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When It's Time to Start Over Again, Again

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Everyone gets in a slump from time to time. When a slump is coupled with a breakup and mental illness, a little slump can turn a lonely home into an abandoned property with overgrown bushes and boarded-up windows. I think I’ve plastered, without much knowledge, some type of “no trespassing” sign over my skin these past few months, not wanting anyone to see the state I’ve let my body and my mind fall into. It’s a bit of a mess, a few months short of disaster, and I think it might be time for a controlled burn.

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By this I mean I haven’t done a good job taking care of myself, mentally or physically. If my body were a building, you’d see I’ve let things rot — losing pride in the property that is my flesh. I’ve stopped exercising in favor of sleeping 13 or 14 hours a day and found comfort in tortilla chips, gelato and wine. I haven’t written a page despite deadlines for school, and turned to Netflix reruns instead of books to fill the hours when my mind won’t allow enough blank space for sleep.

It can be embarrassing to realize you’ve “let yourself go” again, especially when you’ve been to rock bottom once before, and it can seem like a lost cause to haul yourself from the bottom of some well of despair back onto dry land, knowing you — despite your best efforts — may end up at the bottom of that well at any point in the future. This, unfortunately, has been my reality in living with bipolar disorder.

But spring is coming, with its reminder of my hospitalization. With the sunlight and the budding plants comes the uncomfortable tingling reminder life is stirring around me, and that it’s time to wake up. It’s the fresh air coaxing me out of the cave of bleak hibernation, summoning me to rise from the ashes all over again — even if this is part of what can seem like a devastating, endless cycle.

It’s a time to think back to the good times — running half-marathons, cooking new foods, hiking new mountains, stringing together essays — and persuading myself to embrace everything these cycles of good times, no matter how long they stick around, can offer. I may always sleep with one eye open, and walk turning my head back every few minutes, nervous the will to survive will collapse in on me at any instant. I’ve come to find this primal desire will never be a given, and this has been the most devastating realization in the five years since I’ve grappled with a chronic diagnosis. There will always be times when returning from a slump will seem not worth the effort, or nearly impossible.

But what would be the point of any of my days if I didn’t muster all my energy to savor the good ones? And so, taking the saplings of the good times that seem to be on the cusp of growing strong, I need to be a phoenix. There is no other option.

It’s time to start over again, again. This is how it’s been since I was young, and maybe this is how it will always be. It is the toughest pill I’ve yet to swallow. But it’s time to put down the bottle, to put down the spoon, to peel off the comforter.

I want to return to what I once was, once more. When I was 16 and not ashamed of raw emotion, I wrote how it felt like I was walking a tightrope, a thin line of sanity, “one slip and I am devoured, gone.” I wrote, “expect nothing in this life, except sorrows and joys.”

In the days, weeks and months to come, I want to cook meals for myself. I want to get outside and run. I want to nourish myself when I need to be nourished, and abstain when I need to abstain. Of course I will falter and of course I will fail, but the difference is that I will, once again, be trying. I want to return to the world again, to be a sister and a daughter and a friend, not just a phantom pulled here and there by obligation and clocks.

When I was 18 — five years ago today — this is what I would have wanted for myself as I threw my hospital bracelet into the trash, with my family in tow there to support me. I was so determined to leave that darkness of the hallway behind me.

I wrote this at 16, too, and I still think these dramatic things are true, because they were real then, and they are still real now.

“We must endure these phases of barren trees and ashy personality. We must wait in mournful numbers until the waves’ salty water washes over us, covers us in lost emotions of the past — that hope and strength to live and breathe again.”

Follow this journey on Laura Dennison‘s site.

Originally published: June 1, 2016
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