How I Learned to Love Myself With My Bipolar Disorder
I hated myself. I hated that I have limits, I hated that I have doubts, that I have fears, that I can’t do what others can. I hated that I am disabled, that I feel loose, lost, that most of the time I feel broken, that I don’t trust today, tomorrow, that I see darkness, nighttime, emptiness, loss, anger, confusion…
I hate me.
Powerful, isn’t it?
I hate me. But I can’t lie, this has been life for a long time. I hated every
aspect of myself for years, hated my lot in life, hated the cards I was dealt.
Hated it all.
I have bipolar disorder and I hate that too.
People would mention the concept of self-love, but that concept had been too elusive, a fleeting moment in the back of my thoughts, like a spider’s web, catching all the refuse, shredded. Why would I bother with self-love when all that is me can so easily be broken down into fragments of manic highs and depressive lows?
This time last year, I reached the apex of that garbage-ridden journey of
self-hatred, frustration, despair. Sitting in front of a computer screen,
surrounded by an office cubicle, bathed in harsh, florescent lights of my
day-job. Knowing that I should be grateful for a day-job – so many others like me didn’t even have that. Couldn’t have that. Knowing that I was smart, that I had talent, but full-heartedly believing that I just simply couldn’t. Couldn’t do anything but push papers and blink under that harsh light. Couldn’t do anything but brace for the impact of the highs, the lows. The fall-out.
The fall-out stripped me of all that I thought I was worth.
But I’d had enough.
Enough lack of will.
Enough absence of motivation.
What was my life? An endless battle of “I can’t” and “that isn’t my life”? Why? Because of mental illness? Daily, hourly, minute by minute, I’d gaze out the tinted window of the 21st floor, Queen’s Park in the distance. The university’s buildings just grazing my line of vision.
The words, “Why me?” slowly became, “Why not me?”
Can’t I? Should I? Am I good enough?
I wanted to go back to school. I’d wanted to for years. To reinvent myself. To see how far, I truly could go. To test my own illness, this battle of emotions constantly raging inside me, to see if truly, I could be me.
Just be me.
Without self-loathing. Without self-disgust. Without despair. Without damn self-pity.
And possibly with a little success? Is that possible for me, I wondered. Is it possible I challenge my own self-imposed limits and win?
I decided to investigate if returning to school was an option for me. I
made the calls, still filled with doubt. I conversed with my partner, with
trepidation. I registered for classes, with fear.
And then I quit my job. My fluorescent-lit, paper-pushing, 21st floor
job. This decision wasn’t borne from a manic-induced bought of impulsivity.
This decision, the decision that was to forever change the course of my life, was meticulously thought out. Carefully planned. And for a small moment, I felt capable. Just a little bit of competence.
When classes started, doubt poured over me once again. Conversations with my partner would start with questions like, “What business do I have being in school with peers who are almost half my age?” “What if I dysregulate?” “What if they all find out just how ‘crazy’ I really am?”
What if I end up in the hospital again?
What if it all falls apart?
What if, what if, what if…
My partner responded with, “Then we will deal with that, too. In the meantime, go to class.”
The semester continued, I attended classes as best I could, riding my bike to and from campus. I met other students. I even told one peer that I had bipolar disorder. I wrote my finals, and I did well.
I started to forget that I hated myself.
The following semester, I applied for a position with a student club. I led a registered study group. And I got to know my peers and professors. I wove my life around campus, around the busyness of academia. I delved into projects and research, and even garnered a research position at the Center for Addition and Mental Health.
Doubt began to fade, to be replaced by a glimmer of confidence. The fear of my illness shuffled to the back of my mind, pushed out by papers and learning and grades. Of conversations over topics in class. And possibilities of a bright future began to bud.
A bright future for me, that I carved out for myself. With my own two hands.
I wrote my finals, I turned in well-crafted and purposeful papers, I earned respectable grades. And I began to smile. To feel pride. And accomplishment. And a little bit of love.
One year ago, I sat in that office chair, at that cubicle, gazing out the 21st
floor window. Gazing at the university. Filled with self-doubt, despair, fear. Self-hatred, self-loathing. A self-image buried under years of carving a box for myself and filling it with memories of hospitalizations, of therapy, of medications and perceived failures.
A month ago, after I’d finished my finals, as the grades started pouring in, my partner wrapped his arms around me and said, “I’m so proud of you. Look at what you’ve accomplished. You did it.”
Today, writing this, I feel hope and promise. I see possibility and excitement.
Today, I know self-kindness, self-care.
Today, I’ve learned self-love. Because I faced a decades-old fear – that having bipolar disorder would forever pigeon-hole me into despair.
I still have limits and doubts and fears, but I don’t hate myself.
In fact, I love myself.
Just a bit.
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