A Letter to Someone Who Doesn’t Understand
I have borderline personality disorder. I’ve had the diagnosis for four years. There are times when I’ve been embarrassed by it. There have been times when I’ve been mad. But, lately I’ve tried to stand up, be proud of who I am and accept the fact that I am mentally ill.
I recently went on vacation with a friend from Austria. We hadn’t seen each other in five years. I’ve changed a lot. I’ve gone from someone struggling to survive to someone who can get through each day without feeling suicidal or wanting to self-harm. Anyway, we talked a lot on this trip and I discovered something about her: she doesn’t really believe in mental illness. “It’s all in my head,” “I make things worse for myself,” and “Medication is a crutch.” Not only was I devastated, but I was miserable on the trip. All I wanted was to go home and have her leave me and never come back.
I couldn’t stand up for myself and it made me hate myself. Here I am, trying to fight against the stigma of mental illness and I can’t even stand up to a friend.
I told everyone in my support system what happened and the response of love and support was overwhelming. I got praise for being strong, for handling things well, for not sinking to a lower level and arguing. My behavioral therapist suggested I write her a letter. And so I did.
I’m not sure whether you are aware of this or not, but I always considered our relationship important. I wouldn’t have kept up with it or invited you to come here if this weren’t the case. That being said, I think that I would be doing a disservice to myself and to all those that have mental illness if I didn’t try to explain it better. It’s complicated and it seems to me that you need some more information to more fully understand me and my experience.
I have a complicated diagnosis. Officially, it is posttraumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder and major depressive disorder. The PTSD is due to my childhood trauma. My father was incredibly abusive in many different ways. I endured that until I was twelve. My mother was in and out of the hospital with her own mental illness. She had multiple personality disorder, now known as dissociative identity disorder, because of her own childhood abuse. Her personality was split into different aspects, called alters. She would dissociate, meaning she’d lose track of her who she was, her thoughts, feelings, sense of identity, essentially, she’d blackout mentally but still be functioning physically as one of her alters. It was scary because sometimes she would get very violent all of a sudden or would start screaming or crying or would pee on the floor. There was a two-year period where she was fully hospitalized and my dad told us that she left us and was never coming back. Knowing what I know now, he probably thought that she’d never get out of the hospital. I’m surprised that she actually did.
All of that was traumatic and it’s what caused the PTSD. I experience flashbacks at times, an experience where I am reliving a past event like I’m really there. I have nightmares and lots of anxiety. I get triggered sometimes, like something will happen right now and it will remind me of past events and that triggers anxiety, flashbacks or nightmares. It’s gotten a lot better, but that took an awful lot of work. I did exposure therapy, which is where you purposefully relive the event to desensitize you to it. The results have been immense.
The borderline personality disorder emerged from the childhood events. I had a predisposition to it. It’s not something you are born with, but rather something you acquire. Aspects of my personality left me susceptible to BPD. It’s not something that be cured. There’s no pill to treat it. The meds I take, however, help with the symptoms. I take a mood stabilizer because I have intense and sudden mood swings. I take anti-anxiety medication and antidepressants. I also take two antipsychotics because BPD has some dissociative symptoms and I have experienced them. I take a medication that prevents me from self-harming. Up until fifteen months ago, I burned myself pretty regularly. I’ve since stopped. The med doesn’t stop it completely, like the rest of my meds. It only makes things easier, taking the edge off my experience.
The other symptoms of BPD that I struggle with are the intense emotions and abandonment issues. Abandonment issues are the worse. I’m afraid that people will get sick of dealing with me and get up and leave. I’m worried that I might do something, even slight, and they’re out the door. It’s because, in part, my mom wasn’t around when I was younger. My dad also had a new girlfriend that was going to be my new mom every six months or so. And I’ve scared a lot of people away with the borderline. It’s mellowed out as I’ve gotten older, even without therapy. Don’t get me wrong: therapy has helped so much. But, I used to be a lot more like the borderlines everyone know from popular culture, even though I’m on the mild end of the spectrum. I drank, did drugs, self-harmed. I had horrible mood swings. I tried not to get close to people so I wouldn’t lose them. And I was angry. I never expressed it externally, rather, I took it out on myself in forms of self-harm.
I have a hard time with normal, healthy attachments because of the borderline. I am super attached to Karen and my doctor because of this. I’m proud to say that these are the only two borderline relationships in my life. I still experience a lot of ups and downs with them, though. It physically hurts to be apart from them at times. I’m very clingy and have an almost childlike attachment to them. I’d do anything for them and am not sure how I’d live without them. You learn to have heathy attachments through your relationships with your parents and because my relationships were so convoluted, I never learned how to have healthy attachments. I’m learning now and even though I better understand them, I can’t really change the way I feel about Karen and my doctor. They’re both cool with it, thank goodness. I’m very, very lucky.
I struggle when they are gone. It’s not something I bring on myself. It’s fact. I used to be afraid they wouldn’t come back. Now, I know better. There have been times when I’d rather die than live through the pain of separation. Historically, I’ve been hospitalized three times while one of them was away. I have issues with object permanence. That’s when a child knows his or her parent exists even if they aren’t physically there. Sometimes, I think I’ve made them up. It’s why my bedroom is covered with pictures, to remind myself they exist. I know it sounds crazy, but a lot of times it doesn’t get better until I’m with them. And since I see them both regularly, I have a hard time when I’m supposed to see them and I don’t. It’s all part of the borderline.
The depression is a chemical process in my brain. It’s frustrating because my life is pretty good. I found a family that loves and accepts me. I have a decent job, even if it is stressful at times. I don’t really have much interaction with my bio family. I have great professional help. I’m going to school so I can do something I love. There isn’t a whole lot to complain about. And yet, I’m still very sad. There’s only so much I can do about it. Meds help. Talking helps. But, nothing takes it all away. There’s no getting over this stuff. It’s what I have to put up with for a lifetime. I wish I didn’t, but it isn’t my choice. What I can do is amass coping skills to help me through it. I’ve spent the last five years learning how to be a person. It’s been a lot of work and I’ve come a long way.
I felt hurt when you said things during the trip, like it’s all in my head or that I shouldn’t be taking meds. This, what I just wrote you, is my daily experience. I go through this daily. And I have to function as a human being on top of it. It’s a lot of work. And it doesn’t seem fair to me to minimize what I go through by saying things like you said. It probably was with the absolute best intentions. I don’t think you meant anything you said maliciously. I truly don’t. But, whatever your opinion may be, sometimes it’s appropriate to get more information before you pass judgment.
I’m taking back my power. I’m standing up for myself. And I’m trying to reduce the stigma. #livestigmafree