduate because I failed in math, a subject I quite obviously did not study, are repetitive themes.
My body aches after any amount of sleep.
I’ve perpetually searched for what substance, activity, or human being could save me from this taunting state of mental discomfort. Many times over, I’ve run back and forth within relationships, carrying and projecting false stories of worthlessness, not knowing myself enough to know what I want or what I need. I used to dream of a past love asking me to go on a walk, only to arrive in front of his new girlfriend, an oak tree named Anastasia. Her bark was so beautiful.
For most of my years, I have lived and loved as an extremist.
I’ve ascribed myself to a lower caste, while vigilantly decrying the caste system. I’ve clawed onto romantic intimacy, while allowing my voice to drop to the floor.
This is the work of the ego. The beginnings of addiction. The inability to see that safety, even if in fragments, lies alive within, waiting to be cared for and made into new pieces.
When I occupy the extremist belief that I am nothing more than disordered, you (reader, friend, lover, stranger) instantly become better and I become categorically worse. If I unconsciously identify myself as a depressed, socially inept, ever-doomed victim, you become the irreverent, shining, knowledgeable saviour. One extreme invites another. It is the fundamentalist, dualistic identities sucked well into my brain, that I must push into light and visibility, beyond the virus of shame.
Stories of worth and worthlessness, being saved, or losing everything, are not unique. Especially as they pertain to “love,” these stories are projected in great abundance.
They form the backbone to popular colonial interpretations of romance, where unhealthy norms around gender, race, class, ability, language, and sexuality are upheld and celebrated in the world of advertisement and the endless blockbuster films I spent my youth revering.
But I am no longer a youth. I am almost thirty. Do I really want to perpetuate colonial violence by naming myself unworthy?
What does feel unique is the recent admission to myself that in episodes of depression and anxiety, I am attached to a false belief of victimhood. As with any admission, a sprouting of new questions has emerged, free to bloom with honesty.
What happens to love, in all of its metrics, inside the microscopic space of judgment? Where can the reality of the cosmos take their place?
The inherent, deceitful, oversimplified extremity found within the savior-victim complex is the very material of every stereotype, a dehumanizing falsehood that survives in the fear-based oppressive state, and onwards into political violence and geopolitical racism. This is best described by Teju Cole, a Nigerian-American writer, photographer and art historian, who coined the term White-Savior Industrial Complex.
Embodying this kind of thinking is self-evaporative, painful, and exhausting. It is worthy of compassion. And simultaneously, it is irresponsible and harmful.
If I am victim, will I deconstruct the privileges I hold?
If I am victim, will I be an effective support and ally?
If I am victim, will I believe in my own art?
If I am victim, will I believe in my own self?
If I am victim, will I love?
The contradiction is a holy site, full of books, when I am brave enough to visit.
I am not victim. And sometimes I pretend that I am.
I am poet.
I am fundamentalist.
I am subtle, seismic, endless degree.
I am wild and I am faulty.
And I am awakening into love, into the unknown.
I needed support to enter its doors of presence. At first a lot, and then slowly less over time, once able to find my own way in. The body forgets and the body remembers.
It has been a community of women, cis and trans, queer, artist, and of colour, who have most lovingly supported my journey into selfhood. By their example, I now see the urgency of creating deliberate space in which shame, pain, guilt and sorrow can be collectively examined, and over time, pulled into magic.
Vulnerability was never meant to be punished or brutalized. Vulnerability is knowledge.
I try and protect my vulnerability by meeting each day with a degree of restraint. I spend most of my days in an eager and challenging solitude, a departure from past itineraries which necessitated daily affirmations from others. In doing so, I work with the urgent subtleties of choice-making. The knowledge in imperfection. Its grace and its humour.
I make my bed. I take medication. I meditate. I make sounds. I find new faces in the mirror. I smile to myself. I wave hello. I turn my cell phone off during the day when writing. I want to call out for you, to beg that you tell me I’m okay, that it’s okay, that horror is not on the horizon, even though in moments I am convinced that it is. The impulse to contact you when haunted by the invention of other people’s opinions still visits me daily. But instead of asking you to save me, I dialogue with myself or the weather. I take the desperate pitch and transform it.
It feels better than another slanted conversation, where I designate you to tend to another of my flight-fright-freeze injuries. I no longer expect you to soothe, for you too, experience the pain of living.
Not acknowledging this reality is to not acknowledge your vulnerability. Your humanness. Our shared predicament and gold.
While I do not die from people’s judgments, I wreak havoc from my own.
I am in love with each breath of undoing.
I do not need saving.
I need a dance with the unknown.
I am no longer a victim of the disorderly. Conversely, my sanity depends on it. I live for layers, for contradictions, for multitudes, for hypocrisies untangling. Where else should I look for knowledge?
And although the ego, the colonizer and the insecure in me will continue to protect the belief that I, woman, am lost, I know a deeper truth.
The truth is that I’m here.