Self-care, self-love, self-help, now an industry, was harder to buy than what I was accustomed to. I grew up on self-loathing and self-comparison, the art of teaching young girls that self-approval can only be achieved through carefully curated self-inflictions.
Turns out, self-care sells better.
Struggling to succeed in self-love, my own mandated course in University, came as a shock after acing self-hate all through high school. Depression taught me pain. She taught me there was no gain in my destiny; she taught me how to hurt, but, in spite of her ill-driven efforts, she taught me love. The kind that is corrupted and unavoidable at first. Her meticulously planted thoughts did not wish to be the apple: the fruit of no wings, grown to plummet and rot. Her thoughts traveled down their hollow home, down through microscopic paths to moisture and infinite life forms. They flourished, as moss does.
I wrote to her once, my depression, serving her with my notice of emancipation. “Depression. I love you. You devil,” I took off, “I can’t help but find comfort in your chilling touch. Holding me in your wilting arms. In all but tenderness I sunk into you. Unaware of your misguidance,” I recounted. Like a child branded with betrayal, I spat at her, “all the power you’ve stolen from me is now yours to lose. Misery is all you’ll ever be,” I grew mean, “locked away in the prison of your creation. Shrivel. Quiver. Drown. Burn. Perish. Rise. Only to fall again. And over. And over. And over.” Finally, I finished her, “all the neglect. I walk away. I leave you as you’ve always been. But I. Have changed. I am strong. Strong enough to let go of the one protection I feel I have. Thank you? No…for freedom, I thank myself, not you. You idiot. Adieu.”
Coping mechanisms. Mine? Personification. My depression, Evil Iman. We lived in a dark, damp, and minuscule studio apartment. We shared a mattress on the floor. Windows covered in filthy rags. Floors so dirty they always felt oily. A single flickering light in our mucky bathroom. She spent her days whispering spoiled nothings into my ears, littering them with tar-like spatter.
As a stubborn child would, I held on to my hatred for her. Like a poisonous family member you push away or a father you refuse to talk to, I disappeared, ran away, leaving her nothing but a note.
In hopes of a new apartment, one with rooms this time, and great big let-the-light-in windows, in hopes of healthier roommates, other parts of me, maybe even some bright and shiny ones, I ran….
Stunned, I was greeted by a side of me I call Motherly Iman. Nothing like Evil Iman, her touch, soothing, her words, kind, her space, clean, she taught me that the unconditional love I had been reserving solely for others could only be strengthened through self-application. With open arms, she let me wrap myself up in her as she gently closed herself around me, kissing my shoulder… this is the first time I hugged myself. As I started to taste salt, I allowed her to wipe my rainy cheeks with her soft fingerprints.
As one of those impossible family members you always find yourself begrudgingly caring for, she showed up at our doorstep one morning. Head bowed low, miserably puny eyes, frailed body, pathetic really, there she stood, hoping she wouldn’t have to beg to be let in. Unlike me, smirking at her demise, Motherly Iman extended her arm behind herself, the other hand on the handle, in a classic “come in” gesture.
In the same way, your worst fights are with your most beloved, she revealed Evil Iman as my most precious relative. In the same way, your friends strike you with tough-love, she revealed her to be my most coveted protector. In the same way, a twisted part of you wants to make your partner cry, just to know how much they love you, she revealed Evil Iman as the one who loved me most, so much so that, if she couldn’t have me, no one could.
Turns out, it’s not that deep…. She isn’t evil as much as she is fucked-up. Her coping mechanism? Control. She is the dysfunctional family member you cannot help but claim as one of your soulmates. All she truly ever wanted was to know that I am hers just as much as she is mine: unwillingly bound.
My greatest demise: convincing myself we were enemies. My greatest achievement: loving even what I like least. Turns out, it’s quite simple… she is fragile. Cruel only in self-protection, she fights for my tenacity. In her warped sense of security, she lays out my armor in the morning, wishing to be the only thing that could ever harm me. She is the one that shoves me out of the way at the first hint of potential aggression. Holding my chest of insecurities, the guardian of my secrets engineers all thoughts; from the late-night things I should’ve said to the conceptualization of holding myself back in fear.
Pushing me in complacency, her hurtful words balanced with our roommate’s maternal affection, she forces me out of the holes I dig for myself. Angered by my self-sabotage-driven-procrastination she picks me apart so I can put myself back together. In times of self-doubt, she boils with rage, as though I were insulting her for loving me. She is my refuge, but when she turns sadistic, our mediator, Motherly Iman steps in. She knows pushing oneself from harming oneself, kindness from enabling, self-care from outright delaying tactics.
Sweet love for a rugged one.
To those I care for, I always say, when pissed off, “I love you but I don’t like you right now.” I don’t like Evil Iman most of the time but I love her unconditionally. She is my first, my last, my birth and death; the one and only I shall be tethered to my entire life. She is the one and only that cannot leave, she is me.
The good, the bad, the terrible, and the wonderful.
“I love you.”
“I love you more.”
“Evil Iman, you make me whole.”
About the Author
Iman M’Fah-Traoré is a French New Yorker. Originally born in Paris, she moved to New York in her young years and majored in Politics and Governance at Ryerson University, Toronto. She is now attending the New School in NYC for Global Studies. The Ivorian and Brazilian writer works with The Womanity Project, a non-profit that challenges gender equity with innovative workshops. Currently, she is working towards assembling her first poetry book. Her writing specializes in LGBTQ+, grief and trauma, and race and ethnicity poetry and essays.