I could probably write a page from each paragraph below but I just want to keep it simple for now. Mom, if you read this I don’t blame you or dad for anything and I’m sorry if any of this hurts you. Some of these things still hurt me too but I’ve moved past them which is why I can talk about them now. Let me be clear on this, I am not writing this for me, I am writing this for anyone out there who struggles with a mental disorder. I don’t really like the word “disorder” but that is a different post and for the sake of simplicity that word is the one I will use for now.
Everyone goes though shit, I am not special, I am not unique. I am just one of many who have gone through private hells in their heads. Also, I no longer identify myself with any of these issues because I stopped labeling myself. With all this in mind, I hope you get something out of these words.
There is a lot of shit going on in the world right now, a lot of fear and a lot of hurt and I don’t know what’s going to happen but I know that in order to heal the world we must first heal ourselves. So I’m writing this to share my story. Not particularly because I want to but more because I want to help anyone else out there that might be going through similar shit. Mental disorders carry such stigmas and are rarely understood by outsiders. It’s easier to label someone as crazy and write them off than it is to try and appreciate their situation and understand where they are coming from. And for those of you who have a disorder I know how difficult it can be to try and talk to someone about something that you don’t even understand yourself.
I, personally, have had a few of these “disorders” throughout my life. To me they have been more like phases because I’ve been able to work my way out of most of them but there’s at least one I still struggle with. It’s why I’m up some days and down on others. Most people are familiar with the term Bipolar Disorder: a mental disorder marked by alternating periods of elation and depression, well what I deal with is similar but a little different, it’s called Cyclothymia: a less intense but often longer lasting version of bipolar disorder. One where the person experiences both highs and lows but not as severe as mania or major depression. Of course, I wasn’t always this way.
No, I went through a few other DSM criteria before I hit that one…
At 17 I had passive suicidal ideation which simply means that I thought about dying…a lot. Deep down I didn’t really want to die. I just didn’t want to feel the way I was feeling anymore and thought that I’d be better off dead. My issues started before that though, I feel like I’ve always had a certain level of anxiety, since early childhood, but I don’t think the depression started until I was about 12. I hated middle school and my life throughout all three years of it. The beginning of high school was a bit better but by the time I was a junior I had developed a few very unhealthy coping mechanisms. I am not going to go into detail over my childhood and what contributed to my numerous psychological disorders because I’d rather focus more on how I reacted to these triggers than the actual triggers themselves.
Anyway, In early adolescence, I inadvertently developed an eating disorder, anorexia nervosa. I wouldn’t eat. Not because I thought I was fat but because it was a way to get back at my parents and there wasn’t much that they could do about it. I was angry at them but as a child there isn’t much you can do so I did what I could. Food restriction was one of those things. It started as a way to annoy them and get their attention I guess but then it ended up with me actually making it a goal to not eat. I had to tell myself I was fat so that I wouldn’t want to eat. I was more stubborn and angry than health conscious and was willing to do what it took to get my point across, which at the time was “fuck you.”
Concerned family members would ask me if I was okay and would even specifically ask me if I had an eating disorder. I denied it. I denied it every time. I’m not really sure when I stopped that behavior but I eventually did. My poor self body image however…that lingered.
I became depressed. I wouldn’t leave the house, partly to annoy my mother, partly because I actually didn’t want to leave. I preferred being alone than pretending I was okay. I knew I wasn’t okay but I didn’t tell anyone that. I got good grades at school, was in honors and advanced placement classes and didn’t have any behavior issues so there wasn’t much they could say.
By the end of high school all of these things were adding up and I couldn’t take it anymore. In vain attempts to numb out I would drink or smoke but only on occasion and never out of control or even remotely alarming for an adolescent in my demographic. This wasn’t enough for me though and one day I picked up a small pocket knife and ran it across my palm. I don’t know why but it made me feel better. Not too far away from that incident, I took triple or quadruple the dose of some random pills (I don’t recall what they were) but all that resulted was some chest pain. Part of me was relieved, the other part of me was slightly disappointed. Like I said before, I didn’t really want to die, if it was just me then maybe I would have but the thought of leaving my two younger siblings behind is honestly what kept me from doing anything too drastic. I knew that if I did, it would only make things worse for them and that was something I would not allow myself to do.
Not long after those two incidents I finally told my mother that I needed to talk to someone. I told her because the thoughts of dying were too consistent to ignore and I was getting scared that I would do something I might not get a chance to regret. I vaguely recall my first therapist, I only met with her two or three times before she referred me to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist gave me a prescription for SSRIs. I had been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder and the pills were supposed to help. Well it wasn’t long before I wasn’t depressed anymore, the pills kept me from feeling depressed but they also kept me from feeling much of anything else so I ended up becoming emotionally indifferent. I wasn’t sad but I wasn’t happy either, I was numb. Then out of no where…boom! I felt something. I felt great! I was happy! I was excited! I was buzzing! I was manic. The pills had triggered my first manic episode. It felt good at the time but I remember thinking that something was not right, something was wrong but I felt so high that I didn’t care and I didn’t express my concerns to my parents. After a few days things went back to normal. Back to feeling nothing. These manic episodes would resurface sporadically and repeatedly but I stayed on the pills for a while, about 2 years or so.
By the time I got off of them I was away at college. There I was able to self medicate with other things and distract myself enough to not feel so depressed or anxious anymore plus a big part of my stress was gone just by virtue of leaving my household. Unfortunately however, by the time I stopped taking the pills the damage was already done. The manic episodes had become set into my psyche, even without the pills I would get them. The depression was their too along with the anxiety but now the triggers were a lot less predictable and it didn’t take much to set me off one way or another.
My Sophomore year in college I met my future husband. Of course, at the time I had no idea that things would get so far. I had had a few relationships before him but they were all superficial. I never actually got to know any of the guys I dated before him even though if you had asked me at the time if I had ever been in love I would have said yes, several times.
This time was different though. I clearly remember him lying next to me in my twin size bed, he had fallen asleep and I remember looking at him and crying. I cried because I was scared. I was scared because I realized that I had fallen in love with him. “Fuck” was my initial thought. Why? Because now I was afraid to lose him. Every other guy I had dated before was less than faithful and so naturally I was afraid he’d fuck it up, I was afraid I’d fuck it up, I was afraid he’d see how fucked up I was and leave. These fears fed what had already started to emerge, just by virtue of me being in a relationship; Borderline Personality Disorder. If you are unfamiliar with the term Borderline Personality Disorder it is defined as a long-term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by unstable relationships with other people, unstable sense of self, and unstable emotions.
BPD proved to be a lot more destructive than any other previous condition I had. It was also a lot harder to hide.
Fast forward about 5 years. I graduated college, we left college town and moved to another city where we rented a house together. At some point the BPD got worse. Maybe it was because at this point I had so much invested in him that… Also, my mind just couldn’t accept the fact that I might actually have something worth keeping, something real, a chance at happiness. Anyway, something happened, something triggered the fear of God in me and my psyche went into full panic mode, I remember sitting in the bathtub with the hot shower water pouring down and all I could do to calm myself down was drag my fingernails along my skin. I did this repeatedly until there were red marks all along my thighs. I didn’t tell him.
I think that was the first time, but it wasn’t the last. It soon became a coping mechanism. When I felt like I couldn’t handle reality I would go through this ritual of trying to cut through my skin as if peeling of the layers would somehow set me free from the torment I felt inside. Well, eventually he noticed and eventually I ended up in therapy, again.
This time I went to see a psychotherapist. She was nice. She listened and she asked me questions and she did it in such a way that I was able to see how I had ended up where I had. She told me my behavior was a natural reaction to an unnatural circumstance. In other words, I was not defective but my environment and circumstances led me to view things in this way and my destructive self-harm coping mechanism was almost to be expected. That made me feel better. It made me feel relieved that I wasn’t that crazy after all. I think it’s safe to say that my healing process started there, with her. It was still a long road from there but she was the first one who actually helped. With her I actually felt some sort of hope for myself, I no longer felt like a lost cause or a basketcase and all she really did different was listen. She listened and she validated me. Ridiculous how something so simple can make such a big difference but it does.
There is a lot more in between and even more from then until now but I’ll save that for another post. These things are pretty personal and not really things that most people talk about openly but I wanted to share them because I want whoever might be going through anything similar to know that things get better. It may take days, months, or years even but things do get better, you just can’t give up. And if you think you need help then you probably do, even if you don’t think you need help, you probably do. Asking for it and accepting it is not an easy thing but I can tell you that it’s easier to fight your demons with someone by your side than it is to face them on your own. When it’s just you, you only have your own limited perspective on the situation and you are limited by only your personal experiences. Sometimes medication helps, other times it makes it worse. I think prescription pills for mental disorders are a very personal and individual choice. You can’t go off of someone else’s experience.
I still have to deal with the cyclothymia thing from time to time but I’ve learned to recognize the signs of an episode sooner rather than later and they are a lot less extreme, partly because of me being able to recognize them before they spiral out of control and partly because I have less triggers than I used to.
So, if you are one of the many people who suffer from a mental disorder or even if you don’t and are just having a hard time I want you to know that things will be okay, you will be okay, and if you need someone to talk to seek out a trusted friend, family member, a professional or even me, I personally have a really hard time judging people for anything because I myself have been no angel.
If you feel like an emotional wreck, you are not alone, if you feel like you can’t stand the sight of yourself, you are not alone, if you feel like the world is caving in on you, you are not alone, if you feel like dying, you are not alone, if you feel uncomfortable in your own skin or on this planet, you are not the only one. I’ve been through a lot, I’m sure more have been through worse, but you know what I’ve learned? I’m resilient as fuck. I don’t give up. I may take breaks but I always come back and when I come back I’m stronger and wiser. Hindsight is 20/20 and all these things I’ve experienced have served only to make me stronger. They have helped increased my compassion and empathy for others who have gone through the same. These “disorders” have given me the kind of suffering and pain that you don’t wish on your enemies but if it can help me help someone else, even just a little bit, then I say they were well worth the pain.