To my daughter: On borderline
 
 
Courtesy: Shawn Coss
 

Borderline personality disorder is characterized by a pervasive pattern of instability in affect regulation, impulse control, interpersonal relationships, and self-image. Clinical signs of the disorder include emotional deregulation, impulsive aggression, repeated self-injury, and chronic suicidal tendencies. Causal factors are only partly known, but genetic factors and adverse events during childhood, such as physical and sexual abuse, contribute to the development of the disorder.

I cannot remember when I started hurting myself, at some point the emotional pain was so intense that I needed a physical pain to justify it. I had depression since I was six years old and I only came to understand that 28 years later. I now remember the times when I used to scratch my legs whenever I felt anxious and the family concern that I wouldn’t find someone to marry me because of all the scars. I was seven and I grew up hating how my legs looked. I experienced feelings of shame and disgrace as long as I can remember, despite being first in my class and being the smartest in the family. As a child, I never understood my urge to hide, the excessive shyness and the constant feeling of guilt. I would always find reasons for it — that I asked the wrong questions, I did not smile enough or wasn’t sociable enough. I developed a passion for acting and participating in my school shows when I was eight and my family thought I was too shy to do it. I grew up shyer.

I have very vague memories of the years between childhood and adulthood, I only remember the flushes of emotions, days of constant crying, euphoric days when I felt over the moon for no reason, and the growing feeling that I wanted to hide, that I was a burden not only on my family but on the world, the constant feeling that I do not belong here, and a nostalgia of something I do not even know.

I remember my first suicide attempt — I was almost eight, and I felt like I was a failure and a source of disgrace to my father, just because I came in second and not first in my class. He caught me in my room mixing all the medications I could find in the fridge together. He thought it was a game and I got a slap.

When older I turned to relationships in a search for a meaning and worth to my life, and failed miserably of course.

I struggled to understand what was wrong with me. In many situations, I was supposed to be happy. I went through a lot of hardship, yet I came out stronger, more independent. People would praise my courage, but I always saw myself as a quitter. Something was missing, there is a hole in my heart that I learnt to live with. I always had very intense emotional episodes; I would blame myself for any possible thing and feel guilty for my own existence.

Later, I became a mother and my focus shifted to my daughter, but it was the struggle of being a better person for her that started to suffocate me. I would beat myself up if she cried, if she complained, if she refused to eat — basically if she acted like a child, but it was always my fault, because I was lacking something, because I wasn’t good enough.

My first experiences with psychiatrists did more harm than good. I was once advised to create a “parallel” life so I can overcome my unhappy marriage. I was called a fake person by another psychiatrist once when he tried to describe why my reactions are more intense than normal.

I struggled for over a year, taking strong medication that was given to me on the pretext that it was a mild, and then six months afterwards trying to quit after my doctor disappeared and wouldn’t return my calls.

I was never given the right diagnosis, and that intensified my idea that it is my fault, I am not grateful enough, I am not tolerant enough, I am selfish, I like being a victim, I enjoy it, I like blaming it on everything I have been through — so many claims by doctors, family and friends. At some point I gave up on therapy thinking that there is nothing actually wrong with me, and that it was on me, which led to a failed suicide attempt. Even my suicide attempt was called a manipulative act. People ran away from my life, I was blamed for being too weak, for not thinking about my daughter, for being too selfish.

No one understands how it is that you cannot control your thoughts and feelings, how hard it is to fight your own mind, how much effort and courage it takes for you to just get out of bed every day. I would struggle for hours before getting out of bed, changing my clothes dozens of times, thinking over and over whether it was worth it to leave the house. And there are other times when it went beyond that: the self-harm, the scratching, the hair pulling, the tears that did not stop for hours, the mirror I kept staring at, trying to recognize myself for just one moment so I can go back to normal again.

If you see me you might fall in love with me, with my stories about how I fought for my life. I am a good entertainer too, I make people laugh. You see a strong single mother who goes out, parties when she can, does sports, take care of her sweet, smart daughter that everyone falls in love with. Behind this, there is a turmoil of emotions and meltdowns that sometimes leave me paralyzed: the panic attacks, the fear of people, of myself. There are the moments when I can’t stand looking at myself in the mirror. There are the moments when I stare at my daughter having a normal toddler tantrum, and wonder whether I have passed on depressive genes, just as I got them from my father.

I was lucky enough to find a good psychiatrist and, for the first time in my life, I got a name for my monster: Borderline Personality Disorder. Everything made sense to me in that moment. Why I feel others’ pain more than mine, why I cannot justify my vague feeling of emptiness, the constant feelings of shame and guilt.

I do not like my personality disorder, but I do not hate it. It is part of who I am and there is no shame in that. I do not like my depression, I do not enjoy being the victim, I do not use it to get away with things. It is not controllable, you only learn how to tame it, how to deal with it, and sometimes how to embrace it. We do sports, we go out, we practice yoga, we travel. But this is not a cure to depression and personality disorders. We did not choose depression, we do not want it, but we live with it, we befriend it, we collapse, and then fight again. There have been periods in my life when I wake up one day full of myself and over the moon, just to sleep and wake up the next day hating my life and thinking about how worthless I am. The time gap might be a few hours, one night, one week, two weeks, and if I am lucky one month — yes, it has happened, one month of happiness — but then it hits and you start the fight all over again.

I have learnt to love myself, or at least I try to. What I know is that I have learnt to accept who I am and how my mind functions. I am no longer scared of my medication and I take it when I need it, I have also learnt not to be apologetic. I still try to hide it, yes, behind a big smile that I force on myself because people are always telling me to smile more, behind my curly hair and my big earrings, behind my colorful outfits and my dancing moves. I do sometimes forget my monster, but he never forgets me, and the fight continues.

My depression did not prevent me from pursuing my dream. I am now a master’s student in one of the most prestigious universities in the world, actually the number one worldwide in my field of study, yet I wake up every day wondering whether I deserve this. I find myself thinking how stupid of them it was to choose me every time I step foot in this university, or that a colleague asks a smart question. I think about quitting every minute of my day. It still takes me an hour to get out of the house — my new house witnessed some of my worst meltdowns so far. I get panic attacks when I ride the bus with high school girls, and it took me a month just to make a phone call to the bank. I stare at my readings for hours before I actually start reading and taking notes, days pass when I am completely unproductive.

But I keep going, I wake up, get up, take my daughter to school, smoke my cigarette and decide I am ready for this. I am still here, trying, drawing the fake smile on my face acting as if I do not care. I hide at home most of the time, pretending I am too busy to go out, but other times when the sun is shining I roam the city streets with my big curly hair and my colorful earrings as if I was born here.

This is to my daughter, who I hope won’t inherit this from me, I fight for myself and for you. It is for friends who are always there and can understand, also for everyone who disappeared from my life, I do not blame you, I understand. It is for everyone fighting their demons, do not be scared, do not be apologetic, keep fighting.

Depression did not prevent me from living, but it did with other people who are no longer with us today because of it. It doesn’t mean I am stronger and they are weaker, it doesn’t mean they could have fought harder or they could have opened their hearts to the love around them, it doesn’t mean anything. The battle with depression has no winners or losers, it is just a work in progress.

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