White lies to myself

You know the feeling when something so terrible seems like light years away, stuck in the distant past? Oh, the relief. But there is a twist: the pain from it is still so raw, and palpable but no longer relevant in the present moment. That is how I imagine most of the people in the dormant stages of bipolar recovery to be, when the meds work and the depression and mania are in check. I’ve detached myself from that part of my past- my depressive phase- (at least outwardly), and it became another piece in my private collection, guarded by many locks and bolts to the outside world. To me, it was just another dark past that I have overcome. As Mariah Carey came out of the bipolar closet, I went in as far as I could.

It all started when I started going to a local church. Read: when I began interacting with people outside of my family, my treatment group and my art class. For someone who grew up without a particular religion, as a lifelong atheist, it doesn’t make sense. But I was thirsty for a human connection, preferably a non-judgmental, and kind one, and church seemed like the perfect place,and it was five minutes away from where I live. It may sound somewhat calculating, but I wasn’t so opposed to converting if my needs were met. And my guess was right, the church turned out to be another family I came to embrace, and it was all good.

Except, it got in the way of being authentic. Being me. Long time readers know my issue with this- this fine line of oversharing and being authentic. I found myself introducing myself to these people as a glossy version of myself, which skips the part where I quit my job because of my bipolar breakdown, the multiple suicide attempts, hospitalizations and moving back home across the country, and then moving yet again because my parents moved. And not working, and not looking, or aspiring to become something any time soon.

The glossy, approachable, I-have-my-shit-all-figured-out version is that I’m an art student and voluntarily quit my job and moved to New York City to pursue a career in art. Ah, how different things look when you swap out the true reason for a innocuous, false one. I started taking comfort in this version of my story to others, and I almost started believing it myself. It moved me towards more and more projects, and to practice drawing, painting and towards learning about art history. I actually subtly started dreaming about doing art for a living. Not that I was sure of it or knew how I could make it.

Like a bad breakup, I had abolished what was left of my hospital experiences, and those dark dark moments of depression from my memory (and most importantly, my story.) I feel a slight tinge or guilt when I have to tell people this new version, and frustrated that I may be making myself work towards a rather temporary goal that may not be something that I really want. But really, for now, I’m happy. My story will simply have to change when the time comes, I guess.

What’s now

I’ve been thinking about “what next?” a bit like a graduating senior. And like getting a degree, all in all, it’s a good thing, I suppose(recovery is a good thing.) They, the graduates, are usually bitter sweet, yet full of excitement and potential for new adventures. But unlike a soon-to-be-graduate, I’m not fresh faced, or excited about what is about to unfold at the end of my intensive treatment period. I have too much experience, too much trauma, if you will, to feel completely enthralled and optimistic about what I’ll have to face, yet again. I’m really scared. Scared to foot my foot back into the world, and scared to put myself out there, for whatever I need to put myself out there for.

Already, I’ve started “stepping down” from my self-led, treatment (i.e. isolation from major triggers) filled with psychiatrist appointments, med changes, therapist visits, more self care than I’d ever put myself through in such a short period of time, and retching amount of self compassion (if my old self were to describe it.) And you know what? I’m doing much better now: the meds are fine (no huge side effects that I noticed), therapy has been a bit of a struggle, (because I’ve been resistant to change, as you can tell), I do my workouts consistently throughout the week, and I go to art classes regularly.

But it’s always the “what next?” question that throws me off from feeling good about where I am, and how far I’ve gotten. Somebody told me that if you were to ask that of your own life, it would just be “death.” That is the ultimate “what next,” right? I’ve done the “what next” thing all my life throughout school and my short lived career, and it hasn’t helped me much. When I was in school, I was studying 2 grades ahead of where I was, and at my job, I was thinking two promotions or lateral moves ahead. And you know what? It was really tiring, having to do everything in front of me now, and having to do everything for the future. Thinking about your future once in awhile in terms of saving for your first house, or a special event like a wedding or something isn’t detrimental, but rather smart. But for me, my body was here in the now, but my head was in the future- and I can tell you it’s much more dangerous than having it in the clouds.

So today, I’m resisting the urge, this habit of mine, to think into the future, and making 5 year plans, or thinking about careers. Because I need to be here now.