I received my diagnosis in high school. My father drove me to a clinic hiding in our neighborhood that we thought we knew like the palms of our hands. I sat with an older man that asked me many things. I cried, said “yes,” “no” and “maybe.” I explained how everything is always noisy, and sometimes I cry so much I think I might drown. He nodded as he wrote things down. My parents were called into school to meet my on-campus therapist. She suggested medication, and both Mami and Papi shook their heads as we filed out of the room. I folded up my bipolar diagnosis and went on living my life.
I am not too much, and I am more than my mental illness.
I was halfway through my 20s when everything got the worst it had ever been. My father was dying. The world was big and scary. I was going into chat rooms and pretending I was people I am not. I was making up entire lives. All of them were free of my mental illness. I was quirky, challenging and different. All things I thought only thin “sane” girls were allowed to be. I fell in love with boy after boy, all of them amazed at the woman I was. How could someone as smart, funny and beautiful as me be single? How did they get so lucky to find me? They didn’t know about the snake coiled in my throat, hadn’t heard the beehive in my head and couldn’t see the hunger in my eyes. I was losing control and had to pull the emergency brake. I went back to therapy for the first time in 10 years and sat across another older man and sobbed. I didn’t want to hate myself anymore; I didn’t want to feel like a monster.
After my father’s death and a year of weekly therapy, I began dating. I had learned to name my triggers and how to avoid them. I understood I needed eight hours of sleep every night and at least one hour of exercise to give my anxious energy somewhere to go. I had never stopped writing; it is what has always kept me afloat. I’d journal regularly and took on healthy hobbies. I went on many dates and enjoyed them all. I had boyfriends, exes and situationships. I was finally living. Everything was bright, and the noise made sense. I hardly ever spoke with my lovers about my anxiety and depression. I didn’t know how to explain hypomanic episodes, and so I never did. I got by this way for a long time until I met a man that refused to let me keep my walls up. I let him, and after a couple of months, the text came: I was too much. I understood and moved on.
I am often asked, “Why aren’t you medicated?” I then have to explain that I am not the same when I am on meds. I don’t feel and, therefore, I do not write. Part of what attracts folk to me is my bipolar disorder. During my hypomanic episodes, I see the world. I can solve any puzzle. The poems pour out of me and the jokes write themselves. I ooze creativity. I am inspired to organize events and photoshoots. I plan out my calendar. I write entire books. I am powerful. I also do not sleep. I am up for days and everything feels fantastic, but I am well aware that one wrong turn, one stone in the road, one small thing pushing me off course and the spell wears off. I live in fear of the crash. Days where my body aches and just getting out of bed and to the couch is an accomplishment. I only do what is necessary to do. Eat. Shower. Pretend I am alive. It sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? Imagine having to work so hard to be normal and then also be in love.
I am a complicated woman worth loving.
My latest love was one based on the understanding that I am a complicated woman worth loving. He understood my neurosis, laughed with me at my panics after they had passed, celebrated my successes and championed my determination to be kind to myself. I had never been loved that way, loved in a way that did not want me to become someone else. Unfortunately, he was also someone with his own life to untangle. I thought that I could do for him what I hadn’t had someone do for me. I stayed for a long time, excusing red flags as his trauma complicated our love. I sat through long conversations where I did the labor of helping him process feelings he had never articulated to anyone. I loved him, but I was exhausted. I couldn’t do for him what had taken my entire life to do for myself. After years of refusing to leave, I did. It’s been the greatest act of self-love I have ever done, and yet, it has been the most painful.
I don’t have a solution for my disorder. I am bipolar and will be so until my last day. I do know two things: I am not too much, and I am more than my mental illness. My parents didn’t understand that ignoring my diagnosis did not make it go away. Mami likes retelling stories of my childhood and pointing out the parts where I was a loca. I no longer wince when I hear them. They don’t hurt anymore. Instead, I think of that weird little girl and all her magic. How brilliant it has made me and taught me to be generous with my love. I learned patience because of her. I know that nothing is impossible, and that includes romantic love.
When the loneliness comes knocking and I feel that love is incredibly far away or when I start repeating to myself what folks say of people like me, I tell myself this: All of us are a little broken. All of us are a little glue. Find what you need and hold on tight until you can’t hold on anymore. That is how I love beyond my body. It is how I never give up hope.