A Sunday Without Lithium

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I did something this weekend that I rarely ever do.

I ran out of Lithium on Sunday and instead of running to the pharmacy for emergency meds, I stayed on the couch. I’m dropping from my trip to California and was just too tired to move. I figured if I just stayed still and napped, I wouldn’t get manic. I’m fortunate it worked but on Monday, I literally ran to CVS and told them I needed a few emergency pills until my doctor filled my prescription. I’ve done this in the past and when the clerk gave me a hard time I said the following:

“Either I can have a mental breakdown here in these waiting chairs or out in front of the store on the street. I’d like to spare you from having to call the nearest hospital so I suggest you give me some medication for the safety of myself and others.”

Since then, they promptly and calming hand my meds over, no questions asked.

Then I checked in on my new medical insurance only to discover it still hasn’t kicked in yet. In California, I had a script refilled that I had to pay for in full to the total of $78. I’m thankful that I take a generic version of Lithium that without insurance only costs me $15. I’m fortunate that I even have the money to pay for it.

I can always feel when my Lithium is low. I start feeling fuzzy and very overwhelmed by any sorts of stimulus. I dissociate and I am always on the brink of a panic attack. My feet may be in motion but I can’t feel my body. These are the less severe symptoms.

I know what happens when I begin the steady crescendo into mania. I can’t sit still. My thoughts race and I can’t remember anything. I talk too loud, too fast and too much to myself or to anyone who will listen. I sing the same over and over and over again. I forget to eat and sleep. I cannot keep track of time. I have grand spiritual and artistic epiphanies that make absolutely no since. I have sky heightened emotional responses and my childhood traumas come flooding to the surface. I cannot stop writing.

I make it my full time job to take my medication twice a day as prescribed. If I feel a manic or depressive episode coming on, I call my doctor immediately. But there are some very few days, I’m just too fucking tired to search for my med bag, count out my pills, get water and take them. But every time I roll my eyes and sit in defiance at my illness, I ask myself…

Do you want to go back to hospital?

The symptoms of the illness creep up on me so quickly that when I don’t feel like taking my meds, I have to remember what my life could look like on the other side. I could be wandering the streets talking to myself again. I could forget where I live again. I could become homeless or my behavior could get me arrested and because I am a Black women in New York City, this situation would not be pretty.

So I just take my meds.

I want to acknowledge my privilege. I have access to medication. I have a great psychiatrist who is not a pill pusher, who takes his time with me and informs me about every pill he prescribes. I have a therapist I’ve been seeing for years who knows my cycles and knows how to warn me when she sees them coming. I have access to health insurance that makes my medication affordable and I have access to money to pay for them.

Not everyone chooses to medicate in this way, but those who want to do not always have access to this option. I’m grateful everyday that I have the privilege of a system of well being and I’m grateful that for now my meds are working.

I say all this not just because I am a mental health advocate. I say it to acknowledge how hard bipolar living can be. It’s exhausting, frustrating, annoying and at times, makes me feel like I have no chance at normalcy and balance. As freely as I write about it, there are days where I feel like I really do suffer from it.

But something my mom (who also lives with bipolar disorder) once said really sticks with me on days when I feel like I just want to crawl in bed with my crazy:

“These are the cards we’ve been dealt and we just have to live with it.”

She’s right. I don’t have time to feel bad or make myself wrong about a chemical imbalance I cannot control. If I spent time wishing I could cut out a difficult part of myself, I would live in an endless cycle of mania and depression instead of doing the necessary work to create the healthiest life for me.

I would forget that I cannot go one Sunday without my Lithium.

So I’ve re-adapted her words into my own:

“Some of us never make it out of the woods. We just learn to live in them, together.”

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Femme. Ish. 

Let me start out by saying, I love femmes. I have the pleasure of being surrounded by femmes who coordinate their outfits like natural born divas, style their hair and polish their nails as if they are instructed by the goddess and present themselves as people defining and redefining what it looks like to live in a male dominated society. They are women, men, trans folk, gender defiant, genderqueer, gender nutural and genderfluid. They fight for their visibility and support each other to preserve their livelihood. They are smart, sexy, out spoken, courageous and down right fun. 

But I have struggled with my own femme identity for quit some time.

I’ve been assumed femme since I entered into the Queer community. I say assumed because no one ever asked me if I identified as a femme before calling me out publicly as one. Okay so I will say that there is a lot of evidence for this assumption. I love dresses, always have. I’m obsessed with various shades of purple lipstick and just started wearing a black shade as a throw back to my goth days (and I have to say I look fucking fierce). I never go anywhere without jewelry on and wear my rings religiously. I rep Hello Kitty everyday, all day. I keep my nails painted with mostly glitter polish and always smell like lavender. But consent is essential. The idea of being called a femme began to rub me the wrong way when the identity was assigned to me without my permission.

Then there is the Black Lesbian stereotype of being either the butch or the femme in a same sex relationship. Someone once asked me in terms of my relationship with my partner which one was the butch and which one was the femme. I replied that we just don’t do that. We both identify as women who are fairly gender fluid in our presentation. As my partner’s former service girl, I always carried her bag when she dressed more butch and she carried her own when she presented femme. I always liked wearing a botton down with leather suspenders in jeans when I was in service but when we were out as “the girls” we wore dresses (sometimes the same one) or wore whatever the hell we chose. 

I want to acknowledge that their once was, and in some places still is, a necessity in presenting as a butch/femme couple particularly for people of color. In places where it is not safe to be a woman romantically holding the hand of another it is safer to look like a heterosexual couple as not to be the target of violence. And aside from matters of safety, there are just some couples that choose to align themselves with those identities which is ofcourse their right. In my partnership, we decided not align with those particular roles and quit frankly, I am more attracted to women that move in between them. I assert that this has much to do with the fact that we are a Queer partnership, not Lesbian identified, and we choose to present based on how we feel in the moment.

In terms of being femme identified, I’m still on the fence. As a result of my experiences, I have often had moments where I literally yelled out ‘I’m not a femme!’ as I slipped on my lace nighty and my Amethyst stone necklace. I say it with a volume of defiance just because I don’t want people to label me something I’m not. And I’m realizing now that maybe it isn’t that I’m not. I just want the space to yell out ‘I am a femme!’ as I define it and have others identify me as what I declared first and on my own.

I’ve struggled with becoming a women which relates directly to my struggle of being femme. I started estrogen because I produce too much testosterone and my body changed from blocky, hairy and smelly to curvy, soft and flower scented. My fat tummy feels more comfortable in a dress and I’m just happy that I love them anyway to make my plus sized body feel less confined. I walked around being very unaware of my pretty privilege for quit some time and as a result never fully embraced being feminine. And because I will probably never wear heels and haven’t shaved my legs since high school, I’ve thought that I simply would never fit the definition of femme. 

So being femme identified is very loaded for me. It has everything to do with my body, stereotypes, womanhood, genderqueerness, the binary and a limited shoe collection. It’s an identity that I haven’t fully owned and am not sure I ever will.

But I have to say, there is something really nice about the femmes I admire seeing a little femme in me, like a sparkle I’ve kept a closed eye to. Maybe there is a femme in me, waiting to be called out by my own proclamation. Maybe femme is already in me and I’m just not ready to own it.

All I know is that I am learning to own my evolution and whether that journey is defined by a thong or briefs isn’t really as important to me as the complicated work of being okay with being myself.

So for now, just call me Ashley or a Black Unicorn and we can grow from there. 

Accepting Love in California

Foundation at a secret rose garden in the hills

In this moment, California is guiding me in accepting love.

Love has always been complicated for me. At the foundation of my history, love has always been confusing, scary, painful and numbing. Love has come with conditions. It was something I had to earn, to be good enough for and to piece together in times of scarcity. Love has been something I truly believed I did not fully deserve so even when it was right in front of me, I simply could not even open myself up enough to feel it.

But something has shifted for me during my stay in Oakland and my visits to San Francisco. I was warmly welcomed into homes that felt like sanctuaries. I was given space to write and think deeply about the ways in which conversations have touched me. I was held physically in a spiritual expression of my sexuality and trusted a love one to move and heal my energy. I was introduced to new ideas about my relationships that I never thought possible. I was embraced in safe spaces that honored my identity as a Queer Black poly kinky witch woman. 

I felt safe inside the space love made for me and was asked for very little in return. 

I know that Liberation is a journey in loving myself. When I first realized that, it felt out of body, foreign and down right disgusting. I am now becoming so shockingly present to how long I have hated being me and being here and that self loathing has blinded me from the possibility of truly loving others, letting others love me and having the willingness to love myself.

I’m realizing that until I am ready to dive into the experience of loving myself, I have to let others show me the way by letting them love me.

And honestly, it all still feels a little weird. Self love feels like something I still want to roll my eyes at and bulldoze over with sarcastic laughter just to feel safe talking about it. I mean what does it really look like to love myself? Mani pedi’s on Saturday mornings? Walks in the park with India Arie blasting in my headphones? Naked midnight howling at the moon? I’m guessing it could be all or none of these things.

I’m guessing that when the time comes to fully feel it, I’ll know.

International Ms Leather 2017

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International Ms Leather and Bootblack 2017 contest winners: IMsL2017 Aisia (Girl Complex), IMsL first runner up Stela, IMBb Elisa, IMBb runner up, Mickey

My experience at this year’s International Ms Leather (IMsL) was so amazing, it is hard to capture into words (but I’m a writer so I’ll give it a try). If you are not familiar with IMsL, it is a contest, conference and sex positive play space for people of all genders that encourages sexual freedom and alternative sex practices. The contest awards a leather person and bootblack the privilege of  touring the country as a representative of the leather and kink community. This year’s theme of the conference was consent, exploring how our community voices the action of permission. And the sex positive play space provides a safe dungeon to fuck and practice some of the sexiest kink scenes I have ever witnessed.

So basically, IMsL is the shit. I look forward to it every year, seeing old friends, meeting hot queers and dressing up in my sexiest leather wear. After six years of attendance, I feel at home as my leather identity evolves from leather girl to leather woman, female identified to genderqueer and a growing exploration of what it may mean or not mean for me to be femme-ish.

Here are some highlights from the weekend:

Consent

I had the honor of sitting on a panel with three highly intelligent human beings to talk about consent in the context of identity, law and kink. As you can imagine, it is very hard to cover the full conversation of consent in 90 minutes but we touched on some very vital things that directly effect our community. I spoke about sexual consent in the context of being a person living with mental illness, what it was like to enter into a psych ward thinking that sex toys in my bag would label me a prostitute (a word I do not use daily as it criminalizes sex work, which is a whole other conversation) and how my experience as a person of color dictates my definition of consent and non-consent. I was delighted to discuss these topics with my peers and continue the conversation in my community.

Recovery In The Lifestyle

I hosted two recovery meetings this year and it was such an honor to be asked to do service as I approach two years of sobriety. Talking about recovery in the context of the kinky lifestyle is not only something that is much needed for my leather heart but engages me in looking a how the experience of sex has changed for me in sobriety. There is a huge sober community in the scene and I’m blessed to realize that they were always there waiting for me to heal alongside them.

Learning How to be a Trans Ally

From the consent panel I learned what it means to ask consent of someone who you consider yourself to be an ally to. As a POC who has the privilege of being surrounded by white allies, I am seeing the work I need to do to become a better trans ally. There is no such thing as “best ally of the year” – it’s not a contest you should ever expect to be rewarded for. It is simply our duty to straight up not be assholes to marginalized people and ask them/us what we need to have our voices elevated even when we are not in the room. I want to do that work and if anyone who is reading this is trans identified, I ask you – if you have the energy and emotional space – to please call me out when I need to be called out. I am more then willing to do the work, whatever that may be.

Negotiating Play

The beauty of the kinky, leather community is our learned ability to communicate what we want from each other in both sex and play. Some players practice higher risk sex behaviors so it is imperative that we communicate to those we play with what is physically and emotionally safe. During the weekend I had a kink scene that was not only super hot but a reminder of how empowered I feel when I thoroughly communicate how I would like someone to receive my body. Pre-play, we talked about what we wanted and where we were emotionally. During play, we continued to negotiate what was working and what was not. After, we processed any feelings or thoughts that we left the scene with. Learning how to negotiate has not only helped me in my active sex life but in my everyday relationships.

Landmarks in Leather History

I want to congratulate the new International Ms Leather Aisia (Girl Complex) for her win and am so excited and touched that she is the 6th Black women to receive the title. She is a badass individual who has so much to bring to the title when it comes to talking about the intersectionality of POC identity. And she’s fun! We ofcourse want a title holder who can have hard conversations but we also want a title holder who can bring the party! I can’t wait to witness her title year.

These are just a few of the highlights for the weekend. I am so grateful to have a safe space where I can experience the fullness of my sexual identity and be with my peoples on the West Coast. If you are a leather person or exploring and have not yet been to IMsL, just go! I promise you won’t regret it.

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Feeling hella fly in my leather jacket, corset, skirt combo the night of the contest 

Beginnings, Endings and In Between

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On a trip with two fellow witches to Big Indian, NY

Change is both beautiful and remarkably horrifying but when you dive into a new way of being with a willingness to leave behind a way that has stopped working, you’re free to create what’s next.

Last year, I became a women I did not recognize and this year, I know the women I am becoming and for the first time in my life, I am willing to love her.

June 15th, 2016, the week after my 28th birthday, I decided to get sober. It was the hardest, scariest thing I have ever done in my life but I realized in order to feel living, I had to stop attempting to erase myself with drugs and alcohol.

The results have been truly miraculous.

I found a spiritual practice. I am embracing my new journey as a Santera (a woman who practices Santeria) and am learning to develop a relationship with my ancestors. I am delighted to share ceremony with my ile (spiritual house) and be guided by my Madrina (godmother) in discovering my abilities as a Spirituous (one who talks to spirits/the dead) and a Medium. I am understanding myself as a spiritual being and that feeling is beyond words.

I have my family back. When I was using, I was so caught up in my own trauma that I held every memory against the people who helped raise me. Now I can acknowledge that yes, my trauma effects my everyday life but it does not have to dictate how I love others. My mother and I have a healthier relationships as adults sharing our struggles and creating boundaries with love. My dad and I are mending our once strained relationship. I can honor my family in a way that keeps me safe enough to feel how much they love me.

I manage my mental illness. I fully accept being a bipolar woman. I accept that if I do not take my medication, I will return back to the a psychiatric institution or worse. So I medicate myself everyday. I track my moods, have a relationship with my medical team and realize that my mental stability comes before everyone and everything. I don’t hate the disease, I accept that this is the life I have been given and I advocate for the mentally ill that stand beside.

I am finishing my first novel and a collection of poems. Since getting sober, my work has greatly improved and I am able to write again without fear. I can properly communicate the purpose of my long term writing projects. My first novel in progress, The Liberation of the Black Unicorn, is about a Queer Black women’s journey through mental illness, addiction, breakdown and recovery. My forthcoming poetry collection, Chronicles of Bipolar Living, is a collection of poems and prose about illness, love and healing. I am so excited for the day I’ll be able to share these works with my readers as they push through their own breakdowns and breakthroughs.

I’ve learned to have healthy relationships. It has been the hardest thing to put my own sense of well being and self preservation before my friends and romantic relationships. It doesn’t feel natural. But in order for me to maintain healthy connections, I have to let people go, create boundaries with love and speak my mind. I have to let go of old patterns that allowed others to hurt me (and in turn hurt them) and create a way to stay safe in my relationships.

I am learning who I am and who I am not. I can be a highly unstable chick. I live in a pattern of emotional extremes. I am working on using my voice. I am learning that I am beautiful and fierce. I am not an average girl. I am not willing to kill myself slowly any longer. I am not willing to go on hurting others. I am ready for healing. I am willing to love myself. I am willing to feel and define what true liberation feels like.

What lies at the other side of change is overwhelming but I am so blessed to be able to step out a self destructive life I created.

I am becoming the woman I know I was meant to be and I feel a little closer to happiness.

 

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Movie star freedom in Woodstock, NY