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How I Finally Found Myself and Made Peace With My Bipolar Disorder

Foreword

Up to this point, I have lived my whole life with the idea that sadness was a permanent fixture in my consciousness. Heavy in my mind, I drowned in it constantly. I feared sadness so much that I would be devastated when it arrived—so much so that I needed to mark the days in my calendar for these monumental paradigm shifts.

I’ve sat with this feeling for so long that I even gave my sadness a name, Victoria. A beautiful and tragically apt name befitting of an emotion just as devastating.

As a separate entity in my life, it became easier to hate Victoria with a vengeance so crisp I could taste the hatred on my tongue; the force of it so tangible, it made my hands shake on some days. She was everything about myself that wasn’t pretty: my face, my body, my life, and even my lack of a permanent relationship in my life.

Victoria doesn’t eat, doesn’t sleep, doesn’t shower and breathes in cigarette smoke like a lifeline. She couldn’t even fuck if her life depended on it. Victoria was mediocre at best.

And at worst, she was pathetic, broken and dull.

With half her face droopier than the other, Victoria looked the way she felt: like absolute shit. She had broad shoulders and a large back; Victoria looked lumpy even in a black satin dress. But wasn’t it a God-given blessing that wearing anything black makes you look thinner?

If you were going to be average might as well look good. But poor Victoria, with her asymmetrical face and nothing to her name, can’t even be saved by a color so universally neutral it was like a sick joke of cosmic proportions. What a pity.

For days on end, she was all I could see in the mirror. Victoria was a ghost I could not get rid of and I hated it.

But like all things ephemeral, she comes, and then she goes. When I wake up and find she’s no longer there, I would feel the relief in my veins run like water. Everything was finally back in order.

I ate, I slept, I drew, I watched TV, I listened to music. Days would go by when laughter came so much more easily then. I’d put on my makeup like Michelangelo on crack at 3 in the morning and then scavenger hunt in my closet for the cute outfit I bought three years ago. All that effort for 10 Tiktoks lip-syncing to Doja Cat and 600 views. All that tunnel vision in the name of “self-love.”

If it were possible to get high without drugs, you probably could with just an overinflated sense of self and a feverish need to be perfect. Self-importance was a different kind of euphoria all on its own. And during those limited days where Victoria was nowhere to be found, I felt alive and beautiful for a bit of time. That was enough to keep me going.

But the world is round and what goes up will come down. All good things must come to an end. Victoria was destined to rear her ugly head back into my life and the cycle of life will restart.

And like an impending car crash, it was time for me to buckle up my seatbelt in my front-row seat, praying to God that I would survive the fallout.

If not mindless chatter about my flaws, what is this all for then?

Well, this is a tragic love story between Victoria and me, told in three parts. Kind of like Romeo and Juliet, except without the poetics and the dying.

(Sit tight as I promise that this will all make sense in the end.)

—————

Act I:
I am 22 and I finally acknowledge Victoria for the first time.

Victoria never existed in my life until only recently.

It was probably a cry for help at that time that I had to exorcise an emotion out of my body and give it personhood so I could function. Sadness as a concept is what we’re all familiar with, but when it started controlling my every thought, I personified sadness as a way to prepare myself for its coming. I breathed life into Victoria, not as some twisted project of self-awareness but because I quite had to. Giving the monster a name, they say, helps you fight it.

Oftentimes, when I was alone in my small studio apartment, I would scream into my pillow.

Why was I broken?

Why was it so hard to breathe?

Why am I here?

Why do I matter?

Whywhywhywhy—

So many why’s with no answers.

I did everything I could to stop feeling like I wanted to erase myself. Everything but seek help. Like fixing the boulder-sized hole on a leaking roof with a band-aid: pointless.

But just like anyone else fresh out of college with a newfound sense of independence, I drowned myself in distractions of all kinds. My work was my 24/7 lover and partying was my weekend mistress. But it didn’t matter where I found slivers of happiness in.

I read somewhere that to be happy is to be free. And under bright lights, whether it be in the cramped studio at work or surrounded by friends and loud music in that small bar amidst high-rise towers, I was floating.

—

My mommy and daddy issues, so to speak, were abundant. And they manifested in many things; some ways, exhilarating, most of the time…just destructive.

By this point, it had been 22 turbulent years of living with an on-and-off relationship with my parents. I grew up not knowing their place in my life and mine in theirs. I have no recollections of warm hugs nor lullabies sung in the dead of night. What I do see are fragments of goodbyes and empty beds and disappointment. And when you let years pass by feeling like you don’t belong, something always feels lost inside you.

To cut the long story short, I was indifferent to my father. There was nothing I could bring myself to feel for a person who was never there in the first place. But with my mother…

In simpler terms, it was like we both existed in each other’s orbit just to argue. My mother—with her soft, round face that looked nothing like mine—was a stranger to me.

It was no wonder that she and I always fought about everything, even the smallest of things. Like opposite ends of a puzzle, we made more sense apart than together. Just the sound of her voice at the other end of the line was enough to make me shake in rage, in sadness, or maybe both at the same time.

“It’s your fault,” Like knives sharpened between rocks, I wanted to scream to her, to him, or maybe to some god out there who was listening, “You made me and that’s why I’m fucked up.”

In hating her, I too learned how to hate myself.

I remember the day so vividly when my recognition of that fact slowly became acceptance. I was a broken young adult with a never-ending propensity for self-flagellation. “The world’s biggest victim,” my now best friend had said sardonically about me before.

And so, one sunny afternoon, after one call too many with my mother about nothing that mattered and a complete mental breakdown at the supermarket, I looked for a psychiatrist and asked for one thing I should’ve done all this time: help.

The moment I entered my psychiatrist’s door, I said hello to Victoria for the first time.

——-

Act II:
I am 24 and I let Victoria take control of the steering wheel.

Two years in the making, and I eventually came to terms and learned to live with my bipolar II diagnosis which meant a heightened sense of awareness of Victoria in my life. Like clockwork, two weeks for myself and the next two weeks for Victoria to run amok.

I started forgiving my mother and my father and I was all the better for it, right? That’s what I thought and hoped for. I truly believed going to a therapist would magically make all the hurt go away, but it didn’t. The road to healing isn’t as cut and dry. I just took all that hate I had for my parents and put it all in another bucket, unfortunately: myself.

But then a wonderful thing happened. I found love.

As cliché as quoting Jack the Narrator of Fight Club was, he truly met me at a strange time in my life.

I was tired of work and exhaustion and the routine of it that all I wanted was to escape. From what, I don’t know exactly. But the feeling of floating through life like watching it happen inside a body not quite mine, it festered. An itch underneath my skin that would not leave.

And so when a charismatic man entered my life like a whirlwind, it was like my world was being upended. He brought with him his self-deprecating humor and persistence; I was caught in his orbit. And even though, at that time, oceans wide and deep separated us, I could not have felt more grounded.

“Being with you feels like coming home,” I remember saying to him, my hands splayed against his back. His heartbeat, a constant staccato against my ear. He’d hum his agreement and I’d feel like I was where I should be. Like a rearrangement of the atoms in my body, I felt renewed. Reborn. Rewritten.

In hindsight, when life is lived with rose-tinted glasses, everything looks rosy. For a few glorious months, I looked at Victoria and didn’t mind her at all. Because I had love, so much love in me that I could conquer the world with it; I was drunk even on the possibility of it.

He spelled I love you’s with a certainty that I’ve never known my whole life. So when he proposed to me, it wasn’t even a question what the answer was.

I slipped the ring on my finger knowing the chance of what we all were looking for—slow-dancing in the kitchen, cups of coffee in the morning, chilly hands held under the night sky—was within my grasp. With someone to hold me, Victoria just seemed small in the grand scheme of things.

I said yes and the rest was history. Or so I wished.

At this stage, the running theme of my story was fast becoming a tragedy.

Things in my life always have a habit of ending.

Men were such fickle things after all, as nature has proven time and time again; and I was no one special.

I wasn’t a warm body to hold nor was I his comfort underneath cold sheets; who was I to him but pixels and soundwaves across 10,000 miles? When the call ends and there is nothing but static, he drives his car with fervor to search for a home in arms that weren’t mine.

I was Jack’s brittle heart. Jack’s flushing cheeks and tired eyes. I was Jack’s screaming voice and Jack’s endless vertigo.

“If you don’t want me, then please let me go.”

Take off the rose-tinted glasses and the diamond is just a rock; the man is just a boy; and love is just that, a word.

And I—I was just a trespasser in someone else’s story.

—

Eventually, I found myself alone with Victoria hiding in the shadows.

Though this time around, Victoria didn’t just stay for two weeks.

She never left.

What once was a bucket full of hate, now there was a sea of it. And Victoria took the liberty of steering the ship, wrecking the whole damn boat, and leaving me there in the aftermath without a life vest.

In a culmination that I, looking back to it, should have known would happen: I landed myself in the hospital and woke up dazed, confused and fighting for my life.

—————

Act III:
I am 25, going 26, and I have become friends with Victoria.

I know you must think of my life as extreme seeing the way it panned out. In a way it was, but things started calming down the moment I left the hospital with my sanity still intact. And with a newfound fervor for choosing myself above all else; that relationship ended, as it should have, not long after.

And so it began, another chapter in the journey to healing.

Again, and I don’t why I’m still surprised, I eventually turned to find many a stupid way to dull down Victoria’s voice. I started becoming obsessed with sleep. In the darkness, there are no shadows lurking in the corners.

Days turned into weeks and I was back to my self-destructive ways. But chasing the coattails of enlightenment this time.

Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied,
And vice sometime by action dignified.

(To all my brethren who have partaken in that tiny slab of happiness in paper form, I know you will read this part and understand the same type of loss.)

Nothing and no one could have ever prepared me for the terrifying experience of an ego death. It wasn’t even what I was looking for in the first place. I just wanted to be happy and blissfully unaware. I wanted to be numb; so, I took a trip down the rabbit hole, and for a moment, I was euphoric. But to no shock at all, it took a quick turn into cataclysmic.

Gone were the pretty fractals in the sky and in place of it was the ego death that I’ve only read about. Do not go gentle into that good night, I did. I fought as hard as I could, but once I began forgetting everything that I thought mattered—money, status, relationships, gender, and even my name; it was like careening into space. Forceful. Uncontrollable. Inevitable.

I was floatless in a void where Victoria did not exist. Where I did not exist. There was just energy, matter and the simple act of existing.

It wasn’t a gentle self-reflection, far from it. It felt like taking yourself apart and shedding everything that meant anything to you. I can’t even explain with words the phenomenon of completely forgetting who you are, but that is what it was: complete dissolution of the self. Call it a near-death experience but it was what it would be if catharsis and death had a baby.

“I was obsessed with myself because when it matters, I won’t even remember who I am,” that’s what I wrote on my phone hours into the ego death—something that I read only a day after but a truth that will now be etched onto my skin and bones like a prayer.

The Hero’s Journey, in other words, was at its finale. This was the light in the cave. And now I was ready to face the hard truth.

This above all: to thine own self be true.

I came out of that experience shaken to my very core but also with the realization that I hated myself because I was completely, utterly, hopelessly obsessed with myself in all the ways that didn’t count.

I was so attached to an idea of myself and crafting this perfect version of me—one that wasn’t messed up and carrying a baggage of issues enough for a lifetime or two—that when I failed at that, I took matters into my own hands and cut out the parts of myself that I didn’t like.

But true love of one’s self is not possession, it is not selfish or greedy; it is allowing the self to exist separate from everything else. A middle finger raised high above.

I looked Victoria in the eye and realized that she was not just my sadness but my very own self-rejection reflected back at me. I allowed her to exist because I couldn’t handle the idea of accepting myself as I was. Some grief shows much of love and true enough, much of my sadness was borne out of a desperate longing to love myself.

I wasted so much time wanting to be seen, begging to be heard, and forever chasing Victoria out of my life as if it would make me whole if she left. I spent years and years feeling lost on the road to finding myself when the person who needed to see me was me.

What I needed to do was to accept me.

To love me—all of me.

And to allow myself the privilege to just be.

Loving myself was making peace with Victoria and what it will mean for me from here on out.

—————

And so today, I leave you this open-ended tragedy of self-discovery not with heartbreak—I told you, this is Romeo and Juliet without the dying—but with a little bit of hope and brutal honesty.

As much of this was a retelling of the story of who I am; it is, at the heart of it, an apology to myself.

The difference, I guess, is that now I will welcome Victoria like an old friend when she comes and I will let her go when she must. Victoria was, is, and will always be here. She is a part of me as much as the need to breathe air is. But she no longer controls my life and her existence does not define me the way it used to. I find that there is no more dread in my gut nor anxious anticipation.

For the first time, I am no longer afraid of Victoria.

Because Victoria is me.

And I love her unconditionally.

To be continued.

Image Credits: Dorothy Guya