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The Girl Who Lives Inside Me

Embracing a neglected friendship

By Marti MaleyPublished 2 months ago 7 min read
Top Story - March 2024

For the majority of my life, I considered myself to be well-liked and relatively popular. I had an extroverted personality, made acquaintances easily, and sustained several close friendships.

This all changed in 2019, when I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1.

Almost instantaneously, my best friends drew away from me. They blocked my number, sent emails telling me not to contact them anymore, and even moved out of our apartment. They did this in unison, as if it were a decision they made together: to remove me from their lives. I can’t blame them, my first manic episode was beyond destructive and undoubtedly a terrifying thing to witness. But losing the people you care about when you need them the most is a devastating experience; one of the most difficult things I’ve had to navigate in my adult life.

And every manic episode, I endure the same ordeal, over and over again.

Thankfully, I’ve only had two episodes since then, so it could definitely be worse. But while I used to be outgoing and sociable, I now shy away from even the possibility of making new friends, because I’m so scared of losing them. I’ve realized just how much I measure my self-worth in the relationships I cultivate, and how difficult it is to not think poorly of myself when the people you look to for validation no longer want anything to do with me. I know this might sound like a plea for pity, and I won’t lie, at times it’s been overwhelmingly lonely. But thankfully, losing loved ones time and time again has also materialized into my most meaningful relationship: the one with myself.

I’ve struggled with self-confidence for as long as I can remember. When I was younger especially, being well-liked was incredibly important to me. I’ve always been a bit different, and as a result was bullied a lot as a kid. Naturally, I equated being popular with being worthy. But not the kind of popularity that’s associated with being accepted by the ‘cool kids.’ I wanted to be embraced by everyone. I tried to be friendly to whoever I talked to, and would go out of my way to say nice things. Eventually my tendency to be kind changed at its core once I realized how much people appreciated someone being warm and considerate, but initially I just wanted people to like me. That’s undoubtedly a huge part of why I’ve always wanted to be an artist: I crave validation. If I have a lot of friends, I must be likable. If I receive a standing ovation, I must be talented. This way of thinking could partly be a result from a childhood of playing competitive sports. It’s quite simple: if you’re good, you play on the field; if not, you sit on the bench. Personally, I don’t agree with this method when it comes to developing a young person’s self-esteem, but for better or worse, it does simplify things.

I’ll never forget how the day it was announced that I was voted onto Prom Court. No longer was I the weird girl who everyone made fun of… I was popular. For the first time, I felt significant. I wasn’t a part of the in-crowd, and I definitely wasn’t (nor will I ever be) ‘cool,’ but that didn’t bother me—I was somebody. I finally felt like I mattered.

I continued to be kind and outgoing into college and my early twenties, and made several friends, some of whom I became very close to. I moved from Alaska to New York City to LA, and always had a group, or community that I was a part of. Eventually I moved in with my best friends, and we became a family. I relied so much on their counsel, and always asked for their input, trusting their opinions more than my own. I felt loved.

And then all hell broke loose.

My first manic episode I had no idea what was going on. I had barely heard of the term “Bipolar,” and didn’t even consider that I was struggling with a mental illness. I had endless energy, couldn’t sleep, and felt more confident than I’d ever felt in my life. For the first time, I didn’t care what people thought of me. I didn’t go to my friends for guidance, and ignored their advice. I felt free. I was so happy. I had no idea that everyone around me wasn’t on my level, and couldn’t see or feel their fear and discomfort. When the day came they each blocked me from their lives, I was shocked. This was shortly before I was officially diagnosed as Bipolar, and it felt like my world had shattered. I had never felt more lost or alone.

After a rough six months, I eventually raised myself up again. I moved to a different neighborhood, found a welcoming community, and made new friends. And then, exactly a year later, it happened all over again— except this time, it was worse. I knew what was happening, and just didn’t care. My life that I had worked so hard to put back together again, dissolved into full-on chaos, and truthfully I‘m lucky to be alive. Finally, the mania disintegrated, and I had no choice but to move back home to Alaska. Again, I went into a depression, and this time it took nine months to navigate out of it. The pattern continued: I built a new life, found my network, made friends— and like a curse, my mania did its best to destroy it all.

This last manic episode transitioned into a year-long depression. I was incredibly lucky to have my boyfriend, but besides him, everyone but my ever-loyal dog was once again gone. After this third experience with having my life turned upside down, I knew something needed to change. I couldn’t keep living this way. In the past I would try to get myself back on my feet as quickly as possible, trying to rebuild and connect to create a life that was filled with energy and companions.

Not this time.

I rested. I took everything slow and easy, slept more than I ever had, and only spent time with my boyfriend and my dog. I didn’t seek out friendships, instead, I lived in solitude. I signed off from social media. Instead of going out, I stayed in. It was a different kind of depression, one where I wasn’t fighting the grief like I had in the past, instead, I embraced the unhappiness and let myself mourn. Looking back, I realize now that I wasn’t just accepting the outcome from this past manic episode-- I was finally allowing myself to feel the pain I’d been running from my entire life. By constantly seeking acceptance from other people, I had found a way to avoid my own sorrow. I masked my suffering, and instead focused on the good feelings that manifested from feeling loved and cherished by others. The time had come to be alone, stop fleeing, and look into the void. And you know what? I discovered that what I’ve been running from is simply a sweet, lonely little girl. All the love in the world has never meant anything to her. The only friend she’s ever wanted is myself.

It’s been about a year and half since my last manic episode, and I’m slowly peeking out of my cocoon. I’m nervous to get close to people, but I’m not hiding anymore. I’m still kind, but now my focus is on myself instead of everybody else. Occasionally I find myself worrying over the future, but when that happens I try to breathe, and bring myself back to the present. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring, but what I can do is nurture this little girl who lives inside me. Remind her that she’s not alone, that no matter what she won’t be abandoned. When I feel the pain come up, I close my eyes and breathe into it. I try not to avoid. I remind myself that I am loved.

And in my mind, I imagine Little Marti smiling, because at long last, she is home.


About the Creator

Marti Maley

Hi 🙂 my name is Marti. I am an artist and healer living in Alaska & Arizona. I believe in good coffee, chihuahuas, and mental health. I love connecting with fellow artists💛 @msmartimaley

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Comments (5)

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  • Anna 2 months ago

    Congrats on Top Story!🥳🥳🥳

  • Babs Iverson2 months ago

    Congratulations on Top Story!!!🥰🥰😍

  • Kale Ross2 months ago

    This is awesome! Well-deserved Top Story!

  • PK Colleran2 months ago

    What a moving, thoughtful and honest story. I love that little girl inside you. So similar to the child in each of us. 🩷💙💚❤️

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