Perhaps it's true that we all live with demons, no matter how showy and archaic that metaphor may seem in modern society. It conjures up images of sharp-toothed, delicate-winged creatures whirling about our heads, evil temptresses with snakes for hair and blood on their lips. In ancient Greek mythology they were called the furies - female spirits of justice and vengeance -, and no one ever had any peace from them. Perhaps it is telling that, in the decades that have passed between then and now, we have still not arrived at a better description for the darkness that can exist inside of our own heads. The demons that drive us are uniquely our own, and most people are lucky enough to have relatively benign compulsions. This is not the case for me. The demons that drive me will always be as follows: being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and being a woman, in a society that seems determined that the two should never meet.
My disorder manifests itself through tremendous, terrifying highs - moments when my brain almost fizzes over with boundless energy, and excitement, and the utter gloriousness of being completely convinced that every thought I have and every decision I make is absolutely correct. It is a wonderful feeling, until all of my boundless energy inevitably transforms into full blown anxiety and a frustration so complete that it makes me incapable of being in my own skin. People often confuse manic episodes with overwhelming happiness; but a darker side exists to them, and it makes me rage and seethe and want to claw my own skin off. It makes me incapable of existing in my own body.
My disorder also manifests itself through lows so extreme and all-encompassing that the highs, even with all of their flaws, are almost preferable. During the lows, I am constantly both disoriented and obsessed by my own sadness. There's a kind of poetic cruelty in this; in simultaneously hating yourself but also being completely unable to think of anything else.
I have directed so much frustration and physical and mental harm towards my body because it is the vehicle for my brain, which I often loathe very much, and dragging it around day after day during a depressive episode feels absurd and infuriating. During a manic episode, it constantly restricts me and gets in the way, because it is far too small to contain my enormity and grandeur. My body is not just any body; it is a woman's body, already so objectified and sexualised and vilified in society. I'm dragging around something that is physical proof that I exist - that my brain, with all of its vileness and magnificence, exists - and if that isn't excruciating enough, I'm also dragging around something that is physical proof that I exist as a woman in a society that does not particularly like women.
The ways in which my manic episodes present themselves--especially in regards to self-destructive behaviours such as bad casual sex and alcohol reliance--are not symptoms of an illness, but instead reflections of me as a woman. Women are not supposed to be promiscuous, or drink heavily. When I do these things I have failed as a woman, and society takes great pleasure in this, because nice women are good but bad women are better--because bad women are easier to vilify. Society has told me that I am a bad woman, that the manifestations of my illness are choices that I make. Society has told me that I deserve this.
Don't they realise how terrifying it is, to be able to identify the cause of your ailment with such clarity and at the same time be absolutely powerless to change or stop its trajectory - and to spend every waking moment being excruciatingly aware of this? It's like living with a time bomb that never stops exploding. Once it has been set in motion, you cannot stop it. You can only attempt to constantly control the ongoing damage and salvage whatever wreckage might remain.
Leonard Cohen once wrote, "How can I begin anything new with all of yesterday in me?" This is how being diagnosed with bipolar disorder makes me feel - that everything is predetermined and that nothing can really change for me, because I have already lived like this for so long. I don't want to believe that my life's trajectory has already been decided, that everything is forever ruined and lost, because I have already lost so much. I have lost a lot of people; I have been lost to a lot of people. I am flawed, and worst than that, I am a flawed woman. This will always be the demon that drives me: I am a flawed woman in a society that both loves and hates flawed women, that wants us to either fail outright or beg for forgiveness for our perceived sins so that we may begin again. I refuse. I will never make peace with my furies, but I will live with them. I will accept that there are some ghosts you can never lay to rest, and I will move on. I will find another way to live and I will do it as a flawed woman, with all of yesterday inside of me.