There are two of me.
There is a girl that is full of hope and aspirations, who is motivated and goal-oriented. She is bright and quick to laugh, to sing, to be present in the little moments that make life worthwhile. She has a hunger to succeed and a heart full of empathy and compassion for others. This version of me loves herself because she knows that without self-love, there can be no true joy. She knows that to have compassion for others is to have compassion for herself because she isn’t perfect, but she tries. At her core, she is a good person. She is smart and kind and worthy of being loved.
Then there is the other. The shadow self who lingers just beneath the surface, full of fear and insecurity. She is the constant voice inside my head telling me that I am worthless. She is waging perpetual war against my better self, combating positivity with criticism, pessimism, and self-loathing. She calls herself a realist when she points out all the reasons why I will never succeed; all the reasons why I am unlovable and unworthy and broken. She is cruel and unrelenting. There are many days when she will stifle me so entirely that the darkness feels unending.
She is who is speaking when my loved ones tell me they love me and I reply with disbelief, demanding they explain how they can possibly love someone as broken and incomplete as me. She pushes people away. She is bitter, resentful, ungrateful, and selfish. She hates me so much, she cannot stand to see me happy. She seeks ways to destroy my joy. She is my self-destruction.
She has followed me around my entire life. Her name is Bipolar II Depression. Others have called her ‘crazy’ or ‘attention-seeking’ or ‘toxic’. She is not who I am, but she far too often takes center stage in my life. This is my ongoing battle; this war with myself. I don’t expect you to understand or to even believe the depths of this struggle. I know that it seems a bit dramatic to those of you who have the luxury of having a mind that is yours and yours alone. But this is my reality. My own worst enemy is just myself.
I have highs and lows. There are days or weeks or even months when I can’t find the energy to do life’s most menial tasks. During these depressive episodes, it’s a victory to just exist to see the next day. The things that I love to do – write, read, organize, clean, be active – are reduced to tedious chores, the joy completely removed. I seek out verbal sparring matches with people I love because I cannot fathom how they can possibly love me – so I challenge their claim of loving me with a barrage of questions and accusations that results only in damaging their affection for me. I isolate myself because I am convinced that no one wants to be around someone who is being drowned by their demons. I do not deserve a lifeline. I am an inconvenience, at best.
Then, for no reason whatsoever, the clouds will break. Sunlight will filter through once again and I will become who I really am. I will begin to find joy in the things that I love and I will be able to see the good in myself again. This is when I have to go on a mission to mend the relationships that I damaged during my episode. I savor every blessed moment of the highs, because I never know when she will make her return. The entire time I am enjoying the elevation, she will be clawing just beneath the surface, seeking ways to be triggered. But while I can, I grasp onto the feeling of being myself. I write and I read. I take long walks and spend time with friends and family. I hold onto it with all of my strength.
But it’s never enough. I need you to understand that if I could keep her at bay indefinitely, I would. If I could murder her with my own bare hands, I would. But she is me. The best I can do is fight to keep her just beneath the surface for a little while longer.
There are two of me. Maybe if I can convince you that the real me is the better me, we can take a little power away from Bipolar II Depression. Please try to recognize which ‘me’ is speaking and have compassion if that version of me is being unkind or pushing you away with all my might. I don’t want you to go. I know it’s a contradiction. When I tell you to go, I’m really begging you to stay. I’m begging you to fight my battle for me in telling her she is a liar. When you stand your ground and love me in spite of myself, you are – for even just a moment – fighting that fight on my behalf. You are giving me reprieve. And, for that, I can never thank you enough.
Because I am not her, even if she is me.
[Illustration by Alexandria Lomuntad]