I turned 25 a few months ago and forced myself to take an assessment of my life. Typically, I only acknowledge the things that my mother brags to her book club about: I have a good education, I live in New York City, I’m a successful writer and editor, I have health insurance, I go to fancy parties where I drink martinis with celebrities and I manage to pay my own bills.
To her and the rest of the world, that is my life, because that’s what I let people see. Even I accepted it as true and convinced myself that I was okay because I wore those pretty nametags.
But then I turned 25, the age, in my mind, that separates one from childhood -- you’re not “too young” to get married or have babies, you’re old enough to have graduate degrees and a career, and, the worst part, you can no longer blame your reckless behavior on youthful exploration.
My earliest bout of depression and obsession came in 6th grade when I found out what lesbians were and became terrified that I would grow up to be one.
The obsession would consume me for the next 6 months even though I immediately broke down to my parents who assured me that it didn’t matter who I loved.
Irrational obsessions became the norm, and have run the gamut: prison, HIV, pulmonary embolisms, cancer of every kind, my mattress catching fire in the night.
My drugs of choice (in order): copious amounts of alcohol, married men, cocaine, prescription pills, carbs. Better if all at once. This was all just a warm-up for the new shiny nametag that would be slapped on my chest this summer: Borderline Personality Disorder.
When my psych gave me the diagnosis, I took it with dignity. I had known for a while, actually, when a doctor 2 years ago suggested the same thing and I became aggravated, written him off as a quack. Sure, I was "substance abuse, sexual relationships...and binge eating," a classic BCD symptom. But everyone my age has dangerous sexual habits, problems with Adderall and drugs, falls in love with a man after meeting him and then upon the first sign of betrayal seeks to destroy his life. Everyone drinks to blackout and then drives around town listening to music, doesn’t eat for days then binges at a fast food joint. Right?
But he did plant the nagging thought in my head. Even though I couldn’t identify with Winona Ryder in “Girl, Interrupted,” (my first main source for all things BPD) I let myself half acknowledge that there was something wrong.
I denied the suggestion of BPD, but still read the books, asked questions, began to see myself in the DSM: black and white thinking -- also known as “splitting,” frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment, identity disturbance: markedly and persistent unstable self-image or sense of self, impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g. spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating), a pattern of unstable & intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
“Hm, that’s me,” I thought.
Then I put it aside, and trudged on 2 years in the future when some drunken and reckless one -night stand sex left me in a bizarre STD and identity panic (read: obsession) that wouldn’t go away despite my best efforts: face planting into a pile of cocaine, starving, bingeing, an impromptu beach vacation.
So, I found a new psychiatrist and decided to be honest. By our second session, after I’d begun to spill my guts about how I thought my friends were sometimes out to get me, that I thought my last boyfriend was possibly a serial killer because he told me he loved me one month into the relationship and that I’m always bored and feel dead inside most of the time, she told me that it didn’t sound like I had a mood disorder (depression), but rather a personality disorder.
I cut her off and said “You’re going to say I’m a Borderline, right?” and she nodded and said she thought I could be, but we’d have to see and talk more.
I wanted to argue and said “But that’s normal! Everyone hates themselves and does things to feel alive. And I don’t even cut myself!” A few sessions and some honest reflection later, I had the diagnosis and accepted it.
I had to take an honest look at all of my past relationships and the emerging patterns: CC meets boy. CC falls in love with boy shortly after and obsesses for a few weeks. Boy pulls back or doesn’t respond to a text quick enough. CC shuts down and walks away. CC no longer feels anything for boy. God forbid if boy breaks up with CC or does something deliberate that hurts her. CC then sets out to destroy boy’s life in a cunning, sly way that employs gossip, social media infiltration and a lifelong hatred.
But, in general relationships are exhausting for me because during one day, I have at least 5 different moods and feelings that all feel legitimate and warranted about the person and they’re none the wiser. Sometimes it’s so overwhelming that I depersonalize -- that is, I don’t feel like I’m in my own body.
When people ask me what it’s like, I liken it to “Being John Malkovich” when they go into the Malkovich portal and seem to be stuck in his body, playing puppet master.
When it happens, I have trouble feeling physical sensations and I panic and want to literally jump out of my skin. To see myself in the third person. I am told that this is common in BPD.
I’m on antidepressants and they’re good for me; they help me clear space in my mind to look at my world. The shitty thing is that the treatment for BPD is behavioral. Making conscious changes to your everyday routine to train yourself out of your black and white, love and hate thinking. So while antidepressants are nice, they aren’t my cure-all.
But I imagine that’s the case for anyone in treatment for anything. I still feel like I’m crippled without regimens and rules and that my day is over if I don’t start it perfectly. When I go to the gym and then give in to a cheeseburger craving afterward, I have to tell myself that I didn’t irrevocably mess up my day, that I can be someone who works out and eats cheeseburgers.
I know it sounds simple, but it’s a concept that I just can’t fathom. Just like I can’t fathom that someone can be mean to me but still be a nice person. I. Just. Don’t. Get. It.
Today, I had greasy pancakes for breakfast without a side of Adderall. I went to work and wanted to spend my ruined day looking for clothes online and imagining a perfect life in black and white that I could start tomorrow. But I made a choice to be productive in just that moment.
Because it’s up to me to decide to live in the gray area, and to know that living in the gray area can’t be done with a magical antidepressant or light bulb or a chart that lists good and bad. Because I am neither good nor bad. I’m not an alcoholic or a teetotaler. Not a whore or a virgin. I am both. And it’s up to me to choose to recognize that.
And, hopefully, with a lot more work and time on the couch, I’ll start to believe it.