I am writing this from my hospital bed – my second night in, on my third visit this year. I just had a shower with 2in1 shampoo that wasn’t mine, and dried myself with towels that weren’t mine, and I have to ask for help, and cry, and be monitored every second of the day by strangers. I can’t pluck my eyebrows because my tweezers are locked in a cupboard so I don’t hurt myself with them. As I sit listening to the nurses laughing and chatting, knowing they’ll be going home tonight and I won’t, I reach this conclusion: it’s time to tell people my secret.
I’m an intelligent young woman. I love to play guitar – I won two national songwriting competitions in high school. I’m a class clown. My friends are my favourite people on the planet – everyone on Earth deserves friends like mine. My grandad can speak fluent Greek, and got all these Greek recipes off the locals when we were there that my mum makes even now, and I love them. I love Greek culture. I drink lots of water, and I avoid sugar. I love Harry Potter. I’m considering becoming a lawyer, or an entrepreneur, but I really want to be an actress. I was just in a feature film.
My name is Amber. 48 hours ago, I came to the ED suicidal, because I have borderline personality disorder, and it has nye-on ruined my life.
Borderline, which affects about 2% of the population, comes in two forms: classic and quiet. Mine’s classic. It sits on the border of neurosis (depression, anxiety etc) and psychosis (schizophrenia, etc). It’s a pretty old-fashioned name for it, though. In short, I’m one big mixed bag of mental illnesses. It’s basically the inability to regulate my emotions – so what is a minor irritant to anyone else, is overwhelmingly agonising for me to the point where I can’t function. BPD is usually shirked off as bad behaviour, and many psychiatrists don’t “believe in it”. So I’ve written to summarise what I go through, to enlighten the people around me, so as to end the stigma surrounding it, and show people that this isn’t something to be “believed in” – this isn’t a matter of faith, I’m sick. And despite feeling it, I’m not alone.
Generally, borderline symptoms can include:
- deep feelings of insecurity
- fragile sense of self/low self esteem
- fear of abandonment
- impulsiveness (sudden urge to self harm, commit suicide, drink, take drugs etc)
- contradictory feelings
- uncontrollable anger and/or mood swings
- the constant need for affirmation
- feelings of emptiness
- idealising or devaluing other people
- intense outbursts (what I call “episodes”) of anger, depression or anxiety
- psychotic outbursts (seeing things and hearing things that aren’t there etc)
- difficulty compromising or seeing reason
- inability to control emotions or thoughts
My condition has gone undiagnosed for well over a year, likely longer, though that is when symptoms first started to show. My mum did extensive research before finally finding a disorder congruent with my symptoms, and then dragging me back to one of the few psychiatrists in the state who would see me, who affirmed she was right. I experience all of the above symptoms, including social anxiety and depression, and I battled and overcame obsessive compulsive disorder a few years ago. That was my issue: I have battled several mental illnesses, but never seemed to get better, because we were treating the wrong thing.
People with BPD often struggle forming and maintaining relationships of any nature – especially with those closest to them. It is not unusual for BPD patients to “push people away” or attempt to do so, when, in reality, they are often terrified of being alone, but don’t know how to express it. Confusing? Welcome to borderline personality disorder.
I’ve found the stigma surrounding it, and the lack of understanding makes it almost impossible to cope with.
My mood can change like a light switch: fine one moment, and the next, screaming, tearing my hair out, thrashing around, punching myself, hitting my head on the nearest object, uncontrollable crying and wailing, scratching myself, and so on. There have, up to now, been three instances in which I have experienced what doctors call “psychosis”, in which I have heard “voices” talking to me, telling me things. Those who have seen me in the middle of one of these “episodes” described me as looking “possessed”, “eyes darting around like [I] can see something [they] can’t”. I rarely remember these episodes. I can’t explain why I do this other than I lose all control of my conscience thought. Some days I wake up and I “just can’t do it” – I cannot bring myself to think or feel enough to accomplish basic tasks like having a shower. I recently got expelled from the drama school I had been attending loyally for three years, for this exact reason. When I made them aware I felt ill, I was kicked out without the chance to explain. I had been diagnosed with this illness four hours prior. This stigma and discrimination happens everywhere, every day.
I withdrew from university a week ago as a result (though I intend to go back next year). I can’t work at the moment because I can’t handle stereotypical part-time retail job environments: lots of strangers, lots of noise, lots of stress and high expectations of me. I have screamed at the people I love the most that I hate them and blame them for everything that is wrong in the world. In reality, I don’t mean it at all. I have burnt, scratched and bruised myself on several occasions as a coping strategy – I’d rather hurt myself than someone else, and there is no other means to release the agony and anger I’m experiencing on the inside.
I see my conscious as three stages:
1. I’m normal, focused, rational. Can communicate properly.
2. I know I am behaving badly, irrationally or wrongly consciously, but I can’t control it physically. Willpower and most of my intuition aren’t functioning normally.
3. I am completely out of touch with reality, I cannot “grasp” any thoughts or emotions, and the only way to deal with the internal trauma is to cry, scream, hurt myself, the list goes on.
It has been noted that BPD is usually the result of trauma or abuse: mine isn’t. We’re still trying to get to the bottom of it, and I have yet to receive therapy. However, I’ve found the stigma surrounding it, and the lack of understanding makes it almost impossible to cope with. People may see it as “drama queening”, over reacting, unnecessary etc., which technically, it is. What they don’t see is that I have no control over what I am experiencing. On social media, I often post pictures all dolled up, looking happy. I love having a laugh and joking around. I haven’t slept or eaten properly in four days. The skin on my thighs is broken and I have torn clumps of my hair out. I have migraines from the stress.
The symptoms never seem to end. These were taken three hours apart.
The left, taken before a party, and the right, in the ED 24 hours later.
It’s not pretty. These aren’t pictures I intended the world to see. But this is what the world needs to see – because yes, I am the funny Amber that loves makeup and quoting the Emperor’s New Groove, who loves Indian food, and has an entire universe of love inside of her to give. But I’m also the Amber in this hospital bed, looking at scratches and bruises I inflicted on myself, who feels nothing but guilt for the things she’s done as a result of this illness, who hurts on the inside and is clutching desperately at the walls trying to climb out of the pit she’s in. I’m doing this because this is my last chance; I have no choice but to get better. I started to document what happens to me – including taking pictures after each episode to highlight the significant effect it has on me.
Some things do trigger me to have an episode (though we are still trying to identify and learn to manage them), including:
- any time I perceive that I am being abandoned
- loud noises (in particular, crying children, crowds)
- crowds of strangers
- people engaging in behaviours I find irritating (I over react to them)
- being reminded of something that troubled me in the past
- perceiving that I am about to receive bad news
- lack of sleep
- being confrontedHowever, sometimes these episodes aren’t triggered and happen randomly. I guess the main question is:
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?
- Don’t take it personally.
Remember, the person is suffering and often delusional – they can’t process their thoughts let alone what they say, so take it all with a pinch of salt. You wouldn’t hold a grudge against a gastro patient for vomiting, so don’t hold a grudge against a BPD for what they say during an episode/attack.
- Do not argue back.
When a BPD is looking for an argument, fuelling it will in turn lead to anger, to an attack or episode, to guilt – it’s all one big cycle. Even if it hurts you to do so, stop arguing, and if what they say angers you enough you feel you must, ignore them. In my case, I always come crawling back with my tail between my legs later to apologise.
- Take them seriously.
BPD’s are impulsive, yes. But it doesn’t mean those impulses aren’t powerful, and won’t be acted upon – which is exactly why you must take them seriously.
- Hear them out.
Half the time, we just need someone to listen without judgement, and/or wait until the episode passes. Like a panic attack, the only thing that will stop an episode is time.
- Don’t jump to any conclusions.There’s a lot we’re still figuring out at this stage, though we hope with cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectal behavioral therapy and some sleeping tablets, it will get better. Thankfully, I already have an amazing support network who love me and want me to get better – and that’s the reason I will.
I am firm believer that your mental illness is your own responsibility. Just like it’s your responsibility to make sure you wash your hands, stay off work and not prepare food when you have gastroenteritis, it’s your responsibility to put actions into place to manage and eventually overcome your mental illness. You must make the conscious decision to want to get better, and promise yourself that you will endeavor to fulfill the requirements expected of you during this process – just like you have to take medicine for a cold, or wear a cast for a broken leg. Acknowledge that it won’t always be easy, but it will be worth it.
I am Amber, I AM a Brave Babe and I fully and completely Love and Accept myself.