Chapter Two: What’s Next?

Last week, I stood up on stage and shared a chapter of my life. The thing though is that is was a chapter.

Chapter one was “If Mental Illness Ever Befalls You,” and I do, I claim mental illness like a badge of honor. If you had the chance to watch the souls that graced the stage you would see that’s indeed a gift and a badge because it requires immense bravery and strength (which are also cliche words that don’t do it justice.)

I claim Bipolar Disorder. I claim the highs and lows. I claim the vices. I claim the narcissism. I claim the self destruction. I claim the mania, and I claim the deep deep lows.

I don’t yet know where Bipolar Disorder ends and Caitlin begins, but these are all mine.

Before the show, I arrived at the venue to a few of the cast members sitting outside. We laughed and sentimentally shared about the reactions and responses we had received over the course of the whole thing.

We laughed and said, “maybe we aren’t the crazy ones…maybe we are the ones who got this thing right.”

Now, when I say we, I’m not talking mental illness. I’m talking souls who have been through the wringer. Those who were handed pain, heartbreak, loss, grief, confusion, rejection, with no playbook or warning. Then, those who stood up, and said “this isn’t the end.”

We are the ones who live in a body with our greatest enemy, who question, doubt, drag ourselves to therapists offices, search for answers and innovate, who dare, fall down, stay down, get back up, who risk, feel, and explore. You don’t have to be “mentally ill” to be this “we.”

I have the deepest sense of gratitude for my own mental illness because without the depression, questioning, self-loathing, and struggle, I probably would not have have graced a single therapist’s office, books, documentaries, other beliefs, self-care, and more truth.

I would not be a seeker if not for my mental illness. I would not be as strong. I would not know myself as well as I do.

I’m not a psychiatrist but I think mental illness is a spectrum. I think it’s hereditary, physical, chemical, temporary, and ever present. However, I think it is also soul based, spiritual, and an unavoidable part of the human experience for all of us. I think we all got a little bit of it.

Chapter two for me, is rebranding, being more true blue, and taking the risks required to become a truer more honest version of myself.

Honestly, I have no idea what that will look like or what I even plan to do, but that’s the goal.

If you came to the show, you know who Ian is. However what you don’t know is that Ian is a walking picture of the words he spoke, and jeez, so is everyone, but I’m going to spotlight Ian. When I first met Ian, he was watching something on his phone while we were preparing for rehearsal. He was very comfortably sitting in his theater chair doing whatever he damn well pleased. After we all rehearsed, the topic of attire came up and Ian didn’t ask what we were to wear, he told us that he would be wearing his boots, jeans, some shirt, and a hat. It was a simple exclamation, but it was inspiring.

If you watched the show, you saw that we were all wearing different things, and we all delivered our words in very personal ways. Clothes don’t mean shit, but they are an opportunity for us to express ourselves on a much deeper level. Everyone wore what they wanted. To be completely transparent, when I saw pictures of myself on stage I thought, “I don’t look like myself.” I would have liked to be wearing my favorite comfortable outfit, however my speech was also dedicated to my southern raised pearl wearing Grandma Bettye and mother, and it was perfect.

There are no mistakes in this thing, only ironies and lessons.

Now the attire of the cast is literally the most insignificant take away from the beautiful profound night, but why it stuck out to me is because it presented the question.

“What does life look like on me?”

I hear this question a lot from myself and my peers, but I know it expands across all ages, groups, and lifestyles, the phrase: “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

We beat ourselves up like we are suppose to know. Seriously, think about it, how the hell are you suppose to know?

You were dropped on this earth just like the rest of us. We were all brought into this world not knowing why. We all hit the ground running with hardly any time allotted to stop and think, “What am I doing here?” Let that sink in for a moment. Then give yourself some credit.

Look at what you’ve done. Look how far you’ve made it, all the while not knowing.

You have an infinitely unique soul, but then wait, get this, you were born into a life where you were handed a foundation. You were handed social norms, beliefs, culture, clothes, religion, experiences, opportunities, so many things. So many things that are beautiful, and I believe were planned, but so many things that you can lose yourself in. Goodness, it’s a balance.

It’s a lifelong practice; The art of owning and respecting where you came from on this earth and then honoring and discovering who you came here to be.

I do believe there is an innate eternal knowing within us, but it is not who is operating this vessel. An innate piece of heaven handed you the keys however many years ago and said I trust you, let’s do this. It speaks, and you are to listen, but you are not to know it all. You came here to take one step at a time, one risk, one leap of faith, at a time. You did not come here to know it all. You came here to be human. Relax in that. You are loved, supported, and guided by forces so strong your head would explode. Tap into that, and also cut yourself some slack. The possibilities are truly endless.

We live in a world that expects results and it expects them yesterday.

I took this class in my last semester in college called Mystic Spirituality. I absorbed that class like the richest of foods. It was the first thing in my life that confirmed that God was bigger than I had been taught. That God reached across and was within all different religions, countries, books, and souls. It’s where I learned about St. John of the Cross’ idea of The Dark Night of the Soul. An idea that confirmed that my depression was divine. But the phrase I want to share today that I carry with me from this course is “Tranquillo.”

It means calm, and the word, for me, derived from a poem or piece in Spanish that our teacher had us read. I tried to find the piece today but I couldn’t. What I’ll tell you is that it spoke to my soul, “Be still.” And “you are okay.” Right there, you’re okay. You are enough. These are just words, they do not transform you until you believe them.

Do you believe that you are enough…exactly as you are right now?

Right where you stand. Not when you get the promotion, the job, buy the car, the purse, get the money, clear up your skin, or lose the weight. You are enough right where you stand, I’m serious. Dare to believe that, just try it on at least.

Right where you are, it’s perfect.

Over the course of history, I guess we came up with all these rules about how things should be. Pardon my French, but I think a lot of them are bullshit.

You’re not suppose to be somewhere by your age. There is not a checklist of things you should have completed by now. You don’t have to have a certain job. You don’t have to wear your hair a certain way. You don’t have to be with a certain person, or any person at all. I promise, I know this with unmatched certainty for some reason. You only report to your soul, to yourself, and to whatever higher power you do or don’t believe in.

Now, you see, I’ve created quite a dichotomy in this piece. I’m telling to be still but to also move closer to you are, and then make waves on this earth. I think we can do both. Be still, know that you are perfect right where you are, and where ever you go.

Last week, I went shopping with my best friend for my big event, and I decided to wear my favorite outfit. Men’s oversized Carhartt jeans, an under armor pullover, checkered Vans, and a baseball cap. I know some of it was paranoia and insecurity but I could feel glances of why is that woman dressed like a boy? I cared and then I didn’t care, because it’s my favorite outfit. What I’m trying to do and what I’m asking of you is to go against the grain. Go against the grain in order to sharpen and wear down to what you are at the purest level. It is not easy, but I think if enough of us do it, we can create a new norm. And that norm will not be called a norm it will be called freedom. Sweet freedom. You can’t mess this thing up. The only way you can mess this thing up is by staying in a small consumer sized box. And even then, if you do stay in that box, you’re not wrong. But just make sure you’re being true. You can’t lose at this thing, but get out of your box if you feel stuck. You don’t need permission, but if you want it here it is: Go be [insert your name here]. Go be you.

Please. You are so divine, smh, so divine. You, yes, I’m talking to you. What’s stirring in your soul right now? Our souls are quiet but they are are not subtle. What did you want as a child? What nags at you? I’m not talking astronauts and veterinarians, unless that’s what is actually nagging, because that’s pretty damn cool.

Public speaking once stirred in my soul, but I laughed.

“Caitlin, sweet Caitlin.” I thought to myself. Your face turns red if someone asks you a question, let’s not get carried away here.

Last week, I spoke in front of hundreds of people. Get carried tf away.

Now, getting my doctorate stirs in my soul. We’ll see what happens!

You are not stuck in a cage of what someone, something, the world, yourself, your upbringing once defined you as.

“Who were you before the world told you who you should be?”

Here’s the thing, you actually get to rebrand yourself and start over whenever you want. Now, I’m good at this and it’s often attributed to my being Bipolar but anyone can do it, I just have a crutch. If you want to start something new, please do it. If you want change, do it. You get to do whatever you want. This thing is so short. You only report to your Truth, and outside of that, there are no rules.

I’m talking as small as the way you dress, the way you spend your time, or the hobbies you pick up. I’m talking as big as a career change or moving to that city you keep googling pictures of. I’m talking coming out of the closet, having those hard conversations with family and friend, or going to AA. I’m talking haircuts, nose piercings, tattoos, and questioning your beliefs. I’m talkin’ bout it all.

Your beliefs! That’s a good one. Where’d you get those? Are they yours? I just want to make sure. Did someone hand them to you? Check in on that.

If you smoke, or you drink, or you eat a little to much, that’s okay. Just make sure you’re taking care of yourself.

Just make sure you are being yourself.

Yourself! That’s a good one too. Where’d you get that? Did someone hand it to you?

My journey began when I started asking questions and when I began to dare to believe that there was more to life than what I saw, and what I felt. I’ve always had a million questions stirring in my little head, but as I grew older something said, “No, no, no, little Caitlin, here is how the world works. Here are the things you say. Here are the clothes you wear. And here’s the direction you go.”

Then somewhere down the line I said, “No, no, no, but wait, who is this God you speak of, why does he seem so small, why is he a he, why do I have to wear this, why can’t I say this, and why do I have to do that?”

Have you become something or have you created something?

Everything up until now…perfect. I tell myself all the time, “Caitlin, not a moment has been wasted.” You can only know what you know but go know more.

You were born where you were born for a reason. You were handed what you’ve been handed for a reason. Life is simply a series of seasons. Don’t get stuck in one out of fear that it’s the best one you can forge. There are things outside of our control, but there are also immense things within our control. There will never, in the history of human kind, be a you that walks on this earth. Please don’t sacrifice that for anything.

Are you going to play that hand you’ve been dealt, or are you going to let it play you?

Tranquillo, I say to myself as I write because I’m fired up. We can’t change the world or ourselves (same thing) over night. But that’s precisely the journey. We came here to uncover, discover, to fail, to laugh, and to become what we always have been.

Start somewhere, big or small, and do the damn thing. It’s exciting. I’m excited if you’re reading this, and maybe only few will, but if you are. I’m talking to you. Something in you clicked on this for a reason because something in you knows it’s time.

I write you to because I wrote to myself first,

Caitlin V McDowell

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