I’ve known there was something chaotic about me for a long time. Something deep inside me that I knew just didn’t make sense. There’s no such thing as normal, I know that, but there is such a things as mental illness, and that, I knew deep down, was where the answers lay. It wasn’t until I heard about Borderline Personality Disorder when I was a teenager, that I finally knew what my metaphorical psychological reflection was. With BPD, it was like looking in a mirror, or shining a torch into my head. So now I’m writing about it, spilling the entire jungle that has grown inside my head, but I know that I’m only at the beginning of my journey with this, and there is a long way to go.
The way I perceive, feel and act are much more than something described in the DSM V. Knowing about it had allowed me to understand the things I experience and also helped those close to me understand me too. It’s also given me hope. There are treatments for this. And as someone said to me recently, I have all the things I need to be myself again inside me, its just sorting through some of the chaos and finding the gems I need. But, again, a label is helpful but it is not the limit, my mental health is like a pond. You can name all the species of plant in there and all the fish that swim close to the air and pond skaters, but there is so much more beneath the surface that makes up my life. Things that aren’t due to illness but are just me. The little molecules and genes that can’t really be explained. We’ll never know what causes what and what is more of an instinct than an ailment, but it is what I know, and I will never stop giving myself a voice.
I’ve always been reckless with money. Spending like a I’m millionaire, which sounds problematic but gets even worse when you were a 14 year old with no job and not a proper penny to my name. I lived for buying new things, they were stability and a beam of enjoyment in a world of arguments at home and deep rooted fear. I had the temper of a honey badger too, angry and defensive and fierce. I went from feisty to clingy, loving to hating, and cheerful to hopeless in a heartbeat . A mind that worked like a constant firework display, with sparks flying against my ears and out my mouth.
The positive message that gets pinned the inside of our heads when you’re a mentally ill child is always, ‘you are not your illness’. And, although a wonderful prospect, one that may be true to many people, for me this didn’t feel true. Every thought, interest, identity (or lack of), action, feeling was an expression of this knot inside me. I could see it there, but I couldn’t untie it. With every attempt to untangle myself the knot would tighten. And it kind of is all-consuming, it was my personality, this was like a mist spreading over me so I could barely see myself anymore. I used to think that recovery from BPD would be a re-wiring of my brain, or a complete brain transplant altogether. Now, in a clearer mind, I can see the countless ways that I can learn to manage my feelings and thoughts without needing to open up my skull. There is no guarantee with any treatment (medication or therapy) that it will take away with fire inside. But all the little bits of help and steps in the right direction are buckets of water to dim the flames when they get too fierce.
I’ve also had a deeply unstable identity since I started making friends, switching from persona in my head like different outfits because I had no idea who I was. I would copy peoples mannerisms (and sometimes still do), their colloquial phrases and even their handwriting. Not because I was a copycat, or that I wanted to be them, but because I liked them and admired them deeply. But I also think I adopted these things from people because I didn’t know how to be myself. All these little pieces from the people I loved built me into a collage that I could understand. There are about 13 versions of me (being serious, I have noted and counted them) they morph out when I’m with certain people, and shrink back when I’m with others. I’ve heard them described to me like modes I step into when I feel certain emotions or distress. I guess they are a response to my feeling of not knowing who I am, and this uncertain feeling of not knowing what you’d find if you peeled back my skin. And the exhausting feeling each morning as I wake, of having to construct a person out of my existence. Maybe it’s because my emotions are so huge when they come around and my thoughts so relentless that there isn’t much space for me to start building myself. Maybe I am a shape-shifter or an Animagus (unlikely, unfortunately). Or maybe, I was never taught how to mould myself into the person I wanted to be. Who knows?
I also have people who speak to me inside my head. I say speak, sometimes they shout or mumble. The punitive, the destructive, the impulsive and the weird ones. But they are a whole other blog post. But I think something that we can all relate to is insecurity. I am insecure mixed with paranoia and fear. I am afraid of rejection. The people I have found throughout life I have loved deeply. I appreciate them like oxygen because they give me a love I struggle to give myself. And the prospect of abandoning me shakes me. I am loyal to those who take time to love me, especially since I am not the easiest to love sometimes.
More superficially, when I meet someone I usually know within the first five seconds of talking to them whether they are someone I like (or even love if my heart is feeling particularly dramatic) or loathe. And sometimes I will love them, but being sensitive means that when I get hurt by them I can turn to hate to protect myself. I know this makes me sound volatile, but one thing you must accept is that mental illness is volatile. BPD especially, but it doesn’t (and never will) make me a bad person.
I am saddened to hear from people in my own life with BPD that people have been told (most of the time by medical professionals or parents) they are ‘too difficult’ or ‘impossible’ to treat, attention seeking, a waste of NHS funding and that they have ‘brought it on themselves’. Even, most fantastically, those who believe the illness, quite simply, doesn’t exist. And if that doesn’t further exacerbate the crippling self-hatred and self-destruction of us people with BPD, I don’t know what does. But let me clear things up for the record. It is possible to recover from and learn to manage these symptoms and to lead a healthy, settled life. With the right type of therapy and good support, we can get our lives more stable. Don’t let the few who refuse to help when it is most needed, convince you otherwise.
All of that being said, all of these snippets of my life I’ve shared there is one message more important than them all. I am still a human being. My illness affects me but it still makes up a version of myself I can learn to love. I am bold. Emotional, so much that I can write poetry furiously for hours sometimes. I love so deeply. I feel for other people and I understand others more than most. I am a passionate soul. Sometimes I’d say I’m funny too. My brain doesn’t work the way it should at the moment, but it has made me into a spectrum of colours. I burst with them sometimes. Passionate reds, sad blues, joyful yellows, understanding greens, soothing pinks, orange anxiety, and beautiful purple softness. Some people see my colours as graffiti more than a work of art. Some choose to see the rainbows that I can be. But I’m only just mixing my own watercolours together myself. It will take a lot of canvases. A lot of brushes and practice and patience. But one day, I’ll make the most beautiful painting of all.
By Emma Catherine.