In 2004, when I was sixteen, after Nate and I had our it’s-different-this-time breakup, I convinced myself I was crazy. I went to see a psychologist. She told me I had Borderline Personality Disorder.
A few weeks later I was happy because I had a new boyfriend, so she told me I was all better.
Instead of telling this super intelligent free counselor with all her degrees and whatnot that teenage girls feel happy when they start dating someone new, I simply stopped seeing her.
Ironically, that boyfriend ended up being a total jerk and the relationship lasted all of three weeks.
She was obviously not equipped to handle my mayhem.
I did, however, latch on to the (probably unofficial, possibly wrong) diagnosis. My mom got every available piece of information on Borderline Personality Disorder, including not only pamphlets and articles but books and movies with affected characters. Over the next few months we repeatedly read I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me and Borderlines: A Memoir; and frequently watched Gia and Girl, Interrupted. (Among others, those were just our favorites.)
I identified with every Borderline character in each story, real or fictional. I went through the checklist in I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me. Not only did the title aptly describe my exact mindset, but I also had:
1. A shaky sense of identity,
2. Sudden violent outbursts,
3. Over-sensitivity to real or imagined rejection,
4. Brief, turbulent love affairs (the three-week jerk boyfriend, anyone?),
5. Frequent periods of intense depression,
6. Drug abuse,
7. Self-destructive tendencies, and of course
8. An irrational fear of abandonment.
Of course, as any mental-health hypochondriac would, I probably convinced myself I fit the description more than I did. I was still a teenager, after all, and we all know teenagers are pretty nuts even when they’re completely normal.
Or it could have been my “shaky sense of identity” causing me to grasp on to any explanation I could get.
But it did make sense. Supposedly, according to the questionable psychologist, my parents’ divorce when I was not-quite-2 caused my fear of abandonment. Every time I went from one parent to the other my non-developed baby brain perceived only the part about one handing me over, not the other snatching me up. Every time they switched I thought they were fighting to get rid of me as opposed to the reality that they were fighting over me.
This “symptom” of my (maybe imagined) personality disorder has become such a staple in my life that to this day I practically introduce myself as “Backstreet-Boys-lover, getting-wet-hater, abandonment-fearer Tempest Rose.”
Every single one of my relationships quickly turned from “I love you, but we’re both independent,” to “I hate you, don’t leave me.”
(I often find myself wishing the book was better so I could tell people it’s my life’s manuscript.)
So I went through the next several years like a crazy person, even crazier than before I had been “diagnosed”. The “I have a mental health disorder” excuse only worked on my parents for the first few months, but it was enough to continuously justify my actions to myself.
I did every drug I could get my hands on. I became addicted to cocaine, and later heroin. I latched on to the personalities of those around me. I cut myself. I slept around, entered abusive and dangerous relationships, broke things, switched jobs frequently, got in fights, gave up on school, broke the law. And I did this all because I was manic; I felt on top of the world and like the most important person ever. I was impulsive and unstoppable.
For months at a time.
And then I would have panic attacks for no reason. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, everything was horrible and I would cry hysterically and not be able to function. So I did drugs, cut myself, slept around, entered unhealthy relationships, broke things, switched jobs frequently, got in fights, gave up on school, broke the law. This time because I was depressed.
For months at a time.
My actions were the same, but they were for different reasons.
Every now and then I began to think whatever was wrong with me was manageable. I would get a good job and a pet and a significant other and a real place to live — all of that responsible grownup stuff. I even paid my bills. One time I had the audacity to eat healthy. I still engaged in my “Borderline” tendencies, but I was able to give the pretense that I was stable.
After a few months of this, the stability faded and the illness became more prominent. And then I would do it all over again.
And again and again.
Then came the hope.
In 2010, when I was 22, everything began to sharpen.
Things got better.
I still slipped up from time to time — the occasional tantrum here, the impulsive act there; addiction reared its head again for a few months — but my life seemed pretty “normal”. I held jobs and stayed in one place; I had a few close friends instead of many drunk acquaintances; I didn’t do anything I consciously knew was self-destructive; I was sober more than I was not.
I was still convinced that I had BPD, but I had read stories about people who were “in recovery.” I thought I was, too.
I had a child and went back to school. I joined clubs and became a staff member. I dove into everything I was passionate about with ferocity — writing, education, politics, charity, parenting, art. I’ve always been incredibly confident, sometimes even cocky (actually I think that same psychologist labeled me a narcissist), but I was truly happy with myself for the first time. I cleaned my life. And my house.
By this point I was starting to believe that I had had Borderline Personality Disorder, but then I grew up so now I didn’t. BPD was still kind of my go-to whenever mental health came up or I had an off day, but for the most part I thought I was simply growing up. Anything I still struggled with was actually my avoidance of becoming an adult, which I just had to deal with.
Then came the fizzle.
In the late summer/fall of 2013, when I was 25, everything began to dim.
Instead of making 14-page study guides, I read the chapters the night before class. Instead of writing 6 paragraphs, I wrote 2 and took online personality quizzes. I thought of everything I would and should do instead of taking action. I made plans I would never keep. My son discovered favorite TV shows instead of favorite parks.
Unlike all the destructive habits I held on to during my “stable” years, now I noticed each harmful tendency. I saw that I was regressing.
I remembered a discussion with my father about Seasonal Affective Disorder. He claimed that he got clinically depressed, but only in the winter. So I looked it up. I talked with my father.
I identified a lot with what my dad described. I went through the symptoms on every webpage about SAD. Not only did my problems (this time) start in the Fall, but I had:
2. Daytime Fatigue,
3. Craving[s] and Weight Gain,
4. Decreased Sexual Interest,
7. Lack of interest in normal activities, and
8. Decreased Socialization.
Even though I was no longer an unstable teenager, I knew from the past that I was incredibly talented in convincing myself I had ailments found on Google.
This also could have been my “shaky sense of identity” from before, switching things up on me.
Or maybe it was my lethargy simply accepting any explanation I could get.
But it did make sense. My dad had been hounding me relentlessly about sleeping the day away. I never had any energy. My diet consisted of ice cream, and only ice cream. Sex wasn’t even in my vocabulary anymore. I didn’t want to do anything or see anyone.
And, what I thought was most important, I felt hopeless for the first time I could remember. No matter how bad things got previously, I always had hope. A good outlook. Future expectations. But things started to feel bleak. I still had big plans, but had the increasing feeling that there was no point; that I would never accomplish my long-term goals.
Obviously the way to combat my new-found winter depression was to push through it. It didn’t really matter if I wanted to do things, so long as I actually did them, even unhappily.
Unfortunately, my way of fixing myself was to start new projects instead of finishing the old. I became over-involved; I was being productive but in only one area. Each new task I took on overshadowed everything else.
Then came the flicker.
In the winter of 2013, everything began to tremble.
I was still doing something, so I was okay. Instead of studying the night before a test, I would sort through donations in my basement and skim the book on my way to class. Instead of writing 2 paragraphs and taking quizzes, I would write an excuse and a blog post. I mapped out my entire life, conveniently leaving out the parts I was neglecting. I made promises I had every intention of keeping. My son learned colors and numbers and letters and Spanish, through the TV shows I had meticulously chosen.
This time I thought I was doing better. My doctor prescribed me Zoloft. I avoided thinking about the things I wasn’t doing and instead congratulated myself on the things I was.
But it was still incredibly difficult to get those things done. I felt exhausted. For a period of about a week, my body temperature was out-of-whack and I was shaky and it was difficult to walk.
My friend, who was in the same classes and clubs as me and saw my journey first-hand, who has been in therapy herself for years and is a Psychology major, told me she believed I had Bipolar Disorder.
I had already known a lot about it, as it seems like the new “it” mental illness of my generation. I always denied having it simply because everyone had it, and I didn’t want to be everyone. But I talked to my doctor and my friend and looked it up. I thought about all the Bipolar people I had known throughout my life.
I realized I identified with every one of them, even if I didn’t want to admit it. Not only did I have the obvious intense mood shifts, but I also experienced:
During Manic Episodes –
1. An overly happy or outgoing mood,
2. Extreme irritability,
3. Racing thoughts,
4. Being easily distracted,
5. Increasing activities and taking on new projects,
6. Being overly restless,
7. Sleeping little,
8. An unrealistic belief in one’s abilities, and
9. Impulsive, pleasurable, high-risk behaviors.
During Depressive Episodes –
1. An overly long period of feeling sad or hopeless,
2. Loss of interest in activities,
3. Feeling tired,
4. Problems concentrating, remembering, and making decisions,
5. Being restless or irritable, and
6. Changing eating, sleeping, or other habits.
Obviously I was most recently in a depressive episode, or maybe a mixed episode, but the signs were clear.
Or maybe it was my shaky sense of identity grasping on to any explanation I could get, though I don’t feel like I relate to that anymore. I’ve known who I am, who I want to be, what I do, what I want to do, and every other Who Am I? answer for years.
But it did make sense. Looking back on my life, my actions and my feelings (although I have a pretty bad memory, but that’s a symptom, right?), nearly everything falls into manic or depressive categories. With some hints of stability in between, which is common.
This time I didn’t exactly latch on. I put this possible diagnosis aside with the others (but moved it to the top of the list) and tried to meet with a psychiatrist. Which proved much harder than I thought, as I still haven’t seen one.
I decided I was going to get help. I called doctors and therapists and counselors. I talked to my family and my friends. I researched everything I could online, and took more legit online personality tests. I started trying.
I convinced myself I would make good on those previous promises. I knew that I wasn’t feeling up to accomplishing all that I used to do, but I figured that slow and steady would win my race; that if I completed one small task at a time, everything else would follow.
I tried to split up my time between what I needed to do and what I wanted to do; neither got my full attention, but I was on my way. I stopped tackling new obligations; I knew I was overwhelmed and needed to accomplish everything already on my list before I could begin to heal.
This lasted a few weeks.
Then came the blur.
In the early spring, when I turned 26, everything began to fade.
Nothing made sense.
Instead of sorting through donations and skimming test material, I stayed in bed. Instead of writing, I read. I didn’t make promises or plans. In fact, I didn’t really talk to anyone at all. I disappeared. My son woke me up to turn on the TV and give him the iPad, and I went back to sleep.
During Spring Break I got to rest. When it was over, I couldn’t get back up.
Everything I had planned I hid deep down and forgot. I felt like a physical force was holding me captive. I wanted to succeed, but I couldn’t. I let people down. I let myself down.
Now, things are more or less the same. I blog, because it keeps me sane. Other than that, I don’t do much.
I take my son outside, mainly so I won’t fight with my dad. I go shopping so we don’t starve. I do the things needed to keep the household afloat, but barely.
I’m still taking Zoloft and I’m still trying to see a psychiatrist.
I don’t thank Jack enough for his contributions.
He’s been sick in bed for the past three days. My sink and counter are over-flowing with dirty dishes. My floors are sticky. My room smells. I haven’t showered in two weeks. I check Facebook from time to time, sometimes manage a comment. But when someone responds I crawl back in my shell and blog about it.
This isn’t what I want. I never meant for anyone else to join my suffering. I never meant to give up. This is not my intention.
This is what I can’t escape.
It may not seem like it, but I am trying.
This was also posted on Bipolar Parenting Foundation, where I am a contributor.