You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book . . . or you take a trip . . . and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death. Some never awaken.

Anaïs Nin

I spent my twenty-seventh birthday on a Slovenian bus from Ljubljana to a small mountain town cozied up to the shores of Lake Bled. The town was busy, but I walked the one-mile perimeter of the lake and found a quiet wooden spot on the shore where I could take my clothes off and wade in, despite the dropping November temperatures, to wash off the previous year, which had been so full of walking, loving, losing, and starting over. I felt hopeful but devastated. I felt a deep divide within myself, and I was not sure who to be. Half of me identified as an idealist and a feminist—a pure, spiritual, and grounded individual. This half was a faithful girlfriend, an inspiring example, and a daughter who knew how to make her family proud. The other half of me was darker—the blind but passionate lover, the cheater, the greedy, chaotic, spontaneous, selfish, eternally unsatisfied, angry, and uncompromising woman who sometimes enjoyed the comforts of the patriarchy.

I knew the experience of living life in such a way that numbness creeps up from the toes, slowly ascending the legs and torso, finally reaching the arms, fingertips, neck, and skull. While living in New York, the divide inside me became only a faint crack on the corner of my heart. I forgot about it for a while, and when I did remember it, I ignored and denied it. But then I would read a book or take a trip or have a coffee with one of my many fire-breathing, life-living, strong female friends, and the crack would begin to grow. As I traced the edge of the lake with my footsteps, I understood that I had now stayed away long enough from the life that made me numb, forcing the crack to become a split, jagged but traversing the entire midline of my body. Life had begun to tug and then pull at my spontaneous and selfish side, tempting me with the smells of new countries and the sounds of new languages rolling off the tongues of new and beautiful men. I found myself sitting under new constellations, falling in love not just with the humans around me but with all of humanity. I swam in the lake and imagined all the possibilities I would miss out on if I continued to deny half of myself. This split inside me had formed a gap, and it felt as if I was now two entirely separate human beings. I desperately wanted them to live peacefully together, but often they seemed to be at war.

I dressed quickly and found a small café to grab a hot coffee for the bus ride back to Ljubljana. I clutched my coffee and watched the sunset roll past my window. At that moment, I acknowledged that maybe I didn’t have to choose a side. Maybe choosing was never an option. Perhaps instead I could work every day to merge this split, softening its edges, integrating my halves into a whole—a whole human who radiates energy from her presence, and people trust her and love her because of it. But more importantly, she loves herself because she accepts both sides, the dark and the light, without ever having to choose.

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