Three years ago, I was living out my dream. Working as the editor of a Manhattan-based magazine, living in Brooklyn, dating, going out, and feeling like a fucking star. But underneath my sparkling exterior, the anxiety I had experienced my whole life was beginning to take its toll on my health—both physical and emotional. No one knew, not even myself, that I was about to fall apart.
I began to stare at the tracks while I waited for the subway, contemplating what would happen if I jumped. Bridges had a similar effect. I started experiencing strange fits in the middle of the night. I would wake up at an ungodly hour, unable to breathe or control my movements, my body contorting into painful positions before I would eventually pass out with only a vague memory of the experience. Sometimes I'd wake up with vomit on the floor next to my bed or on my pillow, unable to remember how it got there.
Eventually, I was forced to move back home to Toronto. The medical costs of identifying my sickness while abroad were becoming insurmountable, and my emotional state was deteriorating rapidly. I had returned to my high school habit of cutting, was feeling suicidal, and the unidentified fits were becoming more frequent.
My path to diagnosis was a long and winding one. A revolving door of psychologists and counselors took turns offering me a vast array of diagnoses for my deep bouts of depression. Meanwhile, a team of neurologists were poking and prodding me on a bi-weekly basis to decipher the nature of my violent fits. CT scans, EEGs, sleep deprivation tests, blood tests, vision tests. It was endless.
The consensus? I "suffer" from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), coupled with Epilepsy. A personal war on two fronts that I am still fighting to come to terms with two years later. Along with BPD tends to come an extreme sense of apathy toward the self. I've eschewed therapy, been dicey with taking my medication, participated in "destructive behaviors" and have inserted myself into relationships with warning signs so bright they belong on the Las Vegas strip (sociopathic ex-boyfriends who cheated on me and stole from my roommates and I, for example, came as no surprise to close friends). It's been years of a vicious cycle of self-inflicted turmoil. When I received my diagnosis and began the dive into the rabbit hole of information about it online, I was horrified and yet somewhat relieved to find that so many of the symptoms listed seemed to apply to the habits I had formed over the years. I felt like I was reading my unwritten memoir. Promiscuity, impulse control, an ungodly fear of abandonment, trouble with relationships, both romantic and otherwise, and severe body dysmorphia.
According to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a personality disorder can "affect the way you understand yourself, the way you react to the world around you, the way you cope with emotions, and the way you navigate relationships." Borderline Personality Disorder specifically, is defined as a mental illness that affects the way you relate to others and the way you relate to yourself. Those feelings of detachment, worthlessness, insecurity that I described earlier are shining examples of just that. Unstable behavior, unstable emotions, unstable relationships, and an unstable sense of identity. Let's just call it what it is: I'm unstable. Or… I was.
Though I've been back in Toronto for over three years, I am just now beginning to embrace the idea that one day, I might feel OK. It's hard to visualize for me, to really wrap my head around what that might mean. When I do picture it, I see myself waking up on a sunny day, seeing the light stream in through the window, and instead of groaning under my covers, dreading the moment my feet touch the cold wooden floor, I simply wake up with a smile on my face and a drive to see what the day has to offer.
The only hope I have of achieving that picture-perfect morning is, in the words of my parents, my friends, and most importantly, my doctors, is to truly "commit to my recovery." A term I have quickly come to resent for its implication that I am somehow un-committed to feeling better.
Being diagnosed with both BPD and epilepsy within weeks of each other was overwhelming, to say the least. I admit, I go through phases of complete apathy. Despite my neurologist's warnings to cut out alcohol and recreational drugs, there are moments when I just want to feel "normal" and will push myself well past my limits of intoxication. There are almost too many reasons to count as to why this is a bad idea for me. Number one being that according to my neurologist, Dr. Peter Carlen, an epilepsy specialist at Toronto Western Hospital, a hangover leads your brain to lower its natural threshold for neural activity, making way for an increased frequency and intensity of seizures. I could go six months without an episode, and after a week of heavy drinking, find myself right back at square one, heaving in my bed and waking up with what I equate to a "seizure hangover," which leaves me exhausted, foggy, and confused for up to a week. Setbacks like this don't have a therapeutic effect for me—they don't motivate me to better myself and stick to routine, and ensure that I "respect my epilepsy" (a favorite phrase of Dr. Carlen's). Instead, they leave me feeling frustrated and helpless. That picturesque image of normality seems even further away.
At the end of the day, my road to "recovery" is far from over. I'm told that BPD is something that will get better, but never really goes away. Self-maintenance, self-regulation, and self-awareness are key for people like me to be able to live through the disorder. Rates of suicide are incredibly high amongst those suffering from BPD. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 10 percent of BPD patients will take their own lives. This is perhaps the scariest statistic that I'm aware of. Though I have often experienced suicidal tendencies, It's mainly consisted of my contemplating the many ways that I might be able to end things. I never considered myself someone who would actually follow through with any plans. Doctors often ask me if I am a danger to myself, and I never hesitate to say that I'm safe. And I truly believe that. But what scares me about that 10 percent is that I can't help but believe that some of those victims felt the same. And if that is the case, then perhaps one day I won't be able to stop myself. That I'll follow through with it, an action with irreparable consequences.
The journey to diagnosis is a nebulous and difficult one, which reiterates itself in a lack of general awareness of the condition. Simply put, some people hear BPD and call bullshit. What I've learned over the past few years is that, in fact, it's not bullshit at all. And as much as I cringe every time my mom utters that "commit to yourself" mantra, or Dr. Carlen reminds me to "respect my epilepsy," the fact is, this is really scary. It's overwhelming, like one of those looping dreams where you're drowning over and over again. And the only way to get past that suffocating feeling is to push forward. A task much easier said than done.
There's a sense of normalcy that to some extent we all aspire to attain. In the same way that a child looks to their parents to garner some sense of acceptable behavior and "adultness," I look for a semblance of what "normal" might look or feel like to those who appear to have their heads firmly planted on their shoulders, and seemingly breeze through their days unaffected by neuroses, anxiety, insecurity. That base level of contentment is foreign to me. That's not to say I haven't experienced true happiness, elation, moments of serenity. But my natural state is more like a roller-coaster, inching me toward a peak, then releasing me into a sudden drop or nauseating loop.
At this point in my life, I'm ready to say goodbye to the crippling anxiety, constant state of exhaustion, and general misanthropy. It's time for me to realize that finding a solution to my problems can't consume my every waking minute. Better to take a breath and smile once in a while just because it's sunny outside.
If you are concerned about your mental health or that of someone you know, visit the Mental Health America website.