It takes a lot of heart: an eventful year both on campus and abroad, 2016 was a divisive year for a lot of us. As another year begins, this series of personal essays invites you to ponder this question: where is the love?
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 lost, that most of the time I feel broken, that I don’t trust today, tomorrow, that I see emptiness, loss, anger, confusion…
I hate me.
But I can’t lie, this has been my life for a long time. I hated every aspect of myself for years, regretted my lot in life, and despised the cards I was dealt. All of it.
I have bipolar disorder and I hate that too.
People would mention the concept of self-love, but that 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 I can so easily break 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, and 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 was smart, that I had talent, but wholeheartedly believing that I just simply couldn’t. Couldn’t do anything but push papers and blink under that harsh light. 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? I’d gaze out the tinted window of the twenty-first floor, Queen’s Park in the distance with the university’s buildings just grazing my line of vision.
The words ‘why me?’ slowly became ‘why not me?’
I wanted to go back to school. I’d wanted to for years. To reinvent myself. To see how far, truly, I could go. To test my own illness — this battle of emotions constantly raging inside me — to see if truly, I could be me. Without self-loathing. Without despair. Without damn self-pity.
And possibly with a little success. I decided to investigate if it was even possible for me to return to school. I made the calls, still filled with doubt. I conversed with my partner, with trepidation. I registered for classes, with fear.
Then I quit my job. This decision wasn’t borne from a manic-induced bout of impulse. This decision, the decision that was to forever change the course of my life, was meticulously thought out and carefully planned. And for a small moment, I felt capable. Just a little bit of competence.
Today, I know self-kindness, self-care.
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 half my age?’
‘What if I dysregulate?’
‘What if they all find out just how crazy I really am?’
What if, what if, what if?
My partner always responded, ‘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 began to lead a registered study group. I got to know my peers and professors. I wove my life around campus, around the bustle of academia. Delving into projects and research, I even garnered a research position at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Doubt began to fade, 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. 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, purposeful papers, I earned respectable grades. And I began to smile. To feel pride and accomplishment.
And a little bit of love. Self-love.
One year ago, I sat in that office chair, at that cubicle, gazing out the twenty-first floor window. Gazing at the university. 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 week 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.’
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. I faced a decades-old fear — that having bipolar disorder would forever pigeon-hole me into despair. I still have limits, doubts, and fears, but I don’t hate myself.
In fact, I love myself. Just a bit.