Diary of a Serial Quitter: How I'm Letting Go of My Blame Games and Damaging Cycles

By M'Shai S. Dash

The moment he closed the bathroom door, the guilt washed over me and I gathered my clothing as quickly as I could. I was still disoriented from all the alcohol I’d consumed at the legislative conference we’d both attended. Sighing heavily, I double-checked my bejeweled clutch for my credit cards and black makeup compacts (as both things are of nearly equal importance to my daily life, and I wasn’t sure if the contents had fallen on the floor when I’d accidentally kicked it off of his king-sized bed during sex precisely—and sadly—just six minutes before). Once I heard the toilet flush and water running I picked up the pace. I tiptoed down the hallway of (Charles’? Simon’s?) modest one-bedroom apartment, glancing briefly at his address on a piece of mail that lay on a table by his door before stepping out into the coolness of the late September evening. Down the dark corridor and out into the artificial, fluorescent light of his apartment building’s second floor landing I went, light on my feet as I could possibly be. I slipped on the sequined peep-toe pumps I’d been holding only when I’d reached the bottom of the stairs.

I’d used my phone to quietly pull up a cab app while he’d stood in front of his dresser mirror after our brief sexual encounter. He was lean, tall, and brown, like all the men I fancied on Capitol Hill, but on this night he was just someone who’d caught me off guard. The conference happened to coincide with my birthday, and all my friends had opted to attend the lavish, fully-sponsored parties instead of celebrate my day with with me. It made sense, though. I hadn’t been the most reliable friend in my rapidly shrinking social circle, and it’s nearly impossible to compete with an open bar. The cocktail of that many marguerites and the attention of a tall, tuxedoed man showering me with compliments for hours had proved too much for my defenses that evening.

And so I’d slipped. But I had also been determined to fix it. There wasn’t a person, place, or thing I couldn’t quit effectively, after all.

By the time (Charles?) had exited the bathroom and had found that I’d slipped away, he was already too late. Even though two years have passed, I still remember the way he’d run out to his balcony only to glimpse my honey-colored calves swinging into the large black vehicle.

He called out to me from the balcony, his voice full of confusion. I was happy the tinted windows were rolled up so I could shut out his voice.

I did not have his number.

I did not want his number.

I did, however, want to cry. Tears rolled down my cheeks and the stream caught the light of oncoming cars. I found strange solace in the fact that my new mascara survived the downpour, but even that was interrupted by the sound of the driver shifting uneasily in his seat. He’d seen the tears in his rearview mirror and I could feel his uneasiness with every squeak the leather beneath him produced.

What I wanted was to rewind the entire week, clear it of everything I’d done since a day before my birthday. I’d have started anew with less alcohol, way less calorie consumption, and a newly filled bank account. Instead, I’d done what I’d done every time I felt inadequate: I’d thrown myself into something with such zeal that it eclipsed all rationality. The fling with Charles (let’s just call him that) wasn’t something I’d done often, but I was beginning to realize that the events that led to me being in the situation were of my doing. I’d met him and had felt a connection, sure. But it was the same surety I felt before I joined that all-girl cover band for two weeks. Or the time I’d quit my job and fled to Atlanta to live in a house with a producer and several songwriters. I’d always told myself I was a helpless romantic. The only problem was I wasn’t a harmless one. The only thing that had ever kept me grounded were my friends, who loved me for reasons that God only knows.

Sometimes they did me the favor of offering advice that averted disasters, but for the most part they just listened to me bitch about problems that they soon found that I’d authored myself. Whenever I felt my life was at a stagnant point, I was known for doing something grand. Using every tool at my disposal, I’d engage in my usual bout of self-sabotage that I constantly—and rather insanely—referred to as “cheering myself up.” I’d take trips when I could. I’d take on male or female lovers. I’d go shopping and skip paying rent, dodging my landlord altogether for weeks on end until the money “found me.” Amazingly, that’s how I thought my life should work. I felt entitled to it. I called it “an artist’s arrogance” and my closest friends at the time had agreed. We’d all felt we deserved our stint of time as Carefree Black Girls after all those years of hard studying. The latter idea quickly became the subject of the pep talk that we usually had right before our weekend partying.

The only difference between them and I? They were artists by trade. Still are. One is a published poet. Another became a visual artist and teacher at a prestigious school. One is a paid, traveling musician. All of them had live-in boyfriends—or girlfriends—that financed their endeavors. They attended the best schools and knew how to uphold themselves upright in the world in a way that I envied. The friends they made in grad school aided them along the way. They partied just as hard as I did but reined it in for their GREs, just long enough for their boyfriends to get down on one knee with a respectable diamond and plans for a future. They took the breaks their livers and reputations required like other hot-blooded, yet responsible, twenty-somethings who were on the cusp of that delicate period that often defines the lives of young adults. In the sink-or-swim period that was our late twenties, I watched my colleagues swim, unaware that all the while I was sinking. The older and wiser I grew, the more my patterns of upcycling, binging, and blaming pushed them away.

If one were to look at the behavioral timeline of my life, I’m sure they’d decide that my tale is one that is uncannily similar to that of a many young women suffering from bipolar disorder. They’d be correct. Of course I am, but this isn’t entirely about that.

It’s about the fact that I was fast becoming the Black, female version of Dorian Gray or at least Kid Cudi with far less money. My pursuit of happiness cast a shadow over all else. Happiness is like a drug after all, and people who are ill in the way that I am ill crave it in an intense way because the nature of being bipolar is that you are living a life where you’re trying to cope with extremes. So when I was happy—or what I’d convinced myself was happy—I felt extremely happy. Either way, being happy is not like the being content. Being content is an attainable state of being while happiness is a temporary one. I’d thrown the word “happy” around loosely for as long as I could remember, anyway, and thrown around other words too. Like “love” and “friendship.” Unfortunately, as my unpredictability started to become the most predictable thing about me, I began to appear less to my friends and lovers like the curvy, spontaneous, pixie fairy I’d believed I was and more like the flaky, insensitive bitch that I actually was.

The root of my problem began with my ownership and declaration of my illness. I knew that my friends and family knew about my disorder, and I knew that they made allowances for me that went far above and beyond what I deserved.

The irony is that my road to recovery began with what they didn’t know about my illness. It was the one thing that actually ended up causing me to hit rock bottom, my savage little secret. It was even a secret even to me—at first. See, for many years, throughout my teens and my undergrad, I had simply assumed that my illness governed my behavior. As a result, I relinquished all guilt to it. My kiss-my-ass-‘cause-it’s-chemical argument began early in life and snowballed into the perpetual pity parties that consumed my early twenties.

Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? Bipolar Disorder. That’s who. It quickly became my favorite song to sing.

What my friends and family didn’t know was that I’d long ago began to adore leaning on my diagnosis as an excuse to be compulsive, lazy, unreliable, and sometimes just downright hurtful. Most of all, I used it as an excuse to give up on things and ideas. Even people. I’d build plans. I’d write them out or sit in nighttime huddles with others I’d convinced to participate and we’d talk an idea out until the sky turned orange. I’ve started things and dropped out only to watch that thing become successful. I’m certain I’ve met my soulmate already and fled from him or her like a wild horse because I feared the forever-ness of it.

Worst of all was the deed that finally unlaced the last threads from my fragile social loom, the thing that led to me being alone and discarded on my birthday and led to me doing the horizontal Cha-Cha with a guy I met at work-related thing. It’s the one deed that still makes me cringe.

I’d been asked to be a bridesmaid in one of my best friend’s wedding. It meant the world to her that I’d accepted. I’d spent months talking excitedly about bridesmaid dresses and shoes with my best friend of ten years only to drop out of her wedding at the last minute.

“I’m just not doing well,” I told her on the phone. “I don’t know that I can—”

“It’s fine. I understand. No biggie. I already had a back-up because I figured you’d do this. Feel better,” she’d replied flatly before hanging up the phone.

If it all sounds horrid, it’s because it is. If it sounds like the trait of a selfish person, it’s because I was. If it sounds like something that can’t possibly be fixed overnight, it’s because there isn’t a way to fix it overnight. My reality is one in which my loneliness forced me to take care of myself, to seek help. I’d alienated all of my closest friends and my lowest point wasn’t the cab ride home from a random guy’s apartment at three in the morning. My lowest point was what preceded that. It was when I’d convinced myself that I was better off without them.

Because they just didn’t get me.

Because they were all engaged, boring bitches now.

Because bipolar.

The truth of it was I’d made the decision to let my meds collect dust in my medicine cabinet. I’d chosen to skip talk therapy with a licensed professional about the childhood trauma that was the real source of why I’d become a serial quitter. I chose to run away from doing the hard work of figuring out how to control the impulsive, selfish being inside me that insisted on taking charge of grand projects, throwing myself into obligations and new endeavors because they made me feel important, then backing out when it was time for me to deliver. It was my decision to alienate people before they could hurt me, and quit things before I could fail.

So the ride from Charles’ apartment felt like the second longest ride I’d ever taken. I thought about the loneliness that drove me into the arms of someone I’d just met, the type of loneliness that makes strangers’ small kindnesses into pseudo love connections. During that long ride home, I realized I couldn’t even text my best friend about the pain I was feeling. I’d abandoned her on her important day and knew she wouldn’t pick up. It was the second longest ride of the life.

The first was the drive I took to my doctor’s office the next day. I balled up on my therapist’s couch and bawled my eyes out. Then, I took my meds. Since that day, it’s been a slow build, but I am able to say “no” to more things. I learned that I have issues with disappointment. In order to avoid these issues, I don’t overwhelm myself with too much. It’s not that I’m not still down to go hiking or try a spicy new dish for the first time. These “no’s” are about boundaries. They’re about being truthful to myself and others by saying “I’m probably not in a great space to do this right now” instead of pretending that I can and then bailing on it later, using my illness as a scapegoat.

Most of all, it’s about my own sense of self and my own timeline for accomplishments. I know that the true reason that I used my illness as an excuse to abandon some of the most important people in my life on some of their most important days had nothing to do with my illness and everything to do with jealousy and my own feelings of inadequacy, which were the hardest for me to come to terms with.

Lastly, it’s about celebrating the things and relationships that I have been able to be consistent in. Now, I celebrate the three years I’ve spent at my job. I celebrate my closest friends and their achievements even when it inconveniences me or makes me assess my own level of achievement. Because now I understand that it’s what true friends do. I take solace in the fact that I don’t go more than a few days without reaching out to my family to let them know I’m alright. I pay my rent on time, too. It’s easy now. I just use the money I save from not throwing myself all those fucking pity parties.

Photo: Shutterstock

I'm a 32-year old D.C. native. I like to write poetry, essays, and short stories. I'd vlog, but my teeth are absurdly crooked on the bottom. (I'm still cute, though.)

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